Adapting to the global climate change impacts outlined in the IPCC's Working Group 2 Report, "Climate Change 2007: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability", will require new evaluation tools to help choose the best way forward, according to the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP), an international network of environmental scientists.
This quest for adaptation strategies opens a new chapter in global environmental change research that requires not only continued development of sophisticated climate models (and understanding the processes behind them) but also a new integration of those models with predictive descriptions of human behaviour.
"We need to continue discovering how the Earth system works in order to evaluate the numerous ways that humans can adapt to climate change," says Kevin Noone, IGBP's executive director. The additional challenge is to model unpredictable human behaviour and merge this into deterministic Earth system models, explains Noone.
Human adaptation to a changing climate can take many forms, and can have both positive and negative environmental impacts. Small-scale measures could include increased use of air conditioning, architectural changes for more efficient heating and cooling, better forecasting and warning systems for extreme events, and increased water usage. Larger-scale issues could vary from switching to renewable energy sources to attempts at "geoengineering". The large-scale movement of people away from areas adversely affected by climate change and by other environmental and socioeconomic stresses is also a form of adaptation. Each of these options has environmental consequences that must be carefully evaluated before they are implemented. The larger the adaptation scheme, the greater care needs to be taken in considering its application.
"The science needed to support decision making about adaptation requires a sophisticated understanding about how the Earth system works,
Contact: Mary Ann Williams
International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme