Climate change adaptation

Climate change adaptation (CCA) is a response to global warming (also known as "climate change" or "anthropogenic climate change"). The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) defines adaptation as: 'the process of adjustment to actual or expected climate and its effects. In human systems, adaptation seeks to moderate or avoid harm or exploit beneficial opportunities. In some natural systems, human intervention may facilitate adjustment to expected climate and its effects'.[1] This adjustment includes many areas such as infrastructure,[2] agriculture[3] and education.

Even if emissions are stabilized relatively soon, global warming and its effects will last many years, and adaptation would be necessary to the resulting changes in climate.[4]

Adaptation actions can be considered as either incremental adaptation (actions where the central aim is to maintain the essence and integrity of a system) or transformational adaptation (actions that change the fundamental attributes of a system in response to climate change and its impacts).[5]

The need for adaptation varies from place to place, depending on the sensitivity and vulnerability to environmental impacts.[6] Adaptation is especially important in developing countries since those countries are bearing the brunt of the effects of global warming.[7] Human adaptive capacity is unevenly distributed across different regions and populations, and developing countries generally have less capacity to adapt.[8]

Adaptive capacity is closely linked to social and economic development.[9] The economic costs of adaptation to climate change are likely to cost billions of dollars annually for the next several decades, though the exact amount of money needed is unknown.[10]

The adaptation challenge grows with the magnitude and the rate of climate change. Even the most effective climate change mitigation[11] through reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions or enhanced removal of these gases from the atmosphere (through carbon sinks)[12] would not prevent further climate change impacts, making the need for adaptation unavoidable.[13] However climate change may be too much for some natural ecosystems, such as coral reefs, to be able to adapt.[14] Others are concerned that climate adaptation programs might interfere with the existing development programs and thus lead to unintended consequences for vulnerable groups.[15] The economic and social costs of unmitigated climate change would be very high.[16]

Effects of global warming

The projected effects for the environment and for civilization are numerous and varied. The main effect is an increasing global average temperature. As of 2013 the average surface temperature could increase by a further 0.3 to 4.8 °C (0.5 to 8.6 °F) by the end of the century.[17] This causes a variety of secondary effects, namely, changes in patterns of precipitation, rising sea levels, altered patterns of agriculture, increased extreme weather events, the expansion of the range of tropical diseases, and the opening of new marine trade routes.

Potential effects include sea level rise of 110 to 770 mm (0.36 to 2.5 feet) between 1990 and 2100, repercussions to agriculture, possible slowing of the thermohaline circulation, reductions in the ozone layer, increased intensity and frequency of extreme weather events, lowering of ocean pH, and the spread of tropical diseases such as malaria and dengue fever.

A summary of probable effects and recent understanding can be found in the report made for the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report by Working Group II.

Adaptation is handicapped by uncertainty over the effects of global warming on specific locations such as the Southwestern United States or phenomena such as the Indian monsoon predicted to increase in frequency and intensity.[18]

International adaptation finance

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, under Article 11, incorporates a financial mechanism to developing country parties to support them with adaptation.[19] Until 2009, three funds existed under the UNFCCC financial mechanism. The Special Climate Change Fund (SCCF) and the Least Developed Countries Fund (LDCF) are administered by the Global Environmental Facility. The Adaptation Fund was established a result of negotiations during COP15 and COP16 and is administered by its own Secretariat. Initially, when the Kyoto Protocol was in operation, the Adaptation Fund was financed by a 2% levy on the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM).

At the 15th Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC (COP15), held in Copenhagen in 2009, the Copenhagen Accord was agreed in order to commit to the goal of sending $100 billion per year to developing countries in assistance for climate change mitigation and adaptation through 2020.[20] A new fund - the Green Climate Fund, was therefore created.


A key and defining feature of international adaptation finance is its premise on the concept of additionality. This reflects the linkages between adaptation finance and other levels of development aid.[21] Many developing countries already provide international aid assistance to developing countries to address challenges such as poverty, malnutrition, food insecurity,[22] availability of drinking water, indebtedness, illiteracy, unemployment, local resource conflicts, and lower technological development. Climate change threatens to exacerbate or stall progress on fixing some of these pre-existing problems, and creates new problems. To avoid existing aid being redirected, additionality refers to the extra costs of adaptation.

The four main definitions of additionality are:[21]

  1. Climate finance classified as aid, but additional to (over and above) the 0.7% ODA target;
  2. Increase on previous year's Official Development Assistance (ODA) spent on climate change mitigation;
  3. Rising ODA levels that include climate change finance but where it is limited to a specified percentage; and
  4. Increase in climate finance not connected to ODA.

