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Participants Responses to Question 1

1) What does it mean to adapt to climate variability? (Please illustrate your answer with an example from your experience.) And what is the difference between adapting to climate variability and to climate change?


Adapting to climate variability means to understand the ways in which we react to and interact with the environment, and then consciously taking actions that minimize negative impacts and maximize opportunities.

An example emerges from the disaster management community concerning flooding disasters. Building close to waterways and in floodplains has resulted in flooding of communities and property. Examples abound from the islands of Fiji, American Samoa, Oahu, Hawaii, and many others. Roadways act as channels causing sheet flow; houses and buildings block natural routes of water flow; and, engineering methods from former decades concentrate on collecting and channeling water from land into the ocean, contributing to declines in groundwater retention and aquifer replenishment and to pollution and sediment loading on reefs that actually protect islands from storms. More recent watershed management looks at the overall ecosystem interactions in the floodplain and natural water flow patterns---setting development away from waterways, using less concrete and hardened surfaces, developing retention ponds and settling basins to remove pollutants and recharge aquifers, and decreasing the costs associated with flooding disasters. An opportunity during these flooding events, then, is to collect and store fresh water in aquifers and reservoirs to provide resources during alternate seasons of severe and frequent drought. By making systemic changes to flood management and mitigation, the overall system will be more adaptive to long-term impacts from climate change.

Adapting to climate variability provides a rich opportunity for developing methods to adapt to climate change over the long term. Climate variability and extreme climate events allow us to test the actions and learn from short-term situations. Adapting to climate variability is a strategy for developing the skills and knowledge to adapt to climate change



Coping mechanisms evolved by individuals / institutions to cope with known and observed climate risks could constitute adaptation to climate variability., designing and adapting cropping system which could escape flood seasons could be one of the examples of adaptation to climate variability. The basic tenets of adaptation in relation to climate risks associate with variability and change could be essentially the same.



From my view, adapting to climate variability arises primarily from the management decisions that are affected by the climate rather than the forecast skill. As a hydrologist, I would like to first look at the water demand and sectoral decisions first to cope with climate variability. Climate change adaptation involves decisions that affect in the long-term, whereas adaptations to climate variability involve real-term and short-term decisions.



Design and establish production systems that minimize losses in unfavorable years and maximize gains in favorable years. These systems are usually based on establishing individual management practices that increase resiliency and/or reduce risks (e.g., selecting crop and pastures species and cultivars, planting dates, introducing irrigation, etc.) as well as on increasing diversification of the whole production systems.The time scales involved in adapting agricultural systems to interannual climate variability and climate change are considerably different. However, and given the uncertainty of possible scenarios of climate change, one of the premises of our current research is that one of the best ways to adapt to possible climate change scenarios is to learn to cope better with current climate variability. This premise is particularly pertinent if we consider that climate change has a tendency to increase the amount of climate variability that we already experience. In the developing world, the premise has the additional advantage that research can be oriented to respond to current problems associated to climate variability, and at the same time tackle the longer term issue of climate change which is usually lower in the countries’ lists of research priorities.



Climate varied from time to time, from normal to extreme. Any system often expose to normal condition, therefore it will work well under normal condition. When the climate deviates from normal (extreme events), the system may not be able to adjust to it, and causes a lot of damage to the system. A system which is able to adapt to climate variability, is a system where it can work well not only under normal condition but also under extreme condition. As an illustration, national rice production in Indonesia always drops significantly when climate extreme events (e.g. drought associated ENSO) occur. Farmer loss their second rice crops as the onset of dry season occurs earlier than normal, while irrigation water is less available, in particular for the end tail irrigation system. They cannot use the climate forecast information to adjust their cropping strategy following the forecast such as by having early planting for the first crop so it allows the second crop to be planted earlier than normal practice or by having different second crop (not rice) which may require less water etc. Increasing adaptability of national rice production system to such extreme events is not only by increasing farmers adoption to climate forecast information and their ability to use it but also by having better climate data management system, good forecast skill, good system for disseminating climate forecast information to other users (water managers, seed producers, policy makers etc), and good drought management system (system for anticipation, mitigation of drought impact, and drought relieve). Thus adapt to climate variability means that the whole component of the system to some extend (if not fully) should be able to respond properly to such variable climate (in normal and in extreme cases) so that damages caused by the extreme climates is still tolerable or do not create socio-economic instability.



