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

20.3.3 Two-way causality between sustainable development and adaptive capacity

It has become increasingly evident, especially since the TAR (IPCC, 2001b), that the pace and character of development influences adaptive capacity and that adaptive capacity influences the pace and character of development. It follows that development paths, and the choices that define them, will affect the severity of climate impacts, not only through changes in exposure and sensitivity, but also through changes in the capacities of systems to adapt. This includes local-scale disaster risk reduction and resource management (e.g., Shaw, 2006; Jung et al., 2005), and broader social dimensions including governance, societal engagement and rights, and levels of education (Haddad, 2005; Tompkins and Adger, 2005; Brooks et al., 2005; Chapter 17, Section 17.3).

Munasinghe and Swart (2005) and Swart et al. (2003) argued that sustainable development measures and climate-change policies, including adaptation, can reinforce each other; Figure 20.2 portrays some of the texture of the interaction that they envisioned. Although scholarly papers on adaptation began to appear in the 1980s, it was not until the 2001 Marrakech Accords that a policy focus on adaptation within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) developed (Schipper, 2006). Klein et al. (2005) suggest that adaptation has not been seen as a viable option, in part because many observers see market forces creating the necessary conditions for adaptation even in the absence of explicit policies and, in part, because understanding of how future adaptation could differ from historical experience is limited.

Figure 20.2

Figure 20.2. Two-way linkages between climate and sustainable development. Source: Swart et al. (2003).

Efforts to promote alternative development pathways that are more sustainable could include measures to reduce non-renewable energy consumption, for example, or shifting construction of residential or industrial infrastructure to avoid high-risk areas (AfDB et al., 2004). The MA (2005) attempted to describe a global portrait of such a pathway in its “Techno Garden” scenario. In this future, an inter-connected world promotes expanded use of innovative technology, but its authors warned that technology may not solve all problems and could lead to the loss of indigenous cultures. Climate-change measures could also encounter such limitations. Gupta and Tol (2003) describe various climate-policy dilemmas including competition between human rights and property rights.

Adaptation measures embedded within climate-change policies could, by design, try to reduce vulnerabilities and risks by enhancing the adaptive capacity of communities and economies. This would be consistent with sustainability goals. Researchers and practitioners should not equate vulnerability to poverty, though, and they should not consider adaptation and adaptive capacity in isolation. Brooks et al. (2005) conclude that efforts to promote adaptive capacity should incorporate aspects of education, health and governance and thereby extend the context beyond a particular stress (such as climate change) to include factors that are critical in a broader development context. Haddad (2005) noted the critical role played here by general rankings of economic development performance and general reflections of national and local goals and aspirations, and explained how different people might choose different development from the same set of alternatives even if they had the same information.

Past adaptation and development experience displays mixed results. Kates (2000) described several historic climate adaptations (e.g., drought in the Sahel) and development measures (e.g., the Green Revolution) and argued that development measures that were generally consistent with climate adaptation often benefited some groups (e.g., people with access to resources) while harming others (e.g., poor populations, indigenous peoples). Ford et al. (2006) showed that unequal acquisition of new technologies can, under some circumstances, increase vulnerability to external stresses by weakening social networks and thereby altering adaptive capacity within communities and between generations. Belliveau et al. (2006) makes the link to climate explicit by observing that adaptation to non-climatic forces, without explicitly considering climate, can lead to increased vulnerability to climate because adapting previous adaptations can be expensive.

Future links between sustainable development and climate change will evolve from current development frameworks; but recognising the exposure of places and peoples to multiple stresses (Chapter 17; Chapter 19; Section 20.3.1) and accepting the challenge of mainstreaming adaptation into development planning will be critical in understanding what policies will work where and when. For example, in the Sudan, there is a risk that development efforts focusing on short-term relief can undermine community coping capacity (Elasha, 2005). In the mitigation realm, incentives for carbon sequestration could promote hybrid forest plantations and therefore pose a threat to biodiversity and ecosystem adaptability (Caparrós and Jacquemont, 2003; Chapter 18). Development decisions can also produce cumulative threats. In the Columbia River Basin, for instance, extensive water resource development can influence basin management with multiple objectives within scenarios of climate change because climate impacts on stream-flow cause policy dilemmas when decision-makers must balance hydroelectricity production and fisheries protection (Hamlet, 2003; Payne et al., 2004). Restoring in-stream flow to present-day acceptable (but sub-optimum) levels could, in particular, cause hydroelectricity production to decline and production from fossil fuel sources to rise. Interactions of this sort raise important questions on the analysis of the causes of recent climate-related disasters. For example, are observed trends in injuries/fatalities and property losses (Mileti, 1999; Mirza, 2003; MA, 2005; Munich Re, 2005) due to unsustainable development policies, climate change or a mixture of different factors? Could policy interventions reduce these losses in ways that would still meet broader objectives of sustainable development? Some proposed responses for Africa are described in Low (2005) and AfDB et al. (2004).

Globalisation also adds complexity to the management of common-pool resources because increased interdependence makes it more difficult to find equitable solutions to development problems (Ostrom et al., 1999). Increases in the costs associated with various hazards and the prospects of cumulative environmental/economic threats have been described as syndromes. Schellnhuber et al. (1997) identified three significant categories: over-utilisation (e.g., over-cultivation of marginal land in the Sahel), inconsistent development (e.g., urban sprawl and associated destruction of landscapes) and hazardous sinks (e.g., large-scale diffusion of long-lived substances). Schellnhuber et al. (2002) and Lüdeke et al. (2004) describe possible future distributions of some of these syndromes. They suggest how mechanisms of mutual reinforcement, including climate change and development drivers, can help to identify regions where syndromes may expand and others where they might contract.