The scope of adaptation

The chapters above have reviewed estimates of the major impacts of climate change on agriculture and related resources at the global scale. Faced with these threats and challenges, there are two major responses for policy intervention in agriculture. The first strategy is to reduce the rate and magnitude of climate change itself through reducing the human causes of climate change i.e. mitigation of greenhouse gases, which is discussed in detail in Chapter 5. The second (and complementary) option1 is to promote adaptation to climate change to minimise the impacts and take advantage of new opportunities. Adaptation in the climate change context may also involve adjusting to changes resulting from climate impacts elsewhere in the world (such as the possible effects on markets, changing comparative advantage, increased migration) or changes resulting from mitigation actions (such as increased biofuel production and changes in land-use). There is also a need for a multi-sectoral planning approach, integrating the different aspects of agricultural production, particularly soil and water management.

Adaptation to climate change is typically characterised as an adjustment in ecological, social or economic systems in response to observed or expected changes in climatic stimuli and their effects and impacts, in order to alleviate adverse impacts of change or take advantage of new opportunities. Adaptation can therefore involve both building adaptive capacity — thereby increasing the ability of individuals, groups, or organisations to adapt to changes — and implementing adaptation decisions, i.e. transforming that capacity into action. Both dimensions of adaptation can be implemented in preparation for, or in response to, impacts generated

1 While in some senses mitigation and adaptation may be viewed as substitutes, in practice they are complementary actions and both will be necessary to address the challenge of climate change. Adaptation will be necessary to adapt to changes resulting from historical emissions and mitigation will be necessary to avoid the worse impacts of climate change.

by a changing climate. Hence adaptation is a continuous stream of activities, actions, decisions and attitudes that informs decisions about all aspects of life, and that reflects existing social norms and processes. There are many classifications of adaptation options (summarised in Smit et al., 2000) based on their purpose, mode of implementation, or on the institutional form they take.

Reilly and Schimmelpfenning (2000) point out that some adaptation occurs without explicit recognition of changing risk, while other adaptations incorporate specific climate information into decisions. Since unintentional adaptation has the capacity to reduce the effectiveness of purposeful adaptation, the integration of adaptation actions and policies across sectors remains a key challenge to achieve effective adaptation in practice.

The major types of adaptation are:

• Reducing the sensitivity of the affected system, which can be achieved, for example, by investing in flood defences or increased reservoir storage capacity; planting hardier crops that can withstand more climate variability; or ensuring that infrastructure in flood-prone areas is constructed to allow flooding.

• Altering the exposure of a system to the effects of climate change, which can be achieved, for example, by investing in hazard preparedness and early warnings, such as seasonal forecasts and other anticipatory actions.

• Increasing the resilience of social and ecological systems, which can be achieved through generic actions which aim to conserve resources, but also include specific measures to enable specific populations to recover from loss (Tompkins and Adger, 2004).

Adaptation options in agriculture involve different agents and scales and include actions by producers, input and food industries and government agencies, with individuals acting for private benefit, and public agencies seeking to maximise public good aspects of adaptation. In the United Kingdom, for example, public policy investments have been made in education for the wider society on the potential impacts of climate change and society's role in creating and managing those impacts. These investments have been made through agencies such as the UK Climate Impacts Programme (UKCIP, 2003). Ultimately, the purpose of such investment is to alter behaviour and increase society's ability to cope with future impacts. Such investment is expected to enable individuals to start to respond to climate change, to promote uptake of new technology, to enable them to internalise the costs of responding to climate impacts, and to reduce future investments in disaster management.

Table 4.1 classifies the responses as accruing in either the public or private domain. Some elements of investment in climate change response are "public" and include conservation of nationally or internationally important habitats. Others are effectively private. If private firms in the water industry invest in knowledge of climate change risks, the costs and the benefits of this response are private. Climate change planning by governments at present tends to concentrate on providing public goods such as scenario information, risk assessments in the public domain, and public awareness campaigns (UKCIP, 2003; Hulme et al., 2002). Hence, many response programmes at present avoid providing subsidies to private adaptation decisions. But the public and private elements of responding to climate change are not fixed: they are shaped by institutional and regulatory features in each sector of the economy. Further, they can change from public, to private and back again over time. In the UK the water supply utilities invest substantially in projections of water demand and supply under climate change for the benefit of their shareholders, while the public regulatory agencies seek to fulfil the same objectives of sustainability for public good aspects of water availability (documented by Arnell and Delaney, 2006).

