Adapting to climate change

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We have to combat climate change if we are to reduce the risk of catastrophic events in the future. Yet whatever we do, some change is inevitable. Even if we stopped all greenhouse gas emissions tomorrow, the average global temperature would still keep rising for the next 30 years, mainly because of the gradual release of heat stored by the oceans. The rising temperatures are bound to raise sea levels. They may also cause more droughts and floods, and create problems for agriculture and wildlife. So we must prepare for these changes, while working hard to stop the problem from getting worse.


Many great cities are built on low-lying coasts that are vulnerable to rising sea levels. Most of these cities already have sea defenses, but they will need extra protection against extra-high tides and storm surges. Some barriers have already been built. One of the largest, the Thames Barrier, was built in 1974-1982 to protect London, England, from storm surges that were already seen as a threat. The ten giant steel gates were used quite rarely until 1990, but as sea levels creep up, they have been closed a lot more often.


Developing nations often cannot afford to build coastal defenses, but the sea naturally creates barriers to storm waves in the form of shoals, salt marshes and, in warmer regions, mangrove swamps like this one in Florida. Many of these natural barriers have been destroyed by poorly planned coastal development. By preventing this, even poor countries can protect their coasts from flooding.


Wildlife is already suffering from the massive destruction of habitats all over the world, and the extra stress of changing climates will drive many species into extinction. By creating wildlife reserves, we can make life easier for plants and animals, and also preserve the ecosystems that help resist serious climate change. This scientist is using computer technology to study plant growth in a tropical forest reserve in Costa Rica.


People living on the fringes of expanding deserts can stop the sand from taking over by stabilizing sand dunes with palm fronds, as here in Morocco, or by planting drought-resistant grasses and shrubs. They can also stop dry grassland from turning into desert by preventing overgrazing by farm animals.

Pylons stop the houses from floating away



Scientists at the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines are developing new rice plants that can grow well in dryer, warmer climates. These may help stop rice yields from dwindling as temperatures rise. Away from the tropics, farmers may switch to food crops such as corn that are more suited to hotter, drier summers—although predicting exactly which crops will do well in a constantly changing climate may not be easy.

living with the floods

Rivers swell naturally after heavy rain, and may spill over their banks. In the past this created broad, flat flood plains. In many countries regular flooding is prevented by high riverbanks, and the flood plains have been built on. But more intense storms are making these houses more vulnerable to flooding. In the low-lying Netherlands, people are dealing with the problem by building houses that float. These houses by the Maas River have watertight basements that act like rafts, and can rise up to 18 ft (5.5 m) on rising floodwaters.

safe refuges

Bangladesh is a very flat, low-lying land that suffers regular flooding as the Ganges and other rivers burst their banks after heavy monsoon rains. The local people have adapted by building mounds that rise above the flat landscape and provide refuges, both for them and their valuable cattle. When the floods drain away, the people and their animals can move back onto the surrounding land.

Metal buildings provide temporary shelter for the farmers

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