Adaptation, impacts and vulnerability

The current level of low ambition in mitigating climate change means that the consequences of climate change are already being felt throughout the world. Adaptation to the adverse effects of climate change is therefore necessary in order to respond to current changes that are taking place, but also to prepare for future impacts.

Measures need to be taken in a broad range of sectors, from water management, agriculture, food security and nutrition, to energy, transport, housing, forestry, coastal zone management and fisheries, biodiversity, natural disasters, conflicts and risk management.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) provides for measures to cope with, and adapt to, the adverse impacts of climate change; and developed countries are expected to assist developing countries that are particularly vulnerable. A range of institutions, mechanisms and programmes have been created to provide a mandate for the implementation of adaptation activities. In 2006, at COP12 in Nairobi, a five-year work programme on impacts, vulnerability and adaptation to climate change was launched, covering natural scientific issues, socio-economic issues and adaptation planning and practices.

A number of funds, operated by the Global Environment Facility (GEF), are set up to finance adaptation activities, including:

  • The Adaptation Fund, supplied by the 2% share of proceeds from the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) and supervised by an Adaptation Fund Board (AFB), is to finance adaptation projects and programmes in developing countries that are Parties to the Kyoto Protocol.
  • The Least Developed Countries Fund (LDCF) and the Special Climate Change Fund (SCCF), established in 2001 under the Convention, are to assist Least Developed Countries (LDCs) to prepare and implement National Adaptation Programmes of Action (NAPAs), and to finance adaptation and other projects.

A number of other programmes also exist, both within the framework of the UNFCCC and in regional contexts. However, the distribution of adaptation finance to highly vulnerable countries and to the most vulnerable people and populations groups within recipient countries remains uneven, and the scale of finance is currently not adequate to address the estimated needs.

Gender dimensions

The impacts of climate change are experienced differently by women and men. This is because vulnerability is not solely related to environmental factors; it is also closely linked to social conditions. While entire countries or regions can be identified as vulnerable, certain members of their populations will struggle more to adapt to a changing climate. Due to their restricted access to resources and information, the poor are generally the hardest hit. Women continue to make up a disproportionate share of the world’s poor, and also face ongoing social, economic and political barriers; thus, they can often be identified as one of most groups most vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change.

In many contexts, the social roles and responsibilities assigned to women result in a higher degree of dependence on the natural environment and resources. The burden of work that women take on in order to care for their families, such as collecting water and fire wood, can increase significantly due to climate change.   

It is also widely recognised that women face specific risks during and after disasters, due to more limited access to information, including early warnings, and resources, due to inequitable distribution of aid. Furthermore, they are also more likely to experience sexual violence in post-disaster periods.
On the other hand, women’s knowledge of natural resources and their skills relating to households and communities can be crucial for adaptation efforts and disaster management.