<<<<To develop a practical and scientific knowledge of the Past, Present and Future CLIMATE SCENARIOS, and use this information as a resource for the sustainable management of the potentialities of our environment ,with the objective to improve life on Earth >>>>, as an example taken from the Nomadic life in the Desert <<<< capacities of the Nomads to move , with their animals to the region where rain has or is falling, in order to take the water and feed their animals with the newly grown vegetation….for that they do need , in real time the available climate information and are trained to move around an extensive area without being lost and without staying too long in one place in order not to exhaust the local soil resources >>>> a second example, is the possibility for the subsistence farming to diversify their income, by connecting to some non climate related economic activities <<<< adapting to and managing with climate variability is the best preparation for coping with climate change and may be reducing its impacts >>>



Adapting to climate variability is to be able to lessen the disastrous impacts or to take advantage of the benefits that the variability brings. In the Philippines for example, during the 2002 El Nino, rice farmers in some areas who listened to technicians to plant other crops that require less water benefited when the rains became scarce. However, others who opted to plant rice suffered. Adapting to climate variability is a temporary change in farming practices (crops, cropping season) based on expected change in the coming season.



Adapting to climate variability means being able to thrive under the prevailing range of climate conditions. Climate change refers to the long-term changes in climatic averages and variability around them, ususally in a context of anthropogenic global warming. Climate is always in flux, however, so variability and change are part of the system whether anthropogenic or not.



Adapting to climate variability is the development of infrastructure and management systems able to provide needed services at reasonable costs under existing and potential increased climate variability while preserving environmental quality. This adaptation includes a concerted scientific effort designed to distinguish between natural climate variability, which is reversible, to, for all practical purposes, irreversible changes in climate. For example, operation rules for surface water reservoirs based on historical precipitation levels may not be efficient due to the fact that the historical record is too short and it may not consider important natural fluctuations and long-term climate change.

The difference between adaptation to climate variability and to climate change may just be a perceived time scale issue. Even in the absence of climate change, there is a need to adapt to natural climate variability but climate change brings another dimension to the problem, which is adaptation to changes in the natural modes of climate variability and secular changes in climate. Adaptation to natural climate variability and climate change, which has a climate variability component, should be done in a coordinated fashion.



There are tactics and strategies that people have that either mitigate the effects of climate variability or respond to climate variability. If climate change is just more variability, then people will make decisions based on what they know and how they have operated in the past. If climate change is dramatic and sudden and causes large disturbances then it is more difficult for people to make changes that will make a difference



With respect to interannual variability, adaptation to climate variability may not only denote adaptation to the variability, but adaptation to the availability of probabilistic climate forecast information. From the water resources management perspective, this can mean that the optimal use of climate forecast information requires changing policies, changing goals, or both.



To me “adapting” to climate variability means to take into account an understanding of natural variations in climate in resource management and planning. For example, water allocations for irrigation expanded in the period from about 1950-1975 in the Yakima basin, because this was a time of abundant water supply. When climate patterns linked to recurrent decadal variations changed to a warmer drier phase, these water allocations became problematic and could not be as reliably supported as before. A more robust plan for expansion would include an understanding of the cyclical nature of the climate system, design for long-term sustainability, or more flexible water allocations that do not permanently grant fixed amounts of water to users that may not be sustainable in the future.

The problem and process of adapting to climate change is analogous to the one outlined above except that instead of looking backwards (at observed variability) we look forwards with scenarios. I.e. we assess the future conditions as well as possible, and then attempt to design our management institutions so they are robust to cope with these expected outcomes and the underlying uncertainties.



Adaptation means reducing vulnerability to potential negative effects of climate variability, and enhancing opportunities to exploit potential positive effects of climate variability. In both cases, successful adaptation is about informed hedging (on the defensive side) and risk-taking (on the offensive side) in ways that reflect both the uncertainty and consequences of different conditions. (This includes non-economic concerns as well.) Adaptation to climate variability within the realm of historical experience should be easier because there is more information about likely conditions; poor adaptation reflects being poorly informed about historical conditions. However, given that climate and other non-climate factors that affect vulnerability and opportunities are non-stationary, adaptation is easier said than done because uncertainty turns out to be greater than indicated by analyses of only historical conditions. The longer the timescale of climate variability being addressed, the more commonality there is between adaptation to climate variability and climate change. To the extent that climate change occurs in ways lacking analogies to past variations, adaptation will proceed with more surprise, meaning more crises and missed opportunities.



