Why adapt to climate change?
Climate change presents a unique challenge for Ireland’s economy, environment and society. It is now clear that to avoid the adverse impacts of these changes and take advantage of any opportunities, we must proactively plan for projected climate change and impacts.
Strong and early action on climate change will far outweigh the costs of not acting (Stern, 2006).
- Due to our long history of greenhouse gas emissions and regardless of mitigation efforts, we are now committed to climate change and we can expect changes to continue and intensify into the future;
- Recent experiences have demonstrated the impacts of weather and climate changes at global, national and local scales;
- Climate change is a business issue. Global and local changes in temperature, the frequency and severity of extreme weather conditions, and the availability of water has a direct bearing on risk and strategic planning;
- A wait-and-see approach is not an option. We can act to limit the potential impacts of climate change by starting the adaptation process early enough to ensure that we can take advantage of any opportunities that climate change might present and that we choose options that avoid the considerable costs that climate change may impose in the absence of adaptation;
- The effects of climate change will be different at local, regional and national scales as well as across economic sectors. As a result, adaptation will require place-based and targeted responses;
- Climate change will exacerbate existing vulnerability and will pose new threats and opportunities for Ireland.
Regardless of efforts to mitigate against the causes of global climate change, i.e. through reducing emissions of greenhouse gases, the impacts of climate change are already evident at global and national scales and will continue and intensify into the future.
These changes will put Ireland at risk, directly and indirectly, and planned responses to the threats and opportunities posed are now required. This requirement has been recognised at national and international levels and has resulted in the implementation of a policy response to ensure that anticipatory and planned adaptation measures are put in place.
In the coming century, we can expect, amongst other changes:
- Higher sea levels;
- More storms, these will occur more frequently with increased intensity;
- Warmer temperatures and warmer waters;
- More flooding, summer droughts and changing rainfall patterns.
A wait-and-see approach is not an option
It is now clear that climate is changing and that these changes will continue and intensify in the future. Although there are uncertainties about our knowledge of future climate and the specific local impacts of climate change, a wait-and-see approach is not an option given the severity of the risks posed by climate change. To some degree human and natural systems will adapt to climate change of their own accord. However, planned adaptation, which involves decisions and measures within society to respond to the adverse impacts and avail of the opportunities presented by climate change, is essential to avoid an unacceptable level of risk.
Flooding on Western Road in Cork city in November 2009
Adaptation decisions, particularly those with long-term implications, need to be made now based on the best available information, even though some of it is incomplete. This will involve drawing on approaches to strategy formulation that are both prudent and robust to uncertainty. Being prepared for these changes is an important first step and will help to reduce uncertainty and the costs that climate change will pose.
We can act to limit the potential impacts of climate change by identifying risks, evaluating options and starting the adaptation process early enough to ensure that as many alternatives as possible remain available to us. Well-planned and proactive adaptation will allow us to avail of any opportunities presented by climate change and to choose options that avoid the considerable costs that climate change may impose in the absence of appropriate action.
Through the National Adaptation Framework (NAF), the Irish Government has recognised that climate adaptation is required to offset the worst consequences of climate change and to take advantage of any opportunities that a changing climate might bring. Importantly, the NAF recognises the importance of a strategic approach to climate change, and the critical importance of planning and development measures in delivering it.
The NAF requires that adaptation plans are developed for key sectors of the Irish economy and that local authorities should also take a proactive approach to climate change by developing adaptation strategies and integrating climate adaptation in the development of relevant policies, plans and programmes, and where necessary, retrospectively assess plans recently enacted for the climate adaptation fitness.
For more information on Ireland's National Adaptation Framework, click here.
Currently, a large evidence base on what constitutes good/successful adaptation is lacking. Nevertheless, to avoid maladaptation (which refers to an adaptation Action or investment that increase vulnerability to the impacts of climate change rather than reducing them) adaptation efforts should at a minimum endeavour to avoid the currently known pitfalls of adaptation. Equally, a successful adaptation does not mean that the negative impacts of climate change will not occur but only that they will be less severe than had no adaptation taken place.
Maladaptation includes measures that:
- Increase greenhouse gas emissions;
- Disproportionately burden the most vulnerable groups in society;
- Come with high opportunity costs (social, economic and environmental) in comparison with alternatives;
- Reduce the incentive to adapt, e.g. by increasing the reliance on the actions of others;
- Create a path dependency, i.e.: that adopt trajectories which are difficult to change in the future due to high costs involved in such change.
Goals of adaptation might include:
- Alleviating the current impacts of climate change;
- Reducing sensitivity and exposure to future climate change;
- Increasing the resilience to climate and non-climatic stressors;
- Identifying opportunities to exploit any benefits that might accompany a changing climate.
- Ireland's Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act 2015: Ireland's National Climate policy provides for the development of a National Adaptation Framework which will specify the national strategy for the application of adaptation measures in different sectors and by Local Authorities.
- The Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government - National Adaptation Framework: Published initially in 2012, The National Climate Change Adaptation Framework (NCCAF), provides the policy context for a strategic national adaptation response to climate change in Ireland and was designed to evolve over time as planning and implementation progresses, and as further evidence becomes available. This evolving framework has provided a clear mandate for the relevant government departments, agencies and local authorities to prepare sectoral and local adaptation plans and strategies.
- The European Commission's Climate Adaptation home page: The European Commission's Climate Adaptation page provides information on the role of the EU in advancing adaptation. A variety of information on EU activities are also provided including the EU Adaptation Strategy.
- Climate-Adapt - Adaptation Information: The European Climate Adaptation Platform hosts a wide range of resources to aid understanding of adaptation and the reasons why we need to begin to adapt to the inevitable consequences of climate change. This report provides policymakers across Europe, at different levels of governance and stages of policy formulation, with information that can be used to support adaptation planning and implementation. Specific parts of the report are therefore targeted at different audiences.
- Adaptation in Europe - Addressing risks and opportunities form climate change in the context of socio-economic developments (2013): This report provides policymakers across Europe, at different levels of governance and stages of policy formulation, with information that can be used to support adaptation planning and implementation. Specific parts of the report are therefore targeted at different audiences.