Climate adaptation

Climate adaptation explainer

Climate change is transforming the world and our lives. The ice caps are melting and sea levels are rising. Bushfires are raging in Australia; hurricanes are battering the Americas. No matter what part of the world you live in, you’ve probably felt the effects of climate change in some way – whether through flooding, heatwaves, crop failures or water shortages.

So now that climate change is here – and becoming impossible to ignore – what do we do?

People around the world are making heroic efforts to limit global warming. Perhaps you drive an electric car, you’ve stopped eating meat or started thinking twice about buying fast fashion. As we take better care of our oceans, forests and soil, Mother Nature is doing her bit too, by keeping some of the greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere.

Of course, all this is great. And necessary. But it’s no longer enough. We need to take our efforts to the next level. It’s time for full-on climate adaptation.

In plain English, that means adapting to the changes that have already begun.

Adaptation means reducing our vulnerability – to rising sea levels, extreme weather and food shortages. It also means taking advantage of new opportunities, like longer growing seasons and increased crop yields in some places. People could grow more rice in parts of Africa or make wine in England.

Makes sense, right? So we urgently need to step up our efforts to adapt. Because the impact of global warming is only going to increase. We need to adapt now!

Here’s the good news: humans have adapted to climate change before. And we’re getting better at it, all over the world.

We’re building better flood defences. We’re anticipating hotter weather. We’re greening our roofs and gardens. We’re using porous paving to deal with excess water, improving water retention and use. In Bangkok, they’ve turned an abandoned railway bridge into an elevated park that helps soak up increasing rainfall, while reducing air pollution. In Vietnam’s Mekong Delta, where sea-level rise has inundated rice paddies and ruined harvests, farmers are reducing losses by planting earlier and switching to new, hardier varieties.

But we can – and must – do much more.

Leaders in government and business need to radically rethink how they make decisions. They need to understand the risks of climate change and take account of these risks in their plans, policies and investments. And society needs to dig deep into its pockets to finance the necessary adaptations.

So much for the lofty language. What are we really talking about here? Here are a few examples of the kinds of things we need to do next.

In Bangladesh, coastal cities could install an early warning system for cyclones. So that a young woman will hear the siren and be able to get her family to safety in time. At macro level, that system could save her community ten times the money they paid for it.

In Zimbabwe, a farmer could grow a new type of maize that’s more resistant to drought.

In Denmark, engineers could redesign city streets to make them less prone to flooding.

And in Indonesia, a business executive could use water risk data and maps to help him decide where to invest his money. Meanwhile, his government could plant mangrove forests to protect villages from flooding – and create rich fishing grounds as a bonus.

Feeling inspired? Good! Because all this isn’t just up to world leaders, mayors and the people who write the cheques. It’s also up to you and me. Each and every one of us has a part to play.

Our actions don’t have to be fancy or high-tech. They can be cheap and practical. A resident of Manchester can green her tiled garden so that heavy rains will drain into the soil and the trees will keep her home cooler. An urban planner in Colombia can paint roofs white to deflect dangerous heat. And did you know some trees are more fire resistant than others, so they can help protect homes from wildfires?

Adaptation will pay off for all of us. We’ll save lives, protect nature, reduce inequalities and create new opportunities. We’ll even be promoting growth and development while we’re at it.

Our work is just beginning.

Join us as we adapt our way into the future.

[Text in screen:] ADAPT NOW

Climate adaptation is essential, doable and plannable

Climate change forces us to adapt our environments, cultures and systems.

The Climate Adaptation Summit (CAS) 2021 will show how to adapt, provide guidance, and scale up solutions.

Building on the Global Commission on Adaptation and the Call for action of the Adaptation and Resilience Coalition pledged at UNCAS 2019, CAS 2021 will further accelerate adaptation action and drive systematic change.

CAS 2021 is set to deliver an Adaptation Action Agenda as a roadmap for a decade of transformation towards a climate-resilient future by 2030.

A water management project team discusses a polder situation in Indonesia.
©Cynthia van Elk / Beeldunie
An employee of the local water department explains the polder situation in Semarang, Indonesia, to engineers and urban designers.