A criticism of additionality is that it encourages business as usual that does not account for the future risks of climate change. Some advocates have thus proposed integrating climate change adaptation into poverty reduction programs.[23]

From 2010 to 2020, Denmark increased its global warming adaptation aid 33%, from 0.09% of GDP to 0.12% of GDP, but not by additionality. Instead, the aid was subtracted from other foreign assistance funds. Politiken wrote: "Climate assistance is taken from the poorest."[24]

Considerations and general recommendations

Principles for effective policy

Adaptive policy can occur at the global, national, or local scale, with outcomes dependent on the political will in that area.[25] Scheraga and Grambsch[26] identify 9 fundamental principles to be considered when designing adaptation policy.

  1. The effects of climate change vary by region.
  2. The effects of climate change may vary across demographic groups.
  3. Climate change poses both risks and opportunities.
  4. The effects of climate change must be considered in the context of multiple stressors and factors, which may be as important to the design of adaptive responses as the sensitivity of the change.
  5. Adaptation comes at a cost.
  6. Adaptive responses vary in effectiveness, as demonstrated by current efforts to cope with climate variability.
  7. The systemic nature of climate impacts complicates the development of adaptation policy.
  8. Maladaptation can result in negative effects that are as serious as the climate-induced effects that are being avoided.
  9. Many opportunities for adaptation make sense whether or not the effects of climate change are realized.

Scheraga and Grambsch make it clear that climate change policy is impeded by the high level of variance surrounding climate change impacts as well as the diverse nature of the problems they face.

Adaptation can mitigate the adverse impacts of climate change, but it will incur costs and will not prevent all damage.[27] The IPCC points out that many adverse effects of climate change are not changes in the average conditions, but changes in the variation or the extremes of conditions.[28] For example, the average sea level in a port might not be as important as the height of water during a storm surge (which causes flooding); the average rainfall in an area might not be as important as how frequent and severe droughts and extreme precipitation events become.[29] Additionally, effective adaptive policy can be difficult to implement because policymakers are rewarded more for enacting short-term change, rather than long-term planning.[30] Since the impacts of climate change are generally not seen in the short-term, this means that policymakers have less incentive to act upon those potential outcomes. Furthermore, these problems (both the causes and effects of climate change) are occurring on a global scale, which has caused the United Nations to lead global policy efforts such as the Kyoto Protocol and Paris Agreement, in addition to creating a body of research through the IPCC, in order to create a global framework for adapting to and combatting climate change.[31] However, the vast majority of climate change adaptation and mitigation policies are being implemented on a more local scale due to the fact that different regions must adapt differently to climate change and because national and global policies are often more challenging to enact.[32]

Criteria for assessing responses

James Titus, project manager for sea level rise at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, identifies the following criteria that policy makers should use in assessing responses to global warming:[33]

  • Economic Efficiency: Will the initiative yield benefits substantially greater than if the resources were applied elsewhere?
  • Flexibility: Is the strategy reasonable for the entire range of possible changes in temperatures, precipitation, and sea level?
  • Urgency: Would the strategy be successful if implementation were delayed ten or twenty years?
  • Low Cost: Does the strategy require minimal resources?
  • Equity: Does the strategy unfairly benefit some at the expense of other regions, generations, or economic classes?
  • Institutional feasibility: Is the strategy acceptable to the public? Can it be implemented with existing institutions under existing laws?
  • Unique or Critical Resources: Would the strategy decrease the risk of losing unique environmental or cultural resources?
  • Health and Safety: Would the proposed strategy increase or decrease the risk of disease or injury?
  • Consistency: Does the policy support other national state, community, or private goals?
  • Private v. Public Sector: Does the strategy minimize governmental interference with decisions best made by the private sector?

Differing time scales

Adaptation can either occur in anticipation of change (anticipatory adaptation), or be a response to those changes (reactive adaptation).[34] Most adaptation being implemented at present is responding to current climate trends and variability, for example increased use of artificial snow-making in the European Alps. Some adaptation measures, however, are anticipating future climate change, such as the construction of the Confederation Bridge in Canada at a higher elevation to take into account the effect of future sea-level rise on ship clearance under the bridge.[35]

Much adaptation takes place in relation to short-term climate variability, however this may cause maladaptation to longer-term climatic trends. For example, the expansion of irrigation in Egypt into the Western Sinai desert due to a period of higher river flows is a maladaptation when viewed in relation to the longer term projections of drying in the region[36]). Adaptations at one scale can also create externalities at another by reducing the adaptive capacity of other actors. This is often the case when broad assessments of the costs and benefits of adaptation are examined at smaller scales and it is possible to see that whilst the adaptation may benefit some actors, it has a negative effect on others.[34]

