Adaptation to Climate and Climate Change

Adaptation is a component of vulnerability, such that impacts on human activities and biophysical systems are, or can be, moderated by adaptation. As a technical term the word "adaptation" has a long and complex history in both the social and the natural sciences. In the natural sciences, adaptation is most closely associated with Darwinian evolutionary ideas and the process of natural selection. Those biological characteristics that have survival value in a hostile and changing environment get selected. This form of "adaptation" is strictly biological and usually occurs slowly over long time spans. Biological adaptation applies to humans as well as other species. It is clear, however, that some species also adapt in other ways. One obvious way is through migration. As environmental conditions decrease the desirability of a location, plants and animals can migrate to adjacent locations where conditions may be more favourable. The more mobile species, such as birds and some mammals, utilise this mode of adaptation more effectively than trees and plants that can only move from generation to generation by the spatially limited dispersal of seeds.

When applied to human society, the term adaptation covers a much wider range of possible actions. Human have not only adapted in the evolutionary biology sense of the word, but also in their culture, societal infrastructures, and technology.

Furthermore, they interfere with natural adaptation processes and adapt plants and animals by domestication and selective breeding.

Biological and social adaptations have long been the subjects of scientific enquiry. A feature of the processes under investigation has always been that change occurs slowly over generations and centuries, with biological adaptation requiring longer time periods than socio-cultural adaptation. Now, however, the pace of change is accelerating as species and systems respond to climate change. Anthropogenic interference with the chemical composition of the atmosphere is bringing about major shifts in climatic patterns and is leading to significant rise in sea level. The adaptations that are needed now and will be increasingly essential in the future is of a different order of magnitude and of a different character than any previously experienced.

Over historic and prehistoric periods, human beings have on balance adapted well to climate. This success is evidenced by the fact that the human species has spread widely over the planet and that more or less successful societies and livelihoods have been created in every climatic zone from the tropics to the arctic; from equatorial rainforests to arid regions; and from mountains to coasts, plains, river valleys, and deltas.

Much of this successful adaptation took place by a process of trial and error, and sometimes errors have led to the temporary or even permanent collapse of societies in particular localities. In modern times, understanding adaptation to environment, and specifically to climate, has become a matter for scientific and professional expertise. Architects and engineers design buildings and infrastructure to withstand extreme weather conditions such as heat, cold, and windstorms. Agronomists design and select cultivars suitable to the climate of particular farming regions. Medical scientists and public health authorities safeguard populations against diseases prevalent in particular climates. Meteorologists deliver forecasts and warnings of potentially adverse conditions. And so forth. These scientific, professional, and managerial tasks are not generally described as "adaptation". However, since the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change was negotiated, signed (1992), and ratified (1995), all these and similar activities are lumped together under the label of "adaptation".

This came about because the negotiators of the Convention found it convenient to divide responses to anthropogenic climate change into two types. The first and foremost response was called "mitigation" by which the negotiators meant any and all measures that could be taken to stabilise and eventually reduce the concentrations of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere. This includes the development and deployment of energy sources other than fossil fuels, effective approaches to increase energy efficiency, and technologies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, such as carbon capture and storage. The framers of the Convention understood that many different form of action could be taken to reduce vulnerability to climate, climate variability, and climate change. Adaptation was the convenient shorthand to refer to these potential actions.

The various special fields within biometeorology have long been concerned with the adverse impacts of climate and weather on human activities and the natural

(biosphere) system, and how best to cope with them. Applied biometeorologists have tended to pursue their research in relative isolation from each other. There is now a need to better understand the commonalities as well as the differences. The driving force is that these specialists within biometeorology are faced with a common problem - how best to cope (adapt) with climate change. Adaptation is a cross cutting theme and range of research and practice in which the various branches of biometeorology have something to learn from each other and something to contribute to the wider agenda of managing the impacts of climate change.

The purpose of this collection of papers on biometeorology and adaptation should now be clear:

1. To communicate some of the basic ideas and concepts of the sub-fields of biom-eteorology as they relate to climate change

2. To explore ideas, concepts, and practice that may be developed in common

3. To begin to converge on a new vision for biometeorology that will help to communicate its understanding and expertise, as well as enhance its utility

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