a. Adapting to climate variability could be either i) to make decisions that reduce economic or environmental risks associated with an uncertain climate in the near future (i.e., a crop season to a year) or ii) to use climate forecasts to make decisions that reduce risks or take advantage of expected favorable conditions. In either case, decisions are taken. In the first case, farmers tend to diversify their crops and management practices. In the second case, diversification may also be used, but crop mix and management may be altered according to climate forecast.

b. In my mind, adapting to climate change would be taking decisions that would help farmers achieve a goal or reduce risks due to longer term changes in climate at a location. Examples are infrastructure investments (irrigation systems, greenhouses, etc.). In many cases in agriculture, adapting to climate change would involve industries that provide seed and other inputs for agricultural production or for storage, harvesting, etc. Adapting to climate variability should help farmers prepare for longer term changes that occur more slowly, but are realized via annual variability that farmers are accustomed to dealing with.



I would distinguish between coping, which means responding to short-term climate variability with an expectation of a return to close to normal conditions (in the environment, behaviour and society), and adapting, which means responding to long-term trends (including changes in the frequency of short-term events) by making some permanent change to behaviour, societal parameters, etc. A typical example of coping, in a developing country context, would be to diversify livelihoods when crops fail during drought but to return to farming as the event ends. Adaptation would mean switching to, say, drought-resistant crops if drought becomes more frequent or, in extremis, moving to the city.



My research focuses on water resources in the arid and semi-arid American West. In the water management community, "adaptation to climate variability" has historically been expressed as planning, construction, and operational strategies designed to maintain normal levels of water deliveries during extreme events (namely droughts). The intent has been to drought-proof water systems so that climate variability has no significant impact on deliveries; thus, rather than "adaptation," the goal is "problem avoidance." This same philosophy is slowly being adopted for dealing with climate change as well, although few managers have shown much interest in climate change scenarios.



There is large difference as adapting to climate change may require permanent and major livelihood changes depending upon the climate change. Skills useful in responding to climate variability may or may not be useful under the changed climate. The time and quantity scales of the permanent climate change are important parameters to consider. If abrupt and major change, skills under present climate variability might not be useful. If gradual and less, some skills might be useful.



Adapting to climate variability can create great expenses and improve livelihoods dramatically. It can even save lives. For instance in the El Nino event predicted last year, the public in Uganda was able to make great savings as a result of information that we disseminated. People borrowed money from banks to roof their houses, communities made improvements on their sanitation facilities as well as making safeguards against cholera and other communicable diseases. It has been observed that after the presentation of seasonal forecasts governments and individuals are able to make informed decisions based on the information that they get. The Ministry of Agriculture is able to give advisories on what types of crops to plant and when to plant. The reaction by the public in response to the information they receive is now very evident.

Responding to climate variability is easier than to climate change. For a climate variability the urgency is more realistic and more predictable than for climate change. This is so because although climate change is being observed and reported in several places it is still to be determined what climate change has actually occurred for a given area. More prolonged observations need to be taken in order for us to definitely say that a climate change of such a magnitude has actually taken place. So it is more difficult to adapt to climate change since it is an ongoing process that may not be determined with certainty.



Adapting to climate variability (CV) means to mitigate and ameliorate the capacity of a system at large to deal with the effects (beneficial and negative) of CV. In Fiji, the two events that usually have inter-annual effects on climate variability are cyclones and ENSO. ENSO side effects to us revolve around dry to drought conditions. Fiji is currently experiencing effects of ENSO through a drought which had badly affected the sugar cane farms in the main Island of Viti levu and strongly threaten our main hydropower system through reduced water level in the dam. The difference between climate variability and climate change (CC) is that, in the former, it means that climate factors (temperature and rain etc.) deviate (generally short period) from their mean values but generally fall within the coping range of the system. On the other hand, climate change will mean a permanent shift in the mean values very often resulting in the climate factors fluctuating outside of the coping range. The difference between CV and CC will dictate the adaptation options undertaken. Formulating adaptation options for CV will usually involve short-term options depending on the vulnerability of the system. Where as for climate change it will entail the acquisition of appropriate data over a reasonable period of time to make valid predictions about the impacts of climate change and the likely adaptation options to be taken. In both CV and CC, all stakeholders must proactively assess their vulnerabilities in anticipation of the likely impacts of CV and CC. In principle, adaptation options for CV can form the basis for adaptation options for CC.



