The process by which climate change impacts get translated into concrete societal response is complex and multifaceted. Figure 2.1 presents an overview of this process, where the societal response to the biophysical impacts of climate change is collectively determined by a range of mediating factors identified as “actors” and “enablers.” The lists of mediating factors included in Fig. 2.1 are not exhaustive, but each of them play an important role in determining their collective ability to anticipate, prepare for, and respond to the present and future threats of climate change.
Climate Change Actors
Both state and non-state actors play a dual role in determining the nature of response to climate change. On the one hand, they experience the biophysical impacts as institutions and individuals. On the other hand, they are also the drivers of change. These actors interact with each other within the given socioeconomic and political contexts, identify and prioritize key concerns, develop strategies, collaborate with internal and external stakeholders, mobilize resources, and ultimately design and implement the climate response programs. Coordination among the various levels of government, community-based organizations, domestic and international NGOs, international development partners (DPs), researchers (including academics), media, and the private sector is critical for achieving better outcomes.
Systemic issues can also hinder progress. For example, governments tend to suffer from “institutional inertia” and they are generally reluctant to antagonize influential private or communal interests who benefit from maintaining the status quo. As noted by Meadowcroft (2010), “Conflicts of power and interest are inevitable in relation to climate change policy” and “Climate change governance requires governments to take an active role in bringing about shifts in interest perceptions so that stable societal majorities in favour of deploying an active mitigation and adaptation policy regime can be maintained.” This implies that groups aiming to bring about systemic change must focus on “building coalitions for change” at every level of decision making and “establishing new centers of economic power” so that systemic weaknesses can be reversed.
Similarly, multilateral and bilateral development partners play a delicate role in mediating climate change policies and actions. On the one hand, their stated mission is to align their programming with the priorities of national governments they partner with. On the other hand, they are accountable to their trustees and/or taxpayers in ensuring value for money from development aids, which is often clouded by other foreign policy agenda.
Climate Change Enablers
This complex and often contentious negotiation around social response is further mediated by the enabling factors. As depicted in Fig. 2.1, these factors influence the quality of response when the actors finally agree on the threat and are willing to take action. To begin with, climate science provides information on the cause and extent of climate change. This helps to generate future scenarios that inform evidence-based policy development including sector-specific goals for climate response.
It is important that climate policy is closely aligned, and preferably well integrated, with other key sectoral policies related to energy, infrastructure, industry, agriculture, natural resources, health, and the environment. One area where this policy alignment is crucial is disaster risk reduction. The Hyogo Framework for Action specifically identifies the need to “promote the integration of risk reduction associated with existing climate variability and future climate change into strategies for the reduction of disaster risk and adaptation to climate change” (UNISDR, 2005). Similar sentiment is echoed in the Sendai Framework, where one of the guiding principles is that “The development, strengthening and implementation of relevant policies, plans, practices and mechanisms need to aim at coherence, as appropriate, across sustainable development and growth, food security, health and safety, climate change and variability, environmental management and disaster risk reduction agendas” (UNDRR, 2015).
The integration of indigenous knowledge in policy formulation offers opportunities for developing community-based adaptation initiatives that are socially and culturally compatible, and consistent with the long-term sustainability requirements of the climate vulnerable communities. According to the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report, indigenous peoples’ holistic view of community and the environment is a major resource for adapting to climate change (IPCC, 2014a).
Technological innovation is essential in climate proofing national and community-level infrastructure (e.g., roads, bridges, embankments, and cyclone shelters), protecting natural resources (e.g., forests fisheries), and creating new livelihoods options (e.g., by introducing salt-tolerant crops in coastal areas). It is important that various climate actors adopt an evidence-based and collaborative approach in developing and implementing technological solutions to achieve mitigation and adaptation goals.
Climate finance is another crucial enabler as access to adequate funding is essential for supporting adaptation initiatives in less developed countries. The polluter pays principle is now well established, and the 2015 Paris Agreement includes provisions for developed countries to mobilize financial support to assist developing country parties with climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts. It affirms a collective pledge by developed countries of providing $100 billion annually by 2020 and calls for continuing this collective mobilization through 2025 (Lattanzio, 2017)—the actual disbursement of which is complicated by political shifts in the USA and the COVID-19 pandemic, as mentioned earlier.
“Adaption Gap” is the difference between the actual level of adaptation and the level required to achieve a societal goal, reflecting resource limitations and conflicting priorities (UNEP, 2014). Unfortunately, estimating the adaptation gap is far more challenging than estimating the emission gap, simply because there is no globally agreed goal or metrics for adaptation. Furthermore, adaptation is a response to specific climatic threats that may vary widely over geographic locations and time.
According to UNEP (2014), there will likely be a significant adaptation funding gap after 2020, which has been estimated to be in the order of US$70 billion to US$100 billion per year. Given the size of this deficit, multilateral and bilateral grants, domestic public finance, and contributions from the private sector—all are expected to play a role in closing this gap. In reality, a major gap in adaptation finance still persists. According to UNEP (2018), the global public finance flows in support of adaptation reached only about US$23 billion in 2016. Approximately 64 percent of this went to less developed countries via bilateral climate finance, multilateral climate funds, and multilateral development banks.
Limits to Adaptation
Adaptation limits are closely related to the notion of adaptation gap. A limit to adaptation is reached when adaptation efforts are unable to provide an acceptable level of security from risks to the existing objectives and values (IPCC, 2014d). Scaling down global GHG emissions and enhancing adaptive capacity may not, in the end, guarantee the desired level of risk reduction. This is because social and institutional actors are often constrained by opportunities, resources, and time needed to successfully implement and/or scale up adaptation efforts.
