The physical impacts of climate change are here to stay, and entities are driven to adapt to climate change. But it is necessary to ensure that companies are doing enough to adapt to them. At this point, adaptation is an exercise of uncertainty that can go wrong.
Designing adaptation strategies and conditions can be difficult, and these may become ineffective and waste resources. Potentially maladaptation, when adaptation goes wrong. The challenge with adaptation is a process as much as an outcome. In that case, what does that look like when adaptation to climate change goes wrong?
There is substantial evidence of maladaptation for “what this is, is evidence that we’re not doing adaptation correctly”, adaptation remains a concern as focusing on climate change mitigation will not be enough.
Blueprints Missing the Mark
Global adaptation spending could hit $500bn a year by 2050. But despite increased awareness and apprehension for businesses over physical climate risk exposures, most companies need to conduct practical climate-risk management assessments and strategies. Private sector-led adaptation remains in its infancy, with entities in poorly prepared positions for adaptation actions.
There are many adaptation processes to plan acutely, but these often parallel with other methods and disclosure frameworks, creating uncertainty and indecision. This is showcased by the 2006-2009 drought in California. Despite the drought's damages, agriculture production was maintained high, driven by resilience measures that implemented increased groundwater pumping and crop insurance schemes. However, it was discovered that this action increased the vulnerability of other systems reducing water security, increasing emissions, and reducing incentives to adapt—an example of climate risk modelling without clear evidence-based targets.
Most entities analyse climate change-related risks through their sustainability plans, environmental management systems and risk management frameworks. But without a comprehensive response to the need to adapt, missing the golden points of focusing on climate risk opportunities and developing a dedicated adaptation strategy as part of their overall approach to climate change. Furthermore, companies need support to differentiate between adaptation and mitigation and recognise potential synergies and cohesiveness between the two approaches when jointly considered. But this lack of recognition is countered when entities are guilty of rebranding existing climate activities without consideration of climate risks. Moreover, new adaptation projects are co-opted to support existing development agendas, both of which occur due to future climate risks.
Not Taking the Long Road
Planning ahead is a complex task. Long-term planning is increasingly receiving attention as a valued approach to enhance action on adaptation as "the climate crisis remains the biggest long-term threat facing humanity," stated Peter Giger, group chief risk officer, Zurich Insurance Group.
Given the increased frequency and severity of climate disasters, there will be a greater priority on adaptation. But for many businesses, climate risks still need to be measured not to affect business operations in the near future. Consequently, adaptation plans with realistic climate risk resilience measures require clear and measurable data.
Entities are well aware that some of their actions substantially contribute to long-term climate resilience for the company. Still, they do not categorise these actions as climate change adaptation. There remains a too short-term focus and negligence of future climate risks and long-term viability for organisations to feel the need to construct realistic adaptation plans.
Collaborative learning and information-sharing offer another opportunity to integrate adaptation action better in businesses' decision-making. For example, providing practical lessons learned from initiatives should be more pragmatic in sharing information and data.
DeNederlandscheBank showcases this type of cooperation between entities with the Working Group on Climate Adaptation to investigate how best to contribute through investment and finance when adapting to climate change. The group will analyse data, methods and scenarios the financial sector needs to assess climate change's physical risks. These activities will enable the group to exchange knowledge in the field of climate adaptation and identify how to overcome bottlenecks when organisations face adaptation barriers.
Partnerships between companies and in other forms (global, local, regional and sectoral) with governments, international organisations, civil society and academia. Swiss Re has been working with governments in climate-vulnerable regions worldwide to design better risk tools for resilience planning and to provide need-driven insurance solutions to strengthen resilience against natural disasters. Hence, collaboration and a willingness to share between stakeholders will increase awareness and change practices on climate adaptation practices with the right tools to do so.
Metrics to monitor adaptation are still at the early stages of development without clear metrics. Adaptation metrics are essential for tracking and assessing adaptation needs, actions, and progress.
Given the multiple purposes, dimensions, contexts, and scales at which adaptation tracking and assessment have become relevant, it is hardly surprising that there is no 'onesize-fits-all' solution to adaptation metrics. Companies must use more adequate (easy-to-measure, but difficult-to-validate and difficult-to-interpret) metrics. However, companies need access to adequate metrics for effective and realistic adaptation planning.
Future adaptation designs aiming to connect adaptation goals to their associated measures will facilitate identifying and accessing relevant and correct tools (e.g. indicators and metrics) for monitoring, evaluation, reporting and learning during the vital plan creation phase. These relevant aspects will inform about the significance of measures towards goal consecution.
Reversing maladaptation will take a lot of work. For companies, it requires a severe look at malpractices with an adaptation strategy in place. To do so, it is only possible if entities assess human behaviour, expectations and an understanding of risks, including crucial climate-related risks at asset levels. However, the complexities of data make it difficult for companies to grasp and cultivate clear adaptation goals. Therefore, companies must improve the collection and sharing of relevant data on intended and unintended impacts on adaptation.
The further input of greater collaboration on data production and sharing could provide multiple opportunities to enable more coherent and systemic approaches for organisations.
Although some companies focus on a full range of climate risks, there is a lack of granular information and data about climate adaptation. With its climate analytics platform, Spectra, Climate X can improve adaptation plans for organisations. Providing cohesive and precise data enables entities to make informed decisions for adaptation plans to make climate adaptation action a stronger part of a sustainable business strategy. Thus, adaptation and mitigation should be jointly considered across company structures and at the core of every decision. Such decisions include everything from planning and finance to implementation.
Firms, therefore, can enhance opportunities and navigate away from maladaptive blunders to be as resilient as possible to climate change, potentially cultivating new business opportunities before long-term risks and vulnerabilities are met with the wrong actions.
Book a demo today with us at Climate X to find out how we can support you to avoid the traps of maladaptation.
- Christian-Smith, J., Levy, M.C. & Gleick, P.H. Maladaptation to drought: a case report from California, USA. Sustain Sci 10, 491–501 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11625-014-0269-1
- Magnan, A. K., Schipper, E. L. F., Burkett, M., Bharwani, S., Burton, I., Eriksen, S., Gemenne, F., Schaar, J., & Ziervogel, G. (2016). Addressing the risk of maladaptation to climate change. Wires Climate Change, 7, 646–665. https://doi.org/10.1002/wcc.409.
- Morgan Scoville-Simonds, Hameed Jamali, Marc Hufty, The Hazards of Mainstreaming: Climate change adaptation politics in three dimensions, World Development, Volume 125, 2020, 104683, ISSN 0305-750X, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.worlddev.2019.104683.
- Siri H. Eriksen, Andrea J. Nightingale, Hallie Eakin, Reframing adaptation: The political nature of climate change adaptation, Global Environmental Change, Volume 35, 2015, Pages 523-533, ISSN 0959-3780, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2015.09.014.