Press Release: McGill Study Asks “Are We Adapting to Climate Change?”

2010 November 1

For Immediate Release

November 1, 2010
Download the PDF press release here
Find the scientific article in Global Environmental Change here
Download the scientific article as a Word document here

McGill Study Asks “Are We Adapting to Climate Change?”

Delegates from around the world are preparing for the UN climate change talks that kick off in Mexico at the end of the month. While debate over emissions targets continues to rage in the wake of last year’s talks in Copenhagen, there is one area where nations agree: we’re going to have to adapt.

Yet despite the newfound interest in adaptation, it remains unclear if adaptation is possible or what challenges we will face. A study released last week in the prestigious scientific journal Global Environmental Change, led by Dr Berrang-Ford at McGill University, sheds light on these questions. Posing the question, Are we adapting to climate change?, the study highlights that adaptation is already taking place and is possible but is piecemeal and ad hoc in nature.

“Human beings will have to adapt to climate change, but there is little evidence of a coherent strategy for adaptation efforts. A strategy or framework for adaptation is clearly needed at international to local levels,” says Dr. Lea Berrang Ford, Assistant Professor of Geography at McGill University. “While we have highly developed methods and frameworks for assessing greenhouse gas emissions within the climate change debate, our ability to track and monitor adaptation is underdeveloped. In the face of the climate changes scientists say we’re already locked into, this is a problem. If we’re to adapt successfully, we have to start taking action now.”

“Most scientific work on adaptation looks at prescriptions or takes a theoretical approach, looking at what needs to be done,” explains the study’s co-author Dr. James Ford. “In this study we actually looked at what has been done to adapt.” The authors will continue to refine their study’s methodology in order to track adaptation progress over time.

“We wanted to take a snapshot of what adaptation is actually occurring, so we developed a technique to rigorously track adaptation progress. One big surprise was that there are fewer reports of adaptation taking place in North America than there are in Africa,” says Ford. However, Ford notes that there is more attention shifting to adaptation and that more reports are now being published that were not ready in time to be included in the McGill review.

“If we are to adapt to climate change, then we need to consider how this can be accomplished as seriously as we debate mitigation,” says Berrang Ford. “What does adaptation look like? Where are our time and money best spent with respect to adaptations? What targets should we aim for?”

“We should be talking not just about ‘Should we mitigate and who should pay?’ but also ‘How do we move forward with the changes that we are locked into?’ and ‘Can we identify new environmental and economic opportunities through adaptation?’. “

– 30 –

For more information, please contact:
Lea Berrang Ford,
Assistant Professor, Geography, McGill University, Montréal, Québec
Work: 514-398-4944 | Home: 514-903-8570 |

Dr. Lea Berrang Ford, lead author, is an Assistant Professor (Health Geography) in the Department of Geography at McGill University. Dr. Berrang Ford is both a geographer and an epidemiologist, specializing in spatial health analysis of infectious disease and environmental change. Prior to joining McGill, Lea worked with the Public Health Agency of Canada in Saint Hyacinthe (QC) as an environmental epidemiologist and medical geographer, specializing in spatial health analysis, vector-borne zoonotic disease mapping, and environmental health research. You can learn more at  

Dr James D. Ford, coauthor, is an assistant professor in geography at McGill University. He is widely renowned for his work with Aboriginal communities on climate change vulnerability assessment and adaptation planning, and received a Young Innovator Award from the Canadian government for his innovative community based research. A Nobel Prize winner as a contributing author to the IPCC fourth assessment report, he currently has projects working with Aboriginal communities in the Canadian Arctic to find ways of reducing climate change vulnerability. You can learn more at

Jaclyn Paterson, coauthor, holds an MSc in Biology and works as a research assistant, studying climate change adaptation with Drs Ford and Berrang-Ford.

7 Responses leave one →
  1. Oshaniwa Toyin permalink
    November 3, 2010

    Adaptation in it’s scope, should it be a passive or non- passive measures?

  2. November 4, 2010

    I believe that we should not adapt to climate change but instead COPE to climate change by adapting ways and means of mitigating (avoiding the unmanageable) i.e. use of knowledge and technology. Adaptation (managing the unavoidable) is preparing ourselves using knowledge and technology in addressing issues and problems which climate change may cause and which are detrimental to human welfare and properties. We are above and on top of situations like climate change and being on top we can devise tools to cope with it.

  3. November 4, 2010

    Your statement “Human beings will have to adapt to climate change…” is used frequently when discussing climate change impacts. Visiting our project sites in northern Nigeria recently a farmer said to me “We have always adapted to the climate.”

    A simple but profound statement that helps to demystify the issue of climate change adaptation.

    Regards, Brent.

  4. Robert permalink
    November 4, 2010

    I found this article to be a discussion of very pertinent questions that need to be asked when we are dealing with climate change adaptation. It appears to me that there is alot of uncoordinated efforts when it comes to adaptation.

    I would have loved to read the whole report if its available.


  5. James Ford permalink
    November 8, 2010

    Robert – a word doc of the article is posted on my website. For the published version email me for a copy


  6. November 18, 2010

    Adaptation in terms of response to current climate change is taking place. But since the speed of current climate change and its impacts are faster than the human learning process and the ecological/environmental adjustment process, we have to apply our advance learning process to learn the earliest the cc and its impacts process, identify the needs and apply the right technologies before the expected impacts happens. This needs awareness, capacity, right technologies and appropriate legal environment. If we fail to do so in time there will be more loss of lives and human properties in the process of adaptation with the current speed in adaptation.

  7. Marie permalink
    December 2, 2010

    the costs of moving or upgrading massive amounts of infrastructure is the key issue for non passive, and we can’t do with no impact to environment or creation of more carbon. I believe planting trees on a massive scale globally and bio-regional investment and trade (especially food) are the critical for future development. Further reduction of reliance on all non passive energy systems is critical and I personally do not believe technology will solve anything, its behavioural.

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