Adaptation to climate change: Setting the Agenda for Development Policy and Research

TitleAdaptation to climate change: Setting the Agenda for Development Policy and Research
Publication TypeTyndall Working Paper
SeriesTyndall Centre Working Papers
Tyndall Consortium Institution


Secondary TitleTyndall Centre Working Paper 16
AuthorsAdger, W. N., K. Brown, D. Conway, S. Huq, and M. Hulme
Year of Publication2002

The world's climate is changing and will continue to change at rates projected to be unprecedented in recent human history into the incoming century. The risks associated with these changes are real but highly uncertain. For societies vulnerability to these risks may exacerbate ongoing social and economic trends, particularly for those parts of societies dependent on resources that are sensitive to changes in climate. Risks are apparent in agriculture, fisheries and many other components that constitute the livelihood of rural populations in developing countries. In the light of these observations the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, the School of Development Studies at University of East Anglia, as a Tyndall partner, and the International Institute for Environment and Development hosted a workshop at the Royal Society in London in October 2001 to explore policy and research questions with academics, development and humanitarian NGOs, and government agencies. The objectives of this one day workshop were to: * to bring together practitioners and agencies from the development community to explore the implications of the latest assessments of climate change impacts and potential for adaptation; * to facilitate engagement of the UK development community with the climate change social and natural science community for agenda and priority setting in the area of adaptation. The meeting explored the implications of the full range of present knowledge on the challenges of adapting to climate change from the IPCC Third Assessment Report and be a timely input into discussions leading to the World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002. The challenges of climate change for development are in the present - observed climate change, present day climate variability and future expectations of change are changing the course of development strategies - development agencies and governments are now planning for this adaptation challenge. This document is based on reflections by the conference organisers on the agenda and discussions raised on the day. We review the evidence on present-day adaptation in these developing countries and on co-ordinated international action on future adaptation. We argue that all societies are fundamentally adaptive and there are many situations in the past where societies have adapted to changes in climate and to similar risks. But some sectors are more sensitive and some groups in society are more vulnerable to the risks posed by climate change than others. Thus some major issues raised from the presentations and discussions on the day focussed on the role of policy, perception of risk, and the wider context of climate change adaptation. In summary: * Climate change risks to natural resource-dependent societies mean that adaptation will inevitably be characterised both by processes of negotiated adjustments involving individuals, civil society and state, and involving renegotiation of risk-bearing and sharing between them; * Such renegotiation is often problematic in an era where autonomy of national governments and of individuals is restricted by access to technologies, and by the nature of the global economic system. Renegotiation of risk often pushes such risk downward to individuals who have fewer resources to deploy to adaptation outside their experienced coping ranges. * It needs to be recognised that much adaptation in the developing world will rely on past experience of dealing with climate-related risks. But past practice is likely to be limited when unknown risks emerge. * Finally, there was much discussion and agreement that international institutions need to learn from adaptation from past and present adaptation the developing world and ultimately to act to maintain the inherent resilience of people coping with an uncertain future. Thus the challenges from this meeting, posed at both the scale of local natural resource management and at the scale of international agreements and actions, is to promote adaptive capacity in the context of competing sustainable development objectives while recognising that the processes of adaptation are not independent from the wider political economy of uneven development. We thank all participants, speakers and sponsors of this important meeting and hope bridges between the communities will continue to be well crossed in future.

wp16.pdf507.61 KB