Adaptation, Agriculture and Climate Change in Brief

Climate change poses a serious challenge to social and economic development in all countries. Obviously, while it is prerequisite to “negotiate international commitments to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, it is also important to undertake policies and measures that facilitate adaptation to the observed and projected impacts of climate change” (OECD, 2008). In fact, “adaptation to climate change is now widely recognized as an equally important and complementary response to GHG mitigation in addressing climate change” (OECD, 2008).  Adaptation has received an increased attention from several governments and international negotiations (UNFCCC, 1992; Klein MacIver, 1999; Smit et al., 2000). There are several definitions of the word ‘adaptation’. According to the UK Climate Impacts Programme (UKCIP) 2003 report, adaptation is “the process or outcome of a process that leads to a reduction in harm or risk of harm associated with climate variability and climate change”. To other more accurate definitions, “adaptation refers to responses by individuals, groups and governments, to climatic stimuli or effects to reduce vulnerability of, or susceptibility to, adverse impacts or damage potential” (Carter et al., 1994; Watson et al., 1996; Pielke, 1998; Tol et al., 1998; UNEP, 1998; Wheaton and MacIver, 1999; Smit et al., 2000). Further, “adaptation can be directed to reduce potential negative consequences, or to benefit from opportunities associated with climate change” (Carter et al., 1994; Watson et al., 1996; Pielke, 1998; Tol et al., 1998; UNEP, 1998; Wheaton and MacIver, 1999; Smit et al., 2000).

One of the major urgent sectors in which adaptation measures should be taken very seriously is agriculture, since it is “inherently sensitive to climate conditions, and it is among the most frequently cited human systems likely to be affected by global climate change” (Rosenzweig and Parry, 1994; Smit et al., 1996). Also, agriculture is the major source of food on which human life is very dependant in order to maintain its own existence. Hence, food security is an important factor to defend especially in a world of changing climate and variability. By definition, food security “exists when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life”(World Food Summit, 1996). Further, many impact studies have shown the vulnerability of the agricultural sector to climate change (Rosenzweig, 1992; Budyko and Menzhulin, 1996; Reilly and Schimmelpfenning, 1999; Bryant et al., 2000). However, agricultural systems also have, to varying degrees, a capacity to cope with and adapt to changing conditions (Reilly, 1995; Parry et al., 1998). Actually, agriculture is often considered to be especially adaptable compared with some sectors (Dolan et al., 2001). “Altering farming practices and crop varieties, building new water reservoirs, enhancing water use efficiency, changing building codes, investing in air conditioning, and constructing sea walls,” are examples of a wide variety of adaptation measures that can be implemented in response to both observed and anticipated climate change (OECD, 2008). And such measures are undertaken by public and private actors through policies, investment in infrastructure and technologies, behavioral change” (OECD, 2008). In general, adaptation measures belong to two categories which are hard measures (these involve physical structures such as dikes, seawalls, and reinforced buildings) and soft measures (e.g. changing practices and selecting and/or changing other crops and/or cultivars.crop insurance, foreign aid, early warning, and land-use planning (Hallegatte and Dumas, n.d)). Usually, soft measures must come before hard measures, however, since soft measures are harder to implement, adaptation costing studies have tended to focus more on hard adaptation measures; this has lead and leads to inappropriate and costly adaptation actions (OECD, 2008). Specifically in relation to agriculture, adaptation takes place at two main levels which are the farm level (e.g. crop and farm income insurance, diversification of production) and the public level (promotion of the adoption of new technologies and practices, institutional support to diffuse information on climate change and adaptation possibilities) (OECD, 2008). In addition, adaptation options can be characterized according to a broad variety of attributes such as timing (reactive – these are adaptation measures that occur after the impacts of climate change have been experienced (Dolan et.al, 2001), and concurrent or anticipatory – these are adaptations which are undertaken before the impacts are fully felt; they are pro-active (Dolan et.al, 2001) ), temporal scope (short versus long-term), spatial extent (localized or widespread), adapting agent (natural systems versus humans, individual versus collective, private versus public) and purposefulness (autonomous versus planned) (Carter et al., 1994; Smithers and Smit, 1997; Smit et al., 2000; OECD, 2008). On the other hand, from an economic point of view, evaluation could be evaluated in terms of whether, and by how much, the benefits of such actions exceed the costs incurred. For instance, estimates of adaption costs and benefits are applicable at two levels, which are regional/local level, and national and global level. At the small-scale level (or regional or local level), “the adaptation costs and benefits are relevant for actors directly exposed to particular climate risks who need to make decisions about whether, how much, and when to invest in adaptation” (OECD, 2008). Individuals and households, farmers, project managers, and sectoral planners, are examples of such actors. At the large-scale level (or national/global level), “cost estimates can be used to establish aggregate adaptation ‘price tags’ that would then need to be met through international, domestic, and private funding sources” (OECD, 2008). And like forestry and fisheries, the agricultural estimate (McCarl, 2007) consists of three distinct cost items: extra capital investment at the farm level, the need for better extension services at the country level and the cost of additional global research (e.g. on new cultivars).                 One should note that adaptation is a complex process; hence, the several challenges (e.g. analytical challenge) associated with estimating adaptation costs and benefits. Progress in adaptation measures remains limited in developing and developed countries (Agrawala and van Aalst, 2009; Gagnon-Lebrun and Agrawala, 2007). Adaptation costs may increase several-fold if measures to improve adaptive capacity are included in the purview of adaptation in addition to the measures taken directly to reduce climate damages (OECD, 2008). Also, since the specific effects of climate change are unpredictable, uncertainty will be an important factor associated with estimating adaptation costs and benefits, and the timing of the undertaken actions (OECD, 2008). Besides, not only is there little information on adaptation costs and residual damages (costs of damage not adapted to), but the adaptation itself is unclear (Frankhauser and Tol, 1997; Tol et al., 1998). Impact assessments often assume that private agents will autonomously adapt, and that such adaptations will have net benefits (Wheaton and MacIver, 1999). As a result, there is a necessity to be borne in mind while interpreting particular empirical estimates of adaptation costs and benefits (OECD, 2008), and this can be referred to as ‘planned adaptation’. Planned adaptations are generally anticipatory, but can also be reactive (e.g. adaptations are planned to be implemented once climate change effects are experienced) (Klein and Tol, 1997; MacIver and Dallmeier, 2000). While adaptations can be planned at the farm level, the term ‘planned adaptation’ is generally used to point to actions taken by governments as a conscious policy response (Klein and MacIver, 1999; Bryant et al., 2000). Such actions aim to ease farm-level adjustments or enhance the adaptive capacity of the agricultural system (Skinner et al., 2001). Encouragement of technological adaptations such as crop development (Smithers and Blay-Palmer, 2001) and early warning systems (Carlson, 1989), promotion of land and water use options (Chiotti and Johnston, 1995), assistance with changes in diversification or intensity of production (Brklacich et al., 2000), and changed financial support in established programs and ad hoc compensation (Skinner et al., 2001), are all examples of possible planned adaptations involving governments. However, since the evaluation methods of planned adaptation options (e.g. benefit cost analysis (BCE), and cost-effectiveness analysis (CEA)) are limited to the single criterion of economic efficiency, multiple criteria evaluation (MCE) (e.g. impact assessment) is more preferable, even if it comes with technical challenges, because it gives the importance of other economic, social, technical, environmental and political factors (Banuri et al., 1996; Kane and Yohe, 2000; Smit et al., 2001).

