Adaptation to Climate Change: A Critical Challenge for Asian Development

In What's New From IGES (IGES newsletter)
Volume (Issue): Nov. 2005
Non Peer-reviewed Article

Recent catastrophic events, such as Tsunami in the Indian Ocean, Hurricane Katrina in the United States and tropical storm Damrey in northern Vietnam, received great attention in the public media due to their extensive human and infrastructure-related losses. While such events cannot be attributed solely to climate change, the Third Assessment Report (TAR) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change suggests that the magnitude and frequency of extreme climate events would increase in the future due to climate change. It is regrettable that the Asia-Pacific region bears the brunt of 90% of global climate-related disasters with over half a million lives lost since the 1970s.

Mainstreaming Adaptation in Development
Adaptation to climate change is a dynamic multifaceted process that refers to adjustments through policies and actions in ecological, social and economic systems in response to impacts of actual or expected climatic stimuli. Adaptation has become an urgent challenge in the Asia-Pacific region due to its high vulnerability characterised by large and relatively poor populations with low adaptive capacity besides technological, resource and institutional constraints. While communities and ecosystems everywhere continue to adapt to some extent, such adaptations have often proved inadequate, painful, costly and unreliable. As climate change threatens to undo decades of development and poverty-reduction efforts, it is crucial for Asian policy-makers to make earnest efforts to move from reactive "blind" adaptations to proactive, deliberative and systematic strategies through mainstreaming adaptation in developmental plans at local, national and international levels.

In international negotiations, adaptation received much less attention than mitigation of greenhouse gases, primarily due to lack of adequate knowledge on differentiating the impacts of anthropogenic climate change and of natural climate variability. However, given the fact that a certain level of adaptation has to occur, even if mitigation measures are in place, negotiators from developing countries have argued for creating mechanisms to facilitate adaptation since COP 8. Several funding mechanisms, such as the Special Climate Change Fund, the Least Developed Countries, Fund, the Adaptation Fund, and the Special Priority on Adaptation of the Global Environmental Facility, have been created but contributions have been both inconsistent and inadequate. The adoption of the Buenos Aires Plan of Work on Adaptation and Response Measures at COP10 in December 2004, and the decision to ask the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) to develop a fiveyear work programme on impacts, vulnerability and adaptation, have raised the profile of adaptation agenda in international discussions. Such discussions would continue at COP11 in Montreal.

The multilateral institutions such as, the World Bank and bilateral cooperation agencies, such as JICA, have just begun to integrate adaptation concerns in their programmes. However, much remains to be done at the operational level, for example, in terms of "climate-proofing" large projects on infrastructure development. While the capital costs of the "climate-proofed" infrastructure would obviously be higher than the case in which infrastructure was constructed without considering climate change impacts, the accumulated costs, including repairs and maintenance, would be much lower in the latter over a period of time (as short as 15-20 years). "Climate-proofing" of projects during early stages of planning can, therefore, save enormous resources.

Despite widespread recognition that adaptation is necessary, Asian countries have undertaken limited efforts at the national level largely due to lack of reliable and adequate information on the vulnerability and capacity of their communities to adapt to climate change. Another reason for the lack of effective mainstreaming adaptation concerns in development plans is the existence of a great divide in the policy debate. For example, although climate change will have significant impacts on sectors, such as agriculture and water resources, policy debates on these issues are going in parallel without much consideration for the other. Some progress is evident, however, in countries such as Bangladesh and Kiribati, where mainstreaming of adaptation concerns has been done at the policy level to some extent. However, much remains to be done at the operational level in various climate-sensitive sectors.

IGES Organises a Consultation Meeting on Proactive Micro-Adaptation (PMA)
Adaptation often requires site-specific considerations, taking into account many local benefits and interests, hence, the involvement of communities in adaptation planning is vital. Proactive Micro-Adaptation (PMA) ? which encompasses anticipatory strategies and measures taken by communities, businesses, governments and other stakeholders at the local level ? has, therefore, a significant potential to be a crucial component of the strategies to address climate change. IGES organised a consultation meeting on 13 and 14 July 2005, where several case studies on local adaptation were reviewed and their implications for international negotiations and sustainable development were examined. It was concluded that the integration of PMA in local planning is crucial to increase the resilience of communities and reduce poverty. The meeting recommended that "partnerships in shared learning" through two-way dialogues between practitioners and the local community should be the basis for mainstreaming adaptation at the local level. Participants also underscored the need for the creation of incentives and approaches that prompt politicians and high-level decision-makers to take early action on the PMA, and the need for additional international support for facilitating the PMA.


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