Don’t Forget Adaptation

The Economist, normally not exactly the best source of information in the area of climate change, published an article really worth reading. It begins with some interesting remarks on Cancún:

ON NOVEMBER 29th representatives of countries from around the world will gather in Cancún, Mexico, for the first high-level climate talks since those in Copenhagen last December. The organisers hope the meeting in Mexico, unlike the one in Denmark, will be unshowy but solid, leading to decisions about finance, forestry and technology transfer that will leave the world better placed to do something about global warming. Incremental progress is possible, but continued deadlock is likelier. What is out of reach, as at Copenhagen, is agreement on a plausible programme for keeping climate change in check.

The actual theme of the text is adaptation to climate change. It is a very long list of possible impacts of global warming and ways of adapting to them. The author rightly notes that adaptation has not really been en vogue in the climate debate so far. Yet it is very unlikely that we can stop the warming of the atmosphere abruptly.

The fight to limit global warming to easily tolerated levels is thus over. Analysts who have long worked on adaptation to climate change—finding ways to live with scarcer water, higher peak temperatures, higher sea levels and weather patterns at odds with those under which today’s settled patterns of farming developed—are starting to see their day in the uncomfortably hot sun. That such measures cannot protect everyone from all harm that climate change may bring does not mean that they should be ignored. On the contrary, they are sorely needed.

What we can do? According to The Economist’s author, much of the adaptation measures will be done by people “for themselves”. But there is a need for state action as well. People cannot provide for some measures on their own account – e.g. for flood barriers. Furthermore, there is a big role to play for the health system. Functioning markets (especially insurance markets) and more wealth in the developing world would be helpful as well.

The author is concluding with a call for the developed world to provide finance and technology transfer as well as example:

The poorest countries all have wish-lists for adaptation funding, drawn up in the UN climate-convention process of which the Copenhagen and Cancún meetings are part. Money and know-how are essential, but so is example. Rich countries can show, through their own programmes for flood defence, zoning laws, sewerage and so on that adaptation must be part of the mainstream of political and economic life, not an eccentric and marginal idea. Adaptation by and for the poor alone is likely to be poor adaptation.

Of course, it is not a call to forget about mitigation and concentrate only on adaptation. The author is admitting that, according to scientists, adaptation can ease the problem at the most. But the message is: we shouldn’t forget about adaptation as well. Especially since it cannot be helped the poor people in this world by mitigating further global warming only. They are now suffering from what is ongoing already.

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