Climate change is already having impacts and these are set to increase, posing threats to vulnerable communities, infrastructure and ecosystems.
Adaption refers to actions that countries, companies and communities can talk to minimize these threats. In the long term, climate change can only be tackled by mitigation – steep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions – and the faster this happens, the less adaptation will be needed.
But even if all greenhouse gas emissions stopped immediately, the planet would continue to warm for many years. This makes adaptation all the more urgent.
Adaptation includes things like building defenses to protect coastal areas from rising seas, switching to drought or flood resistant crop varieties, and improving early warning systems to warn of heat-waves, disease outbreaks and climate-related disasters such as hurricanes.
Index-linked insurance or micro-insurance is another form of adaptation. Policyholders can claim money on the basis of a measurable climate-related event, such as a rainfall or temperature level, rather than a financial loss. This makes it easier to implement in poor countries where conventional insurance is unavailable.
Conservative estimates put the costs of adaptation at around US$100 billion per year by 2020, but critics say the true figure will be much higher as these estimates do not include all of the sectors that need to adapt. Funding adaptation will be an immense challenge as it is not as commercially attractive as mitigation projects.
Under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change the world’s Least Developed Countries have received funding to identify their most urgent adaptation needs and to draw up National Adaptation Programmes of Action (NAPAs).
The parties to the convention agreed in 2001 to fund these programmes through a Least Developed Countries Fund, which wealthier nations were to contribute to. But by early 2010, only three of the 43 of the 50 LDCs that had submitted their NAPAs had received any funding.
Another more promising source of funding for the developing countries is the Adaptation Fund. This does not depend on government funding but grows through a two percent levy on any transactions under the Clean Development Mechanism, which was set up under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change's Kyoto Protocol.
The Adaptation Fund could soon be a major source of funding for developing nations.
For detailed scientific information on adaptation to climate change, journalists can turn to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and the report of its Working Group II which covered impacts, vulnerability and adaptation.
Governments should be developing plans for adaptation which allow journalists an opportunity to track progress and report on the effectiveness of the strategies being developed.
To report on adaptation in action, journalists may need to travel to rural areas to find stories about what climatic threats people face and how they are adapting to them.
When information is lacking, journalists can look to other countries that face similar climate impacts to see if there are adaptation activities there that are relevant to their local audiences.
The UNFCCC website has a database of local coping strategies, which journalists can search by hazard (e.g. drought) and impact.
For stories about adaptation in the world’s least developed nations, the UNFCCC website, also has details of the National Adaptation Programmes of Action in each country.
Other good sources for journalists include the UNDP Adaptation Learning Mechanism and the Eldis dossier on adaptation. It includes detailed information organized by theme and region, as well as a comprehensive listing of organizations that work on adaptation and are good sources for journalists.
Another useful source is the Community Based Adaptation Exchange, which is an online network with hundreds of members who are sharing information on adaptation.
CASE STUDY – Reducing the vulnerability of coastal communities
Cavite City in the Philippines is at risk from rising sea levels and cyclones which can both erode the land and lead to flooding, which can threaten supplies of drinking water, and make water-borne disease more likely.
Local people have developed their own coping mechanisms such as building houses in stilts, placing sand-bags along the coast, strengthening houses, shifting to safer livelihoods, and evacuating to higher ground during storms.
These community-level adaptations to change are not well integrated into an overall progamme of city-wide action. Larger-scale government led activities such as building shoreline defenses and moving people to safer areas are very costly and have been poorly implemented.
When coastal communities were consulted about adaptation to climate change they proposed new solutions. These included setting up community-based early warning systems and micro-credit and micro-insurance schemes to help the poor reduce their vulnerability and exposure to financial risk.