Traditional coping strategies

People have always adapted to climatic changes and some community coping strategies already exist, for example changing sowing times or adopting new water-saving techniques.[36] Traditional knowledge and coping strategies must be maintained and strengthened, otherwise adaptive capacity may be weakened as local knowledge of the environment is lost. Strengthening these local techniques and building upon them also makes it more likely that adaptation strategies will be adopted, as it creates more community ownership and involvement in the process.[35] In many cases however this will not be enough to adapt to new conditions which are outside the range of those previously experienced, and new techniques will be needed.[37] The incremental adaptations which were being implemented are now insufficient as the vulnerabilities and risks of climate change have increased, this causes a need for transformational adaptations which are much larger and costlier.[38] Current development efforts are increasingly focusing on community-based climate change adaptation, seeking to enhance local knowledge, participation and ownership of adaptation strategies.[39]

Types of adaptation

Local adaptation efforts

Cities, states, and provinces often have considerable responsibility in land use planning, public health, and disaster management. Some have begun to take steps to adapt to threats intensified by climate change, such as flooding, bushfires, heatwaves, and rising sea levels.[40]

Projects include:[41]

  • Installing protective and/ or resilient technologies and materials in properties that are prone to flooding[42]
  • Changing to heat tolerant tree varieties[43][44]
  • Rainwater storage to deal with more frequent flooding rainfall – Changing to water permeable pavements, adding water-buffering vegetation, adding underground storage tanks, subsidizing household rain barrels[43]
  • Reducing paved areas to deal with rainwater and heat[45]
  • Adding green roofs to deal with rainwater and heat[43]
  • Adding air conditioning in public schools[43]
  • Requiring waterfront properties to have higher foundations[46]
  • Raising pumps at wastewater treatment plants[46]
  • Surveying local vulnerabilities, raising public awareness, and making climate change-specific planning tools like future flood maps[46][47][48][49][50][51]
  • Incentivizing lighter-colored roofs to reduce the heat island effect[46]
  • Installing devices to prevent seawater from backflowing into storm drains[46]
  • Installing better flood defenses, such as sea walls and increased pumping capacity[52]
  • Buying out homeowners in flood-prone areas[53]
  • Raising street level to prevent flooding[52]

Dealing with more frequent drenching rains may required increasing the capacity of stormwater systems, and separating stormwater from blackwater, so that overflows in peak periods do not contaminate rivers. One example is the SMART Tunnel in Kuala Lumpur.

According to English Nature, gardeners can help mitigate the effects of climate change by providing habitats for the most threatened species, and/or saving water by changing gardens to use plants which require less.[54]

New York City produced a comprehensive report for its Rebuilding and Resiliency initiative after Hurricane Sandy. Its efforts include not only making buildings less prone to flooding, but taking steps to reduce the future recurrence of specific problems encountered during and after the storm: weeks-long fuel shortages even in unaffected areas due to legal and transportation problems, flooded health care facilities, insurance premium increases, damage to electricity and steam generation in addition to distribution networks, and flooding of subway and roadway tunnels.[55]

Enhancing adaptive capacity

Adaptive capacity is the ability of a system (human, natural or managed) to adjust to climate change (including climate variability and extremes) to moderate potential damages, to take advantage of opportunities, or to cope with consequences.[56] As a property, adaptive capacity is distinct from adaptation itself.[57] Those societies that can respond to change quickly and successfully have a high adaptive capacity.[37] High adaptive capacity does not necessarily translate into successful adaptation. For example, adaptive capacity in Western Europe is generally considered to be high,[58] and the risks of warmer winters increasing the range of livestock diseases is well documented, but many parts of Europe were still badly affected by outbreaks of the Bluetongue virus in livestock in 2007.

Unmitigated climate change (i.e., future climate change without efforts to limit greenhouse gas emissions) would, in the long term, be likely to exceed the capacity of natural, managed and human systems to adapt.[59]

It has been found that efforts to enhance adaptive capacity can help to reduce vulnerability to climate change.[60] In many instances, activities to promote sustainable development can also act to enhance people's adaptive capacity to climate change. These activities can include:[61]

Others have suggested that certain forms of gender inequity should be addressed at the same time;[62] for example women may have participation in decision-making, or be constrained by lower levels of education.[35]

Researchers at the Overseas Development Institute found that development interventions to increase adaptive capacity have tended not to result in increased agency for local people.[63] They argue that this should play a more prominent part in future intervention planning because agency is a central factor in all other aspects of adaptive capacity. Asset holdings and the ability to convert these resources through institutional and market processes are central to agency.[64]

Agricultural production

A significant effect of global climate change is the altering of global rainfall patterns, with certain effects on agriculture.[65] Rainfed agriculture constitutes 80% of global agriculture. Many of the 852 million poor people in the world live in parts of Asia and Africa that depend on rainfall to cultivate food crops. Climate change will modify rainfall, evaporation, runoff, and soil moisture storage. Extended drought can cause the failure of small and marginal farms with resultant economic, political and social disruption, more so than this currently occurs.