Adaptation (meaning ‘responsive adjustment’) is the implementation of prevention strategies that reduce the impact of risks such as climate variability (CV) or climate change (CC). For agriculture, the difference between adapting to CV versus adapting to CC is often only a matter of time horizon (temporal scale).Good data, modelling and knowledge about CC impacts have to influence long-term policy development in order to ensure that policies are congruent with actions that need to be taken by land managers. Land managers, however, do not experience CC directly – on a season-by-season basis, the consequences of CC are indistinguishable from CV. Hence, at the field and farm level, adaptation responses that have been developed due to knowledge of CV are equally relevant for CC related issues. Exceptions might be extremely marginal regions, where very small changes in climatic conditions could render the entire production system unprofitable or unsustainable within a short period of time or systems that require large, initial capital investments that may not be repaid for decades (eg. plantations in horticulture or forestry). Land managers, industry leaders and policy makers have a choice: they can either adapt to minimise negative impacts and even capitalise on the upsides of CV/CC or they can ignore it at their peril.In many systems we are already seeing a degree of autonomous adaptation (reactive adaptation) to CC (eg. earlier planting of winter crops due to the reduction or in some cases even elimination of frost risk). Good risk management suggests that this needs to be supplemented by planned, proactive adaptation. Pro-active adaptation will also be a necessary strategy at national and local scales to complement CC mitigation efforts.

In some regions increases in minimum temperatures have already significantly reduced the frost risk for wheat. At Emerald (23oS, 148oE, Central Queensland, Australia), spring wheat is sown in late autumn and optimal yields are obtained from crops flowering as close to the end of the frost period as possible. Frost during the flowering period can result in total crop failure. At Emerald, the frost risk period has been reduced from approximately 80 days at the end of the 19th century to about 20 days today. Baethgen et al. (2003) found a similar trend for Estanzuela, SW Uruguay (34°S, 57°W), where the frost period was reduced from 15 weeks in 1915 to 9 weeks in 2002. At Emerald, wheat is now sown earlier and maturity types have been adapted accordingly.



Adapting to climate variability includes both reducing vulnerabilities to the magnitude and intensity of seasonal/interannual changes vis-à-vis the human social system and capitalizing on opportunities created by those changes. For instance, in the PNW water resource managers perceive their greatest vulnerabilities in terms of the precipitation extremes, i.e., droughts vs. floods. The primary objective of the entire Columbia River reservoir system has historically been flood control as a consequence, providing society larger and larger margins of safety in response. With respect to droughts, the Snake River Basin and the State of Idaho droughts have been a problem from 1916. The relative scarcity of water as compared to Washington and Oregon has stimulated a longer history of innovation under stress. These stresses have historically been driven by irrigation demands, but since 1978 environmental claims have played an increasingly greater role. In response the State has sought to accommodate new uses by developing new tools to reduce transfer costs and increase transparency. These innovations include revisions of Prior Appropriation rules, conjunctive management of surface and ground water, creation of water banks and, in 2003 creation of a “Global Rental Pool” on the upper Snake. All of these innovations provide Idaho the capacity to cope with increasingly severe restrictions in water supply. We should note, however, that the vulnerabilities we have identified are always embedded in patterns of human choices involving rates of regional population growth, patterns of land use, and the consequent growth in demand for water resources.
The difference between adapting to climate variability on a seasonal/interannual timescale and adapting to climate change is that the latter significantly extends the timescale of action and increases the uncertainty attached to making assumptions about patterns of human choices, rates of technological change and economic growth and the like. The exercise therefore becomes one essentially of strategic planning on a decadal/interdecadal basis in response to a suite of constructed scenarios. At this point, the concept of thresholds in the natural systems, i.e., both the physical climate system and its impacts on natural ecosystems where only autonomous adaptation is possible, and human social systems where planned adaptation is possible, emerges as a critical focus.



