Open Problems: What we Don't yet Know About Adaptation

3 minute read

Updated on Fri Apr 30 2021

Problem: Climate Change Adaptation versus Sustainable Development?

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Description:

Many developed countries already provide international aid to address global issues, such as poverty, malnutrition and conflict. Unfortunately, climate change not only creates new problems but it threatens to worsen these pre-existing issues too. Therefore, if we choose not to adapt, we run the risk of making it harder to meet global development goals.

To address this, many scientists and international organisations agree that support for development and climate adaptation should go hand in hand.

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Problem: How do we close the adaptation gap?

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Description:

One solution to the adaptation finance gap is for wealthy countries to help fund climate adaptation for those countries which cannot afford to do so themselves. Indeed, one of the goals of the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change was to help close the adaptation gap by increasing available funding for developing countries. While this is certainly a step in the right direction, there is still plenty of work to be done to fix this global inequality.

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Problem: We need to prepare for the needs of climate refugees

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Description:

A climate migrant describes someone who either temporarily or permanently moves in response to the effects of climate change (e.g. rising sea levels, droughts, and social and/or economic reasons[Farbokto]). Current estimates predict anywhere between 25 million to 1 billion people could become climate migrants by 2050.

The heart of this problem is that climate migrants have very few legal rights. This is partly because the concept is so new that the law hasn’t had time to catch up yet[Farbokto]. Therefore, to avoid a crisis, we need to focus on political and legal solutions. Crucially, this includes securing national and international laws that protect climate migrants, such as the 2010 Cancun Adaptation Framework (UNFCCC). Other solutions include planned relocation or securing land rights; providing land is thought to help people get back on their feet by allowing them to produce their own food and support themselves financially.

The links between climate change, conflict and migration are complex. As such, we need to focus on the needs of different migrant populations, support people’s decisions to adapt, and plan ahead where possible.

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Problem: We need to update environmental regulations to account for climate change

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Description:

In construction work, there are already laws in place that look to protect the environment. However, most countries lack official guidance or regulation on how to build with climate change in mind. To counteract this, we will need new building standards that make buildings safer and more efficient.

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Problem: We need to develop technologies that enhance our water supplies

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Description:

We have discussed desalination technology that works to turn salty water into usable freshwater. Unfortunately, desalination can be expensive and has a number of environmental problems.

While some people are working to improve the desalination process, one promising alternative is to treat and reuse the water we already have. This reclaimed water can then be used for agricultural or industrial purposes. The next challenge is to up-scale this technology so that we can use it for drinking water too!

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Problem: How do we manage pesky insects?

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Description:

One solution currently under development is to genetically engineer our crops so that they can deter the particularly troublesome insect species. However, this technique can also harm beneficial insects (although to a lesser extent than traditional pesticides) while target insects can potentially become resistant to the plants’ defences in the long-run. This means we will have to build on existing pest control methods, such as crop rotation and exploiting natural processes, or we will need to find new ways of adapting to the changing threat of pests.

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Problem: We need more diverse voices in adaptation planning

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Description:

We’ve explored how some groups of people (namely women, youth and indigenous populations) are often left out of the decision-making process. Therefore, when choosing how to adapt, we need to encourage public participation so that the communities most affected by climate change have a say in the design and implementation of adaptation measures. Indeed, studies show that when decisions involve people from diverse backgrounds they often lead to better outcomes for both people and planet.

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Problem: How and when should we adapt?

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Description:

Given that the consequences of climate change can be both gradual or sudden, it can be tricky to know when and how to adapt. Humans have successfully adapted to their environment for millions of years, but when it comes to planning ahead, we don’t have quite as good a track record. At the moment, governments don’t consider long-term issues like climate change a priority, and choose to divert most of their time and resources elsewhere.

We need to start planning how to adapt as soon as possible. Some of the least developed countries in the world have already created National Adaptation Plans of Action that set out adaptation goals. The rest of the world needs to follow this lead in order to work out what adaptation could look like in different places and how it will be funded. The key to this strategy is to update these plans as we continue to build our knowledge of climate impacts and adaptation solutions.

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