The Unavoidability Of Adaptation

When I began my research on global climate change in the mid-1980s, it was commonly said that there were three possible responses: prevention, mitigation, and adaptation. Even then we were committed to a substantial climate change, although this was not widely known. This realization began to dawn on many people on June 23, 1988, a sweltering day in Washington, DC, in the middle of a severe national drought, when climate modeler James Hansen testified before a US Senate Committee that it was 99% probable that global warming had begun. Hansen's testimony was front-page news in the

Perspectives on Climate Change: Science, Economics, Politics, Ethics Advances in the Economics of Environmental Resources, Volume 5, 217-248 Copyright © 2005 by Elsevier Ltd. All rights of reproduction in any form reserved ISSN: 1569-3740/doi:10.1016/S1569-3740(05)05010-8

New York Times, and was extensively covered in other media as well. Whether or not Hanson was right, his testimony made clear that we were entering a new world, what Schneider (1989) called ''the greenhouse century.''

Once it became clear that prevention was no longer possible, mitigation quickly moved to center stage. One week after Hansen's testimony, an international conference in Toronto, convened by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), called for a 20% reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2005. In November, the World Congress on Climate and Development, meeting in Hamburg, called for a 30% reduction by 2000. Later that same year, acting on a proposal by the United States, the WMO and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) established the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in order to assess the relevant scientific information and to formulate response strategies.2 In December 1989, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution, proposed by Malta, that essentially authorized the negotiation of a climate change convention. The following year the IPCC published its first report and the International Negotiating Committee (INC) was established. In 1992 the Framework Convention on Climate Change (FCCC) was officially opened for signature at the Rio Earth Summit. It came into force on March 21, 1994, and by May 24, 2004, had been ratified by 189 countries.

The main objective of the FCCC is to stabilize ''greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.'' This goal is consistent with accepting some degree of climate change so long as it is not ''dangerous.'' In the negotiations leading up to the adoption of the FCCC, all the developed countries except the United States and the Soviet Union favored binding targets and timetables for emissions reductions as a way of reaching this goal. However, in the end the FCCC embodied voluntary commitments on the part of developed countries to return to 1990 levels of GHG emissions by 2000.

It soon became clear that while some European countries might succeed in keeping this commitment, the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Canada, and Norway would not. In 1995, at the first Conference of the Parties (COP 1), the ''Berlin Mandate'' was adopted. The parties pledged that by the end of 1997 an agreement would be reached establishing binding, "quantified, emission limitation reduction objectives'' for the industrialized countries, and that no new obligations would be imposed on other countries during the compliance period. In December 1997, the parties agreed to the Kyoto Protocol, which in its broad outlines satisfied the Berlin Mandate. However, many of the most important details regarding the rules of implementation were left for future meetings.

Almost immediately the Kyoto Protocol came under fire from several different directions. It was simultaneously attacked as too weak, too strong, unworkable, and, at least in the United States, politically unacceptable. Meeting in The Hague in November 2000, a lame-duck American administration and its allies, Japan, Russia, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand (collectively known as ''JUSCAN''), argued that countries should be able to satisfy up to 80% of their reductions by emissions trading and by establishing carbon sinks.3 The Europeans rejected this, and the meeting seemed headed for disaster. However, rather than admitting defeat, the conference was suspended until July 2001. In the interim, in March 2001, the new Bush administration caught the world by surprise by renouncing the Protocol. Ironically, this improved the negotiating position of America's JUSCAN partners. In order to come into force the Protocol had to be ratified by at least 55 countries, including Annex 1 countries responsible for 55% of Annex 1 country emissions in 1990.4 Since the U.S. share of such emissions is about 36%, it became imperative to keep the rest of JUSCAN in the Protocol. In addition, some hoped that by offering concessions, the United States could be persuaded to climb down from its extreme position and rejoin the negotiation. The result was that in July 2001, in Bonn, the European Union (EU) acceded to most of the demands that the Americans had made earlier in The Hague. The Protocol was further weakened in Marrakech in November 2001, when negotiators gave in to Russia's demand that its transferable credits for sinks be doubled. After two more years of study and negotiation, Russia finally ratified the Kyoto Protocol on November 18, 2004. On February 16, 2005, the Kyoto Protocol came into force, binding virtually every country in the world except the United States and Australia.

It is not completely clear what will be the effect of the Kyoto Protocol. While once it was envisioned that it would reduce developed country emissions by about 14% between 2000 and 2010, it now appears that in the wake of the Bonn and Marrakech agreements it could countenance as much as a 9% increase in emissions from these countries.5 Were that to occur, there would be little difference between the Kyoto path and a ''business as usual'' scenario, at least with respect to GHG emissions over the next decade.

Essentially what has occurred is that the vague loopholes that were embedded in the text of the Kyoto Protocol, rather than being eliminated, have been quantified and transformed into central features of an emissions control regime. In order to convey the flavor of these loopholes I will mention only the example of Russian ''hot air.'' As a result of the post-communist economic collapse, Russian GHG emissions have sharply declined since

1990. What has happened, in effect, is that Russia is being allowed to sell the rights to emissions that would not have occurred, to countries that will in fact use them. Thus, more GHGs will be emitted than would have been the case under a regime that simply established mandatory emissions limits without such flexible mechanisms as emissions trading and credits for carbon sinks. Russia benefits economically, countries with high levels of GHG emissions are allowed to carry on business more or less as usual, and politicians can take credit for having addressed the problem. Meanwhile, global climate change continues largely unabated.

