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The term adaptation has become progressively common in the climate change literature as a result of the continuing effects of a changing climate. Similarly, mitigation definitions and strategies have been well documented over the last decade as the need to address the issue of climate change becomes more and more important. And indeed, mitigating against climate change is an extremely important concept, and one that many organizations and governments are slowly beginning to accept, mostly in the form of reducing their GHG emissions. As the effects and manifestations of a changing climate as a result of anthropogenic actions is extremely likely to cause severe changes to the climate system, reducing the gases and activities that are causing these changes is vital. Mitigation techniques are therefore clear, and should involve the organizations and governments that are contributing the most to GHG emissions and can afford to implement mitigation strategies.

However, adaptation is a concept that is not as clear cut. Adaptation refers to a systems ability to adjust to the manifestations of a changing climate through a variety of different avenues and approaches, from anticipatory adaptation that hopes to buffer against any expected impacts, to reactive adaptation that aims to make the best of a negative situation brought about by climate change. These adaptation strategies can be applied in different ways to different sectors of society. Nationally governments can protect their interests by building adaptive infrastructure, organizations can invest in their own adaptation strategies, or individual adaptive strategies can be utilised on a smaller scale. Although adaptation strategies may help in preventing environmental, economic, and human loss in the event of drastic changes to the climate system, there are many problems with it. Adaptation strategies are put in place to protect ecosystems, regions, communities, businesses, etc against the manifestations of climate change such as droughts, floods, and storms. However, these extreme events have proven to be almost impossible to accurately predict, and occur in many areas where people are unable to put these adaptations strategies into practice.

The ever increasing manifestations of climate change will be felt in all parts of the globe, and no region or society can safely assume that they will not be impacted by these events. The underlying cause of these changes has been the increase of GHG’s in the atmosphere, a large portion of which have been emitted by the developed world. The most advanced, expensive, and innovative adaptive strategies are also emerging in these regions, protecting the societies that are responsible for the need to adapt in the first place whilst the poorer societies remain vulnerable as they are less equipped to cope with anthropogenic induced climate variability. These developed countries also have an advantage when it comes to individual adaptation techniques as communities have more access to information, resources, and technology. 

On one side we have the developed world, a society  that is capable of attempting to adapt to a dramatically changing planet on both a national and local scale, whilst the other side includes the largely undeveloped world in which the vast majority are struggling to make a living and do not have the resources or knowledge to instigate adaptation strategies. I feel that adaptation to climate change should not be a ‘free for all’ where countries, regions or communities instigate strategies to help prevent loss and damage in their own area, but should include laws that force countries who are largely responsible for climate change to help fund and implement adaptation techniques in regions that are unable to do so themselves.

3 Responses to “Adaptation strategies – a shift in focus”

  1. Thabo Makgoale

    very interesting bog, well Josh you said it very well that the increase in extreme weather events are proven to be almost impossible to accurately predict, studies shows that these extreme events are the results of global temperature increase, I think if society can come up with adaptation strategies to reduce global temperature rise, they will be indirectly reducing the frequency of occurrence of extreme events.

  2. Aubrey Kekana

    Recent suggestions and research have made things to be even more unclear (if not complicated) – there has been realization that in order to ensure development and economic growth while reducing GHGs emissions, absorbing changes and maintaining livelihoods, both adaptation and mitigation strategies should be integrated in the Sustainable Development approach (which its mean and ways to implement are in question). Thus, I agree with you that “adaptation” concept is not that clear, however, I found Jannsen and Ostrom’s (2006 – available on definition (clear and) relevant to more material on adaptations. Especially, because the authors made distinction between adaptation, resilience and vulnerability. In which:

    ADAPTATION (which has focus of anthropologists since early 1900s) “is generally perceived to include an adjustment in social–ecological systems in response to actual, perceived, or expected environmental changes and their impacts”
    RESILIENCE (which is core concept of ecologists when analyzing population ecology) “[it] determines the persistence of relationships within a system and is a measure of the ability of these systems to absorb changes of state variables, driving variables, and parameters, and still
    VULNERABILITY (which has its root in natural hazard and poverty studies) “is defined in
    different ways, but it generally includes the attributes of persons or groups that enable them to cope with the impact of disturbances, like natural hazards”

    As for enforcement of adaptation measures, I think it would be best if there is knowledge and skills enhancement as well as encouragement for the usage of humanitarianism lens – in which we firstly see and help one another as human beings, rather than how we are related. But first we need to find ways of how correctly implement the latter. I know it might sound a bit impossible, but it is not, and it will not only help to resolve climate change issues.

  3. Gemma Bluff

    Good topic Josh! I completely agree with everything that you have suggested and written. Adaptation is vital to dealing with changes in the climate system, and whether these are adaptations to emerging vulnerabilities or to reducing ones carbon footprint (for example) is the big question. And this is a huge debate that I’m not sure will (or possibly even can) be resolved. I believe that many developing countries will always feel entitled to being able to develop in the same manner in which developed countries were able to – even if that means emitting GHGs, coal-fired power station usage, or producing large amounts of waste. But if developed countries can show and provide the means to develop to the same extent in a ‘cleaner manner,’ then I do feel it is their duty to do so. The so-called superpowers of today would not have achieved such a status if not by implementing unclean activities (the Industrial Revolution as the key example), especially because at the time no other clean alternatives were known or available. In conclusion, if developing nations can be educated in ‘green’ adaptation methods that will produce the same outcome and status as developed nations, then that is – and most definitely should be – the way forward!