Let nature protect us

Posted: April 10, 2012 by maariahaikarainen in Adaptation, Climate Change

”Adaptation to climate change is a bit like teenage sex. Everyone is talking about it, no-one is really doing it, and the few who are, are doing it badly”.

This is said to have been blurted out at an adaptation conference in Helsinki this January. It may not have been the most elegant way to explain the current situation but at least it is accurate. Adaptation issues have emerged on the agendas of climate change negotiations and development policy planning only very recently, and there is still a lot to learn. The question is, are there any shortcuts to doing good adaptation from the beginning or will we master the skills only over time?

Adaptation means reducing people’s vulnerability to the hazardous effects of climate change and learning to live in different climatic conditions. Not all adaptation is inherently good. Adaptation actions can be maladaptive if they increase the greenhouse gas emissions or put the most vulnerable people at greater risk.

Let’s take a look at the practical side of this issue.What kinds of adaptation strategies have been successfully implemented? We can divide the answers roughly in to three categories. First, there might be physical constructions being built, such as dikes or artificial embankments that prevent flooding and saltwater intrusion. Other ways of coping with the impacts of climate change, especially extreme weather events, involve technological solutions. For example, early warning systems that can give people time to prepare for an approaching tropical cyclone or expected drought.

The third kind of adaptation strategy is an approach that reduces the vulnerability of communities to climate change through sustainable use of biodiversity. This approach is called Ecosystem-based Adaptation (EbA).

EbA argues that both natural and managed ecosystems are important in building resilience to climatic changes. Both can enhance resiliance to the impacts of climate change and provide economic and environmental benefits. Some typical examples of EbA measures are protecting mangrove forests in coastal areas to reduce the impacts of tropical storms, using crop varieties that are more drought-tolerant and developing sustainable water management methods. These measures rely strongly on the view that social and ecological systems are interdependent. And furthermore, healthy ecosystems also contribute to the reduction of greenhouse gases.

Currently there is a global debate about whether ecosystem-based solutions can be more cost-effective and beneficial for societies than adaptation measures that are technical or infrastructural in nature. Regardless of the outcome , the recognition of the role of healthy ecosystems in helping people to build resilience to future climate change is growing.

Maybe the key to realising what is good adaptation is as simple as letting nature be your teacher. It works well with teenagers, too.

Young mangrove trees in Fiji. Photo: Tatyana Temirbulatova (c) Creative Commons


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