Policies of Adaptation to Climate Change in Developing Countries

Challenges and Solutions

Term Paper 2009 17 Pages

Economy - Environment economics




2.1 Definition
2.2 Role and Perspectives


4.1 Providing Information
4.2 Risk-sharing and Insurance
4.3 Price Signals and Environmental Markets
4.4 Social Capital
4.5 Sustainable Adaptation Policy



1. Introduction

The climate of the world is changing. Today this fact is relatively undoubted. The question to what extent climate change is caused by humanity (through the emission of greenhouse gases) and what is just a natural development remains not ultimately decided, but the speed of some changes suggests that it is not a normal variation. Mean temperatures are rising at a speed unprecedented in history and extreme weather events are increasing in frequency as well as intensity (Sperling, 2003, p. 1). These drastic climate changes have caught the public attention and caused the world to take countermeasures. Most international action in this field was awarded to the mitigation of greenhouse gases (e.g. the Kyoto Protocol). But even if these measures prove themselves successful, it is now clear that it will decades until they will cause any change. Accordingly the world will inevitably face changed climate conditions and is in fact already facing them today. This led to the realization that adaptation to climate change is necessary (Eriksen et al., 2007, p. 10). This fact is particularly from importance to developing countries. Current observations and projections show that they are the ones most affected by the impacts of climate change even though they are the least prepared (Stern, 2006, p. 430). Adaptation policies designed especially for developing countries are necessary to enable them to withstand the adverse effects of a changing climate the best way possible.

This paper will focus on how those adaptation policies should look like and what needs to be considered. In the beginning a general introduction to adaptation will be given including its role and perspective in respect of climate change. Then I will continue by discussing the relationship between developing countries and climate change in general. Afterwards I will investigate in the main part what policies of adaptation are needed in developing countries and what should be considered when integrating adaptation into other policies.

2. Adaptation to Climate Change

In order to survive it has always been a necessity for societies to adapt to the climate surrounding them. Especially agriculture depends a lot on a successful adjustment to climate conditions. During the course of history people have developed several adaptation mechanisms to protect themselves from changes in climate. This is also necessary in face of human-induced climate change (Adger et al., 2003, p. 181). Along with mitigation, adaptation is therefore a natural and unavoidable strategy to fight the adverse effects of climate change and a main pillar of sustainable policy in general (Sperling, 2003, p. 1).

Although it has recently drawn more attention, the scientific analysis of adaptation is still very young (Eriksen et al., 2007, p. 11). To give a clear picture of the used terms in this paper I will start with a definition of adaptation in connection with climate change and of other terms that are important.

2.1 Definition

The term “adaptation” is frequently used in literature concerning climate change but since it is a relatively broad summary of human actions to adapt to changing weather conditions a sharp definition is not easy to make. A common general definition of adaptation comes from the IPCC that will also be used in this paper:

“Adjustment in natural or human systems in response to actual or expected climatic stimuli or their effects, which moderates harm or exploits beneficial opportunities.“ (IPCC, 2007, p. 869)

Hence, the goal of adaptation measures is to reduce the vulnerability to a changing climate and to benefit from its possible positive consequences. The IPCC also distinguishes between three types of adaptation - anticipatory, autonomous and planned adaptation:

“Anticipatory adaptation - Adaptation that takes place before impacts of climate change are observed. Also referred to as proactive adaptation.

Autonomous adaptation - Adaptation that does not constitute a conscious response to climatic stimuli but is triggered by ecological changes in natural systems and by market or welfare changes in human systems. Also referred to as spontaneous adaptation.

Planned adaptation - Adaptation that is the result of a deliberate policy decision, based on an awareness that conditions have changed or are about to change and that action is required to return to, maintain, or achieve a desired state. “

(IPCC, 2007, p. 869)

Another important term is “adaptive capacity”. It stands basically for the scope of ability of societies, companies or individuals for example, to react to sudden or gradual climate changes. Adaptive capacity can range from raising the simple awareness for impacts induced by climate change to actions directed at accumulating the resources that are needed to implement adaptive measures (Stern, 2006, p. 405).

Therefore, the broad term of adaptation can stand for building adaptive capacity to prepare for changes as well as for adapting now and turning the present capacity into specific actions (Adger et al., 2005, p. 78).

2.2 Role and Perspectives

Adaptation is a vital part of a response to the challenge of climate change. It is the only way to deal with the unaviodable impacts of climate change to which the world already committed, and additionally offers an opportunity to adjust economic activity in vulnerable sectors and support sustainable development.“ (Stern, 2006, p. 405)

As it was already stated, adaptation serves as one of the most important parts of a response to the inevitable climate changes the world is facing. While in the past there was a much bigger focus on mitigation as strategy to cope with climate change, adaptation gained a more important role in the recent years. There is no way around effective adaptation measures to prevent or lower the adverse effects of climate change - to only depend on mitigation efforts represents no sustainable strategy for the future. As already mentioned, adaptation is also important regarding the positive effects of global warming. The proper adaptive measures can help to harness the benefits of climate change and thereby provide new opportunities for future developments (von Hauff & Rubbelke, 2009, p. 42).