Agriculture of any kind is strongly influenced by the availability of water. Changes in total seasonal precipitation or in its pattern of variability are both important. The occurrence of moisture stress during flowering, pollination, and grain-filling is harmful to most crops and particularly so to corn, soybeans, and wheat. Increased evaporation from the soil and accelerated transpiration in the plants themselves will cause moisture stress.

Adaptive ideas include:

  • Taking advantage of global transportation systems to delivering surplus food to where it is needed[65] (though this does not help subsistence farmers unless aid is given).
  • Developing crop varieties with greater drought tolerance.[66]
  • Rainwater storage. For example, according to the International Water Management Institute, using small planting basins to 'harvest' water in Zimbabwe has been shown to boost maize yields, whether rainfall is abundant or scarce. And in Niger, they have led to three or fourfold increases in millet yields.[67]
  • Falling back from crops to wild edible fruits, roots and leaves. Promoting the growth of forests can provide these backup food supplies, and also provide watershed conservation, carbon sequestration, and aesthetic value.


Reforestation is one of the ways to stop desertification fueled by anthropogenic climate change and non sustainable land use. One of the most important projects is the Great Green Wall that should stop the expansion of Sahara desert to the south. By 2018 only 15% of it is accomplished, but there are already many positive effects, which include: "Over 12 million acres (5 million hectares) of degraded land has been restored in Nigeria; roughly 30 million acres of drought-resistant trees have been planted across Senegal; and a whopping 37 million acres of land has been restored in Ethiopia – just to name a few of the states involved." "many groundwater wells refilled with drinking water, rural towns with additional food supplies, and new sources of work and income for villagers, thanks to the need for tree maintenance"[68][69][70]

More spending on irrigation

The demand for water for irrigation is projected to rise in a warmer climate, bringing increased competition between agriculture—already the largest consumer of water resources in semi-arid regions—and urban as well as industrial users. Falling water tables and the resulting increase in the energy needed to pump water will make the practice of irrigation more expensive, particularly when with drier conditions more water will be required per acre. Other strategies will be needed to make the most efficient use of water resources. For example, the International Water Management Institute has suggested five strategies that could help Asia feed its growing population in light of climate change. These are:

  • Modernising existing irrigation schemes to suit modern methods of farming
  • Supporting farmers' efforts to find their own water supplies, by tapping into groundwater in a sustainable way
  • Looking beyond conventional "Participatory Irrigation Management" schemes, by engaging the private sector
  • Expanding capacity and knowledge
  • Investing outside the irrigation sector[71]

Weather control

Russian and American scientists have in the past tried to control the weather, for example by seeding clouds with chemicals to try to produce rain when and where it is needed. A new method being developed involves replicating the urban heat island effect, where cities are slightly hotter than the countryside because they are darker and absorb more heat. This creates 28% more rain 20–40 miles downwind from cities compared to upwind.[72]

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) through its Commission for Atmospheric Sciences (CAS) opined in 2007: "Purposeful augmentation of precipitation, reduction of hail damage, dispersion of fog and other types of cloud and storm modifications by cloud seeding are developing technologies which are still striving to achieve a sound scientific foundation and which have to be adapted to enormously varied natural conditions."[73]

Damming glacial lakes

Glacial lake outburst floods may become a bigger concern due to the retreat of glaciers, leaving behind numerous lakes that are impounded by often weak terminal moraine dams. In the past, the sudden failure of these dams has resulted in localized property damage, injury and deaths. Glacial lakes in danger of bursting can have their moraines replaced with concrete dams (which may also provide hydroelectric power).[74]


IPCC (2007) concluded that geoengineering options, such as ocean fertilization to remove CO2 from the atmosphere, remained largely unproven.[75] It was judged that reliable cost estimates for geoengineering had not been published.

The Royal Society (2009) published the findings of a study into geoengineering. The authors of the study defined geoengineering as a "deliberate large-scale intervention in the Earth's climate system, in order to moderate global warming".[76] According to the study, the safest and most predictable method of moderating climate change is early action to reduce GHG emissions.