The major actions for adaptation in agriculture are summarised in Table 4.2, distinguishing between technological development (which can be induced by both public and private investment); technological adoption; government programmes and insurance; and farm-level financial management. This classification was developed by examining options in arable farming regions in Canada where farmers have a high awareness of potential impacts from climate change (Smit and Skinner, 2002). Each of the categories and types of adaptation are presently undertaken to some extent and most are broadly applicable throughout OECD countries. A comprehensive list of specific adaptation actions in agriculture is provided in AEA (2007), produced for the EU Commission.

In less-developed or poorer countries adaptation strategies are more about maintaining livelihoods and coping with climate variability. Agrawal (2008) discusses five basic coping strategies in the context of environmental risks to livelihoods: mobility, storage, diversification, communal pooling and exchange. Mobility pools risks across space, and is particularly useful if clear information about the spatial and temporal changes in climate is available. Storage pools risks across time, and, assuming well constructed infrastructure and low perishability, represents an effective measure at a given point in time. Diversification pools risks across assets and resources of households and farms. This can occur in relation to productive and nonproductive assets and employment strategies. Diversification often involves a trade-off between returns and security. Communal pooling pools risks across households, and is characterised by joint action by members of a group with the objective of pooling both risks and resources. Exchange may be the most versatile option, and is of course the basis for most of our market and trading systems today. An example of market-based adaptation to climate change is weather-related insurance schemes designed for agricultural or pastoralist populations. Aspects of some of these more basic coping strategies may be utilised in developed-country agricultural systems as well.

Table 4.1. Examples of adaptation options by timing and by responsibility

Timing of response

Table 4.1. Examples of adaptation options by timing and by responsibility

Timing of response

Anticipatory (ex ante)

Reactive (ex post)


Private insurance markets

Adjustments in insurance markets

e s n o

Private research and

Identification of least-cost

p s e r

development and investments

adaptation options



Public infrastructure provision

Post-disaster recovery

y it

(e.g. irrigation infrastructure)


Risk communication to

Compensation for impacts

n o p s

agricultural sector and public

Insurance underwriting


Publicly available research and development

Source: Adapted from Tompkins and Adger (2005); Smit et al. (2001).

Source: Adapted from Tompkins and Adger (2005); Smit et al. (2001).

Table 4.2. Types and examples of adaptation options at different levels in agriculture




Technological development

Crop development

Public and private investment in new crop varieties and hybrids to increase tolerance to water and heat stress or other relevant adverse conditions

Weather and climate information systems

Public and private investments in monthly and seasonal forecasting, and early warning systems

Resource management innovations

Public and private investment in water management innovations to address moisture deficiencies and risk of drought and changing seasonality of precipitation

Technological adoption

Farm production innovations

Diversification of crop types and varieties including crop substitution. Diversifying livestock types and breeds and changing seasonality of feedlot practices

Land-use changes

Changing location of crop and livestock production and fallow rotations to address economic risks associated with climate change


Implement on-farm irrigation practices to avoid recurrent drought risk

Timing of operations

Changing timing of operations to address changing duration of growing seasons and associated changes in temperature and moisture

(Continued on next page)

(Continued on next page)

Table 4.2. (continued)




Government programmes and insurance

Agricultural support programmes

Modification of crop insurance programmes to influence farm-level risk management strategies.

Changes in ad hoc compensation and assistance for extreme events and disasters (e.g. animal diseases).

Modify support and incentive programmes to influence farm-management practices.

Private insurance

Encouragement of markets for private insurance of production, infrastructure and income

Complementary resource management programmes

Development of public policies for water resource conservation and complementary conservation objectives.

Farm financial management

Private crop insurance

Crop shares and futures

Uptake of private (or publicly encouraged) crop insurance or income insurance

Income stabilisation and diversification

Diversification of household income to include less weather-sensitive options.

Source: Adapted from Smit and Skinner (2002).

Source: Adapted from Smit and Skinner (2002).

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