Dow et al. (2013) proposed a risk-based definition of adaptation limits, where adaptation efforts are considered as incremental efforts to keep the risk of adverse impacts within tolerable limits. For a given frequency and intensity of an adverse impact, the threshold for intolerable risks represents a point at which an actor must either live with the risk of escalating loss and damage, or drastically change behavior to avoid the risk, say by adopting transformational measures including relocation. According to the authors, “such a discontinuity in risk or behavior is symptomatic of an adaptation limit being reached.”
Loss and Damage
The phrase loss and damage is used in the context of residual impacts that society is bound to experience beyond what can be avoided through adaptation. In addition, “loss refers to things that are lost forever and cannot be brought back, such as human lives or species loss, while damages refer to things that are damaged, but can be repaired or restored, such as roads or embankments” (Pidcock & Yeo, 2017). With the inclusion of Article 8 of the Paris Agreement, loss and damage is now a thematic pillar under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
Sustainable Development Goals
IPCC defines sustainable development as development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs (IPCC, 2014c). This definition was originally introduced by the World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED, 1987). Werners et al. (2013) argue that climate change shifts the sustainability challenge from conservation to adaptation. The authors contend that thresholds, and tipping and turning points are important focal points for sustainability under climate change that help bridge the gap between science and policy. Essentially, climate change has forced us to embrace the notion of a system that is likely changing at an accelerating pace. The scale of the issue has changed as well from local to global, which was not always the case previously. A new discipline, sustainability science, evolved using interdisciplinary research involving scientists and social actors to produce knowledge that supports and informs solutions, transformations, and transitions toward sustainability (Caniglia et al., 2017).
While these developments provide further conceptual clarity on sustainability and sustainable development, application of these concepts as guidelines and toolkits needed more detailed and comprehensive metrics. The initial work toward implementation of sustainable development began at the Earth Summit in 1992 through the preparation of Agenda 21—the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development. This was followed by the Millennium Development Goals at the turn of the century and further refined in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by the United Nations in 2015 as part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The agenda provides a shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet. The SDGs recognize that addressing poverty alleviation and other development challenges must go hand-in-hand with strategies that improve health and education, reduce inequality, and spur economic growth while tackling climate change and safeguarding the environment (United Nations, n.d.).
The SDGs shown in Fig. 2.2 build on more than two decades of global endeavors to operationalize sustainable development. These goals provide a detailed, practical, and comprehensive deconstruction of the concepts of sustainability and sustainable development that captures the spirits of economic advancements, environmental responsibility, and social justice. The goals are supplemented by additional resources for implementation in a wide variety of contexts. According to an IPCC special report published in 2018, these Sustainable Development Goals provide a new framework to consider climate action within the multiple dimensions of sustainability (IPCC, 2018). The Government of Bangladesh, for example, has included SDGs in the 2016–20 National Plan for Disaster Management (Shammin, Firoz, & Hasan, 2021, Chap. 16 of this volume).
Ecologists have long used the concept of resilience for investigating why some ecological systems survive while others fail when faced with disturbance. It draws from the basic principles of physics of a spring that expands when pulled and retracts when released. It is the property of a system to bounce back or re-establish stability after being disturbed or perturbed. IPCC defines resilience more broadly as the capacity of social, economic, and environmental systems to cope with a hazardous event or trend or disturbance, responding or reorganizing in ways that maintain their essential function, identity, and structure, while also maintaining the capacity for adaptation, learning, and transformation (IPCC, 2014c).
Elmqvist et al. (2019) argue that the concept of resilience goes far beyond the mere recovery from disturbances and builds on the adaptive and transformative capacities of subsystems across time and scales. Tanner et al. (2014) introduced the concept of livelihood resilience as the capacity of all people across generations to sustain and improve their livelihood opportunities and well-being despite environmental, economic, social, and political disturbances. Such resilience is underpinned by human agency and empowerment, by individual and collective action, and by human rights, set within dynamic processes of social transformation. For example, Jordan (2015) analyzed case studies of specific communities in the southwest coastal region of Bangladesh and found a complex relationship between social capital and enhancing resilience to climate stress. Amin and Shammin (2022, Chap. 5 of this volume) detail the experience of the application of a resilience analysis protocol to facilitate community-led initiatives on livelihood and nature-based solutions to climate adaptation.
Elmqvist et al. (2019) also point out that resilience to climate change could mean social resilience or community resilience, or technological infrastructure resilience or ecological resilience if applied through a framing where social, ecological, and technological subsystems may differ in ways that challenge any kind of general system-level resilience. For example, United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) specifically defines resilience as: “The ability of a system, community or society exposed to hazards to resist, absorb, accommodate to and recover from the effects of a hazard in a timely and efficient manner, including through the preservation and restoration of its essential basic structures and functions” (UNISDR, 2009). In terms of development and climate change adaptation, the concept of resilience provides one of the most promising approaches to poverty reduction, development, growth, and sustainability (Ayeb-Karlsson et al., 2015).
Stockholm Resilience Centre has developed seven principles of resilience building that are designed to guide program development and implementation (Stockholm Resilience Centre, 2020).
Maintain Diversity and Redundancy.
Manage Slow Variables and Feedback.
Foster Complex Adaptive System Thinking.
Promote Polycentric Governance.
The Paris Agreement emphasizes the importance of fostering resilience as a key goal for addressing both adaptation, and loss and damage. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are closely linked to resilience building. The Global Climate Risk Index 2019 report concluded that carefully, locally, and inclusively designed adaptation measures can contribute to achieving the SDGs and increasing the resilience of communities (Eckstein et al. 2019). The Sendai Framework on Disaster Risk Reduction includes understanding of disaster risks, strengthening disaster management governance, investing in risk reduction, and resilience building. The SDGs and resilience principles thus offer opportunities for integrative community-based climate change adaptation programs at the grassroots level.