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Change — Adapting to The Impacts, by Communities in Northern
What is climate change adaptation?
The concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere is at its highest level since the evolution of humans; this has been conclusively linked with human activities and in particular the burning of fossil fuels. It is also now well accepted that a high level of CO2 and other greenhouse gases will increase global temperatures and change precipitation patterns. Recent climate change models for Northern Europe also predict increases in the frequency and duration of floods, droughts, storms and other extreme events.
The CO2 we are producing today has a lifespan of approximately 100 years in the atmosphere, and it is estimated that the Earth has a warming time lag of approximately 30 years. Thus even if global greenhouse gas emissions are drastically reduced tomorrow the IPCC estimates that we are committed to between 0.5 and 1ºC of warming, that will be in effect for several generations. If we continue business as usual, temperatures could rise by up to 6ºC by 2100.
The impacts of even a 1ºC rise will globally affect agriculture, fisheries, forestry, transport, tourism, cultural heritage, landscape character, and environmental processes, but exactly what will the impacts be on vulnerable rural communities, and can these communities adapt? Clim-ATIC aims to provide some answers to these questions.
Climate change impacts are the consequences of the changes in, and interactions between, our natural and human systems. The impacts depend on the vulnerability of these systems. Vulnerability is determined by the level of exposure these systems have to multiple stresses, to shocks and to risk over a long period.
Both impacts and vulnerability may be reduced by adaptation – adjustments in natural or human systems to a new or changing environment.
Climate change adaptation is defined in the ‘Climate Change – the UK Programme’ (2006) as ‘any action taken to minimise the adverse effects or to take advantage of any beneficial effects of climate change’.
Various types of adaptation can be distinguished, including;
anticipatory and reactive adaptation,
private and public adaptation, and
autonomous and planned adaptation.
It can involve:
building adaptation capacity (creating information and conditions that enable adaptation actions to take place) or
delivering adaptation actions (taking actions that will help to reduce vulnerability to climate risks or exploit opportunities).
Adaptive capacity is the ability to understand climate changes and hazards, to evaluate their consequences for vulnerable communities, places and economies, and to moderate potential damages, to take advantage of opportunities, or to cope with consequences. Adaptation can be seen as a process of social learning for a sustainable future.
The capacity to adapt is dynamic and influenced by economic and natural resources, social networks, entitlements, institutions and governance, human resources, and technology. The presence of adaptive capacity has been shown to be a necessary condition for the design and implementation of effective adaptation strategies so as to reduce the likelihood and he magnitude of harmful outcomes resulting from climate change. Adaptive capacity also enables sectors and institutions to take advantage of opportunities or benefits from climate change, such as a longer growing season or increased potential for tourism.
Adaptation is the responsibility of a wide range of stakeholders, and will bring benefits to the organisations, communities and individuals who adapt appropriately. Some adaptation measures are undertaken by individuals, while other types of adaptation are planned and implemented by governments on behalf of societies, sometimes in anticipation of change but mostly in response to experienced climatic events, especially extremes. There are significant barriers to implementing adaptation. These include both the inability of natural systems to adapt to the rate and magnitude of climate change, as well as technological, financial, cognitive and behavioural, and social and cultural constraints. There are also significant knowledge gaps for adaptation as well as impediments to flows of knowledge and information relevant for adaptation decisions
The UK Climate Impacts Programme report ‘Identifying Adaptation Actions’ (2007) advises that ‘adaptation measures should be fit for purpose, be based on a good evidence base, involve all stakeholders and aim to achieve SMART [Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Timed] objectives’.