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Adaptation to climate change

Why adapting to climate change should be considered, given other challenges? According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warming of the climate system is unequivocal with human activities as the dominant cause since the mid-20th century. This relates to warming of the atmosphere and the ocean, changes in the global water cycle, reductions in snow and ice, in global mean sea level rise, and to changes in some climate extremes. The effects of global warming are already seen and will continue to do so for many years to come. Adaptation strategies are needed at all levels of administration: at the local, regional, national, EU and the international level. Due to the varying severity and nature of climate impacts between regions in Europe, most adaptation initiatives will be taken at the regional or local levels. The ability to cope and adapt differs across populations, economic sectors and regions within Europe. Adaptation is therefore crucial to deal with the current climate variability and unavoidable impacts of climate change. It will also help to take advantage of any opportunities that arise.

Practical reasons to adapt to climate change include:

  • Decision-making based on historic climate is no longer robust. With climate change, average conditions and return periods are changing. If policy goals and decision-making are based on historical data only, they may consequently fail. Business-as-usual inevitably increases future vulnerability to climate change.
  • Consideration of current and future climatic changes is necessary to help avoiding failed and stranded investments, adverse path dependencies with lock-in effects, and other maladaptive outcomes.
  • Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, and since the 1950s, many of the observed changes are unprecedented over decades to millennia. The atmosphere and ocean have warmed, the amounts of snow and ice have diminished, sea level has risen, and the concentrations of greenhouse gases have increased.
  • Warming of 1.5ºC could already result in significant climate change. Continued emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs) will cause further warming and changes in all components of the climate system. The frequency and intensity of extreme weather events is also expected to change and increase.
  • Even if GHG emissions were stabilized at their current levels, the climate system will continue to change as a delayed response. Early and pro-active action versus reactive adaptation or emergency responses is thus needed to cope with changing climatic conditions.
  • Risk of failure in staying within global warming threshold (or meeting global GHG reduction targets) and excessive climate risks linked to high-end climate scenarios.
  • Planning adaptation is essential to systematically identify potential climate change impacts, explore adequate response pathways, monitor and evaluate their success. Well planned, early adaptation action saves money and lives later. Over the long-term, the costs of inaction will be considerably higher than the costs for timely adaptation.
  • Many adaptation measures are beneficial regardless of climate change and its uncertainties (‘no-regret’) and can even generate multiple benefits / co-benefits for a range of other interests and policy goals, such as well-being, a liveable environment, and quality of living.
  • Pro-active, anticipatory adaptation leverages long-term sustainable development, preserves and can open up new development potentials, and supports transformation towards a climate-neutral society.

Climate-ADAPT database items

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