Adaptation to climate variability involves developing informed knowledge about climate processes and impacts over different temporal and spatial scales and translating that knowledge into effective preparations and actions to avert or mitigate negative impacts. CLIMAS researchers have been working for more than five years with stakeholders in the US Southwest to identify misconceptions and provide information that can lead to better decisions. A recent pilot project, involving a small group of interested stakeholders, allowed participants to review and experiment with using a wide variety of climate information; in some cases, the participants regularly shared this information with others in their organization. The process of issuing regionally tailored monthly climate outlooks has subsequently been incorporated into a drought planning process currently underway in Arizona. Adaptation to climate change differs from climate variability in that the changes required are much longer-lasting; indeed, the changes may involve radical and permanent changes in perceptions and beliefs as well as behaviors and institutions. In Arizona, acceptance climate change is not well accepted by many residents and decision makers; therefore we believe that emphasizing information about climate variability at time scales from seasonal to decadal and longer provides a foundation for establishing a productive dialogue about climate change and how to monitor, prepare for, and adapt to its impacts.



Adaptation to climate variability means putting in place mechanisms for prevention of negative impacts of hazardous weather and extreme climate events that have increased in frequency and intensity in recent years. It also means taking advantage of such events by maximizing on possible gains. On the other hand adapting to climate change means a permanent change in policy and practices in all socio-economic activities that are affected by weather and climate. This is because, for all practical purposes, climate change is ‘permanent’



To adapt to climate variability means to have ways and tools to help mitigate the impacts of climate variability.* Climate variability refers to the extreme changes that take place within short periods of time. For a example in the last two decades El Nino and La Nina effects have resulted in some extreme seasonal weather changes like some parts of Africa receiving below normal rainfall while other parts receive normal to above normal seasonal rainfall during El Nino occurrence, La Nina occurrence results in excessive rainfall in some parts of the continent. * Climate change takes place at a rather slow or gradual pace and so adapting to climate change may also be gradual as opposed to urgent measures that need to be put in place in order to mitigate the impacts of rather rapid extreme changes that may occur due to climate variability.



1. To be resilient to all climate variability shocks such as droughts and floods. 2. Not much except climate change is long term, therefore climate change relates to permanent shifts in certain variability signals. Vulnerability to climate change would be less for a system that has adapted to climate variability hoping that the magnitude and rate of change stress is not too extreme.



Adapting to climate variability means two things: first, using available information about the probability distribution of climate for a particular period of time to make decisions that give one the best distribution of outcomes. In Zimbabwe, this typically means adapting the portfolio of maize seed varieties (short, medium, and long season) according to the predictions for rainfall. Second, adapting to climate variability means altering one’s practices to allow for this use of information. In Zimbabwe, this can mean waiting to purchase seed until the forecast is known, and asking relatives in the city, where there is a greater availability of more kinds of seed, to purchase the seed after the forecast is known. Adapting to climate change is fundamentally the same: using information, and building in flexibility (i.e. resilience), although the time scales are longer, and the decisions to be made are greater. In Zimbabwe, this could deciding to invest in irrigation for one’s fields, or deciding to migrate to the city; in either case, one becomes less dependant on a particular amount of rainfall.



In our experience in Uganda (Phillips and Orlove) adaptation has meant reading signs(accessing and actively using information) foretelling the seasonal trend and preparing by reinforcing, stockpiling, or planning. For example, in expectation of an El Nino (associated with above N rainfall in East Africa) farmers reinforced their roofs and built structures over the outdoor cooking pit. Signs are sourced from the gov’t or from local indicators, and are often a combination of the two. Secondarily, adaptation means building resilience into the system so it can handle shocks even if we can’t foretell the trend. This, I believe is the way in which linkages between climate variability and change are strongest. As we learn more about variability and more about climate change, I think the distinctions with respect to adaptation become less and less pronounced. The reality of seasonal forecasts is that error bars (uncertainty) are large and responses need to reflect that; climate change, as well, has a great deal of uncertainty and our best response will be building resilience.



There can be a difference in the meaning of adaptation in agricultural production systems depending on whether information on likely seasonal climate is available. If this information is not available, production systems tend to evolve in response to long-term experience of regional climate (although the meaning of “long-term” is relative: it may depend on the length of a farmer’s experience). If on the other hand, there is information about conditions that are more likely than others (e.g., a wetter than normal growing season), most commercial-scale agricultural production systems offer a range of actions that can be varied in response to the expected conditions (e.g., choice of crops/varieties, fertilization rate, etc.).Adaptation to climate change may require different options, such as the development of new varieties more adapted to the evolving set of conditions, etc. From our experience, there seems to be an asymmetry in the pace of adaptation. In the light of decadal scale change (e.g., an amelioration of precipitation such as that experienced in the Argentine Pampas), the response seems to be fairly fast (for instance, agriculturalization of previously marginal areas). In contrast, when we tried to explore how fast farmers would react to a return to worsening conditions (e.g., a drier epoch), farmers told us that they would tolerate a few years of adverse conditions, hoping they were the result of random climate variability. How soon the shift towards new conditions would be detected by farmers needs to be explored, and it is an issue very relevant to climate change research.



