CIRCE Foundation Paper - part 2

Submitted by Sabrina Lambat | published 13th Jul 2011 | last updated 6th Oct 2020

Reviewing Key Adaptation Literature

People are writing on adaptation from a number of different starting points. Here we try to provide a brief overview to introduce these different themes within the adaptation literature in an easily digestable way and guide people to additional reading where interested, including more information that is available on the pages of wikiADAPT.

Conceptualising Adaptation

Adaptation can be defined as adjustments of a system to reduce vulnerability and to increase the resilience of system to change, in this case in the climate system (IPCC 2007d). Adaptation occurs at a range of inter-linking scales, and can either occur in anticipation of change (anticipatory adaptation), or be a response to those changes (reactive adaptation) (Adger et al 2005). Most adaptation being implemented at present is responding to current climate trends and variability, for example increased use of artificial snow-making in the European Alps. Some adaptation measures, however, are anticipating future climate change, such as the construction of the Confederation Bridge in Canada at a higher elevation to take into account the effect of future sea-level rise on ship clearance under the bridge (IPCC 2007d).

Adaptive capacity and vulnerability are important concepts for understanding adaptation; vulnerability can be seen as the context in which adaptation takes place, and adaptive capacity is the ability or potential of a system to respond successfully to climate variability and change, in order to reduce adverse impacts and take advantage of new opportunities (IPCC 2007d). Those societies that can respond to change quickly and successfully have a high adaptive capacity (Smit and Wandel 2006). It is important to note however, that high adaptive capacity does not necessarily translate into successful adaptation. For example the adaptive capacity in W. Europe is high, and the risks of warmer winters increasing the range of livestock diseases was well documented, but many parts of Europe were still badly affected by outbreaks of the Bluetongue virus in livestock in 2007. Adaptive capacity is driven by factors operating at many different interlinked scales, and it is important to understand the ways in which the different drivers of adaptive capacity interact. Physical constraints on adaptive capacity are important, but in most cases it is social processes which increase or decrease adaptive capacity; it can be said that adaptive capacity is socially constructed (Smit and Wandel 2006). The social drivers of adaptive capacity are varied but may include broad structures such as economic and political processes, as well as processes which operate at a a very local scale, such as access to decision-making and the structure of social networks and relationships within a community (Smit and Wandel 2006). Adaptive capacity at a local scale is constrained by larger scale processes. For example a farmer's adaptive capacity will not only depend on access to resources (both physical and social) within the community which allow a crop to be grown successfully, but also the effect of macro-scale economic processes on the price received for the crop (Adger et al. 2005). The perception of risk and of capacity to adapt to that risk has also been shown to be important in determining actual adaptive capacity, and can constrain it in some cases (IPCC 2007e). Gender is another factor which is important in determing adaptive capacity constrain adaptive capacity and vulnerability, for example women may have participation in decision-making, or be constrained by lower levels of education (IPCC 2007d).

The social construction of adaptive capacity is very important when thinking about the risks and impacts of a changing climate. It is not just the change in climate which will affect vulnerability and livelihoods, but the way that these changes are negotiated through complex social systems. A 10% decrease in rainfall may be acceptable and manageable to members of a community who have access to improved agricultural techniques, or whose livelihoods are in some way diversified, whereas marginalised members of the community may not be able to cope with these changes (Adger et al 2003, 2005).

The complex interplay of local and broader processes which determine adaptive capacity mean that it is very context specific, and as such national level indicators of adaptive capacity have a limited value in providing useful information on adaptive capacity at the scale required. In addition, there is little consensus of the indicators to take to measure adaptive capacity in different studies and different circumstances (IPCC 2007d). Similar to studies of vulnerability, it has been seen as increasingly important to involve individuals and communities in identifying indicators of adaptive capacity (Smit and Wandel 2006, IPCC 2007d).

