The year 2016 was the warmest year since the late 19th century and it was the hottest of three record-breaking years in a row. The year 2017 is also the hottest year on record without an El Nino boost. It is a matter of serious concern that even after taking all efforts and following commitments under the Paris Agreement, it will be very difficult to limit the warming of the climate by 2oCelsius. In fact, as per one report[i] “Turn Down the Heat” of the World Bank, without any action, we could be seeing warming by 4oC above pre-Industrial levels. As per the Climate Action Tracker, under the baseline scenario of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) Fifth Assessment Report, global temperature is expected to reach 4.1oC-4.8oC above pre-industrial levels by the end of the century. Increasing global temperatures will exacerbate the melting of ices in Arctic and Antarctic ecosystems which will trigger catastrophic impact in terms of sea-level rise, intense storms, floods, etc. In fact, the adverse impact of climate change and Global warming is inevitable and we don’t have to wait for coming years to see their consequences. Low-lying delta regions and coastal areas are vulnerable to these changes. In fact, more than a tenth of humanity resides in vulnerable regions of the world that are within 10 meters of today’s sea level. It is also known as Low Elevation Coastal Zone(LECZ). Almost half of Bangladesh lies in the LECZ and it will be severely affected rising sea-level. On the face of it, it is high time to realize the importance of ‘climate change adaptation’ and work towards building resilience in the society.
Mitigation vs. Adaptation debate
Climate mitigation is any action taken to permanently eliminate or reduce the long-term risk and hazards of climate change to human life and property. Mitigation has become the dominant narrative in the world popularized by the international organizations who are slowly waking up to the issue of climate change adaptation. Mitigation strategies became the dominant narrative because of two reasons. First is the belief in human capability in the age of technology. We almost believed that we can change the environment or stop the changes happening around us. Second is the belief that development process cannot be stopped not only because of belief in the ideology of capitalism and its spreading impact and interlinkages through globalization but also the abject poverty and deprivations in other parts of the world, where these people need to be provided with basic necessities. In fact, even in the problem of climate change, countries are looking for opportunities for growth in the areas of renewables, technology, infrastructure etc. Here is the main problem where we want to focus on only the “cause” and not the “effect”.
However slowly, the idea of adaptation is gaining ground due to the severe impact of climate changes in terms of various disasters in not only developing countries but also in developed countries. As per the IPCC 2001 report[ii], Adaptation is the adjustments in ecological, social or economic systems in response to actual or expected stimuli and their effects or impacts. It refers to the changes in processes, practices, and structures to moderate potential damages or to benefit from opportunities associated with climate change. In the simple language, adaptation calls for ‘natural resource management’, ‘strengthening food security’, ‘development of social and human capital’ and ‘strengthening institutional systems’. Due to the realization of the value of adaptation, the focus is now shifting towards the bottom-up approach and understanding the vulnerability of various regions and the people to prepare them to cope with the adverse impacts of the climate change. As per the Stern Review[iii] 2006, climate change may displace 200 million people by the middle of the century. Many islands[iv] like Tuvalu, Micronesia in western Pacific Ocean and Maldives, Kiribati in the Indian Ocean are already facing the brunt of climate change. This is high time to mainstream the vulnerability approach and adaptation in the development process to address the emerging challenges.
Adaptation is more effective in solving the problems of climate change because of various reasons. First and foremost, no matter how much we will try to mitigate the impact of climate change, a certain degree of heating is inevitable due to historical emissions. It is very much visible in every country of the world with recurrent extreme-weather events. The second reason is that adaptation measures will give results immediately and in a very short period of time in comparison to mitigation measures which will take decades to show the results. For instance, countries started taking actions to stop the enlargement of the ozone hole in the decade of 1990s. But as per the report[v], the ozone layer is expected to return to normal levels by 2050 which is really a long time when many of us will not be alive. The third reason is that these measures can be applied at regional or local level by empowering the local community and their effectiveness is not dependent on actions of others. It is based on a decentralized and bottom-up approach which gives confidence to the local people to deal with their challenges. However, there are various challenges and hurdles in accepting and mainstreaming the adaptation process.
- It requires changing the mindset of the people who are at the helm to accept the adaptation process and empower the local community. However, sometimes a local community will also be reluctant to leave the vulnerable areas due to their livelihood sources like fishing, as well as attachment to their land and houses.
- Another challenge is finance. We need a lot of finance to relocate and provide basic necessities to the vulnerable communities. The finance is also required to protect the natural resources. The irony is that those countries and the people who are most threatened due to climate change do not have the wherewithal to finance their adaptation processes and activities. Transfer of finance and technology from the developed countries to developing countries has become difficult because of the opposition from various quarters and the election of climate skeptics as the leader of western countries.
- Adaptation needs to adopted as per the requirement of the region and the people. It is a very complex process because of huge diversity and complexity of the issue and even the adaptation processes and measures need to be modified as per the changing circumstances. This whole thing makes it very challenging to implement in a diverse setting like India or all over the world.
What needs to be done?
There is no need to tell the urgency of the problem again as I discussed in the introduction part of this article. It needs to be tackled on war-footing and the whole processes of adaptation in the form of “Protect-Aware-Accommodate-Retreat-Empower” must be mainstreamed in the development process. Protect the vulnerable communities, make them aware about the looming crisis, accommodate the vulnerable people to safer areas, retreat from the disaster-prone areas and most importantly empower the local communities to make them capable enough to deal with the upcoming challenges of climate change. Not only this, the government should take into account the views of other stakeholders like Coastal Alliance to frame its policies. The work done by various organizations need to implement in other areas of the country. Since the sea has no boundary naturally and the disaster will never ask before coming to any country. Therefore, the countries should come forward to tackle the problem by creating a joint action plan, sharing of knowledge and technologies, developing the capacity of the people and learning from the successes and failures of different adaptation strategies.
India is a signatory to not only the Paris Agreement 2015 but also agreed to the Sustainable Development Goals(SDGs). SDGs cannot be achieved without climate change adaptation. If India does want to ‘leave anyone behind’ and committed to achieving the goal of development in harmony with nature, they must take actions to reduce the impact of the crisis and build the resilience in the society to handle the upcoming crisis.