Adaptation deals with the ability of a system, natural or social to adjust to pressures exerted by external tchanges, either sudden or slow. In Central America the inter-annual variation of climate, causing extended damage, is one of this pressures. Variability of the conditions associated with climate is an actual risk to which society must adapt in order to sustain or increase its development. Increasing the resilience of the systems in relation to this risk is a way to increase development through the increment of the region productivity and competitivness. It is recognized that better development societies are in better position to endure, recover and even take opportunities from these risks, particularly those cuased by extreme events. Predicted changes in climate will not occur all in a sudden but in a trend contained in the interannual variability, that according to IPCC may increase climate extremes,; therefore in Central America, adapting to climate variability is in it self an option for adaptation to climate change.



I look at variability as the range of climate variables and the frequency of anomalous events. To adapt to these conditions organisms will have to develop mechanisms to tolerate climate events at the extremes of their tolerance thresholds. For example, in SE California we frequently get periods where the daily maximum temperature pushes 50C for several hours each day. These extremes drive many birds from the Coachella Valley and markedly depress mosquito populations that must find refugia during the day. Increasing the frequency of these events could change the distribution of some species from year round to winter residents [similar to humans here before air conditioning!]. And what is the difference between adapting to climate variability and to climate change? Climate change [to me] indicates increases or decreases in long term averages, whereas variability reflects changes in the annual coefficient of variation.



In our case, adapting to climate variability has meant developing forecasting and risk management procedures to forecast, manage, and reduce the negative economic impacts of adverse weather associated with current climate variability (e.g., risk forecasting, reservoir management, and water trading). While some of the same forecasting and risk calculation tools are relevant to climate change, and even the nature of the risks is similar, the (expected) more permanent nature of changes in the temperature and precipitation regime associated with climate change means that risk management options will also take a more permanent form (such as changes in crops and cultivars, and adding storage).



I’d like to start by addressing the second question – When it comes to adaptation, I am unconvinced that maintaining a distinction between climate variability and change has any practical meaning from the standpoint of the communities, businesses, individuals or ecosystems who are doing the adapting. Social and natural systems are vulnerable to changes in climate – regardless of the source of those changes. From the standpoint of adaptation, unlike mitigation, the source of those changes doesn’t really matter. What matters is having the ability to understand, monitor and, where possible, anticipate those changes in order to manage the risks and capitalize on the opportunities associated with those changes in climate. Experience in the Pacific suggests that effectively responding to changing climate conditions is most effective when it incorporates both directed research and a continuing assessment of vulnerability (exposure, sensitivity and resilience) and acting accordingly. I understand that there may be a legal need/desire to differentiate between climate change and variability when it comes to allocating limited international funding sources but I’m not convinced that the affected jurisdictions ultimately benefit from such a distinction.Having said this, I’d like to suggest that developing and sustaining a capacity to monitor, anticipate, understand and respond to ENSO-related changes in rainfall, temperature, tropical cyclones and ocean conditions is an example of adaptation – at least in the Pacific. Increasingly, national and regional climate change planning documents highlight the use of ENSO-based forecasts as part of climate adaptation programs. This is based, in part, on nearly a decade of experience in some parts of the Pacific in utilizing ENSO-based forecasts to manage today’s climate risks (e.g., the consequences of droughts, floods, changes in tropical cyclone patterns, sea level variations and storm surge among others). In the Republic of Palau, for example, water resource managers used a forecast of the 1997 –1998 El Niño as one of the factors in a decision to address leaks in the water distribution system and temporarily raise the height of a major dam during the preceding rainy season; these decisions helped the Government of Palau manage the significant reduction in water resource availability that resulted from the drought conditions associated with the 1997-1998 event. Similar examples can be found in Micronesia and elsewhere in the Pacific and in S.E. Asia. Since changes in natural variability represent some of the principal ways in which any of us will “feel” climate change, adaptation to natural variability becomes an element of adaptation to climate change over the long term.



