What is climate adaptation?
Climate adaptation is defined as the “adjustment in natural or human systems in response to actual or expected climatic stimuli or their effects, which moderates harm or exploits beneficial opportunities” (IPCC 2007a).
Adaptation is about preparing for climate variability and climate change to minimize the impact on our natural, built, economic, and social environment. The precise level of impact is difficult to pinpoint, so successful adaptation also means building our resilience to cope with uncertainty.
Examples of adaptation include:
• Changing the species or breeds of crops and livestock we raise, and where we raise them, to prepare for changed weather and rainfall patterns.
• Strengthening design codes for infrastructure that will withstand greater heat, storms, and flooding.
• Locating settlements in areas at less risk from storms, sea level rise, and flooding.
• Training health professionals and locating health services to cope with increased incidences of heat stress and changes in patterns of vector-, food-, and water-borne disease.
• Equipping emergency services to cope with expected increases in the frequency and intensity of natural disasters such as drought, storms, floods, and wildfires.
Shouldn’t the priority be on mitigating climate change by cutting emissions?
A certain amount of warming is now inevitable. Even if we could drastically cut the amount of global greenhouse gas emissions tomorrow and stabilize the atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases, warming would continue due to the amount of gases already present in the atmosphere.
Mitigation efforts—measures to reduce greenhouse gases and reduce the risk of climate change—don't make an immediate impact, and warming already is being observed. Global surface temperatures in 2010 tied with 2005 as the warmest since record keeping began in 1880, according to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), making 2010 the 34th consecutive year with global temperatures above the 20th century average. For the contiguous United States alone, 2010 was the 14th consecutive year with an annual temperature above the long-term average. Since 1895, the temperature across the U.S. has increased at an average rate of approximately 0.12 F per decade.
Adaptation and mitigation are complementary—adaptation is required to manage and prepare for the impacts climate change has on our society and natural environment, while mitigation efforts are essential to minimizing the likelihood and intensity of further impacts.
What’s different about the Adaptation Futures 2012 Conference?
Adaptation Futures 2012 follows the pioneering conference held in Australia in 2010, which brought together hundreds of scientists and decision makers for the first international conference on climate adaptation. The Tucson, Arizona, conference is one of the first international conferences to be held in the United States to focus solely on the science, policy, and practice of adaptation. Delegates from across the developing and developed world will share the latest approaches, methods, and results to improve our capacity to adapt and prepare for climate change. The main sponsor of the Tucson conference is PROVIA (Program of Research on Climate Change Vulnerability, Impacts and Adaptation) of the United Nations Environment Program and the WMO World Climate Program. Messages from the conference can be taken to the Rio+20 climate summit in June.
Is it just for scientists?
No! The conference is multi-disciplinary to reflect the fact that climate change is more than “an environmental issue.” Climate change will affect our social, health, environmental, economic, agriculture, tourism, energy, and infrastructure sectors. All will be required to adapt and prepare. Professionals, researchers, resource managers, and decision makers working in all these sectors will play a key role in the conference sessions.
IPCC, 2007a: Climate Change 2007: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. Contribution of Working Group II to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, M.L. Parry, O.F. Canziani, J.P. Palutikof, P.J. van der Linden and C.E. Hanson, (eds.), Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK and New York, NY, USA, 976pp
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. NOAA: 2010 Tied For Warmest Year on Record. January 12, 2011. http://www.noaanews.noaa.gov/stories2011/20110112_globalstats.html (accessed April 4, 2012).