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Adapting to climate change: perspectives across scales

Adapting to climate change: perspectives across scales
Adapting to climate change: perspectives across scales
There has been an explosion of interest in adaptation to climate change over the past five years. Since initial work for the Third Assessment Report of the IPCC (Smit and Pilifosova, 2001 B. Smit and O. Pilifosova, Adaptation to climate change in the context of sustainable development and equity, J.J. McCarthy, O. Canziani, N.A. Leary, D.J. Dokken, K.S. White, Editors , Climate Change 2001: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. IPCC Working Group II, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge (2001), pp. 877–912. | View Record in Scopus | | Cited By in Scopus (1)Smit and Pilifosova, 2001) demonstrated that adaptation is both important and complex, there has been an increasing focus on documenting adaptations as they happen and explaining the processes by which adaptation can occur, hopefully successfully. The explosion of interest has therefore occurred for two main reasons. The first reason is because adaptation is happening today; decisions are being made in boardrooms, living rooms and government offices about how to adapt to current changes. From decisions on premiums by insurance companies, through to decisions to engineer buildings for a warmer climate, adaptation is occurring. These decisions and processes of adaptation often proceed even without explicit recognition that the changes in variability faced are consistent with or attributable to human induced climate change (Reilly and Schimmelpfennig, 2000; Kane and Yohe, 2000). The question is being asked: what is effective adaptation?

The second reason for increasing interest in adaptation to climate change relates to the global discussions on the role of adaptation as an alternative to mitigation, i.e., minimising the causes of human-induced climate change. This issue is often framed as whether adaptation can substitute for mitigation and provide more ‘breathing space’ for global emissions trajectories, rather than in placing risk management as central to the global problematic and the recognition of the joint determinants of the ability to adapt and to mitigate ( [Yohe, 2001] and [Yohe, 2004] ; Yohe et al., 2004).

In both of these areas of concern (effective adaptation decision-making and global response), issues of future potential adaptation, its social and institutional organisation, and technical and social limits to adaptation are critical. These debates uniform global negotiations on both responsibility and funding for adaptation (Smith et al., 2003). They also impinge on the relative role of different stakeholders in actual adaptation of implementation.

Despite this growth in demand for information on adaptation options and the potential for adaptation as a response to climate change, so far only two major collections on adaptation have so far been published (a special issue of Climatic Change published in 2000 (Kane and Yohe, 2000) and a book edited by Smith et al. (2003)).

This special issue of Global Environmental Change presents some emerging conceptual and empirical advances in the understanding of adaptation to climate change, at a range of spatial scales. These include explicit consideration of the role of climate information in adaptation planning—who knows what and who needs to know what for effective adaptation actions to proceed? Empirical evidence on how information on climate risks has been used in adaptation decisions demonstrates (in the papers by Conway and Tompkins) that adaptation proceeds in a piecemeal fashion with both individual interests and collective senses of risk involved in using scenarios or experience in implementing change.

Adger et al. (2005a) examine criteria for the definition of “successful” adaptation, showing how they vary with spatial scale and are interpreted and weighted differently by different interest groups. Brooks et al. (2005) and Haddad (2005) both explore factors affecting adaptive capacity at the national scale. Brooks et al. (2005) describe a set of calibrated indicators of adaptive capacity, showing that adaptive capacity is associated primarily not with measures of wealth, but indicators of governance, civil and political rights, and literacy. Haddad (2005), however, shows how national adaptive capacity varies with national socio-political goals, and different weightings given to different indicators produce different maps of adaptive capacity. Conway (2005) and Tompkins (2005) examine how responses to past climatic variability in the Nile Basin (variability in river flows) and the Cayman Islands (hurricanes) influence adaptation to future climate change. Tompkins (2005), for example, shows how support networks, strong governance and willingness to learn have increased the resilience of the Cayman Islands to hurricane impact. This resilience was witnessed after Hurricane Ivan passed through the Caribbean in September 2004. In comparison with other islands which experienced similar winds, rain and flooding, the Cayman Islands fared relatively well. Nonetheless, learning is on-going as the recovery process has proved difficult and not without problems. The roles of local institutions and governance structures are also illustrated by Næss colleagues (2005) review of municipal response to the changing flood hazard in Norway: they show how aims and objectives at one level are not necessarily applied at another.