Both temporal and spatial scales are very important in thinking about adaptation, as is the frame of reference taken for looking at adaptation. Much adaptation takes place in relation to short-term climate variability, however this may cause mal-adaptation to longer-term climatic trends. For example the expansion of irrigation in Egypt into the W. Sinai desert due to a period of higher river flows is a maladaptation when viewed in relation to the longerterm predictions of drying in the region.(Adger et al 2003). Adaptations at one scale can also create externalities at another by reducing the adaptive capacity of other actors. This is often the case when broad assessments of the costs and benefits of adaptation are examined at smaller scales and it is possible to see that whilst the adaptation may benefit some actors, it has a negative effect on others (Adger et al 2005). This highlights the point that it is important to design the process of adaptation to avoid the danger of elite capture, which would do very little to reduce the vulnerability of the poorest and most marginalised. This is a particular issue if decision-makers reflect the existing uneven social distribution of power and resources. Building coping capacity can increase equality by improving the ability of the most vulnerable to recover from hazards, thus stopping them getting knocked back into poverty. (Adger et al 2003, 2005).

It is clear from the literature that people have always adapted to a changing climate and that coping strategies already exist in many communities, for example changing sowing times or adopting new water saving techniques (Adger et al 2003). Traditional knowledge and coping strategies must be maintained and strengthened, otherwise adaptive capacity may be weakened as local knowledge of the environment is lost. Strengthening these indigenous techniques and building upon them also makes it more likely that adaptation strategies will be adopted, as it creates more community ownership and involvement in the process (IPCC 2007d). In some cases however this will be not be enough to adapt to new conditions which are outside the range of those previously experienced, and new techniques will be needed (Smit and Wandel 2006).

There may be physical limits to adaptation “change that is too rapid for ecosystems to be able to adapt to". These physical changes in ecosystems may place constraints on the adaptive capacity of social systems too, for example if a community is heavily dependent on natural resources (IPCC 2007d). The use of coping resources to respond to disasters and hazards can reduce the adaptive capacity of the system, and decrease the range of event it is able to recover from, thus placing a limit on adaptation (Smit and Wandel, Adger et al 2003). There are also technological limits to adaptation such as cost, social acceptability, and uncertainty over change rendering some technologies unsuitable in certain situations. Differential access to these new technologies may also increase the vulnerability of some groups and entrench existing inequalities.The perception of risk from climate, and also the perceived capacity to adapt to this risk, has also been shown to play a very real role in constraining the ability to adapt (IPCC 2007e)

Further reading

Adger, N.W. et al (2003) Adaptation to Climate Change in the Developing World. Progress in Development Studies 3: 179-195.

Adger, N.W., Arnell, N.W. and Tompkins, E. (2005) Adaptation to climate change across scales. Global Environmental Change 15: 77-86

IPCC 2007d : IPCC WGII Chapter 17: Assessment of adaptation practices, options, constraints and capacity

IPCC 2007e: IPCC WGII Chapter 18: Inter-relationships between adaptation and Mitigation

Smit, B. and Wandel, J. (2006) Adaptation, adaptive capacity and vulnerability. Global Environmental Change 16: 282-292.

Climate Risk Management in Africa, Climate and Society No1.

If you wish to read more on this visit this page of weADAPT: Conceptualising adaptation

 

Adaptation & Development Links

There remains much debate regarding the relationship between adaptation and development, particularly in relation to who will do the work on the ground and how it will be funded. The term climate proof development which has now largely given way to climate resilient development has been used extensively by the World Bank and other large development agencies as well as by some NGOs. This ties into the issue of mainstreaming, as some argue that policies and measures to address climate change should be integrated into existing development planning, implementation and evaluation to make better decisions that ensure long term sustainability. The idea is that adaptation will become a central part of all policies, rather than just being seen as an issue for the environment and that adaptation then is not only the remit of 'adaptation specialists' but becomes built into the work done within many sectors. One of the counter arguments however is that while mainstreaming is good for incremental costs (i.e. tweak development related activity to make it more robust to a changing climate) it doesn't encourage or support funding full cost, stand alone adaptation actions (i.e. completely new activities that need to be initiated due to climate considerations, but might not be on the development agenda otherwise). This in turn ties into discussions around adaptation to climate change specifically versus adaptation to multiple stressors, which might include environmental (bio-physical), socio-political and economic changes. The institutional level at which adaptation is being undertaken is an important consideration in the mainstreaming debate. At the national and sectoral funding and policy levels the arguments for and against mainstreaming are very different from the particalities of mainstreaming being discussed with regards local community level adaptation and development, where some people argue that the trade-offs between responding to different stressors are inherently integrated in complex decision making processes by those affected and therefor supporting climate adaptation has to be done in conjunction with development activities to reduce compound vulnerability.

