Time to transform – and join up – climate adaptation

Photo source: Bangladeshi farmers collect saplings for sale in the fields at Keraniganj near the capital Dhaka  February 22, 2007.
REUTERS/Rafiqur Rahman

Adaptation to climate change is well underway. Now it’s time to make it add up to something bigger

Under the Paris Agreement on climate change, all countries must set goals for their efforts to adapt to climate impacts – something that will be taken up at the next climate talks in Poland in December. When it comes to adaptation, setting a global goal simply won’t work, as adapting to local impacts is very specific to each place, though that doesn’t make setting a global adaptation goal any easier.

But even as plans are set and research carried out, adaptation is moving forward. And as it is a learning-by-doing process, much of the new knowledge is emerging on the ground, where the adaptation is taking place.

In the last few weeks there have been a series of international conferences where the scientists, planners and practitioners have met to share the latest developments and update the state of knowledge on adaptation.

One less that emerged at the Adaptation Futures conference in Cape Town this month was that adaptation to climate change is now a recognized science with its own researchers and scholars and university courses at masters and PhD levels blossoming in different countries.

This has meant that the world is rapidly moving from the first phase of adaptation, namely to avoid  maladaptation – efforts that don’t work or don’t work in the long run – and is well into the second phase of enhancing climate resilience in future planning.

Now it is about to enter the third phase: developing transformative adaptation that goes well beyond simple risk mitigation to transforming society to be better off than before.

An example of such a transformative adaptation is the planning to assist and enable millions of young girls and boys living on the low lying coastal areas of Bangladesh to move away from the coast to towns that are being developed to be climate resilient and migrant friendly.

So while adults are helped to adapt to conditions of increased salinity due to sea level rise back home, their children will be educated for jobs in the towns – and to one day take their parents with them. Thus future climate migration will be turned from a problem into a solution.

A second lesson comes from the thousands of practitioners of community based adaptation (CBA), several hundred of whom met in Malawi in June to share their experiences of trying to adapt to the impacts of climate change that are already visible around the world.

This community now numbers in the many thousands and includes experts from both developed and developing countries. An interesting feature of this work is how ubiquitous it has become in both towns as well a villages around the world where people are already clearly observing the impacts of climate change – through things like more frequent and intense extreme weather events as well as slow onset events such as sea level rise in low lying coastal areas.

Even in the United States, where the president and federal government deny the existence of climate change, cities like New York and Houston and states like California are taking climate impacts very seriously and finding ways to adapt to future climate change.

One of the findings of the conference was that even though there are thousands of local level actions taking place and sharing knowledge with each other, the support from national governments and even international climate change funds such as the Green Climate Fund (GCF) are mostly yet to reach those most vulnerable communities.

A third and final lesson comes from the meetings of government officials from around the world who are carrying out their National Adaptation Plans (NAPs) under the guidance and support of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

At an annual NAP expo in Egypt, it was clear every country has moved forward in terms of planning adaptation and even putting it into practice in many cases. The challenge going forward is to not have adaptation projects funded and implemented by agencies that don’t speak with each other but rather to make sure that adaptation planning is well integrated or mainstreamed into development planning and national budgets.

Several countries such the Philippines, Nepal and Bangladesh now give a share of their national budgets to efforts to deal with climate change, to make sure adaptation is integrated into national planning as well as that of different agencies and locations. This is the holy grail to helping people live in a world that is climate resilient in the future. That could well be the needed global goal on adaptation.


Originally this article was published on July 3, 2018 at Thomson Reuters Foundation. The author Dr. Saleemul Huq is the director of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD) at the Independent University, Bangladesh (IUB).
Email: saleemul.huq@icccad.net