Therefore, it is important to know how adaptation was, is and should be realized. Adaptation is in many cases reactive, which means that it is a response to already observed climatic changes (Adger et al., 2005, p. 77). Additionally many actions are taken autonomously because their benefits can be experienced individually and relatively soon compared to the long-term effects of mitigation for example. Hence, the incentives to react are high enough for an actor to adapt on his own. This autonomous adaptation is usually very effective because every individual actor knows its needs and conditions better than any institution (Stern, 2006, p. 406). Though considering the projected increased speed of future global warming (0,7°C since 1900 compared to 2-3°C within the next fifty years (Stern, 2006, p. 404)) these reaction patterns are likely to be insufficient. Many autonomous adaptations will be made on the grounds of experiences of the past and limited knowledge. This fact might in some cases prevent efficient and necessary adaptations and underlines the additional need for planned and collective actions (Stern, 2006, pp. 406-407). Furthermore many bigger adaptation measures cannot be realised by individuals or other private actors simply because the dimensions of those projects would exceed their abilities. Most big projects like storm surge barriers or other infrastructure projects have to be planned and financed from public instituitions or public private partnerships for example. Additionally the information ressources of such actors are much higher what makes it easier to determine the costs and benefits of measures for example. Although one has to take into account that many estimates of the future are still relatively uncertain (Adger et al., 2003, pp. 184-185), there should always be an investigation whether the benefits are likely to outweigh the costs. Indeed it is sometimes more efficient to not adapt to changes - especially out of the perspective of limited financial capacities many countries are likely to have. Although many adaptation measures seem to be very cost-effective (Stern, 2006, p. 434), there are also measures like for instance coastal-protection, where this trade-off should be considered: While studies suggest that all cities and harbors are worth protecting, the protection of many beaches or open coasts would not be efficient depending on the worth of the land they border on (Adger et al., 2007, pp. 725-727).

3. Developing Countries and Climate Change

The impacts of climate change will affect nearly all countries of the world in one way or another. However, its adverse or beneficial consequences are by no means distributed evenly or fair. Although the developed countries are responsible for most of the greenhouse gas emissions causing present and future impacts, the developing countries are the ones affected by them the most. Additionally they are the ones with the least resources what leaves them more vulnerable and less able to adapt (or in other words with less “adaptive capacity”). On the other hand, people in those countries have shown a great level of resilience and there are chances for development out of the need to cope with the changed environment (Adger et al., 2003, pp. 180-181). Nevertheless, just this one positive aspect does not outweigh the fact that they are the nations exposed to the greatest risks. Their high dependence on natural resources is one example for their vulnerability. If nothing is done, climate change might destroy poverty and hunger eradication efforts and even further the welfare gab between developed and developing nations (Sperling, 2003, p. 1).

Impacts and Vulnerability

As mentioned above, developing countries are severely threatened by climate change and suffer from a relatively high vulnerability to present and expected impacts. Sperling (2003, pp. 3-4) mentions the likely regional impacts of climate change along with the vulnerability and adaptive capacity of the main developing regions. According to the provided information, the developing countries are facing a lot of different problems deriving from climate change. Droughts, floods, tropical cyclones, forest fires, desertification or retreating glaciers will seriously endanger important sectors like agriculture, health, general food security, clean water provision or infrastructure - just to name some important examples.

The vulnerability and capacity to adapt to these threats varies among the regions. Some of them are better prepared due to a relatively higher stage in development (e.g. higher GDP per capita, literacy rate, access to safe water) or already improved capacities. An improvement during the 1990s is stated especially for Asia and Latin America. Africa and small island states are seen as the most vulnerable and least capable to adapt. Aspects like the high dependency on climate-sensitive economic sectors such as agriculture or fisheries and the few available financial and institutional resources make those regions especially prone to be seriously affected. Coastal areas are also particularly vulnerable due to the high flood risk for instance. Bangladesh suffered 918 fatalities and an eight percent decrease of its GDP during a major flood in 1998 for example. High dependency on agriculture, a high population density and the low coast line were mainly responsible for the intensity of this climate impact (Sperling, 2003, p. 6).

4. Policies of Adaptation in Developing Countries

The information given under the previous point make the special circumstances evident that characterize the relationship between the developing world and climate change. Hence, these characteristics need to be considered in order to design successful adaptation policies for developing countries. General adaptation measures need to be adapted to the special needs of those nations.

A first starting point is the implementation of adaptation possibilities into all policy areas that are sensitive to climate change. It is important to detect possible conflicts between sectoral policy objectives on the one hand and adaptation policy goals on the other. To acomplish this goal a comprehensive framework is necessary. An example for such a guideline is outlined in the six steps below that describe what actions are required:

1. Understanding present coping strategies and mechanisms.
2. Estimating future developments, risks and potential impacts.
3. A review of current policies, programs and projects using the new information and finding out how they will be influenced by climate change, which effect they have on adaptive capacity and whether they could lead to maladaptation.
4. Identification of the necessary changes that would contribute to a decreased vulnerability and increased adaptive capacity, including the needed institutional reforms and financial resources.
5. Implementation.
6. Monitoring and evaluation.

Adapted from Bell et al., 2005, p. 63.

To achieve the goal of an all-embracing approach it can be useful to bundle all the resources in one agency. This also helps to ensure that no other policy is contra- productive to adaptation goals. As far as budget is a vital issue regarding adaptation measures some countries (like for instance Kiribati (Sperling, 2003, p. 26)) coordinate their adaptation strategies in the ministry of finance for example.



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University of Marburg – Institute for Co-operation in Developing Countries
climate change adaptation policy policies developing countries kyoto IPCC GHG financial instruments mainstreaming development millenium goals weather derivates klimawandel klima entwicklunsländer politik wirtschaft




Title: Policies of Adaptation to Climate Change in Developing Countries