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Why adaptation?

Rasmus Heltberg's picture

Someone commented to me the other day that our focus on climate adaptation seems like a plot to lessen the impetus for cutting down greenhouse gas emissions.

Adaptation took the backstage for years. As the Economist magazine recently noted, “For years, greens said adaptation . . . was like putting out a fire on the Titanic: desirable, no doubt, but the main thing was to change course.” Indeed, it is for this reason that climate change negotiations continue to focus primarily on reducing greenhouse gas buildup.

But even as we hope negotiations will accomplish deep emissions cuts, we also grapple with how to empower poor countries and poor communities to better manage the climate risks that they already face and which are growing regardless of what happens to emissions. We don’t see this as distracting the attention from negotiations on reductions. We believe that the adaptation agenda needs to shift to a higher gear. And we want to do this in a manner that places poor communities and the risks to their livelihoods center stage. DM is a creative way to get innovative ideas for this on the table.

Climate change is often called the world’s biggest regressive tax because the activities of those with higher incomes are disproportionally responsible for climate change while impacts of climate change fall first and hardest on the poorest.

Still, climate changes impact all of us, rich and poor, present and future generations. Take the island of Grenada in the Caribbean. Grenada used to be considered a safe haven in a hurricane free zone within the Caribbean; no major hurricane had been experienced for more than 50 years. Boat owners were able to obtain lower insurance premiums by docking in Grenada during hurricane season. But then Hurricane Ivan struck with 220 km/hour winds in September 2004 causing damage to 90 percent of buildings, hundreds of boats, and killing close to 40 people. Ivan was devastating to Grenada’s poor but it also wasn’t good news for rich boat owners’ insurance premia. They cannot just insure the problem away.

We are all in this together.