In the beginning the conversation about global climate change focused on cutting greenhouse gas emissions to keep Earth’s temperatures from rising dangerously high.
Later, another conversation developed alongside the first, which said even if we stopped all greenhouse gas emissions today, we would not be able to avoid some climate change because of the vast amount of emissions we had already pumped into the atmosphere over hundreds of years.
These had already set some global climate changes in motion.
The adaptation conversation posited that while reducing emissions was critical, it was just as important for the world community to work out ways of adapting to a changing climate so that we could cushion its effects and avoid the worst impacts of a hotter world.
This conversation will come to Cape Town this week in the form of the Adaptation Futures 2018 conference where 1200 scientists, policy-makers, business leaders and members of civil society from 87 countries and 230 organisations will gather to share ideas and try to find solutions through dialogue.
This is the first time the Adaptation Futures conference, held every two years, has been convened on the African continent.
Gina Ziervogel, an associate professor at UCT’s Environmental and Geographical Sciences Department, who will make a presentation at the conference, said the field of climate change adaptation had grown substantially since she had done her doctorate on the subject in 2002.
“Adaptation Futures is an academic conference where researchers present their work, but it is also about putting changes in place. As researchers we need to engage with practitioners in civil society, in government, in NGOs to share information and to explore alternatives and ways of adapting to climate change,” she said.
Adapting to climate change will vary from one region to another, because the impacts of climate change will vary. Some regions may experience hotter, drier conditions, others an increase in extreme weather events, others more intense rainfall and risk of flooding.
It may involve changing the type of agriculture practiced in one area which get less rainfall, or designing housing and infrastructure to cope with increased flooding; building seawalls to combat rising sea levels, or looking at more efficient use of dwindling water resources.
Growing focus on cities
Ziervogel said initially climate change adaptation had focused on agriculture because the sector was heavily dependent on climate.
“But there is a growing focus on cities, where the impact of climate change is often secondary – for instance the water crisis in Cape Town. The drought focused people’s minds on the fact that they might not be able to simply turn on a tap and get water.”
Adaptation scientists say adapting to climate change should not be seen as something on its own, but should be integrated into current decision-making and integrated into a country’s development.
It will need policy-makers to shed entrenched ways of thinking, and to make decisions that cut across sectors.
Mark Stafford-Smith of the Commonwealth Science and Industrial Research Organisation, said on video that adapting to climate change was about decisions policy-makers made today, not sometime in the future.
“So we’re asking people: ‘What are the sort of decisions you face today, and which of those are going to run into climate change?’ We’re talking about decisions people make today, not about decisions or probabilities out in 2070 or 2100.”
The conference will be held at the Cape Town International Conference Centre from June 18 to 21.
The opening plenary session will take place on Tuesday with a panel that includes Cape Town Mayor Patricia de Lille, EU deputy director of research and innovation Patrick Child and the director of UCT’s African Climate and Development Initiative Mark New.
Delegates have been informed about Cape Town’s water crisis and have been asked to limit themselves to 50 litres of water a day.
Among the advice on water saving tips, is the request: “Please take your dirty clothes home and launder them there”.