Climate change adaptation enables an organisation to reduce the negative costs and impacts of climate change, and take advantage of any opportunities that might arise from those changes. Climate adaptation aims to increase our resilience to future climate impacts, and improve our capacity to adapt. It includes actions to cope with ongoing natural variability in the climate system as well as changes that are expected to occur over longer timescales into the future.
There are several good reasons for adapting to climate change now.
Our climate change is changing – greenhouse gases already present in the atmosphere will cause global temperature to rise by at least 1°C over the next 30–40 years, and by as much as 4°C by the end of the century. We are already seeing the effects of this warming, and will continue to do so for years to come (Figure b). Adaptation is crucial to deal with the unavoidable impacts of climate change to which we are already committed.
Decision-making purely on the basis of historic climate is no longer robust; while we can learn from past climatic patterns, it is no longer an indication of future climate. The frequency of extreme weather events is changing, as well as average conditions, so if you are basing decisions on historic data, you may be caught out. For example, if your flood defences are based on flood events with a 1 in 200 year frequency, and floods of that magnitude begin to occur every 50 years, you will not be adequately prepared.
A global increase of 1 or 2°C may seem to be a small amount, but remember that current average temperatures are only 5°C higher than they were at the peak of the last ice age. Warming of 2°C could result in dangerous climate changes. The frequency and intensity of extreme weather events is also expected to change and in some cases increase. These changes could have disastrous consequences if no coping or adaptation measures are in place.
Planned adaptation is more effective than last minute, reactive adaptation. Many impacts will result from extreme weather events, such as floods or storms, rather than average changes in weather. Without consideration of likely future impacts you could face unexpected costs relating to business disruption, reduced productivity and costs of repairing or replacing damaged premises or equipment. Small businesses take on average 50 days to recover from a flood and 69% have no business continuity plan, so disruption can be expensive.
Planned adaptation is usually less expensive than responding to an emergency or retrofitting to cope with unexpected climate risks.
Adapting to climate change could provide immediate local benefits, enabling your organisation to cope better with current climate variability and extreme weather as well as future climate changes. It could also be good for your reputation and open up new opportunities. You might find yourself at a business disadvantage if you fail to spot new opportunities.