What does adaptation mean?

The aim of  adaptation to climate change is to reduce societies' vulnerability to the impacts of climate change. It is possible both to decrease the adverse impacts and to take advantage of the beneficial impacts of climate change, through the use of well-planned adaptive measures.

Adaptation means preparedness to live with climatic changes

Adaptation means anticipating the changes in climatic conditions and the effects of these changes. The word adaptation is an established, official term. As such, the word 'preparadness' probably describes the active nature of adaptation work better. Reviewing the vulnerabilities of one’s own sector and possible benefits to be derived from climate change is part of adaptation.

The discussion around climate change has concentrated on mitigation a lot, i.e. preventing or slowing down the change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions. In 2001, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC, published their third assessment report which gave rise to discussion on the need to prepare for the global effects of climate change. Nowadays, adaptation to change is seen as an important part of climate policy alongside mitigation measures.

Change in climatic conditions is gradual and can already be seen in part, for example in changes to the ranges of plant and animal species [1]. We must be prepared for change to continue, because up until now there have been no significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. Furthermore, reductions in emissions affect the climate system after a lag of decades. Therefore, Finland’s climatic conditions will inevitably change over the coming decades, whether we are able to move towards a more sustainable lifestyle or not.

To avoid danger or to prepare for damage?

There are two approaches to adaptation to climate change; planned and reactive. The best is to take action in advance with regard to developments that will increase the damage caused directly or indirectly by weather phenomena. For example, restricting building on land that is potentially sensitive to flooding or on weak soil areas is planned adaptation.

However, adaptation measures commence in many cases only after various extreme weather phenomena have exposed one’s own vulnerability. Particularly for very exceptional weather phenomena that are difficult to predict, for example powerful storms and torrential rain, one may have to rely on reactive adaptation. That means minimising damage in exceptional circumstances, for example through rescue operations. Climate change will affect day to day rescue operations by changing the profile of accidents. In planning measures to be taken, it is important to review risks and their management from the perspective of sustainable development [2].

Reviewed from a broad perspective, adaptation covers dealing with changes in society caused by climate change mitigation. [3]. Adaptation is a long process of living with changing circumstances and, eventually, values.

Growth of built-up areas and accumulation of wealth increases vulnerability of societies.

Vulnerability of areas and communities refers to their sensitivity to the adverse effects of climate change. According to the IPCC definition, vulnerability depends on the nature of climate change, its strength and speed and, on the other hand, the sensitivity of societies to change and their capacity to adapt [4].

Viewed from a global perspective the major challenge is that those that are most vulnerable to climate change are already at the limits of subsistence. Natural environments that are now overloaded are also sensitive to change. These include areas of the globe that suffer from drought, coastal wetlands and the major coastal cities [1][5].

The role of mankind is critical in respect of vulnerability. Economic losses resulting from natural catastrophes have increased significantly over the past few decades [6]. For the most part, the reason is that areas that are exposed to catastrophes such as floods from torrential rainfall or coastal floods have larger and larger populations and there is more and more wealth tied up in their properties and infrastructure.


  1. IPCC. 2007. Summary for Policymakers. In: Climate Change 2007: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. Contribution of Working Group II to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Parry, M. L., Canziani, O. F., Palutikof, J. P., van der Linden P. J. & Hanson, C. E. (Eds.)] Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK: 7-22. http://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment-report/ar4/wg2/ar4-wg2-spm.pdf
  2. Pelastusopisto. 2010. Pelastustoimen tutkimusohjelma (PETU) 2010–2014. http://www.intermin.fi/pelastus/home.nsf/www/tutkimusohjelma [Page not found.]
  3. Prime Minister’s Office. 2009. Government Foresight Report on Long-term Climate and Energy Policy: Towards a Low-carbon Finland. Prime Minister’s Office, Helsinki. Prime Minister’s Office Publications 30/2009. 188 p. http://vnk.fi/julkaisu?pubid=3754
  4. Adger, W. N., Agrawala, S., Mirza, M. M. Q., Conde, C., O’Brien, K., Pulhin, J., Pulwarty, R., Smit, B. & Takahashi, K. 2007. Assessment of adaptation practices, options, constraints and capacity. In: IPCC.2007. Climate Change 2007: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. Contribution of Working Group II to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. [Parry, M. L., Canziani, O. F., Palutikof, J. P., van der Linden P. J. & Hanson, C. E. (Eds.)] Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK: 717-743. http://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment-report/ar4/wg2/ar4-wg2-chapter17.pdf
  5. European Commission. 2009. Impact Assessment. Commission Staff Working Document Accompanying the White Paper Adapting to Climate Change. SEC(2009) 387. 133 p. http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=SEC:2009:0387:FIN:EN:PDF
  6. Munich Re. 2011. Great natural disasters since 1950. http://www.munichre.com/en/reinsurance/business/non-life/georisks/natcatservice/great_natural_catastrophes.aspx [Page not found.]