To date, the international community has dealt with climate change principally by promoting the mitigation of greenhouse gases (GHG). The rationale for mitigation efforts is that the severity of climate change can be alleviated by stabilizing or reducing the concentration of greenhouse gases. Mitigation activities are clearly necessary to the long-term well-being and stability of the global environment. However, the level of attention given to mitigation-oriented science, technology, methodology, and policy — by the popular press, practitioners, regulators, and Congress—has served to obscure the pressing need to address adaptation to climate change.
Climate Change is Inevitable
According to Ira Feldman, the reality is that, even if the most optimistic mitigation plans were adopted and all greenhouse gases were stabilized immediately, residual concentrations within the atmosphere will continue to create adverse consequences well into the future. A stable climate can no longer be assumed. Mitigation of greenhouse gases can minimize the long-term impact to the climate, but cannot halt or avoid all impacts. Human-induced climate change is going to proceed and perhaps worsen with time. Adapting to the adverse impacts of climate change is a reality.
It is clearly necessary to continue to pursue GHG mitigation strategies as aggressively as possible. However, at the same time, we should begin to implement adaptation strategies as a complement to mitigation efforts. The IPCC Fourth Assessment Report-Climate Change 2007: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability suggests “a portfolio of adaptation and mitigation can diminish the risks associated with climate change.” The report recommends that a portfolio or mix of strategies should include “mitigation, adaptation, technological development (to enhance both adaptation and mitigation) and research (on climate science, impacts, adaptation, and mitigation). Such portfolios could combine policies with incentive-based approaches and actions at all levels from the individual citizen through to national governments and international organizations.
Adaptation – Reactive or Anticipatory (Proactive)
Adaptation can be reactive or proactive. Given the exponential rate of climate change and the impacts that are currently being observed, reactive adaptation is understandable and necessary. However, reactive approaches can be costly. This is why long-term strategies for adaptation need to be considered now and integrated into current climate action plans or addressed in concert with these action plans.
Adaptation actions and strategies present a complementary approach to mitigation. While mitigation can be viewed as reducing the likelihood of adverse conditions, adaptation can be viewed as reducing the severity of many impacts if adverse conditions prevail. However, adaptation is a risk-management strategy that is not free of cost nor foolproof, and the worthiness of any specific actions must therefore carefully weigh the expected value of the avoided damages against the real costs of implementing the adaptation strategy. (Pew Center Report on Coping with Global Climate Change – the Role of Adaptation in the United States.)
Adaptation Planning at the State and Local Levels in the U.S. Some states are already considering climate change adaptation issues and either are creating separate adaptation commissions or committees to complement mitigation efforts or are integrating adaptation into the state’s action plan. As of 2007, 35 states have created or are in the process of creating climate action plans, with 14 new plans due to emerge in 2008. A number of these states have added adaptation considerations into the scope of their climate action plans.
A few examples of adaptation tools and/or strategies already being considered are:
- Translocating crops
- Switching crops and cultivers
- Adjusting planting seasons
- Changing land use allocations
- Changing water storage, supply and distribution methods
- Improving water conservation
- Water transfer strategies
- Changing coastal development
- Redefining flood plains
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