The World Resources Institute has recently done an interesting study empirically looking at the relationship between adaptation and development by analyzing a large number of projects, policies, and other initiatives, placing them on a continuum from 'pure development' to 'pure climate adaptation' (see link to their report in the list of suggested further reading by McGray et al).

Further reading

Schipper, L., 2007: Climate Change Adaptation and Development: Exploring the Linkages. Tyndall Centre Working Paper No.107, [1]

McEvoy, D., Lonsdale, K. and Matczak, P., 2008: Adaptation and Mainstreaming of EU Climate Change Policy: An Actor-Based Perspective. CEPS Policy Brief No.149, [2]

McGray, H., Bradley, R., Hammill, A. with Schipper, L. and Parry, J., 2007: Weathering the Storm: Options for Framing Adaptation and Development. World Resources Institute Report, [3]

DANIDA, 2005: Danish Climate and Development Action Programme: A toolkit for climate proofing Danish development cooperation, [4]

Klein, R., Eriksen, S., Naess, L., Hammill, A., Tanner, T., Robledo, C. and O'Brien, K., 2007: Portfolio screening to support the mainstreaming of adaptation to climate change into development assistence. Tyndall Centre Working Paper No.102, [5]

 

Community Based Adaptation

Some people are starting from a bottom-up perspective on climate adaptation, working with local communities to identify and build on existing indigenous coping and adaptation strategies. This is particularly emerging from the development NGOs, such as Practical Action, Oxfam, ActionAid, etc. who are exploring their role in the adaptation field and how their existing development work on the ground can be extended / modified to incorporate climate change considerations. Key issues being explored include risk perception, mainstreaming, upscaling (and out-scaling) of local initiatives, South-South knowledge exchange and technology transfer. Various organisations are starting to build databases of examples of adaptation activities and projects at the local level (e.g. UNDP, WRI), documenting different adaptation options explored and implemented in various contexts, in the hope that lessons can be learnt across regions and some of the adaptation strategies that have proved successful in addressing a certain climate-related threat can be applied elsewhere. The idea behind this collaborative wiki is that this could provide a space for documenting and sharing these experiences, linking also to the databeses mentioned above.

Further reading

Huq, S., 2007: Community-Based Adaptation: A vital approach to the threat climate change poses to the poor. IIED Briefing Paper, [6]

Warrick, O., 2007: Development, Forest Conservation and Adaptation to Climate Change: A Case for Integrated Community Based Sustainability in Rural Vanuatu. ANZSEE Conference Paper, Australia New Zealand Society for Ecological Economics, [7]

Blanco, R., 2006: Local initiatives and adaptation to climate change. Disasters, 30(1), pp. 140-147(8).

To see some examples of current community-based adaptation intiatives visit these pages of weADAPT: ENDA Community Adaptation Pilot Action Programme ; Advancing Capacity for Climate Change Adaptation (ACCCA)

Adaptation & Disaster Risk Reduction Links

There has been an increasing recognition recently of the similarities between the approaches to climate adaptation and disaster risk reduction activities (DRR). This can be attributed to several important developments, notably a shift in the DRR community towards the prevention of disasters rather than recovery from them, and an increasing acknowledgement in the climate adaptation community of the need to address vulnerabilities to existing climate variability and extremes (Thomalla et al 2006).

At the heart of both fields is a risk management approach which seeks to reduce socio-economic vulnerability to natural hazards, and both have developed a range of tools to assess risk and identify opportunities for action (Thomalla et al 2006). In seeking to reduce vulnerability, both communities are focussed on building capacity and resilience to respond to natural hazards. Both approaches also recognise the need for poverty reduction and sustainable resource management in order to address the root causes of vulnerability (Thomalla et al 2006) Given the similarities in their core aims and approaches, and in light of increasing meteorological hazards, it has been recognised that there is a need to work together and share information and experiences (O Brien et al 2006).