Issues of equity and justice are widely discussed in terms of emissions targets, but have only recently become seen to be vitally important in developing adaptation strategies (Adger et al., 2005b). Thomas and Twyman (2005) show how the distribution of the costs and benefits of adapting to climate change in resource-dependent societies in southern Africa depend on the interactions between inequitable natural resource use policies and community-based natural resource management programmes. Finally, Dessai et al. (2005) consider the use of climate scenarios for adaptation planning in practice, presenting real-world examples of different ways in which scenarios can be used: they show that the role played by scenarios depends on the approach to adaptation adopted and the financial and technical capacity to handle scenario information.

The papers in this special issue address a diversity of adaptation issues and take a range of approaches. This emphasises and illustrates the diversity of the factors affecting adaptation and the ability to adapt: these are based not only on geographical context, but also on social and political conditions and drivers. Taken together, the papers emphasise the significance of scale in understanding, explaining and enhancing adaptation (see also Wilbanks, 2002). Scale affects the criteria defining “successful” adaptation, and determines the relevance of different factors influencing adaptive capacity: indicators calculated at one scale may hide substantial variations in adaptive capacity at another.

Scale affects the fundamental conceptualisation of equity and justice. Again, assessments of the differential burden of adaptation within a country would offer a different perspective than assessments of differences between countries. Scale determines the construction and the implementation of adaptation policies, with actions and plans at the national level significantly affected by local institutional issues. Finally, scale influences the appropriate technical tools for the assessment of adaptation options. A lesson from this collection of papers is that complexity in adaptation is brought about by multiple scales of interaction between human and environmental systems. This complexity has significant implications for public policy given that decision-makers within governance hierarchies are always reticent to embrace institutional solutions at lower levels of scale. At the same time, local solutions are not always readily scaleable to other levels of decision-making. Adaptation presents formidable challenges to governance, science and ultimately to the sustainability of society and the environment on which it depends.
0959-3780
75-76
Adger, W. Neil
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Arnell, Nigel W.
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Tompkins, Emma L.
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Adger, W. Neil
880deff5-3dde-429f-9b50-4366c54bcfe7
Arnell, Nigel W.
1bbb08da-965e-4f89-88b2-fd90e86bf99b
Tompkins, Emma L.
a6116704-7140-4e37-bea1-2cbf39b138c3

Adger, W. Neil, Arnell, Nigel W. and Tompkins, Emma L. (2005) Adapting to climate change: perspectives across scales. [in special issue: Adaptation to Climate Change: Perspectives Across Scales] Global Environmental Change, 15 (2), 75-76. (doi:10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2005.03.001).

Record type: Article

Abstract

There has been an explosion of interest in adaptation to climate change over the past five years. Since initial work for the Third Assessment Report of the IPCC (Smit and Pilifosova, 2001 B. Smit and O. Pilifosova, Adaptation to climate change in the context of sustainable development and equity, J.J. McCarthy, O. Canziani, N.A. Leary, D.J. Dokken, K.S. White, Editors , Climate Change 2001: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. IPCC Working Group II, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge (2001), pp. 877–912. | View Record in Scopus | | Cited By in Scopus (1)Smit and Pilifosova, 2001) demonstrated that adaptation is both important and complex, there has been an increasing focus on documenting adaptations as they happen and explaining the processes by which adaptation can occur, hopefully successfully. The explosion of interest has therefore occurred for two main reasons. The first reason is because adaptation is happening today; decisions are being made in boardrooms, living rooms and government offices about how to adapt to current changes. From decisions on premiums by insurance companies, through to decisions to engineer buildings for a warmer climate, adaptation is occurring. These decisions and processes of adaptation often proceed even without explicit recognition that the changes in variability faced are consistent with or attributable to human induced climate change (Reilly and Schimmelpfennig, 2000; Kane and Yohe, 2000). The question is being asked: what is effective adaptation?

The second reason for increasing interest in adaptation to climate change relates to the global discussions on the role of adaptation as an alternative to mitigation, i.e., minimising the causes of human-induced climate change. This issue is often framed as whether adaptation can substitute for mitigation and provide more ‘breathing space’ for global emissions trajectories, rather than in placing risk management as central to the global problematic and the recognition of the joint determinants of the ability to adapt and to mitigate ( [Yohe, 2001] and [Yohe, 2004] ; Yohe et al., 2004).

In both of these areas of concern (effective adaptation decision-making and global response), issues of future potential adaptation, its social and institutional organisation, and technical and social limits to adaptation are critical. These debates uniform global negotiations on both responsibility and funding for adaptation (Smith et al., 2003). They also impinge on the relative role of different stakeholders in actual adaptation of implementation.