Scientists such as Ken Caldeira and Paul Crutzen[77] suggest techniques such as:


Migration frequently requires that would-be migrants have access to social and financial capital, such as support networks in the chosen destination and the funds or physical resources to be able to move. Migration is frequently the last adaptive response households will take when confronted with environmental factors that threaten their livelihoods, and mostly resorted to when other mechanisms to cope have proven unsuccessful.[78]

The rhetoric regarding climate-related migration is complex and disputed. However, it is widely accepted that the results of migration events are multi-causal, with the environment being just a factor amongst many. Outside of policy, human rights organizations, expert demographers and environmental climate scientists dominate this debate. Many discussions are based on projections, while relatively few use current migration data.[79] While many migration events can be attributed to sudden environmental change, most migration events are a result of long term environmental changes and do not cause sudden migration.[80] Some scholars attribute these events to sudden environmental changes, like natural disasters. Some choose to label it "climate change", which reflects a more long term onset of change, and the human impact element.[81]

It is helpful to provide an intersectional approach to this discussion and understand that focusing on climate change as the issue frames the debate in terms of projections, causing the research to be speculative. Migration as tool for climate change adaptation is projected to be a more pressing issue in the decade to come.[82] It is often framed in terms of human rights issues and national security. Migration events are often seen as a failure of the governments or policy making bodies that could not contain or effectively manage environmental changes.[83] For example, extreme drought events in the Caribbean proliferate movement of peoples because of the lack of water. This is often seen as a failure on the local governments to provide structural and independent resources. These adaptation failures that have been the topic of concern for many scholars researching this area. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees has been viewed as one of the highest authorities to help those displaced.[84] In Africa, specifically, migrant social networks can help to build social capital to increase the social resilience in the communities of origin and trigger innovations across regions by the transfer of knowledge, technology, remittances and other resources.[85] These could increase the flexibility, diversity and creativity of communities in addressing climate stress and open new pathways for co-development connecting the home and host communities.

In Africa, in particular, in terms of adaptation strategies Mozambique and Zimbabwe are clear examples of this because they have implemented relocation policies that have reduced the exposure of populations and migrants to disaster. In any case, it is important to build resilience in the long run. And for that, tools must be put in place that limit forced displacement after a disaster; promote employment programs, even if only temporary, for IDPs or establish funding plans to ensure their security; to minimize the vulnerability of populations from risk areas. This can limit the displacement caused by environmental shocks and better channel the positive spillovers (money transfers, experiences, etc.) from the migration to the origin countries/communities.[86]

The figure of the "failed migrant", in most African countries, shows extreme heterogeneity. The causes associated with failure are most often from social and personal natures – feelings of personal failure for example– but can also be related to social isolation in the host countries. Although there has been some progress in the discussion[87] of the causes of the pathos of failed migration, there are still many unresolved issues. Factors such as a low social level, a change of life plan, unemployment, or even environmental stress (drought, high temperature, water scarcity, etc.) are often associated with an increased risk of failure when we know that most African migrants live in difficult socio-economic and ecological conditions.


Insurance spreads the financial impact of flooding and other extreme weather events.[88] Although it can be preferable to take a proactive approach to eliminate the cause of the risk, reactive post-harm compensation can be used as a last resort.[89] Access to reinsurance may be a form of increasing the resiliency of cities.[90] Where there are failures in the private insurance market, the public sector can subsidize premiums.[91] A study identified key equity issues for policy considerations:[92]

  • Transferring risk to the public purse does not reduce overall risk
  • Governments can spread the cost of losses across time rather than space
  • Governments can force home-owners in low risk areas to cross-subsidize the insurance premiums of those in high risk areas
  • Cross-subsidization is increasingly difficult for private sector insurers operating in a competitive market
  • Governments can tax people to pay for tomorrow's disaster.

Government-subsidized insurance, such as the U.S. National Flood Insurance Program, is criticized for providing a perverse incentive to develop properties in hazardous areas, thereby increasing overall risk.[93] It is also suggested that insurance can undermine other efforts to increase adaptation, for instance through property level protection and resilience.[94] This behavioral effect may be countered with appropriate land-use policies that limit new construction where current or future climate risks are perceived and/or encourage the adoption of resilient building codes to mitigate potential damages.[95]

Adaptation measures by region

The Netherlands, along with the Philippines and Japan and United Nations Environment, launched the Global Centre of Excellence on Climate Adaptation in 2017.[96][97][98]

Numerous countries, including Australia, have held inquiries into and have planned or started adaptation measures.

Policies have been identified as important tools for integrating issues of climate change adaptation.[99] At national levels, adaptation strategies may be found in National Action Plans (NAPS[100]) and National Adaptation Programme of Action (NAPA)(in developing countries), and/or in national policies and strategies on climate change. These are at different levels of development in different countries.

