IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2007
Climate Change 2007: Synthesis Report

4.2 Adaptation options

Adaptation can reduce vulnerability, both in the short and the long term. {WGII 17.2, 18.1, 18.5, 20.3, 20.8}

Vulnerability to climate change can be exacerbated by other stresses. These arise from, for example, current climate hazards, poverty, unequal access to resources, food insecurity, trends in economic globalisation, conflict and incidence of diseases such as HIV/AIDS. {WGII 7.2, 7.4, 8.3, 17.3, 20.3, 20.4, 20.7, SPM}

Societies across the world have a long record of adapting and reducing their vulnerability to the impacts of weather- and climate-related events such as floods, droughts and storms. Nevertheless, additional adaptation measures will be required at regional and local levels to reduce the adverse impacts of projected climate change and variability, regardless of the scale of mitigation undertaken over the next two to three decades. However, adaptation alone is not expected to cope with all the projected effects of climate change, especially not over the long term as most impacts increase in magnitude. {WGII 17.2, SPM; WGIII 1.2}

A wide array of adaptation options is available, but more extensive adaptation than is currently occurring is required to reduce vulnerability to climate change. There are barriers, limits and costs, which are not fully understood. Some planned adaptation is already occurring on a limited basis. Table 4.1 provides examples of planned adaptation options by sector. Many adaptation actions have multiple drivers, such as economic development and poverty alleviation, and are embedded within broader development, sectoral, regional and local planning initiatives such as water resources planning, coastal defence and disaster risk reduction strategies. Examples of this approach are the Bangladesh National Water Management Plan and the coastal defence plans of The Netherlands and Norway, which incorporate specific climate change scenarios. {WGII 1.3, 5.5.2, 11.6, 17.2}

Comprehensive estimates of the costs and benefits of adaptation at the global level are limited in number. However, the number of adaptation cost and benefit estimates at the regional and project levels for impacts on specific sectors, such as agriculture, energy demand for heating and cooling, water resources management and infrastructure, is growing. Based on these studies there is high confidence that there are viable adaptation options that can be implemented in some of these sectors at low cost and/or with high benefit-cost ratios. Empirical research also suggests that higher benefit-cost ratios can be achieved by implementing some adaptation measures at an early stage compared to retrofitting long-lived infrastructure at a later date. {WGII 17.2}

Table 4.1. Selected examples of planned adaptation by sector.

Sector Adaptation option/strategy Underlying policy framework Key constraints and opportunities to implementation (Normal font = constraints; italics = opportunities
Water {WGII, 5.5, 16.4;Tables 3.5, 11.6,17.1} Expanded rainwater harvesting; water storage and conservation techniques; water re-use; desalination; water-use and irrigation efficiency National water policies and integrated water resources management; water-related hazards management Financial, human resources and physical barriers; integrated water resources management; synergies with other sectors  
Agriculture {WGII 10.5, 13.5; Table 10.8} Adjustment of planting dates and crop variety; crop relocation; improved land management, e.g. erosion control and soil protection through tree planting R&D policies; institutional reform; land tenure and land reform; training; capacity building; crop insurance; financial incentives, e.g. subsidies and tax credits  Technological and financial constraints; access to new varieties; markets; longer growing season in higher latitudes; revenues from ‘new’ products  
Infrastructure/settlement (including coastal zones) {WGII 3.6, 11.4; Tables 6.11, 17.1} Relocation; seawalls and storm surge barriers; dune reinforcement; land acquisition and creation of marshlands/wetlands as buffer against sea level rise and flooding; protection of existing natural barriers Standards and regulations that integrate climate change considerations into design; land-use policies; building codes; insurance Financial and technological barriers; availability of relocation space; integrated policies and management; synergies with sustainable development goals  
Human health {WGII 14.5, Table 10.8} Heat-health action plans; emergency medical services; improved climate-sensitive disease surveillance and control; safe water and improved sanitation  Public health policies that recognise climate risk; strengthened health services; regional and international cooperation Limits to human tolerance (vulnerable groups); knowledge limitations; financial capacity; upgraded health services; improved quality of life 
Tourism {WGII 12.5, 15.5, 17.5; Table 17.1} Diversification of tourism attractions and revenues; shifting ski slopes to higher altitudes and glaciers; artificial snow-making  Integrated planning (e.g. carrying capacity; linkages with other sectors); financial incentives, e.g. subsidies and tax credits Appeal/marketing of new attractions; financial and logistical challenges; potential adverse impact on other sectors (e.g. artificial snow-making may increase energy use); revenues from ‘new’ attractions; involvement of wider group of stakeholders  
Transport {WGII 7.6, 17.2} Ralignment/relocation; design standards and planning for roads, rail and other infrastructure to cope with warming and drainage Integrating climate change considerations into national transport policy; investment in R&D for special situations, e.g. permafrost areas Financial and technological barriers; availability of less vulnerable routes; improved technologies and integration with key sectors (e.g. energy) 
Energy {WGII 7.4, 16.2} Strengthening of overhead transmission and distribution infrastructure; underground cabling for utilities; energy efficiency; use of renewable sources; reduced dependence on single sources of energy National energy policies, regulations, and fiscal and financial incentives to encourage use of alternative sources; incorporating climate change in design standards  Access to viable alternatives; financial and technological barriers; acceptance of new technologies; stimulation of new technologies; use of local resources  

Note: Other examples from many sectors would include early warning systems.

Adaptive capacity is intimately connected to social and economic development, but it is not evenly distributed across and within societies. {WGII 7.1, 7.2, 7.4, 17.3}

The capacity to adapt is dynamic and is influenced by a society’s productive base, including natural and man-made capital assets, social networks and entitlements, human capital and institutions, governance, national income, health and technology. It is also affected by multiple climate and non-climate stresses, as well as development policy. {WGII 17.3}

Recent studies reaffirm the TAR finding that adaptation will be vital and beneficial. However, financial, technological, cognitive, behavioural, political, social, institutional and cultural constraints limit both the implementation and effectiveness of adaptation measures. Even societies with high adaptive capacity remain vulnerable to climate change, variability and extremes. For example, a heat wave in 2003 caused high levels of mortality in European cities (especially among the elderly), and Hurricane Katrina in 2005 caused large human and financial costs in the United States. {WGII 7.4, 8.2, 17.4}