Climate change adaptation refers to actions taken to adapt (i.e. modify) systems to deal with the impacts of climate change. SDG 13 covers “climate action”.
Why is climate change adaptation a global issue?
It is clear to all (except a small minority of non-scientific “doubters”) that climate change is happening, with worldwide impacts. It takes different forms. Some places will be affected by warming; others by too much or too little rain. But nowhere on the planet will be spared, which is why adaptation is relevant to every country.
SLM and climate change adaptationAdaptation is a strategy taken when projections indicate that particular consequences of climate change are likely to be unavoidable and must be addressed. A simple example is a sea wall, built to protect land from rising sea levels. One specific and important form of adaptation is increased climate change resilience (see section X). But other forms of adaptation are also relevant to SLM. For example, if climate models indicate more intensive rainfall and thus greater runoff, this will call for increased dimensions in structures such as retention ditches, diversion channels, terrace bunds, and vegetative barriers. Where less rainfall is anticipated and water harvesting systems are used, the size of the catchment area might also need to be increased. Thus, adaptation may demand a revised design of structures and systems. Adaptation can also be achieved by choice of crop, or crop variety: responding to the anticipated change in climate – especially changes in rainfall and temperature.
Climate change resilience is “the capacity of a socio-ecological system to cope with a hazardous event ordisturbance, responding or reorganising in ways that maintain its essential function, identity and structure, while also maintaining the capacity for adaptation, learning and transformation” (www.ipcc.ch).
Why is climate change resilience a global issue?
Climate change resilience is globally relevant in the same way as climate change adaptation. Climate change will affect all resource users, and building resilience into their production and conservation systems is a common challenge.
SLM and climate change resilience
Climate change resilience is a particular form of climate change adaptation (see section above). Put simply, it denotes the ability to recover rapidly after a shock, like something losing its shape but bouncing back quickly. A tennis ball is a good analogy: the ball is squashed on impact with a racket, but its resilience ensures that it immediately becomes round again. In terms of land-based ecosystems, these may be damaged by a climatic event, but resilient systems recover quickly. Often, a diverse system is more resilient than one with a single component: for example, a farm with mixed cropping and agroforestry is more likely to bounce back from flooding or strong winds, than a single stand of a cereal crop, or a monocrop tree plantation. In reality, even in a resilient system not everything will recover, but if there is enough in-built diversity the system as a whole can soon function effectively again. Finally, fostering “climate resilient thinking” is fundamental: land users need to become agents of resilience themselves. See the FAO/OECD 2012 workshop proceedings, “Building resilience for adaptation to climate change in the agriculture sector” (http://www.fao.org/docrep/017/i3084e/i3084e.pdf).
Climate change mitigation means reducing the amount of greenhouse gases emitted to the atmosphere to stabilize or eventually reduce their concentration. SLM plays an important role in this respect, through sequestering carbon in vegetation and soil.
Why is climate change mitigation a global issue?
Greenhouse gas emissions, whatever their origins, have negative global effects because of their concentration in the atmosphere. On the other hand, climate change mitigation has a positive global impact.
SLM and climate change mitigation
It is a little-known fact that sustainable land management can be a powerful tool in climate change mitigation. This is achieved in two ways. One is through carbon sequestration (i.e. building up carbon in the land), achieved by plants absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere through photosynthesis. Another is by reducing carbon loss. There is a considerable pool of carbon in both vegetation and soil, which can be lost rapidly through deforestation and land degradation. Deforestation accounts for a significant proportion of greenhouse gas released into the atmosphere globally, which is why an international mechanism (REDD+) was set up to reward countries for maintaining forests. Examples of other SLM activities that help achieve mitigation goals include“sustainable intensification” of land use, which involves improving yields while maintaining productivity of the land. Under sustainable intensification, new land does not need to be opened up and consequently, natural carbon stocks (in the vegetation and soil) are not released as greenhouse gases through land conversion and cultivation. On currently cultivated land, carbon sequestrationcan be achieved through the SLM technology of conservation agriculture – a combination of minimum tillage, mulching with residues, and crop rotation. While deforestation is well-known as a source of greenhouse gas emissions, soil erosion is also a source – but few people know this. Drainage of wetlands also cause large quantities of carbon release, as peat soils are rich reservoirs of soil organic matter, high in carbon content.
Why is disaster risk reduction a global issue?
While disaster risk is more prevalent in certain areas – e.g. droughts in Africa, floods in Asia, and hurricanes in the Caribbean – there is evidence that climate change is increasing the occurrence of such disasters globally. A growing world population also means that disasters tend to affect greater numbers of people per event.
SLM and disaster risk reduction
Disaster risk reduction is the concept and practice of reducing disaster risks through systematic efforts to analyse and reduce the causal factors of disasters. According to the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR), “reducing exposure to hazards, lessening vulnerability of people and property, wise management of land and the environment, and improving preparedness and early warning for adverse events are all examples of disaster risk reduction”. There is a connection between several of the disasters covered under DRR and climate change: droughts, floods, and landslides in particular. It is generally believed that increased occurrences of such disasters are linked to climate change. While SLM has an impact on climate change through reducing emissions of greenhouse gases (see climate change mitigation), at a local level good SLM practices can help reduce the damage to land (see climate change adaptation and climate change resilience). Examples of SLM practices that can help to reduce damage to land are windbreaks (helping reduce wind speed and protecting soil), soil fertility management (ensuring healthy and resilient crops), and respecting planting distances from rivers (maintaining riparian forests which protect river banks).
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