IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2007
Climate Change 2007: Working Group II: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability

11.5 Adaptation constraints and opportunities

Planned adaptation can greatly reduce vulnerability (see examples in Chapter 17). Since the TAR, Australia and New Zealand have taken notable steps in building adaptive capacity (see Section 11.2.5) by increasing support for research and knowledge, expanding assessments for decision makers of the risks of climate change, infusing climate change into policies and plans, promoting awareness, and better dealing with climate issues. However, there remain formidable environmental, economic, informational, social, attitudinal and political barriers to the implementation of adaptation.

For many natural ecosystems, impacts have limited reversibility. Planned adaptation opportunities for offsetting potentially deleterious impacts are often limited due to fixed habitat regions (e.g., the Wet Tropics and upland rainforests in Australia and the alpine zone in both Australia and New Zealand). One adaptive strategy is to provide corridors to facilitate migration of species under future warming. This will require changes in land tenure in many regions, with significant economic costs, although schemes to promote such connectivity are already under way in some Australian states (see Section 11.2.5). Another strategy is translocation of species. This is a very expensive measure, but it may be considered desirable for some iconic, charismatic or particularly vulnerable species.

For water, planned adaptation opportunities lie in the inclusion of risks due to climate change on both the demand and supply side (Allen Consulting Group, 2005; Table 11.2). In urban catchments, better use of storm and recycled water can augment supply, although existing institutional arrangements and technical systems for water distribution constrain implementation. Moreover, there is community resistance to the use of recycled water for human consumption (e.g., in such cities as Toowoomba in Queensland and Goulburn in NSW). Desalination schemes are being considered in some Australian capital cities. Installation of rainwater tanks is another adaptation response and is now actively pursued through incentive policies and rebates. For rural activities, more flexible arrangements for allocation are required, via the expansion of water markets, where trading can increase water-use efficiency (Beare and Heaney, 2002). Existing attitudes toward water pricing and difficulties with structural adjustment are significant barriers.

For agriculture, there are opportunities for planned adaptation via improvements in crop varieties (Figure 11.2), rotations, farm technology, farm practices and land-use mix. Cropping can be extended to historically wetter regions. Implementation will require new investment and significant managerial changes (Howden et al., 2003a). Farmers in eastern New Zealand are engaging in local discussion of risks posed by future climate change and how to enhance adaptation options (Kenny, 2005). They stress the need for support and education for ‘bottom-up’ adaptation (Kenny, 2007). Farming of marginal land at the drier fringe is likely to be increasingly challenging, especially in those regions of both countries with prospective declines in rainfall.

In coastal areas, there is solid progress in risk assessments and in fashioning policies and plans at the local and regional level in New Zealand. However, there remain significant challenges to achieving concrete actions that reduce risks. Consistent implementation of adaptation measures (e.g., setback lines, planned retreat, dune management (Dahm et al., 2005), building designs, prohibition of new structures and siting requirements that account for sea-level rise) has been difficult. Differences in political commitment, lack of strong and clear guidelines from government, and legal challenges by property owners are major constraints (MfE, 2003).

Considering all sectors, four broad barriers to adaptation are evident.

1. A lack of methods for integrated assessment of impacts and adaptation that can be applied on an area-wide basis. While sector-specific knowledge and tools have steadily progressed, the vulnerability of water resources, coasts, agriculture and ecosystems of local areas and regions are interconnected and need to be assessed accordingly (see Section 11.8).

2. Lack of well-developed evaluation tools for assessing planned adaptation options, such as benefit-cost analysis, incorporating climate change and adapted for local and regional application.

3. Ongoing scepticism about climate change science, uncertainty in regional climate change projections, and a lack of knowledge about how to promote adaptation. This is despite 87% of Australians being more concerned about climate change impacts than terrorism (Lowy Institute, 2006). Application of risk-based approaches to adaptation (e.g., upgrading urban storm-water infrastructure design; Shaw et al., 2005) demonstrate how developments can be ‘climate-proofed’ (ADB, 2005). While a risk-based method for planned adaptation has been published for Australia (AGO, 2006), there are few examples of where it has been applied.

4. Weak linkages between the various strata of government, from national to local, regarding adaptation policy, plans and requirements. Stronger guidance and support are required from state (in Australia) and central government (in New Zealand) to underpin efforts to promote adaptation locally. For example, the New Zealand Coastal Policy Statement recommends that regional councils should take account of future sea-level rise. But there is a lack of guidance as to how this should be accomplished and little support for building capacity to undertake the necessary actions. As a consequence, regional and local responses have been limited, variable and inconsistent.