Preparing for the Worst: Adaptation Becoming Crucial Part of Climate Change Plans

Differences in philosophical, economic and cultural outlook changes an area's reception to the need of climate change adaptation. Prayer flags in Bhutan, photo: Wonderlane via flickr.

After years of being relegated to the sidelines or talked about only in hushed tones the idea of adaptation strategies for climate change is increasingly being talked about on equal footing with the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In a new piece for Yale Environment 360, Bruce Stutz discusses this trend and what different adaptation strategies might look like:Overshoot of Carbon Reduction Targets Very Likely
The background: Publicly most climate change scientists and policy-makers put on a happy can-do type of countenance, but when you attend conferences where things are a bit more sober and earnest, there's often much less optimism present about actually being able to prevent the worst of climate change. Stutz quotes Wallace Broecker of Columbia University's Earth Institute.

My view is that we'll be lucky if we can stop CO2 at 600ppm. There's no way we're going to stop at 450. Impossible. If we're going to double CO2, we'd better prepare what we're going to do about it.

At 600ppm, global average temperature rise could be in the range of 3-4°C—which means greater sea level rise than predicted, glaciers melting and constraining water supply throughout large areas of Asia, agriculture being severely stressed in many places, greater storm intensity, reduced biodiversity, the end of coral reefs.

Adaptation Will Be Expensive, But We Won't Have Much Choice
The original article goes into some detail about efforts underway to confront water scarcity, adapt to rising sea levels, slow the spread of disease, and preserve biodiversity. But the gist of it all is that adaptation to climate change is going to cost us, ultimately whether we like it or not (and based on everything I've ever read, it's going to cost ever more the longer we delay in acting):

Developing strategies to cope with the impacts of a warmer world will be complex and expensive. Oxfam estimates it could cost some $40 billion a year; the World Bank estimates it might cost more than three times that. While strategies and technologies designed to mitigate climate change can be applied globally — one less coal-powered plant in China has the same effect as one less plant in the U.S. — adaptation strategies must deal with regional and local geography.

In April, for example, a European Union report on adaptation said Europe's most vulnerable regions to climate change will be southern Europe, the Mediterranean basin, the Alps, and the far north. Europe will have to adapt to the diminishing Alpine glaciers that now provide 40 percent of its fresh water. Africa, the western U.S., and Australia will have to adapt to intense droughts. Communities in the Arctic will have to adapt to melting ice and permafrost. If the Himalayan region loses its glaciers and monsoon patterns change, 40 percent of the world's population will likely face severe shortages of water for drinking and agriculture.

To preserve ecosystems and endangered species, conservationists will have to adapt their strategies. And epidemiologists will have to adapt to changing disease vectors. Climate change will test not only the resiliency of ecosystems but also the adaptability of individual cities, villages, and societies.

Intrinsic Appreciation of Nature Helps Adaptation
One of the most interesting points of the entire article, and one which I personally think deserves more coverage and emphasis, gets tucked in right at the end of the article. It has to do with how differences in outlook and perception of one's relation to nature can have a direct impact on how an area approaches climate change adaptation:
Kate Barnes, climate program associate for the MacArthur Foundation, has found that cultural, economic, and political differences affect adaptation efforts to preserve the world's montane biodiversity from the effects of climate change. In Bhutan, for instance, researchers found people's "intrinsic appreciation for nature" made them more open to adaptation strategies than in Peru, where an interest in producing biofuels and gas exploration superseded an interest in conservation.

Read more: Adaptation Emerges as Key Part of Any Climate Change Plan
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Tags: Global Climate Change | Global Warming Effects | Global Warming Solutions