Adaptation

Much less publicised than the Nationally Determined Contributions to mitigating climate change are the national plans for adaptation to the consequences for a changing climate. Given our projections that, even if we manage a transition from fossil fuels over the next 25-30 years, the earth’s climate will still warm by 3 degrees C, putting in place “common purpose” plans to adjust to the consequences of the temperature rise is essential.

The high-level consequences of global warming are well-known: iconic photographs of melting ice caps have popularised these so that they become a series of vignettes, each of which has a strong emotional resonance.

The trouble with the emotional appeal of such images, largely popularised by climate lobby groups to whip up resentment against corporations, is that they offer no solutions when they become realities. The emotional charge of an image is great at creating a sympathetic response but does not provide any engineering or economic solutions to the dangers it portrays. A picture paints a thousand words but does not create a consensus on what to do. Moreover the nationalistic approach to mitigating climate change makes a global response to adapting unlikely. The gradualness of the problem is also likely to create a slower response; the boiling frog dilemma means that the prompt and pre-emptive action required is not likely to materialise.

The consequences of climate change of 3 degrees C are likely to be as follows:

  • Rising sea levels
  • More extreme weather
  • Widespread desertification
  • Disappearance of snow
  • Changes in ocean currents

Each of these high-level changes will have specific consequences related to it, although these will vary from region to region.

The assumption has been that adaptation to climate change will only be needed if there is a planetary failure to deal with the challenge of mitigating the onset of climate change. The reality is that the need for both mitigation and adaptation will accelerate together, and that there will be competition demands from both challenges.

Adaptation

It’s realistic to envisage that global warming of 2-3 degrees C will occur over the next few decades. This will have enormous impact but the effects of climate change will be experienced unevenly around the world. Some poorer countries will be decimated; some richer countries may actually benefit.