1.3. How has Society Responded?
1.3.1. International Responses
A primary response to concerns about climate change has been international
action to address the issue, particularly through the UNFCCC. International
action to date has focused mainly on mitigation, although adaptation is mentioned
in UNFCCC Article 4.1 (e) and in funding by the Global Environment Facility
(GEF) of adaptation studies (e.g., the Caribbean Planning for Adaptation to
Climate Change program). Multinational action is required because no single
country or small group of countries can reduce emissions sufficiently to stop
GHG concentrations from continuing to grow and because wherever emissions originate,
they affect climate globally. Because the extent and urgency of action required
to mitigate emissions depends on our vulnerability, a key question is the degree
to which human society and the natural environment are vulnerable to the potential
effects of climate change.
At the first meeting of the Conference of Parties to the UNFCCC in 1995, governments
reviewed the adequacy of existing international commitments to achieve this
goal and decided that additional commitments were required. They established
the Ad Hoc Group on the Berlin Mandate (AGBM, 1995) to identify appropriate
actions for the period beyond 2000, including strengthening of commitments through
adoption of a protocol or another legal instrument. The AGBM process culminated
in adoption of the Kyoto Protocol in December 1997 (United Nations, 1997). In
the Kyoto Protocol, industrialized countries (Annex I Parties to the UNFCCC)
agreed to reduce their overall emissions of six GHGs by an average of 5% below
1990 levels between 2008 and 2012. The Protocol also allowed the Parties to
account for the removal of GHGs by sinks resulting from direct, human-induced
land-use change and forestry activities, emissions trading, “joint implementation”
(JI) between developed countries, and a “clean development mechanism” (CDM)
to encourage joint emissions reduction projects between developed and developing
countries and a commitment to provide assistance in meeting the costs of adaptation
for countries deemed most vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change
using the proceeds of the CDM (Article 12). To date, the Kyoto Protocol has
not entered into force. The UNFCCC also established national reporting requirements
for all Parties regarding their emissions and their potential vulnerabilities/adaptation
options. These reporting obligations are being fulfilled through preparation
of National Communications to the UNFCCC.
The foundation for any policy to address the climate change problem is information
on GHG emissions, the climate system and how it may change, likely impacts on
human activities and the environment, and the costs and co-benefits (e.g., protecting
primary forests not only retains stored carbon in the trees but also confers
the “co-benefit” of biodiversity protection; Kremen et al., 2000) of taking
steps to reduce GHG emissions or to change land use. To provide the best available
scientific information for policymakers and the public, governments established
the IPCC to periodically assess and summarize the state of knowledge in the
literature related to climate change. The IPCC completed comprehensive assessments
in 1990 and 1995 of the effects of human activities on the climate system, potential
consequences of climate for natural and human systems, and the effectiveness
and costs of response options (IPCC, 1990, 1996a,b,c). In addition, the IPCC
has prepared numerous special reports, technical papers, and methodologies on
topics ranging from radiative forcing of climate to technologies, policies,
and measures for emissions mitigation. As knowledge has progressed, IPCC assessments
have added a regional focus by assessing regional climate modeling and regional
sensitivities and adaptive capacity.
Other international bodies also are taking up the challenge of climate change.
These organizations include the World Bank, the United Nations Environment Programme
(UNEP), the UN Development Programme (UNDP), and the GEF, as well as a variety
of regional institutions. Although a primary audience for this report is those
who are involved in negotiating and implementing the UNFCCC and, to some extent,
other international agreements on global environmental problems, the report
also contains information that is useful to other international institutions.
The report has been designed to be useful in assessing potential projects and
opportunities for investment that will be robust to potential negative effects
and to emerging opportunities from climate change.
1.3.2. National and Local Governmental Responses
Governments have initiated a spectrum of responses, ranging from international
assessments of climate science, impacts, and abatement strategies (the United
States, for example) to implementation of a legally binding mitigation policy
(Sweden, for example, has implemented a domestic carbon tax on direct fuel use
and on fuel use in the transportation sector; see also OECD, 1999). Governments
also have produced country studies, vulnerability assessments of sea-level rise,
and national communications; carried out GHG reductions in other countries;
and created research opportunities and fora for exchanges of ideas and data.
Such management of climate-related research and educational activities has accelerated
in the wake of climatic assessment that suggested a discernible human influence
on climate (IPCC, 1996a). Similarly, many countries have implemented policies
for reasons unrelated to climate change that nevertheless have led to reductions
of GHG emissions (e.g., the ethanol program in Brazil, support to renewable
energy and energy efficiency in a large number of countries). With regard to
adaptation, the first National Communications to UNFCCC from most countries
contained analyses of vulnerability and adaptation options.
At the local level, dozens of cities—mainly in industrialized countries—have
adopted GHG emission reduction targets and have taken measures to implement
them, mostly in the energy and transport sector. In many cases, these policies
have been defined by coupling climate protection objectives with other, more
local objectives: co-benefits such as reducing air pollution, traffic congestion,
or waste production. Some measures, such as water conservation, are adaptive
(more resilient to drought) and reduce emissions (less energy for pumping).
The use of “social” policy instruments such as public awareness campaigns, information,
and technical assistance is commonplace (OECD, 1999). With regard to adaptation,
for example, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities is promoting adaptation
as well as mitigation measures.
