Assessment of current adaptation practices

17.2.1 Adaptation practices

In this chapter, adaptation practices refer to actual adjustments, or changes in decision environments, which might ultimately enhance resilience or reduce vulnerability to observed or expected changes in climate. Thus, investment in coastal protection infrastructure to reduce vulnerability to storm surges and anticipated sea-level rise is an example of actual adjustments. Meanwhile, the development of climate risk screening guidelines, which might make downstream development projects more resilient to climate risks (Burton and van Aalst, 2004; ADB, 2005), is an example of changes in the policy environment.

With an explicit focus on real-world behaviour, assessments of adaptation practices differ from the more theoretical assessments of potential responses or how such measures might reduce climate damages under hypothetical scenarios of climate change. Adaptation practices can be differentiated along several dimensions: by spatial scale (local, regional, national); by sector (water resources, agriculture, tourism, public health, and so on); by type of action (physical, technological, investment, regulatory, market); by actor (national or local government, international donors, private sector, NGOs, local communities and individuals); by climatic zone (dryland, floodplains, mountains, Arctic, and so on); by baseline income/development level of the systems in which they are implemented (least-developed countries, middle-income countries, and developed countries); or by some combination of these and other categories.

From a temporal perspective, adaptation to climate risks can be viewed at three levels, including responses to: current variability (which also reflect learning from past adaptations to historical climates); observed medium and long-term trends in climate; and anticipatory planning in response to model-based scenarios of long-term climate change. The responses across the three levels are often intertwined, and indeed might form a continuum.

Adapting to current climate variability is already sensible in an economic development context, given the direct and certain evidence of the adverse impacts of such phenomena (Goklany,

1995; Smit et al., 2001; Agrawala and Cane, 2002). In addition, such adaptation measures can be synergistic with development priorities (Ribot et al., 1996), but there could also be conflicts. For example, activities such as shrimp farming and conversion of coastal mangroves, while profitable in an economic sense, can exacerbate vulnerability to sea-level rise (Agrawala et al., 2005).

Adaptation to current climate variability can also increase resilience to long-term climate change. In a number of cases, however, anthropogenic climate change is likely to also require forward-looking investment and planning responses that go beyond short-term responses to current climate variability. This is true, for example, in the case of observed impacts such as glacier retreat and permafrost melt (Schaedler, 2004; Shrestha and Shrestha, 2004). Even when impacts of climate change are not yet discernible, scenarios of future impacts may already be of sufficient concern to justify building some adaptation responses into planning. In some cases it could be more cost-effective to implement adaptation measures early on, particularly for infrastructure with long economic life (Shukla et al., 2004), or if current activities may irreversibly constrain future adaptation to the impacts of climate change (Smith et al., 2005).

17.2.2 Examples of adaptation practices

There is a long record of practices to adapt to the impacts of weather as well as natural climate variability on seasonal to interannual time-scales - particularly to the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO). These include proactive measures such as crop and livelihood diversification, seasonal climate forecasting, community-based disaster risk reduction, famine early warning systems, insurance, water storage, supplementary irrigation and so on. They also include reactive or ex-poste adaptations, for example, emergency response, disaster recovery, and migration (Sperling and Szekely, 2005). Recent reviews indicate that a 'wait and see' or reactive approach is often inefficient and could be particularly unsuccessful in addressing irreversible damages, such as species extinction or unrecoverable ecosystem damages, that may result from climate change (Smith, 1997; Easterling et al., 2004).

Proactive practices to adapt to climate variability have advanced significantly in recent decades with the development of operational capability to forecast several months in advance the onset of El Niño and La Niña events related to ENSO (Cane et al., 1986), as well as improvements in climate monitoring and remote sensing to provide better early warnings on complex climate-related hazards (Dilley, 2000). Since the mid 1990s, a number of mechanisms have also been established to facilitate proactive adaptation to seasonal to interannual climate variability. These include institutions that generate and disseminate regular seasonal climate forecasts (NOAA, 1999), and the regular regional and national forums and implementation projects worldwide to engage with local and national decision makers to design and implement anticipatory adaptation measures in agriculture, water resource management, food security, and a number of other sectors (Basher et al., 2000; Broad and Agrawala, 2000; Meinke et al., 2001; Patt and Gwata, 2002; De Mello Lemos, 2003; O'Brien and Vogel, 2003; Ziervogel, 2004). An evaluation of the responses to the 1997-98 El Niño across 16 developing countries in Asia, Asia-Pacific, Africa, and Latin America highlighted a number of barriers to effective adaptation, including: spatial and temporal uncertainties associated with forecasts of regional climate, low level of awareness among decision makers of the local and regional impacts of El Niño, limited national capacities in climate monitoring and forecasting, and lack of co-ordination in the formulation of responses (Glantz, 2001). Recent research also highlights that technological solutions such as seasonal forecasting are not sufficient to address the underlying social drivers of vulnerabilities to climate (Agrawala and Broad, 2002). Furthermore, social inequities in access to climate information and the lack of resources to respond can severely constrain anticipatory adaptation (Pfaff et al., 1999).

Table 17.1 provides an illustrative list of various types of adaptations that have been implemented by a range of actors including individuals, communities, governments and the private sector. Such measures involve a mix of institutional and behavioural responses, the use of technologies, and the design of climate resilient infrastructure. They are typically undertaken in response to multiple risks, and often as part of existing processes or programmes, such as livelihood enhancement, water resource management, and drought relief.

A growing number of measures are now also being put in place to adapt to the impacts of observed medium- to long-term trends in climate, as well as to scenarios of climate change. In particular, numerous measures have been put in place in the winter tourism sector in Alpine regions of many Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries to respond to observed impacts such as reduced snow cover and glacier retreat. These measures include technologies such as artificial snow-making and associated structures such as high altitude water reservoirs, economic and regional diversification, and the use of market-based instruments such as weather derivatives and insurance (e.g., Konig, 1999, for Australia; Burki et al., 2005, for Switzerland; Harrison et al., 2005, for Scotland; Scott et al., 2005, for North America). Adaptation measures are also being put in place in developing country contexts to respond to glacier retreat and associated risks, such as the expansion of glacial lakes, which pose serious risks to livelihoods and infrastructure. The Tsho Rolpa risk-reduction project in Nepal is an example of adaptation measures being implemented to address the creeping threat of glacial lake outburst flooding as a result of rising temperatures (see Box 17.1).

Recent observed weather extremes, particularly heatwaves (e.g., 1995 heatwave in Chicago; the 1998 heatwave in Toronto; and the 2003 heatwave in Europe), have also provided the trigger for the design of hot-weather alert plans. While such measures have been initiated primarily in response to current weather extremes, at times there is implicit or explicit recognition that hot weather events might become more frequent or worsen under climate change and that present adaptations have often been inadequate and created new vulnerabilities (Poumadere et al., 2005). Public health adaptation measures have now been put in place that combine weather monitoring, early warning, and response measures in a number of places including metropolitan Toronto (Smoyer-Tomic and Rainham, 2001; Ligeti, 2004; Mehdi, 2006), Shanghai (Sheridan and Kalkstein, 2004) and several cities in Italy and France (ONERC, 2005). Weather and climate extremes have also led to a number of adaptation responses in the financial sector (see Box 17.2).

Table 17.1. Examples of adaptation initiatives by region, undertaken relative to present climate risks, including conditions associated with climate change.

REGION Climate-related Country stress Reference

Adaptation practices

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