Environment

How do People Adapt to Environmental Shocks and Stresses?

How do most people adapt to floods? What do most people do to cope with heatwaves? Which strategies to adapt to any environmental shock or stress are most common and which most rare?

Figure 1

How do most people adapt to floods? What do most people do to cope with heatwaves? Which strategies to adapt to any environmental shock or stress are most common and which most rare? You would think that scientists and policy makers have this information – but they do not.

Choices are being made within governments around the world about what additional support is needed to help people adapt to climate and weather hazards, in the absence of a baseline assessment of what people are actually doing. People are already adapting in various ways, but to date there have been no large scale assessments to document all these adaptation responses. Significant amounts of money are available through the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to support developing countries to adapt to climate change – but it is difficult to effectively target these funds without a baseline assessment of what people are actually doing. The 2016 Paris Agreement also mandates a “global stocktake” of adaptation, which needs to be completed in 2023.

In a recent WIREs Climate Change article, Tompkins et al  first highlight this huge and glaring gap in our knowledge, and then try to provide a means of filling this gap. Specifically the authors recommend an approach which builds on previous work about understanding disasters (Disaster Risk Reduction), reducing vulnerability (Sustainable Livelihoods Framework), and looking after our environment (Ecosystem Services), to help us categorize and group types of adaptations (see Figure 1).  With this structure, it should be possible for scientists and policy makers to start to accumulate the evidence of adaptation to create a baseline assessment of what is occurring. Once this is complete it will be much easier to assess whether we are improving in our adaptation skills or not, and whether sufficient people are adapting.  The gaps highlighted by this documentation will show us where and how adaptation finance should be spent to effectively reduce adverse effects of climate change.

 

Kindly contributed by Emma L. Tompkins et al.

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