Research Handbooks in Environmental Law series
Edited by Jonathan Verschuuren
Chapter 1: Introduction
Climate change is here to stay, at least for the time being. If we stopped all greenhouse gas emissions today (which, of course, is highly unlikely), we would only see marginal changes for the better in 30 to 40 years. So we have to adapt to the changing climate. Adaptation is defined as, in human systems, ‘the process of adjustment to actual or expected climate and its effects, in order to moderate harm or exploit beneficial opportunities’ and, in natural systems, ‘the process of adjustment to actual climate and its effects’. For the latter, it is added that human intervention in natural systems may facilitate adjustment to expected climate. The Working Group II report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concludes that adaptation will be necessary to address impacts resulting from the warming which is already unavoidable due to past emissions. For some impacts, namely those that already show or will show in the very near future, adaptation is the only available and appropriate response, according to the IPCC. Such impacts, for instance, are: increased water availability in some regions; decreased water availability and increasing drought in others; increased ecosystem changes (species shifting their natural range) and risk of extinction of species; small scale negative impacts for poor farmers and fishermen; increased damage from floods and storms; increased burden from malnutrition and infectious diseases and a changed distribution of some disease vectors such as the mosquitoes vectoring malaria and dengue.