At the eighth Conference of the Parties (COP 8) meeting in Delhi in October 2002, the United States, once the foremost advocate of bringing developing countries into an emissions control regime, joined with the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), India, and China in blocking the attempts of the EU to establish a more inclusive regime after the Kyoto commitments expire in 2012.6 At COP 10, meeting in Buenos Aires in December 2004, the United States did everything it could to block even informal discussion of a post-2012 emissions regime. In retrospect, COP 8 may be seen as our entrance into an era in which the world has given up on significantly mitigating climate change, instead embracing a de facto policy of ''adaptation only.'' Indeed, the most public pronouncement of COP 8, the Delhi Ministerial Declaration on Climate Change and Sustainable Development, emphasized adaptation almost to the exclusion of mitigation.

As should be clear already, the climate change discussion has its own vocabulary, and it is important to understand exactly what is meant by such terms as ''adaptation.'' One influential characterization is this: "... adaptation refers to adjustments in ecological-social-economic systems in response to actual or expected climate stimuli, their effects or impacts.7 Various typologies of adaptation have been developed,8 but for the present purposes it is sufficient to mark distinctions on two dimensions.

Some adaptations are conscious responses to climate change while others are not. For example, plans that are currently under way to evacuate low-lying Pacific islands are conscious adaptations, while adaptations by plants, animals and ecosystems, and also those by farmers who incrementally respond to what they see as climate variability and changes in growing season, are nonconscious adaptations. Intuitively, this distinction is between climate change policy adaptations and those responses that are autonomous or automatic. On another dimension, some adaptations are anticipatory while others are reactive. An example of an anticipatory adaptation is constructing seawalls in order to minimize the impact of an expected sea level rise. An example of a reactive adaptation is the efforts of a coastal community, damaged by a hurricane, to rebuild to a more secure standard. This dimension marks the intuitive distinction between adaptations based on foresight and those that are responses to immediate events. Taking these dimensions together, we can say that climate change adaptations can be driven by policy or by autonomous responses, and they can be based on predictions or stimulated by events.

There are, of course, other dimensions on which one might distinguish adaptations, and the categories that I have characterized admit of degrees of membership. These complications need not concern us for the present purposes, however.9

From the beginning of the climate change controversy, some in the research community have been concerned about the place of adaptation on the policy agenda.10 There were several sources of this concern.

First, the community that studies climate and weather impacts is greatly influenced by the natural hazards community, which has long been committed to the idea that human societies are to a great extent maladapted to their environments. Researchers point to ongoing failures to adapt to such predictable features of a stable climate regime as droughts, storms, and hurricanes. For people who suffer from these events it matters little if they are part of normal variability, associated with various long-term natural cycles, or consequences of anthropogenic climate change. What people experience is weather, not the statistical abstractions constructed by climatol-ogists. An increasing focus on adaptation would help vulnerable people whether or not climate change is occurring.

A second source of concern, often expressed by anthropologists and those influenced by the social movements of the 1960s, is rooted in opposition to scientistic, top-down, managerial approaches to human problems. Here the concern is that focusing primarily on mitigation (i.e., reducing GHG emissions) transforms problems of human survival and livelihood into technical problems of ''carbon management," best approached by scientists with their formal methods of prediction and their economistic approaches to evaluating policy options. With this view, subsistence farmers in the developing world would do better by adjusting and adapting to changing environmental conditions based on their indigenous knowledge than waiting for the right sort of policy to emerge in New York, Geneva, or Washington and then filtering down through a panoply of national institutions, subject to who knows what kinds of distortions and revisions.

In the discussion surrounding the Kyoto Protocol some researchers seemed to suggest that adaptation was a neglected option as a response to climate change.11 Yet concern for adaptation is both implicit and explicit in the FCCC.12 The sentence that follows the statement of the objective quoted earlier states that "such a level should be achieved within a time-frame sufficient to allow ecosystems to adapt naturally to climate change, to assure that food production is not threatened, and to enable economic development to proceed in a sustainable manner. Article 4, which specifies the commitments undertaken by the parties to the Convention, mentions adaptation on several occasions. The parties agree to implement national or regional adaptation measures, to cooperate in preparing for adaptation to the impacts of climate change, and to take adapting to climate change into account in their relevant social, economic, and environmental policies and actions. In 1994, the IPCC published technical guidelines to assist nations in performing "vulnerability and adaptation assessments," and in 1995 at COP 1 in Berlin, explicit guidance was provided on adaptation planning and measures. The second IPCC report published in 1996 observed that many societies are poorly adapted to climate, and emphasized the importance of adopting "no-regrets" policies to better adapt to both the prevailing climate regime and what may come next.

More recently, in July 2003, the strategic plan of the United States Government's Climate Change Science Program listed, as one of its goals, understanding "the sensitivity and adaptability of different natural and managed ecosystems and human systems to climate and related global changes.''13 No comparable goal regarding mitigation figured in the plan.

Once it became clear that prevention was not possible, adaptation had to be part of the portfolio of responses. The logic of the U.S. government's Climate Action Report 2002 is unassailable: "because of the momentum in the climate system and natural climate variability, adapting to a changing climate is inevitable.''14 The adaptations may be clumsy, inefficient, inequitable, or inadequate, but it has been clear for some time that human beings and the rest of the biosphere will have to adapt to climate change or they will perish. What is in question is not whether a strategy of adaptation should and will be followed, but whether in addition there will be any serious attempt to mitigate climate change.15

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