Climate change adaptation is the process by which people and systems adjust to the impacts of climate change. Along with emissions reductions, it is a vital part of the climate change equation.

Patrick Pringle, Director UKCIP (UK Climate Impacts Programme) points to the fact that we are already experiencing climate change impacts.

“Even if we stopped emissions tomorrow, we are locked into an inevitable level of change and we need to be fully prepared”

While such changes will bring challenges and costs, adaptation presents an opportunity for innovation, to think about what we value most in society, and how we would like that to look in the future. Often it’s about being opportunistic and ensuring that we consider adaptation at key decision points. For example, if we are making major investments in infrastructure it is common sense to ensure these account for the likely impacts of climate change. 

In the UK, the Climate Change Act (2008) gives us a solid framework for adaptation planning. Pringle believes we must also shift our approach to engagement with the public and key decision-makers towards more positive conversations about what adaptation and mitigation can mean for them. “People are fed up with being told what isn’t possible and what the threats are” he says “we need to start engaging communities in the solutions and show that the benefits of adaptation go beyond numbers on a spreadsheet”.

Climate adaptation can actually save us save money

“Whether it is replanting mangroves to protect coastal communities from sea level rise in Asia or flood risk planning in Europe, investments in one area can actually save us substantial costs in future years or in other locations”, he says.

Engaging communities in adaptation is equally important in many developing countries such as India and Bangladesh that are at an even greater risk from climate change. Professor Saleemul Huq, Director of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD), based in Bangladesh, also carries out research in the UK, and says it is important to have a bridge between the industrialised west and less developed countries.

He says the commitment at COP 22 to increase the amount of funding given by developed countries to mitigate the effects of climate change from the current ₤10bn a year to ₤100bn by 2020 is a huge landmark step. Huq says that major changes to infrastructure in countries such as Bangladesh have already been made, and that it is not only government which needs to take action.

COP 22 was an important milestone in showing that more industrialised countries are fully behind helping less developed economies deal with effects of climate change.

"From the funding we already receive, we are able to work with a number of NGOs on various projects, which include advising employers on locations for new factories, how to make buildings more climate-resilient, and on adapting agricultural projects to resist climate change. 

The money is being spent on reducing carbon emissions in these economies, and on adaptations to infrastructure in these countries. By allocating more funding to developing nations will make a big difference to the efforts currently being made to adapt to the impacts of climate change," says Huq.