The Americas

United States

The state of California enacted the first comprehensive state-level climate projection and action plan with its 2009 "California Climate Adaptation Strategy."[101][102] California's electrical grid has been impacted by the increased fire risks associated with climate change, such as in the 2019 "red flag" warning about the possibility of wildfires declared in some areas of California, which required the electricity company "Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E)" to shut down power to prevent inflammation of trees that touch the electricity lines. Millions were impacted. The climatic conditions that cause this warning became more frequent because of climate change, and will worsen if temperatures continue to increase.[103][104]

Within the state of Florida four counties (Broward, Miami-Dade, Monroe, Palm Beach) have created the Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact in order to coordinate adaptation and mitigation strategies to cope with the impact of climate change on the region.[105]

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts has issued grants to coastal cities and towns for adaptation activities such as fortification against flooding and preventing coastal erosion.[106]

New York State is requiring climate change be taken into account in certain infrastructure permitting, zoning, and open space programs; and is mapping sea level rise along its coast.[107] After Hurricane Sandy, New York and New Jersey accelerated voluntary government buy-back of homes in flood-prone areas. New York City announced in 2013 it planned to spend between $10 and $20 billion on local flood protection, reduction of the heat island effect with reflective and green roofs, flood-hardening of hospitals and public housing, resiliency in food supply, and beach enhancement; rezoned to allow private property owners to move critical features to upper stories; and required electrical utilities to harden infrastructure against flooding.[108][109] Study of a large storm barrier spanning the entire harbor was previously proposed by the Governor of New York, but was dismissed in the City's plans.[110]

In 2019, a 19.1 billion dollars "disaster relief bill" was approved by the senate. The bill should help the victims of extreme weather that was partly fueled by climate change.[111]


In Mesoamerica today, climate change is one of the main threats to rural Central American farmers, as the region is plagued with frequent droughts, cyclones and the El Niño- Southern-Oscillation.[112] Although there is a wide variety of adaption strategies, these can vary dramatically from country to country. Many of the adjustments that have been made are primarily agricultural or related to water supply. Some of these adaptive strategies include restoration of degraded lands, rearrangement of land uses across territories, livelihood diversification, changes to sowing dates or water harvest, and even migration.[112] The lack of available resources in Mesoamerica continues to pose as a barrier to more substantial adaptations, so the changes made today are much more incremental.[112]


Climate change threatens to undermine decades of development gains in Europe and put at risk efforts to eradicate poverty.[113]


In 2008, the German Federal Cabinet adopted the 'German Strategy for Adaptation to Climate Change'[114] that sets out a framework for adaptation in Germany. Priorities are to collaborate with the Federal States of Germany in assessing the risks of climate change, identifying action areas and defining appropriate goals and measures. In 2011, the Federal Cabinet adopted the 'Adaptation Action Plan'[115] that is accompanied by other items such as research programs, adaptation assessments and systematic observations.


In 2009 the Greenland Climate Research Centre was set up in the capital of Greenland, Nuuk.[116] Traditional knowledge is important for weather and animal migration, as well as for adaptive capacity building in areas such as the recognition of approaching hazards and survival skills.[117]



In 2018, the New York WILD film festival gave the "Best Short Film" award to a 12-minute documentary, titled Adaptation Bangladesh: Sea Level Rise. The film explores the way in which Bangladeshi farmers are preventing their farms from flooding by building floating gardens made of water hyacinth and bamboo.[118]


An Ice Stupa designed by Sonam Wangchuk brings glacial water to farmers in the Himalayan Desert of Ladakh, India.[119]



Africa will be one of the regions most impacted by the adverse effects of climate change.[120] Reasons for Africa's vulnerability are diverse and include low levels of adaptive capacity, poor diffusion of technologies and information relevant to supporting adaptation, and high dependence on agro-ecosystems for livelihoods.[121] Many countries across Africa are classified as Least-Developed Countries (LDCs) with poor socio-economic conditions, and by implication are faced with particular challenges in responding to the impacts of climate change.[122]  

Pronounced risks identified for Africa in the IPCC's Fifth Assessment Report relate to ecosystems, water availability and agricultural systems, with implications for food security.[120] In relation to agricultural systems, heavy reliance on rain-fed subsistence farming and low adoption of climate smart agricultural practices contribute to the sector's high levels of vulnerability. The situation is compounded by poor reliability of, and access to, climate data and information to support adaptation actions.[123] Climate change is likely to further exacerbate water-stressed catchments across Africa - for example the Rufiji basin in Tanzania[124] - owing to diversity of land uses, and complex sociopolitical challenges.

To reduce the impacts of climate change on African countries, adaption measures are required at multiple scales - ranging from local to national and regional levels.[125] The first generation of adaptation projects in Africa can be largely characterised as small-scale in nature, focused on targeted investments in agriculture and diffusion of technologies to support adaptive decision-making.[126] More recently, programming efforts have re-oriented towards larger and more coordinated efforts, tackling issues that spanning multiple sectors.