Adapting to climate variability first requires (1) understanding the role climate variations play in influencing the managed system and (2) recognizing the repeating patterns of variability caused by climate and/or the predictability of those variations. Adaptation then entails adapting the management system to either (1) be resilient to the full range of expected variations or (2) to beflexible enough to change operations as a result of forecasted variations.Adapting to climate variability tends to be shorter term and more tactical than adapting to climate change, which is longer-term and requires more strategic planning. A major difference is the planning time horizon. [An exception is adapting to longer timescale climate variations, such as the Pacific Decadal Oscillation.] Adapting to climate variability can often be achieved by looking at the past; adapting to climate change requires acknowledging that the future will be different from the past.



Managing climate variability involves practices that seek to reduce vulnerabilities and or take advantage of uncertain climate in the near future. It involves using climate information (systemic behavior from long term climate variability records) and or seasonal climate forecasts. Rather than being at individual plot or watershed levels, managing climate variability requires creating systemic resiliency (of watersheds or regional urban systems, for example). Climate change involves long term changes in climatic averages and their variability. By extending the time scale under consideration, we are forced to take into account new uncertainties (beyond climate) such as trends in settlement patterns, economic marginalization trends, technology changes etc. Adapting to climate change, hence, requires considering a suite of scenarios that couple the climate and socio-economic uncertainties, and that explicitly connect across levels of decision and policy making. Building resiliency of institutions to manage climate variability will strengthen overall societal ability to adapt to climate change. However, long term socio-economic and climate changes may well induce non-linear behavior in systems which cannot be planned for.



In its most basic form, adaptation to climate variability means having the capacity to take into account physical variation in the environment when making decisions related to livelihood survival. This capacity varies not only via access to information and technology, but is based on the ability of individuals to act beyond attaining immediate needs. Our research team works in a very economically depressed region in the Brazilian Amazon, with near to subsistence level farming operating along side a recent invasion of large scale mechanized soybean and rice operations. At this point, smallholder farmers have very little capacity to plan beyond attaining immediate needs. Their decision making and adaptations are directly related to their ability to survive and thus, it is very difficult to isolate adaptations in livelihood strategies from specific adaptations to climate variability. They are one in the same at this point. Within this context, adaptation to climate change is no different than adaptation to climate variability. Both are intertwined in immediate livelihood decisions. In situations where we can assume there is a capacity to maintain a longer term perspective, I think that adaptation to climate variability and to climate change may be more easily deciphered from livelihood strategies, and more likely to be seen as beneficial. Adaptation to climate variability might include a capacity to take advantage of climate information and use it to improve livelihood circumstances. Adaptation to climate change would then assume having access to knowledge of specific predicted climate changes, the capacity to plan for these changes in climate and to have the resources to make changes necessary to implement that plan.



Adapting is changing. Adaptation to climate variability implies a different, new understanding of the role of nature in decision making processes. In many cases, this adaptation may require not just gradual adjustment, but also structural modification of communities and economies. In the case of subsistence farmers in Zimbabwe, the availability of seasonal forecasts would result in really positive adaptation if local communities established new links with national agencies, and explored new ways to pool resources in order to maximize the productivity of what little they have.

In terms of the difference, climate change has two components: change in the mean value of climate variables, and change in the frequency and intensity of extreme events. Adapting to climate variability addresses the second component, but leaves aside the need to adjust to new “normal” conditions implied in climate change adaptation (higher mean temperatures, sea level rise, etc). Discussions about climate change outside academia appear to be too focused on changes in mean values. It is indispensable to give more prominence to climate variability.



In my humble opinion, adapting to climate variability means to notice the variations in climate and to modify our behaviors accordingly to enhance production , sustain food security, better management of water resources, and promote health. For instance, it's important to society to know the likelihood of flood or drought occurrences so that mitigation plans can be put into action. Adapting to short term climate variability means changing our behaviors on a year to year or season to season basis. If we can adapt to climate variability, then we'll succeed at adapting to climate change which has a long term focus.