The links between the climate adaptation and disaster risk reduction fields are as yet not very well developed, however there are some organisations that have begun looking at vulnerability in the context of both natural hazards and climate adaptation. These include the UN's International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR), and the Vulnerability and Adaptation Resources Group (VARG) (Schipper and Pelling 2006). This is a promising area for the sharing of information and experience, and has the potential to be a valuable way forward in reducing vulnerability.

Further Reading

DFID (2004b) Key Sheet 06. Adaptation to climate change: Making development disaster-proof. DFID, London

O'Brien, G. et al (2006) Climate Change and Disaster Management. Disasters 30(1): 39-48

Pelling, M. and J. Uitto (2001) "Small Island Developing States: Natural Disaster Vulnerability and Global Change". Environmental Hazards. 3(2). pp. 49-62.

Schipper, L. and Pelling, M. (2006) Disaster risk, climate change and international development: scope for, and challenges to, integration. Disasters 30(1): 39-48

Thomalla, F. et al (2006) Reducing hazard vulnerability: towards a common approach between disaster risk reduction and climate adaptation. Disasters 30(1): 39-48

Sperling, F. and F. Szekely (2005) Disaster Risk Management in a Changing Climate. Informal discussion paper prepared for the World Conference on Disaster Reduction in Kobe, Japan, 18-22 January 2005, on behalf of the Vulnerability and Adaptation Resource Group (VARG), Washington, D.C. See also the special issue of disasters on disaster risk reduction and climate change: Disasters Volume 30, Issue 1.

See also the special issue of disasters on disaster risk reduction and climate change: Disasters Volume 30, Issue 1, and the Climate risk management in Africa volume, Climate and society No1.

Adaptation Technologies & Technology Transfer

The process of adaptation (to climate variability and change) involves a change in behaviour and consequently a shift in activities as a result of changing (environmental) conditions. To engage in these new better suited activities often requires the procurement and adoption of new technologies. The application of environmentally sound technologies (ESTs) in the field of adaptation to climate change is therefore increasingly being realised and explored. Technology transfer is noted in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change as a key area of engagement and collaboration between so-called "developed" countries (those contributing a large proportion of the GHG emissions responsible for anthropologically induced climate change) and "developing" countries, where large populations experience high levels of vulnerability to climate stresses and shocks (UNFCCC Article 4.5). The process of technology transfer in the adaptation context is an opportunity to redress some of the global imbalances in access to certain resources and facilitate sustainable development. The transfer of technologies is however not confined to being from the "north" to the "south" but can often be "south"-"south" (both between and within countries) or maybe even "south"-"north".

In the climate change mitigation context, technological interventions have tended to be hardware intensive, centralised and supply-side oriented. The focus of the IPCC Working Group 3 and the Expert Group on Technology Transfer, among others, has been on purporting the importance of creating enabling environments at the national level in terms of governments developing appropriate macro-economic conditions for technology transfer. The problem is that top-down processes do not necessarily engage with the project specific context, which is critical to the success of an adaptation project. In the case of technology transfer in the field of adaptation, emphasis therefore increasingly needs to be placed on the software (process) and orgware (institutional) elements of technology, focussing on receptivity and use of classes of technology that are decentralised in their application (i.e. spatially diffuse). The idea is to get bottom-up processes to engage with those that are more top-down to develop consistent enabling environments at the micro and the macro level in which local skills are fostered to innovate and endogenise ESTs relevant to their context.

Further Reading

Klein, R., Dougherty, W., Alam, M. and Rahman, A., 2005: Technology to Understand and Manage Climate Risks, Background Paper for the UNFCCC Seminar on the Development and Transfer of Environmentally Sound Technologies for Adaptation to Climate Change, [8]

Douthwaite, B., de Hann, N., Manyong, V. and Keatinge, D., 2001: Blending "Hard" and "Soft" Science: the "Follow-the-Technology" Approach to Catalyzing and Evaluating Technology Change, Conservation Ecology, 5 (2): 13.

Taylor, A., Thorne, S. and Mqadi, L., 2008 (forthcoming): Receiving Technology in Adaptaton Projects, Tiempo, [9]