At the regional level, regional policies and actions in support of adaptation across Africa are still in their infancy. The IPCC's Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) highlights examples of various regional climate change action plans, including those developed by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and Lake Victoria Basin Committee.[120] At the national level, many early adaptation initiatives were coordinated through National Adaptation Programmes of Action (NAPAs) or National Climate Change Response Strategies (NCCRS). Implementation has been slow however, with mixed success in delivery.[127] Integration of climate change with wider economic and development planning remains limited but growing.[128][120]

At the subnational level, many provincial and municipal authorities are also developing their own strategies, for example the Western Cape Climate Change Response Strategy.[129] Yet, levels of technical capacity and resources available to implement plans are generally low. There has been considerable attention across Africa given to implementing community-based adaptation projects. There is broad agreement that support to local-level adaptation is best achieved by starting with existing local adaptive capacity, and engaging with indigenous knowledge and practices.[130]

The IPCC highlights a number of successful approaches to promote effective adaptation in Africa, outlining five common principles.[120] These include:

(1) Enhancing support for autonomous forms of adaptation;

(2) Increasing attention to the cultural, ethical, and rights considerations of adaptation (especially through active participation of women, youth, and poor and vulnerable people in adaptation activities);

(3) Combining “soft path” options and flexible and iterative learning approaches with technological and infrastructural approaches (including integration of scientific, local, and indigenous knowledge in developing adaptation strategies);

(4) Focusing on enhancing resilience and implementing low-regrets adaptation options; and

(5) Building adaptive management and encouraging process of social and institutional learning into adaptation activities.

Northern Africa

Key adaptations in northern Africa relate to increased risk of water scarcity (resulting from a combination of climate change affecting water availability and increasing demand). Reduced water availability, in turn, interacts with increasing temperatures to create need for adaptation among rainfed wheat production[131][132] and changing disease risk (for example from leishmaniasis.[133][134]  Most government actions for adaptation centre on water supply side, for example through desalination, inter-basin transfers and dam construction.[135]  Migration has also been observed to act as an adaptation for individuals and households in northern Africa.[136] Like many regions, however, examples of adaptation action (as opposed to intentions to act, or vulnerability assessments) from north Africa are limited - a systematic review published in 2011 showed that only 1 out of 87 examples of reported adaptations came from North Africa.[137]

Western Africa

Climate change is a reality in West Africa.[138] Water availability is a particular risk, with extreme events such as drought leading to humanitarian crises associated with periodic famines, food insecurity, population displacement, migration and conflict and insecurity. Adaptation strategies can be environmental, cultural/agronomic and economic.[139]

Adaptation strategies are evident in the agriculture sector, some of which are developed or promoted by formal research or experimental stations.[140] Indigenous agricultural adaptations observed in northern Ghana are crop-related, soil-related or involve cultural practices.[141][142] Livestock-based agricultural adaptations include indigenous strategies such as adjusting quantities of feed to feed livestock, storing enough feed during the abundant period to be fed to livestock during the lean season, treating wounds with solution of certain barks of trees, and keeping local breeds which are already adapted to the climate of northern Ghana;[143] and livestock production technologies to include breeding, health, feed/nutrition and housing.[144]

The choice and adoption of adaptation strategies is variously contingent on demographic factors such as the household size, age, gender and education of the household head; economic factors such as income source; farm size; knowledge of adaptation options; and expectation of future prospects.[145][146]

Eastern Africa

In Eastern Africa adaptation to climate change options are varied, including improving use of climate information, actions in the agriculture and livestock sector, and in the water sector.

Making better use of climate and weather data, weather forecasts, and other management tools enables timely information and preparedness of people in the sectors such as agriculture that depend on weather outcomes.  This means mastering hydro-meteorological information and early warning systems.[147] It has been argued that the indigenous communities possess knowledge on historical climate changes through environmental signs (e.g. appearance and migration of certain birds, butterflies etc.), and thus promoting of indigenous knowledge has been considered an important adaptation strategy.

Adaptation in the agricultural sector includes increased use of manure and crop-specific fertilizer, use of resistant varieties of crops and early maturing crops. Manure, and especially animal manure is thought to retain water and have essential microbes that breakdown nutrients making them available to plants, as compared to synthetic fertilizers that have compounds which when released to the environment due to over-use contribute to the green-house gases. One major vulnerability of the agriculture sector in Eastern Africa is the dependence on rain-fed agriculture. An adaptation solution is adoption of efficient irrigation mechanisms and efficient water storage and use. Drip irrigation has especially been identified as a water efficient option as it directs the water to the root of the plant with minimal wastage. Countries like Rwanda and Kenya, have prioritized developing irrigated areas by gravity water systems from perennial streams and rivers in zones often vulnerable to prolonged droughts.[148] During heavy rains, many areas experience flooding resulting from bare grounds due to deforestation and little land cover. Adaptation strategies proposed for this is promoting conservation efforts on land protection, by planting indigenous trees, protecting water catchment areas and managing grazing lands through zoning.[149]

