Adaptation: An Essential Response to Climate Change

Hannah Campbell is attending the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) COP16 meeting in Cancun, Mexico. Read other posts from and about COP16 here.

Adaptation has been the “ugly duckling” of climate change for decades. In the climate change policy community, no one wanted to talk about adaptation — instead, we wanted to see emissions reduced to the point where no one need worry about impacts like sea level rise or droughts.

While emission reductions are critical for the health of our planet and people, we no longer can hope to avoid impacts. We are already seeing effects like melting glaciers, more severe weather patterns and changes in the onset and length of seasons. Therefore, climate policymakers must work together to help countries adapt to these changes and prepare for the impacts scientists believe are likely to occur in the future.

Here in Cancun, negotiators have an amazing opportunity to do just that. Over the past three years they’ve been working on how best to provide support to vulnerable countries in the developing world and how to share our collective knowledge on local and global climate impacts and successful adaptation efforts. As a result, they now have the skeleton of a strong agreement.

Though developed countries have created the lion’s share of global emissions, many of the most severe impacts are being felt by the developing world. From sea level rise in the Pacific to increased flooding in Bangladesh, populations and the ecosystems they rely on are being stressed. The people of these countries are already struggling to meet basic needs; climate change will only create additional challenges for them.

In Cancun, I have been typing away madly on my BlackBerry on the long shuttle rides down the hot highways, setting up meetings with country negotiators as we support them in moving the debate forward. These long meetings involve listening to countries’ positions, collaborating with and supporting CI’s field staff and their national delegations, and having one-on-one discussions about how ecosystems and communities contribute to adaptation. We are also collaborating with nongovernmental organization (NGO) partners to create articles and talking points, and working with CI’s Philippines and Mexico field offices to present two short films that were accepted into the Development and Climate Film Festival this weekend.

Through all of this, my main goal is to ensure that over the next two weeks countries make significant progress on developing a climate adaptation framework that includes and values local communities and the natural ecosystems (and species) that support us all. That framework needs to be linked to financing that is adequate, sustainable and additional to current development and conservation funding for developing countries. It also must ensure that adaptation actions don’t undermine the health of ecosystems or violate human rights.

Adaptation is no longer a bad word — it is a necessity.

Hannah Campbell is the senior manager for climate adaptation and communities in CI’s Center for Conservation and Government. Learn more about ecosystem-based adaptation by downloading our factsheet (PDF – 577 KB).



    Well we have yet another speak fest on climate change which probably won’t change anything.We’ll still use the same amount of fossil fuels,fish the same quota of fish and use up more raw resources to keep our lovely and easy lifestyle.Why bother with these stupid talk fest pandering to the richest countries on Earth.For God sake begin a new world order and start to fight for the planet or forget about living beyond the next century.I give this world as we know it about 50 more years or thereabouts.The survivors will fight for what we have got but the majority will be dead or scouring the oceans,arid wasteland continents or roaming the world for salvation.May the prophets of 2012 come true-we sure need a kickin the butt for letting nothing happen like last years fiasco at Copenhagen.

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  3. Thia Elle Artemis says

    CI, I’m very disappointed. I think you waste time, energy, and turn away supporters both scientific and public popular, by disparaging and then adopting back scientific cornerstones of evolution like “adaptation”. How silly you sound calling it an “ugly duckling” and “wonky”… as you “type away madly” so that you, CI, “ensure that adaptation actions don’t undermine the health of ecosystems” at these important Cancun meetings. HUH???? Ecosystems are full of species, some of which will be able to adapt fast enough to our ongoing climate changes, others of which WON’T and AREN’t, like corals, polar bears, many plants… you waste our time at Cancun just like at Copenhagen, so nothing ever changes. Thanks alot.

  4. Amanda says

    Hannah, thank you for sharing your valuable insight! Although I wish we could turn back the clock to before we made such lasting damage, we can’t. I imagine successful adaptation strategies will be a combination of old wisdom (consume less non-renewables, nurture the renewables!) and new learning- that I haven’t learned yet ;-). I hope you are enjoying your trip!

  5. Graypath says

    Cancun and Copenhagen are meager but essential beginnings to the worldwide long-range contingency planning that must eventually take place if the impact of inevitable climate change on burgeoning human populations is to be even partially mitigated. Although science can offer predictive models of climate change to suggest steps by which we can reduce some of the impact of human activities, changes in both climate and populations are inherent in our world and we must find ways to adapt to them in order to survive as a species. Thanks to Hannah for her insights into these events and to CI for its efforts to bring together leaders and nations to develop a concerted program to understand and adapt to these changes.

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