Adaptations to climate change

May 7, 2012, 10:13 am

Adapting to Climate Change

Scientists have reported that increasing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere due to the burning of fossil fuels for anthropogenic economic activities and land use changes will change the earth’s climate significantly in the coming centuries. This change in climate is expected to have serious impacts on many aspects of human and non-human activities across the globe. A global action to curtain the increase of greenhouse gases over time won’t likely stop the current warming trend completely due in part to the greenhouse gases already emitted into the atmosphere for the past centuries and also to the inevitability of the continued use of fossil fuels in the future. As far as those potentially severely affected by such changes are concerned, e.g. farmers in low latitudes and people who live near the oceans, additional efforts should be needed in the near term to help them adapt to a new climate condition. Individuals will take adaptation measures voluntarily when these actions deem beneficial to them.

Cost of Adaptation

It is feasible to adapt to climate change when climate should change gradually, not abruptly, over time, allowing individuals and governments time to adjust to the changes. If climate change becomes abrupt or increases climate variability significantly, it will be more difficult to adapt, increasing the cost of adaptation dramatically.

Examples of Adaptation

People have taken adaptive measures over the history of time to utilize the given climate conditions of their surroundings in the best possible way. A casual observation across the global community reveals that even the housing structure differs significantly across different climate zones. Agricultural farmers have chosen measures to adapt to the existing climate over a long period of time. For example, they manage mixed farming of both crops and livestock, adopt an appropriate irrigation system, and choose a specific combination of crops or livestock to maximize the farm profit taking the current climate as given. Coastal areas have built sea walls to increase protection from an unexpected sea-level rise.

Public Adaptation

Some adaptation measures can be taken individually. However, other adaptation measures will require a public intervention to provide them efficiently. For example, subsistent farmers may not be able to purchase a crop insurance due to capital constraints. The current irrigation systems in California were established with a heavy support from the State government. Market failures can result in the provision of public adaptation measures due to their public goods’ nature. For example, a cure for Malaria cannot be developed efficiently.

Short-term vs Long-term Adaptation

Some adaptation measures are appropriate in the short-term while others are more proper in the long-term. For example, changing crop varieties or adjusting planting/harvesting dates are short-term measures that can be used by farmers. Transforming agricultural production system itself into a more resilient system to climate change such as integrated farming is a longer term adaptation strategy. Long-term solutions also include insurance and banking.

Adaptation and Mitigation

Adaptation alone cannot eliminate climate-related risks completely. Even with all the possible protective measures, climate change will impose additional economic, social, and ecological costs. In addition to adaptation measures taken privately and publicly, global communities should cooperate on mitigating greenhouse gases through an efficient and effective policy tool.

Further Reading

  • Seo, S. N. and R. Mendelsohn 2008, “Measuring Impacts and Adaptations to Climate Change: A Structural Ricardian Model of African Livestock Management”, Agricultural Economics 38:1-15.
  • Seo, S.N., 2010, “Is an Integrated Farm More Resilient Against Climate Change?: A Micro-econometric Analysis of Portfolio Diversification in African Agriculture”, Food Policy 35: 32-40. 
  • Seo, S.N., 2010, “Managing Forests, Livestock, Crops under Global Warming: A Micro-econometric Analysis of Land Use in Africa”, Australian Journal of Agricultural and Resource Economics 54: 239-258.
  • Smit, Barry and Olga Pilifosova. 2001. “Adaptation to Climate Change in the Context of Sustainable Development and Equity.” In J.J. McCarthy, O.F. Canzianni, N.A. Leary, D.J. Dokken, and K.S. White, eds., Climate Change 2001: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability - Contribution of Working Group II to the Third Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press. ISBN: 0521807689.


Seo, S. (2012). Adaptations to climate change. Retrieved from


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