For the livestock sector, adaptation options include managing production through sustainable land and pasture management in the ecosystems. This includes promoting hay and fodder production methods e.g. through irrigation and use of waste treated water, and focusing on investing in hay storage for use during  dry seasons.  Keeping livestock is considered a livelihood rather than an economic activity. Throughout Eastern Africa Countries especially in the ASALs regions, it is argued that promoting commercialization of livestock, is an adaptation option.[150] This involves adopting economic models in livestock feed production, animal traceability, promoting demand for livestock products such as meat, milk and leather and linking to niche markets to enhance businesses and provide disposable income.[151]  To commercialize the extensive livestock sector, there is thus need to involve programs that match animal species and breeds to appropriate environments,develop appropriate livestock marketing infrastructure (markets, finishing lots, holding grounds, abattoirs, etc.) and link this to serve the growing rural and urban markets as well as to emerging export markets.

In the water sector, the adaptation options are both for efficient use of water for household, animals and industrial consumption and protection of water sources. Campaigns such as planting indigenous trees in water catchment areas, controlling human activities near catchment areas especially farming and settlement have been carried out to help protect water resources and avail access to water for communities especially during climatic shocks.

Southern Africa

There have been several initiatives at local (site-specific), local, national and regional scales aimed at strengthening to climate change.  Some of these are: The Regional Climate Change Programme (RCCP),[152] SASSCAL,[153] ASSAR,[154] UNDP Climate Change Adaptation,[155] RESILIM,[156][157] FRACTAL.[158] South Africa implemented the Long-Term Adaptation Scenarios Flagship Research Programme (LTAS) from April 2012 to June 2014. This research also produced factsheets and a technical report covering the SADC region entitled "Climate Change Adaptation: Perspectives for the Southern African Development Community (SADC)".[159]

Complementary to mitigation

IPCC Working Group II,[28] the United States National Academy of Sciences,[160] the United Nations Disaster Risk Reduction Office,[161] and other science policy experts[162] agree that while mitigating the emission of greenhouse gases is important, adaptation to the effects of global warming will still be necessary. Some, like the UK Institution of Mechanical Engineers, worry that mitigation efforts will largely fail.[163][164] The IPCC group points out that the world's ability to mitigate global warming is an economic and political challenge. Given that greenhouse gas levels are already elevated, the lag of decades between emissions and some impacts, and the significant economic and political challenges of success, the IPCC group points out that it is uncertain how much climate change will be mitigated.[28]

Developing countries are the least able to adapt to climate change. Doing so depends on such factors as wealth, technology, education, infrastructure, access to resources, management capabilities, acceptance of the existence of climate change and the consequent need for action, and sociopolitical will.[165]

After assessing the literature on sustainability and climate change, scientists concluded with high confidence that up to the year 2050, an effort to cap GHG emissions at 550 ppm would benefit developing countries significantly.[166] This was judged to be especially the case when combined with enhanced adaptation. By 2100, however, it was still judged likely that there would be significant climate change impacts. This was judged to be the case even with aggressive mitigation and significantly enhanced adaptive capacity.

The IPCC group also pointed out that climate change adaptation measures can reinforce and be reinforced by efforts to promote sustainable development and reduce poverty.[28]

Conflict-sensitive adaptation

A book by the Berliner Wissenschafts-Verlag on 'conflict-sensitive adaptation' sheds light on unintended damaging effects of climate adaptation measures.[167] For example, when disadvantaged groups are left out of the planning process, adaptation methods such as agricultural or water programmes may increase vulnerabilities. The book draws on findings from Africa and outlines how conflict-sensitive adaptation activities should look that are cognizant of the conflict-effects adaptation may have. The authors provide a "Memorandum for Action on Adaptation for Peace and Stability" that outlines principles to support processes for adaptation and peace such as the establishment of peace and conflict assessments for adaptation programmes, mainstreaming climate change adaptation in conflict-prone contexts, applying conflict sensitive approaches or provisions to ensure participatory processes to design and implement adaptation measures.[168]

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Relevant IPCC reports

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) produced two separate reports: Climate Change 2001: Mitigation and Climate Change 2001: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability

Relevant African sources

Relevant United States sources

Other government sources

Several countries have taken a lead in climate vulnerability assessment and adaptation planning. Their web sites contain reports, strategies, and tools which other countries can customize to their own situation.

Other relevant sources

In addition to government and United Nations reports, an extensive research literature assesses options for response to global warming. Much of this literature addresses the potential economic costs associated with different strategies.

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