In conclusion, it should be kept in mind that an adaption option implemented at the national level, for the benefit of the public system, does not necessarily translate into an adaptation for the private individual, although it may influence adaptations at the private level. For example, crop development may involve incentives at the national scale, research and advisory services at the regional scale, and change in crops at the farm level. However, national scale initiatives may discourage associated adaptations at the farm level and encourage others. A government could adapt to the increased risks associated with extreme climate events by reducing the subsidy on crop insurance to farmers, in order to address concerns over the costs and sustainability of public support. While the national scale adaptation strategy reduces the vulnerability of the taxpayer to increased economic burden, it makes crop insurance a more costly option at the farm level; increasing producer vulnerability as an example (Dolan et al., 2001). Furthermore, the evaluation of adaptation measures to climate change, if intended to contribute to decision-making in the agri-food sector, must be included as part of the broader evaluation measures and practices in this sector. Moreover, mitigation involved adaptation. For instance, Gosling et.al. (2011) highlighted the importance of adaptation in the water sector (e.g. reduced flood risk and increased drought resilience) as a major recommendation to the post-AR4 studies (studies published after the 2007 Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)) on agriculture, which apply probabilistic assessment (e.g. emissions uncertainty, climate modelling uncertainty and crop modelling uncertainties) to provide a more comprehensive treatment of uncertainty.  Adaptation and mitigation are and should be the two basic policy responses to the risks and impacts climate change and variability. Climate change that is the focus of attention is the result primarily of human activities (created by people and encouraged in many ways by our governments). The solutions lie mostly in the domain of peoples too – their cultures, their values, and their governments (although the latter seem to follow behind much of the time rather than being ‘leaders’). The influence of policy on individual or private agent behavior is a fundamental function of public policy and a focus of adaptation in the policy arena (Dolan et al., 2001).


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