Mitigating climate change may help us reduce the amount of warming, but some global warming is inevitable, and there is growing evidence that it is already happening (see 'Observed impacts'). This means that we have to learn to live in a world with a different, and perhaps rapidly changing climate. This is what is meant by climate change adaptation.
The overall aim of adapting to climate change is to reduce our vulnerability to the effects of climate change. For instance, protecting people in low-lying coastal areas from the risks of sea level rise.
Another term often used is 'resilience'. Adaptation can mean increasing our resilience to climate change impacts. In simple terms, when vulnerability decreases, resilience increases.
Generally adaptation is concerned with protecting people and the things we rely on, such as natural resources (e.g. fish stocks, agricultural lands, water supplies) and infrastructure (roads, buildings, communications networks, etc.).
In order to adapt to climate change we must understand its effects. So, scientific research into the effects of climate change is very important. Research is used to identify the problem and to answer important questions like 'how big is the problem?', 'who is at most risk?', and 'how long do we have to respond to it?'. Research may also identify possible solutions (adaptation options).
Some examples of adaptation to climate change are:
- Buildings and other structures: adapting buildings, roads, railways, etc. to cope better with extremes of weather such as higher temperatures or more storms
- Food production: developing new crop varieties and farming methods to maintain food production as the climate changes. Also, shifting where we grow crops. We may also have to adapt to eating different kinds of foods
- Water: finding new ways to safeguard water supplies by addressing water storage, transport and water treatment. In some parts of the world, people will have to adapt to using less water
- Support for 'disadvantaged' countries: we may need to spend more on aid to help the poorest people in the world - who are often those at most risk from climate change - to adapt
- Migration: people may be forced to move to avoid climate change, meaning pressure on land and resources may increase in other areas.
Future worlds: A set of images provided by Defra show potential ways to adapt to climate change in both urban and natural environments, based on our understanding of what the climate will be like in 2030.
View images... [Defra website]
An important point to note when thinking about adapting to any change is that it is necessary regardless of the cause of the change. Even if the present climate change were driven only by natural processes, we would still need to adapt to the change.
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If you have followed all the tutorials you should now know more about:
- The difference between weather and climate
- Weather science
- How to interpret weather maps
- What affects the weather in the UK
- How and why the climate varies in different parts of the globe
- What climate change is and what might be causing present day climate change
- The observed and predicted impacts of climate change
- Attempts to limit the extent of climate change
- Ways in which we have to adapt to climate change.