Emerging trends in climate change policy: The role of adaptation

2008 December 1

Ford, J. (2008).  International Public Policy Review, 3(2), 5 – 15. Download PDF.

Until recently, public policy solutions to the global problem of climate change have been dominated by the concept of mitigation: reduction of the greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming. This focus on prevention in both academic research and practical application of climate change policy has resulted in the neglect of an alternative conception, that of adaptation. Adaptation offers an alternate vision of climate change policy, one that recognises a certain degree of climatic alteration as inevitable, and offers solutions that can allow especially vulnerable populations to survive all climatic hazards, not just man-made climate change. This article discusses both why adaptation has traditionally been neglected in the international discourse on climate change, and also why it has come to have greater prominence in more recent studies and policy initiatives. It further analyses and breaks down the concept of adaptation into ‘impacts-driven’ and ‘vulnerability-based’ methods, to argue that only the latter truly takes account of the socio-economic determinants of climate vulnerability, and thus offers effective adaptive solutions to the challenges posed by climate change. A case study of the Inuit population in the Canadian Arctic is employed to demonstrate how a vulnerability-based approach works in practice, offering four possible adaptive solutions to the climactic hazards faced by the Inuit. It is concluded that the adaptation approach needs to be mainstreamed into general socio-economic policies, in order to ensure that vulnerable populations are able to face up to the challenges of man-made climate change and everyday climatic hazards.

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