Image: ADB

Adapting to adaptation


Climate change is a global problem that manifests itself locally, and often in several different ways in  the same location. In many Asia Pacific countries, for example, there may be coastal inundation from rising seas; mudslides and fires on the surrounding mountains from storms and heat; and floods and drought on the agricultural plains.  And all in a one-mile radius.  How are we meeting that global-but-local challenge, and in particular how are local communities going to cope? 

The World Meteorological Office’s Statement on the Status of Global Climate 2016 reports weather records breaking everywhere – and continuing to do so in 2017 – and is a timely reminder of our present path and the risks we confront.  So we visit some of the adaptive projects from around the world. Big, small, rural, urban, wet, dry, hot, cold, rich, poor and the supply chains between all of those that keep us resilient.

Read more: Climate breaks multiple records in 2016, with global impacts – World Meteorological Organization

What people are eating is changing, must change, as seasons upend, elongate, or heighten in their intensity. A new cookbook published with the assistance of the UN, “Adaptive Farms, Resilient Tables,” looks at the clear link between climate change adaptation and cooking – the ways in which it affects traditional diets.  Cape Verde, Cambodia and Haiti recipes are all highlighted, but as the Boston Globe’s report makes clear, it’s first world restaurant menus that are also affected.

Read more: How does climate change affect the way the world cooks? – Boston Globe

Occupations that rely on natural resources for their livelihood are critically important….mostly for food production.  Who can forget the rice riots and other civil unrest caused by the 2008/09 global food price crisis.  The initial assumption is that adaptation projects in the arena of food security are about changes in technology that focus on risk reduction. But they are in fact just as much about, social relationships that can help increase climate change knowledge and develop alternative skills. And they are just as much about fishermen in Scandinavia as in Somalia.

Read more: Climate change: Social adaptation strategies for fishermen – Marine Policy

That’s not to say, of course, that the margins for survival aren’t at their narrowest in the developing world,  where subsistence farming is being hit the hardest.  This livelihood is the focus of intensive funding throughout Africa and Asia. Education and improved infrastructure, such as the reinforcement of rural roads to make them flood-resilient to ensure produce can be brought to market, are attracting hundreds of millions. And many, many of these projects are small.

Read more: Learning and Coping with Change: Case Stories of Climate Change Adaptation in Southeast Asia

Which brings us to the cities that this produce ends up in. Whilst rural adaptation projects are important, if not critical for millions, the billions that live in cities – wherever – are facing critical issues as well, of which food security is just one.  Pollution, heatwaves, flooding, infrastructure resilience, loss of biodiversity.  We are seeing two big changes.First, cities are starting to value their natural resources and develop long-term adaptation plans to build on them – Melbourne is a good example of this in Australia.. And second, as we have seen in recent reports, cities around the world are now starting to share resources to build adaptation plans. In the USA, cities are finding new friends internationally

Read more: U.S. Cities Make Biodiversity Their Top Resilience Priority – Route Fifty

Alongside food security, probably the biggest theme in adaptation is water. When people think of water security, they usually think of a lack of water.  However, weather events of increasing severity and frequency mean that security from water is becoming equally important.  In places as far removed in terms of distance and lifestyle as Odisha in the Bay of Bengal and Lismore (amongst many others) in Australia, are experiencing “once in a lifetime” flooding, again and again.

Read more: A race against floods: From 8 to 36 hours – Action on Climate Today

What about the money for all this? There is wide diversity in how adaptation projects are being financed. But one common factor becomes clear when reviewing adaptation plans around the world.  They are localised.  For example, within a one-mile radius, it may be necessary to plan and make adaptation for inundation on the shoreline;  mudslides and fires in the surrounding mountains;  and flooding and drought in the farmers’ fields beyond. Communities in the Caribbean and Vietnam community show how.

Read more:  Caribbean communities on the front lines of climate change adaptation – Caribbean Climate  

Project on climate change adaptation benefits Ben Tre province – Talk Vietnam

Is anyone coordinating this? Not as far as one can tell. A new centre of excellence for climate adaptation (sponsored by the UN) is being established in the Netherlands. It will have its work cut out to provide excellence in the diversity of climate change challenges, and it appears to be a macro, top-down approach rather than bottom up and local. But it is a start.

Read more: Netherlands to host Global Centre of Excellence on climate adaptation – UNEP

A different approach could be to find and replicate excellent local models. An outstanding one seems to have been built by coastal communities in Australia, surrounded as it is by rising oceans and a population that resides on the coast. This model specialises in one skill only – coastal adaptation – and works as a resource for the whole nation. This model is scalable, relevant to many coastal challenges, extremely user-friendly, applicable to every country with an inundation problem, and the methodological approach could be rolled out to many different climate challenges.

Read more: CoastAdapt

As fragmented and localised as climate adaptation appears to be, it is clear that all these projects are related. Though the urban population, now nearly 4 billion, is greater than the rural one, it is not rural versus urban, as urban needs the food, and rural needs the market. Nor is it coast versus hinterlands, for the same reason of diversity of food as an example, or water security.  What is consistent, however, is that every very small region has localised climate change challenges that require localised and socially embedded solutions to make them resilient, moving from adaptation (dealing with effects post facto) to resilience (planning for them in all aspects of the economy). Along the way, much may start to be achieved that is just good practice for your citizens in any event.

Read more: Implications of the transition from adaptation to resilience finance – Climate and Development


Anna Borzi has worked extensively in global financial services; as a CEO, research and risk analyst, and in strategic planning and senior executive management in some of the largest institutions in Australia as well as HSBC, where she was regional head for research in Asia of financial institutions.  She has also held senior advisory roles to Federal and State Ministers and regulators in Australia.

She was one of the founders of the securitisation industry in Australia and founded the Australian Securitisation Forum, of which she was Chair, and which was the model for the American and European Forums. She has also been a member of several listed and unlisted boards, and most recently a non-executive director with an insurance subsidiary of a NYSE listed company, and Chairman of the risk committee.

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