Adapting to the future

Currently more than one thousand scientists and policy makers have gathered in Geneva, Switzerland, to discuss how to better integrate climate science with climate policies to help adapt to climate change.

Climate change is already affecting ecosystems and people all over the world today – through increased frequency and severity of droughts, floods, storms, fire, disease outbreaks, and other changes. These changes will increase no matter what we are doing today because of the inertia of the climate system.

This fact does not mean that all is lost. We can and must act to avoid the passing of irreversible tipping points in the climate system. However, this fact does mean that we urgently need to also talk about how to adapt to our changing climate.

Discussions on adaptation to climate change have been neglected, probably because discussing adaptation seems to imply that we have given up mitigating climate change, i.e.  reducing greenhouse gas emissions. But thinking about how to best adapt to climate change does not mean that we gave up doing anything we can to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. However, it does mean that we understand the fact that many changes are going to worsen no matter what we do to try to minimize those changes.

So how can we adapt to climate change? This question is the main subject of the Word Conference on Climate Change in Geneva. This conference is the third of its kind (after 1979 and 1990), organized by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), which brings together world leading scientists and politicians to cooperate more effectively on climate change issues.

The vision of this year’s conference is to create „A global framework for climate services that links science-based climate predictions and information with the management of climate-related risks and opportunities and supports adaptation to climate variability and change.“ In simpler words, this means that the future scenarios that are provided by climate change models need to become better integrated in regional and national policies to help local people better adapt to the coming changes. For example, scenarios on droughts or floods will help farmers decide which varieties of plants to plant; and warnings on upcoming climate extremes will help people better prepare for storms, fire hazards, and floods.

Adapting to climate change is a matter of survival for millions or even billions of people. The fact that this subject is finally the main subject of a world conference is of great significance: the world understands the impacts we have on our fellow humans. Let’s hope that the urgent need for adaptation will inspire new ideas also on how to mitigate climate change more effectively. Because at some point (after the passing of tipping points) it might be impossible to adapt to many of the changes we create.

Maiken Winter

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