Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Alex Stubbings: Climate Change Adaptation

Alex Stubbings, the GfGD Blog's Climate Change Correspondent, has been writing a series of posts introducing our readers to some of the key issues within the important field of climate change and its relationship to development. He has posted about 'Earth's Changing Climate', 'What is Driving Climatic Change Today?' and 'Climate Change in Developing Countries.' In the final part of this introductory series, Alex outlines the subject of 'climate change adaptation.'

Climate Change (4) - Climate Change Adaptation

In addressing actions to mitigate the effects of climate change the global community has opted for two solutions: (i) MITIGATION, popular during the 1990s and early 2000s; and (ii) ADAPTATION, which has been gaining increased attention and focus over the past decade. Now it is apparent that no one solution will decrease the risks associated with climate change; we need both mitigation and adaptation.

Adaptation is a concept that all geologists will be familiar with: small changes to an organism or species over (geologic) time, that, eventually, lead to a new character being developed and a new species. These changes, or evolutions, take time to become noticeable. So in the social world, our world, adaptation is best understood from an ecological perspective,

“[An] adjustment in natural or human systems in response to actual or expected climatic stimuli or their effects, which moderates harm or exploits beneficial opportunities.”
Therefore as adaptation has become more important over the last decade it has also emerged that adaptation is needs and context specific. In other words everyone, even rich countries needs to adapt. The manner of that adaptation, however, is dependent upon the context and situation. Thus adaptation interventions, i.e. projects that are implemented within countries, regions, communities and households will vary accordingly due to the requirements of each actor.

It is becoming increasingly apparent that successful societies and actors adapt continually. Think of successful companies like Microsoft and Apple, they continually renew themselves and innovate, that is essentially what “successful” adaptation is. However, as with all things in the social world it becomes slightly more complicated than that. The important point to identify is that successful adaptation is continual and that you anticipate risks ex-ante, as opposed to acting afterwards: ex-post, and here.

Geologists can assist in adaptation projects in a number of ways. We can influence technical discussions within university departments, government inquiries, act as consulting experts, and so forth. And this could be simply as, extra, technical capacity. Or we can be involved in, so-called, “hard-engineering” projects (actually mitigation measures aimed at reducing the level of pCO2), which aim to address climate change on a planetary scale such as geo-engineering, carbon capture and storage, and at the local level assist in “climate-proofing” development projects, see here and here. In the latter case this is best demonstrated by geotechnical experts assisting a developing country in building a new road or tunnel (see image, right). They can provide the expertise that might be lacking within that country, and also advise their clients on the likely impacts of, for instance, increased rainfall or drought periods on the newly built infrastructure.

All-in-all climate change and climate change adaptation, often abbreviated to CCA, is a highly dynamic and complex field. It requires a new type of geoscientist to apply their knowledge to the challenges of conventional development, and at the same time, think holistically about the impacts of climate change on their project and community. It is no surprise then that geoscientists that are embracing a holistic education and experiences, will like those countries and communities that adapt successfully, will be able to exploit new opportunities and be at the forefront of an issue that, as we become technologically more complex, will manifest itself more and more over the coming decades.