Many climate change adaptation options are already in use including plans to manage coastal areas.
Learning to adapt to future climates
Most Australians are aware of the need to do something about climate change by reducing our greenhouse gas emissions. Few of us are planning and preparing to adapt to the unavoidable impacts of climate change.
23 December 2009 | Updated 14 October 2011
What is climate adaptation?
Climate adaptation or mitigation?
Responding to climate change involves mitigation to address the cause and adaptation through planned response to the changes.
Mitigation of climate change refers to actions that aim to limit the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, either by reducing emissions from human activities or by increasing the amount of carbon dioxide stored in natural ‘sinks’ such as forests and soil.
Adaptation to climate change means actions to adjust to the physical changes in the climate that are already underway (such as reduced rainfall) or to plan and prepare for the risk of bigger changes in the future (such as sea level rise) due to ongoing greenhouse gas emissions worldwide.
An adjustment in natural or human systems in response to actual or expected climatic stimuli or their effects, which moderates harm or exploits beneficial opportunities.
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) technical definition of climate adaptation is: an '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 aim of climate adaptation is to reduce the negative costs and impacts of climate change, and take advantage of any new opportunities that may arise as we adjust to life in a changing climate.
Climate adaptation also aims to increase our resilience to the future impacts of climate change, and improve our capacity to adapt continuously to an ever-changing climate. It includes actions to cope with the ongoing natural variability in the climate, from month to month, and year to year.
Links between adaptation and mitigation
It’s easy to confuse mitigation of climate change with climate adaptation because the two are often closely linked. In many cases, actions that reduce our greenhouse gas emissions can also make us more prepared for future changes to the climate.
For example, houses that use passive-solar design and capture natural breezes so that they need less air-conditioning, will need less electricity, produce fewer greenhouse gas emissions, and also be more suitable for a warmer climate.
On the other hand, it’s important to avoid ‘mal-adaptation’ – or adaptive responses that actually increase our greenhouse gas emissions, and make the problem worse. A simple example might be installing more air-conditioners run on coal-fired electricity as a response to more frequent heatwaves.