What is Adaptation?
As the climate changes, seemingly small increases in average global temperatures are already transforming the lives of millions of people worldwide, from South America to Africa, Asia to tiny Pacific islands. In some regions, the productivity of once-fertile lands has diminished due to scarce water resources. In others, increased flooding and rising sea levels threaten human health, habitats, and livelihoods. A report by the Global Humanitarian Forum in 2009 estimated that climate-related disasters affect about 240 million people each year, a figure that could rise to 375 million by 2015.
Despite having contributed the least to the problem of global warming, the most vulnerable communities in the world are often hardest hit by devastating weather events, desertification, rising sea levels, and other disasters related to climate change. The intensification of these and other catastrophes has exacerbated already-pressing problems of unreliable food and fresh water supplies, and environmental threats to human health. Helping these ccommunities strengthen their resilience to climate change is an increasing challenge for the international community.
In 2007, 187 countries emphasized the need for adaptation by finalizing the establishment of the Adaptation Fund under the Bali Action Plan of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The Fund finances projects that help developing countries adapt to the adverse effects of climate change, and is one of the only funds in the world specifically dedicated to climate adaptation. Since 2010, the Fund has approved $226 million for a total of 39 adaptation initiatives around the world.
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An Adaptation Fund project in Senegal is an example of how communities are responding to climate change:
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) defines adaptation as “adjustment in natural or human systems in response to actual or expected climatic stimuli or their effects, which moderates harm or exploits beneficial opportunities.” The IPCC further distinguishes between different types of adaptation: anticipatory vs. reactive, private vs. public, and autonomous vs. planned.
- Anticipatory adaptation takes place before impacts of climate change are observed
- Autonomous adaptation does not constitute a conscious response to climatic stimuli but is triggered by ecological changes in natural systems and by market or welfare changes in human systems.
- Planned adaptation is the result of a deliberate policy decision, based on an awareness that conditions have changed or are about to change and that action is required to return to, maintain, or achieve a desired state.