Many countries have developed national climate strategies that are based on
a diverse range of policy instruments such as economic instruments, regulation,
research and development, and public awareness and information. Energy efficiency,
fuel switching, public transportation, and renewable energies typically are
promoted. The government sector itself is an increasingly common target for
GHG mitigation, and “greening” of government purchasing policies has started
to take place in some countries (OECD, 1999).
Overall, these policies and measures to date have had limited effect on emissions,
probably because of their lack of integration in a truly global, long-term framework,
as well as continued economic growth around the world (AGBM, 1995).
1.3.3. Organizational Responses
Numerous private businesses have developed plans to facilitate trading of permits
for carbon emissions or have set up schemes to help manage CDM transactions
if the Kyoto Protocol is ratified or some other instrument of carbon policy
is put in place by some nations. Moreover, large multinational corporations
such as Shell International and BP Amoco have declared that they will voluntarily
observe elements of the Kyoto Protocol (van der Veer, 1999; Browne, 2000). International
scientific organizations have responded to the prospect of climate changes for
more than 2 decades, from the second objective of the Global Atmospheric Research
Program (GARP) to a series of World Climate Conferences sponsored by the World
Meteorological Organization and UNEP. The International Council of Scientific
Unions and dozens of national scientific societies have responded by creating
journals to publish the results of climatic assessments, organizing many meetings
and symposia to further our understanding of climate-related scientific issues,
and creating committees to help steer research in promising directions.
Similarly, environmental nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) around the world
have initiated climate campaigns with the aim of convincing citizens and governments
to strengthen the Kyoto Protocol. Meanwhile, direct advertisements have appeared
in the media—primarily sponsored by organizations that are attempting to influence
public opinion to oppose the Kyoto Protocol.
1.3.4. Adaptive Responses
Natural and human systems have adapted to spatial differences in climate. There
also are examples of adaptation (with varying degrees of success) to temporal
variations—notably, deviations from annual average conditions. Many social and
economic systems—including agriculture, forestry, settlements, industry, transportation,
human health, and water resource management—have evolved to accommodate some
deviations from “normal” conditions, but rarely the extremes.
Adaptations come in a huge variety of forms. Autonomous adaptations invariably
take place in reactive response (after initial impacts are manifest) to climatic
stimuli as a matter of course, without directed intervention by a public agency.
The extent to which society can rely on autonomous, private, or market adaptation
to reduce the costs of climate change impacts to an acceptable or nondangerous
level is an issue of great interest. There is little evidence to date that efficient
and effective adaptations to climate change risks will be undertaken autonomously
(see Chapter 18).
Planned adaptations can be reactive or anticipatory (undertaken before impacts
are apparent). Potential adaptations include sharing losses, modifying threats,
preventing or decreasing effects, changing use, and changing location. There
are many lists of adaptation measures, initiatives, or strategies that have
potential to moderate impacts, if they were implemented. Such lists indicate
the range of strategies and measures that represent possible adaptations to
climate change risks in particular sectors and regions. Only in a few cases
have such lists of potential adaptations considered who might undertake them,
under what conditions might they be implemented, and how effective might they
Knowledge of processes by which individuals or communities actually adapt to
changes in conditions over time comes largely from analog and other empirical
analyses. These studies indicate that autonomous adaptations tend to be incremental
and ad hoc, take multiple forms, occur in response to multiple stimuli (usually
involving a particular catalyst, rarely climate alone), and are constrained
by economic, social, technological, institutional, and political conditions
Although an impressive variety of adaptation initiatives have been undertaken
across sectors and regions, responses are not universally or equally available.
Adaptation options generally occur in socioeconomic sectors and systems in which
turnover of capital investment and operating costs is shorter, and less often
where long-term investment is required. Examples include purchase of more efficient
irrigation equipment by individual farmers in anticipation of increased evapotranspiration
in a warmer climate, design of bridges or dams to account for an expected increase
in sea level or extremes of drought and flood, purchase of insurance, abandonment
of insurance coverage to people living in high-risk areas such as coastlines,
and creation of migration corridors for species expected to be forced to migrate
with climate change.
Often more than one adaptation option is available. People rarely seem to choose
the best responses—those among available options that would most effectively
reduce losses—often because of an established preference for, or aversion to,
certain options. In some cases, there is limited knowledge of risks or alternative
adaptation strategies. In other cases, adoption of adaptive measures is constrained
by other priorities, limited resources, or economic or institutional barriers.
Recurrent vulnerabilities, in many cases with increasing damages, illustrate
less than perfect adaptation of systems to climatic variations and risks. Chapter
18 describes some evidence that the costs of adaptations to climate conditions
Current adaptation strategies with clear applications to climate change in
agriculture include moisture-conserving practices, hybrid selection, and crop
substitution. In the water resources sector, current management practices often
represent useful adaptive strategies for climate change. Some analysts go further
to point out that certain adaptations to climate change not only address current
hazards but may be additionally beneficial for other reasons. Such evaluations
are further complicated by the existence of secondary impacts, related to the
adaptation itself. For example, water development projects (adaptations to water
supply risks) can have significant effects on local transmission of parasitic
diseases. Improved water supply in some rural areas of Asia has resulted in
a dramatic increase in Aedes mosquito breeding sites and, consequently, outbreaks
of dengue (Section 18.4.4).