Despite this growth in demand for information on adaptation options and the potential for adaptation as a response to climate change, so far only two major collections on adaptation have so far been published (a special issue of Climatic Change published in 2000 (Kane and Yohe, 2000) and a book edited by Smith et al. (2003)).

This special issue of Global Environmental Change presents some emerging conceptual and empirical advances in the understanding of adaptation to climate change, at a range of spatial scales. These include explicit consideration of the role of climate information in adaptation planning—who knows what and who needs to know what for effective adaptation actions to proceed? Empirical evidence on how information on climate risks has been used in adaptation decisions demonstrates (in the papers by Conway and Tompkins) that adaptation proceeds in a piecemeal fashion with both individual interests and collective senses of risk involved in using scenarios or experience in implementing change.

Adger et al. (2005a) examine criteria for the definition of “successful” adaptation, showing how they vary with spatial scale and are interpreted and weighted differently by different interest groups. Brooks et al. (2005) and Haddad (2005) both explore factors affecting adaptive capacity at the national scale. Brooks et al. (2005) describe a set of calibrated indicators of adaptive capacity, showing that adaptive capacity is associated primarily not with measures of wealth, but indicators of governance, civil and political rights, and literacy. Haddad (2005), however, shows how national adaptive capacity varies with national socio-political goals, and different weightings given to different indicators produce different maps of adaptive capacity. Conway (2005) and Tompkins (2005) examine how responses to past climatic variability in the Nile Basin (variability in river flows) and the Cayman Islands (hurricanes) influence adaptation to future climate change. Tompkins (2005), for example, shows how support networks, strong governance and willingness to learn have increased the resilience of the Cayman Islands to hurricane impact. This resilience was witnessed after Hurricane Ivan passed through the Caribbean in September 2004. In comparison with other islands which experienced similar winds, rain and flooding, the Cayman Islands fared relatively well. Nonetheless, learning is on-going as the recovery process has proved difficult and not without problems. The roles of local institutions and governance structures are also illustrated by Næss colleagues (2005) review of municipal response to the changing flood hazard in Norway: they show how aims and objectives at one level are not necessarily applied at another.

Issues of equity and justice are widely discussed in terms of emissions targets, but have only recently become seen to be vitally important in developing adaptation strategies (Adger et al., 2005b). Thomas and Twyman (2005) show how the distribution of the costs and benefits of adapting to climate change in resource-dependent societies in southern Africa depend on the interactions between inequitable natural resource use policies and community-based natural resource management programmes. Finally, Dessai et al. (2005) consider the use of climate scenarios for adaptation planning in practice, presenting real-world examples of different ways in which scenarios can be used: they show that the role played by scenarios depends on the approach to adaptation adopted and the financial and technical capacity to handle scenario information.

The papers in this special issue address a diversity of adaptation issues and take a range of approaches. This emphasises and illustrates the diversity of the factors affecting adaptation and the ability to adapt: these are based not only on geographical context, but also on social and political conditions and drivers. Taken together, the papers emphasise the significance of scale in understanding, explaining and enhancing adaptation (see also Wilbanks, 2002). Scale affects the criteria defining “successful” adaptation, and determines the relevance of different factors influencing adaptive capacity: indicators calculated at one scale may hide substantial variations in adaptive capacity at another.

Scale affects the fundamental conceptualisation of equity and justice. Again, assessments of the differential burden of adaptation within a country would offer a different perspective than assessments of differences between countries. Scale determines the construction and the implementation of adaptation policies, with actions and plans at the national level significantly affected by local institutional issues. Finally, scale influences the appropriate technical tools for the assessment of adaptation options. A lesson from this collection of papers is that complexity in adaptation is brought about by multiple scales of interaction between human and environmental systems. This complexity has significant implications for public policy given that decision-makers within governance hierarchies are always reticent to embrace institutional solutions at lower levels of scale. At the same time, local solutions are not always readily scaleable to other levels of decision-making. Adaptation presents formidable challenges to governance, science and ultimately to the sustainability of society and the environment on which it depends.

Full text not available from this repository.

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Published date: July 2005

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Local EPrints ID: 15799
URI: https://eprints.soton.ac.uk/id/eprint/15799
ISSN: 0959-3780
PURE UUID: 93f196a6-5a68-4008-ad92-7446637656f5

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Date deposited: 02 Jun 2005
Last modified: 15 Jul 2019 19:31

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