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Innovative adaptation goes beyond “good development”

Nate Engle's picture

Innovative adaptation goes beyond good development

   Photo © Scott Wallace/World Bank

Adaptation involves both preparations and responses to climate change impacts. But how does it differ from simply carrying out "good development"? In many ways, adaptation is good development, at least up to a certain degree of climate change. Sustainable development, if achieved, makes society more resilient to climate stresses and better able to respond to climate impacts. However, one of the main arguments we will make in the next World Development Report is that climate change will challenge the current development paradigm.

The difference between adaptation and "good development" begins to show once the magnitude of warming increases beyond a few degrees. The warmer the world, the more innovative we will need to become in our adaptation approaches, as the chances of crossing critical ecological, physical, and social thresholds increase. The world, our environment, and our surroundings as we know them, will be starkly different from what we are used to.

Innovation in adaptation is not easy to wrap one's head around. The most obvious innovations are the 'hard' solutions, or engineering approaches that will help defend human settlements and ecosystems from climate-change impacts (e.g., building sea walls to combat sea level rise, developing new drought resistant crops to maintain productive agricultural systems, and investing in cutting-edge communications infrastructure to facilitate rapid emergency responses, to name a few).

Innovation in adaptation also relates to the way that we govern and manage our environment. In this context, 'soft' solutions also play an important role in what we define as innovative adaptation. That is to say that understanding potential climate change impacts, considering a variety of adaptation options to address these anticipated impacts, and actually making policy, management, financing, and other decisions based upon these expected impacts is in itself innovative.

One final thought to consider is that adaptation can complement mitigation and produce win-win solutions for development. However, adaptation can also work against mitigation. Think of all of the concrete needed to build those sea walls in low lying coastal settlements around the world. Given our current energy sources today, there would be a lot of green house gas emissions associated with their construction. Considering these potential tradeoffs and co-benefits between mitigation, adaptation, and development is yet another example of how adaptation is more than "good development", and how innovation in adaptation can also be associated with changing the way we approach decision-making processes.

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