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

Executive summary

Adaptation to climate change is already taking place, but on a limited basis (very high confidence).

Societies have a long record of adapting to the impacts of weather and climate through a range of practices that include crop diversification, irrigation, water management, disaster risk management, and insurance. But climate change poses novel risks often outside the range of experience, such as impacts related to drought, heatwaves, accelerated glacier retreat and hurricane intensity [17.2.1].

Adaptation measures that also consider climate change are being implemented, on a limited basis, in both developed and developing countries. These measures are undertaken by a range of public and private actors through policies, investments in infrastructure and technologies, and behavioural change. Examples of adaptations to observed changes in climate include partial drainage of the Tsho Rolpa glacial lake (Nepal); changes in livelihood strategies in response to permafrost melt by the Inuit in Nunavut (Canada); and increased use of artificial snow-making by the Alpine ski industry (Europe, Australia and North America) [17.2.2]. A limited but growing set of adaptation measures also explicitly considers scenarios of future climate change. Examples include consideration of sea-level rise in design of infrastructure such as the Confederation Bridge (Canada) and in coastal zone management (United States and the Netherlands) [17.2.2].

Adaptation measures are seldom undertaken in response to climate change alone (very high confidence).

Many actions that facilitate adaptation to climate change are undertaken to deal with current extreme events such as heatwaves and cyclones. Often, planned adaptation initiatives are also not undertaken as stand-alone measures, but embedded within broader sectoral initiatives such as water resource planning, coastal defence and disaster management planning [17.2.2, 17.3.3]. Examples include consideration of climate change in the National Water Plan of Bangladesh and the design of flood protection and cyclone-resistant infrastructure in Tonga [17.2.2].

Many adaptations can be implemented at low cost, but comprehensive estimates of adaptation costs and benefits are currently lacking (high confidence).

There is a growing number of adaptation cost and benefit-cost estimates at regional and project level for sea-level rise, agriculture, energy demand for heating and cooling, water resource management, and infrastructure. These studies identify a number of measures that can be implemented at low cost or with high benefit-cost ratios. However, some common adaptations may have social and environmental externalities. Adaptations to heatwaves, for example, have involved increased demand for energy-intensive air-conditioning [17.2.3].

Limited estimates are also available for global adaptation costs related to sea-level rise, and energy expenditures for space heating and cooling. Estimates of global adaptation benefits for the agricultural sector are also available, although such literature does not explicitly consider the costs of adaptation. Comprehensive multi-sectoral estimates of global costs and benefits of adaptation are currently lacking [17.2.3].

Adaptive capacity is uneven across and within societies (very high confidence).

There are individuals and groups within all societies that have insufficient capacity to adapt to climate change. For example, women in subsistence farming communities are disprop-ortionately burdened with the costs of recovery and coping with drought in southern Africa [17.3.2].

The capacity to adapt is dynamic and influenced by economic and natural resources, social networks, entitlements, institutions and governance, human resources, and technology [17.3.3]. Multiple stresses related to HIV/AIDS, land degradation, trends in economic globalisation, and violent conflict affect exposure to climate risks and the capacity to adapt. For example, farming communities in India are exposed to impacts of import competition and lower prices in addition to climate risks; marine ecosystems over-exploited by globalised fisheries have been shown to be less resilient to climate variability and change [17.3.3].

There are substantial limits and barriers to adaptation (very high confidence).

High adaptive capacity does not necessarily translate into actions that reduce vulnerability. For example, despite a high capacity to adapt to heat stress through relatively inexpensive adaptations, residents in urban areas in some parts of the world, including in European cities, continue to experience high levels of mortality [17.4.2]. There are significant barriers to implementing adaptation. These include both the inability of natural systems to adapt to the rate and magnitude of climate change, as well as technological, financial, cognitive and behavioural, and social and cultural constraints. There are also significant knowledge gaps for adaptation as well as impediments to flows of knowledge and information relevant for adaptation decisions [17.4.1, 17.4.2].

New planning processes are attempting to overcome these barriers at local, regional and national levels in both developing and developed countries. For example, least-developed countries are developing National Adaptation Programmes of Action and some developed countries have established national adaptation policy frameworks [17.4.1].