Sunday, July 7, 2013

What are the limits to climate change adaptation?

IRIN: In the absence of decisive action to significantly cut the emission of earth-warming greenhouse gases, most poor countries have resigned themselves to adapting to the effects of climate change. But as recent data show, the global concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere hit 400 parts per million - something that has not happened in the last million years, and possibly not in the last 25 million years, according to a National Aeronautics and Space Administration scientist - leading to the questions: do even we know what we are adapting to, and what are the limits to our adaptation?

A recent paper published in Nature Climate Change points out that many communities are already facing limits to their capacity to adapt. They suggest the development of a framework to define and identify these limits, both for individuals and for communities.

One of the paper’s six authors, Richard Klein, a senior researcher at the Stockholm Environment Institute and an author of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports, explained in an email to IRIN, "For example, a farmer may no longer be able to grow enough food to sustain his or her family (e.g., due to saltwater intrusion or recurring droughts) and decide to give up farming and move to the city to become an informal worker. On the one hand, that's a form of adaptation, but from the perspective of the farmer, who would have preferred to keep farming, a limit has been reached. But from the perspective of the community or the country, food security may not be at risk so no limit has been reached.”

Knowing the extent to which an individual, community or country can adapt will be critical for policymakers, including those charting a country’s agricultural path and those planning for urban growth.  Yet little is known about the limits of adaptation. “It's intuitive that the existence of limits should have policy implications, but the challenge is that, even though we know that limits are real, our ability to predict them is very small indeed,” said Klein....

Harold Lloyd in "Safety Last!"

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