Even though the mean climate situation is often the first issue of consideration in planning, planners also recognize that climate fluctuates around that mean resulting, at times, from year to year in vastly different weather. For example, the rainy season in the Eastern Caribbean runs from, on average June to December. In some years this start could be very late as the second half of August and the season could end as early as November. So a much shortened wet season is likely. Compounded with a shorter season may be a drier (in total rainfall). In other years there is likely to be a earlier start or longer season with higher than normal rainfall totals. So that plant water availablility – in amounts and period of adequate availability – varies from year to year. Agricultural planners must be able to make adjustment for these different years to maintain high enough yields/income generation. Adapting to climate variability is essentially adapting to variation which is a part of the current climate itself – this is a variation you are or would have experienced. Adapting to climate change is adapting to a future climate which may well have a different means, extremes or degree of variation or some combination of these.



The sustainable livelihoods framework on rural livelihoods, defines adapting as the capacity to cope and recover from stresses and shocks while assets and capabilities are maintained or enhanced. Livelihood strategies are resilient when capabilities to cope with internal and external shocks and stresses exist. Thus, livelihood strategies that are diverse contribute to the capacity to withstand shocks in highland regions. Factors that contribute to resilience in the highlands are: the capacity for collective action or working together, for negotiating with markets to capture the stream of benefits created through the use of their assets and labor through the life cycle Capabilities are shaped by culture, society, resource endowments, the environment and global markets. An important element in capturing these benefits is human agency. In developing countries social inclusion and exclusion are reflected in legal institutions. The exclusion of groups results in looking to within to cope and adapt to change. Adapting to climate variability consists of the year to year responses in management strategies to build a resilient livelihood system. If climate change in the short term implies drastic variability and in the long term temperature and rainfall level changes, adaptation means the capacity of the livelihood system to incorporate new knowledge and technologies to respond to the environmental changes. Note that this process happens every year as farmers look and experiment with new and old technologies.



Adapting to climate variability means being able to change from usual activities accustomed to a regular climate pattern, to fit and survive in the expected different climate scenario of the place. Example: A region has maize as the main food crop, and when planted requires 4 consecutive months rainfall to mature. However due to climate variability, if the next rainfall season is expected to be of 3 months, either a maize variety that matures in 3 months should be planted, or plant a different food crop like sweet potatoes that will mature in that shorter rainfall season.
Climate variability relates more to change in average weather within seasons while climate change relates with change in average weather for a region for a long period.



In my understanding adaptation to climate variability is the ability to make changes in planning and/or routine operational decisions which will allow your operations to continue and not be completely disrupted by the extreme events. If one looks at rain onset dates in the Free State over the last 80 years – at least 5 times you will not receive enough rain during the specified period. How should the farmers plan for this?
The adaptation to climate change is usually a decision that is made that allows one to follow the trend in climate change and adapt to it (eg increase in temperature and/or decrease in rainfall). The adaptations needed for climate variability should be able to accommodate extreme events that are either higher or lower than the long-term mean value. So it is not to follow a trend in one or other direction but an ability to be able to absorb the extreme events on either side.



Adapting to climate variability (in my view) means: 1) assessing the impacts of climate variability on a resource of interest (e.g water, ag. forests…), 2) understanding how those impacts affect management/operational objectives at seasonal to inter-annual scales; and 3) developing operational procedures, policies, etc. that allow for consideration of impacts from climate variability and the flexibility needed t manage for those; impacts (so as to preserve operational/management objectives to the fullest extent practicable). I do not have my own example from my own experience, but the Climate Impacts Group has a nice example of how the City of Seattle responded to the 1998 drought versus previous droughts, where climate forecasts were not available for PNW water resources. I can provide a one-page summary of that experience if needed (too long to include here). I don't believe there is much of a difference in adapting to climate variability vs. climate change with the exception of two things: a) time scale for action, and b) time scale for getting decision-makers on board. The steps are fundamentally the same: (1) assess impacts, (2) understand (assess) how these impacts affect programming or operational objectives, and (3) develop policies that give you the flexibility to adjust to these changes. From a research perspective, it seems straightforward. But the reality is quite different. Decision-makers are very much struggling with how to work climate change into their programs. Some of this can be attributed to issue fatigue, the politics of climate change particularly where the resource manager may get real or perceived pressure from electeds or constituencies to stay away from climate change discussions), and/or the perception that thee issue does not require action now because the impacts will happen in the future. While managers seem to readily accept discussion of impacts and policies related to climate variability, it has and will take much longer to see the same action on adapting to climate change. (top)

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