Global adaptation challenges

Human-induced climate change is a global problem - both in terms of reasons and consequences. Consequences of the change complicate the lives of millions of people around the globe. The direct impacts of climate change are evident in coastal cities above all. The negative impacts of climate change are also threatening to vitiate the realisation of the United Nations' Millennium Development Goals.

Climate change is a global challenge

Problems, such as climate change, become global by two means: either they spread from one country to another, or the same problems concern a number of countries. Climate change shows characteristics of both: rising global temperatures affect all countries worldwide, even though the impacts of change vary greatly. The global development of greenhouse gas emissions, and the objectives for mitigating the emissions, are common concerns.

On the other hand, in a globalised world, distress in one area will inevitably influence others, too. Considered globally, climate change goes side by side with other major challenges of mankind: the economic development and development co-operation issues, human rights and refugee problems, and environmental issues. The change can also be reflected on global safety challenges. Naturally, all of the aforementioned challenges are closely interconnected through highly complex cause-effect relationships.

Global management of the climate issue forms part of the field of international politics. The Finnish Government's foresight report draws attention to the effects of climate change on trade policy, development co-operation, deforestation and demographic trends among others[1]. In the main, climate change has a negative impact on these issues. The success of global burden sharing in mitigating of and adaptation to climate change influences the impacts of these issues on the course of life in Finland.

The risk of climate change causing extensive refugeeism due to the environment or climate is estimated to be minor. In its report, the World Bank predicts [2] that the pressures caused by environmental catastrophes and long-term severe weather phenomena on people's livelihood will primarily be expressed as domestic migration. This migration, from rural to urban areas, and in rarer cases, to refugee camps, is often temporary. Social networks and to a certain extent, humanitarian organisations, offer temporary refuge for those in trouble[2]. However, at places climate change may impair living conditions permanently. In Europe, the direct impacts of climate change will probably be evident on the Mediterranean coast first.

Coastal areas particularly vulnerable

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), most global challenges of climate change involve water issues. This is the case in Finland, too [3]. Drought and reducing freshwater resources affect the dryer areas of the globe in particular. In coming decades, drought will be a severe problem in Southern Europe, too. Problems caused by drought will aggravate elsewhere, too, when the local rise in average temperature exceeds 1 to 3 degrees only[3].

The rise in sea levels presents another global challenge. Its impacts are more democratic in the sense that the rise in sea level threatens developed countries' major cities as well as developing countries - however, it should be noted that the sea level does not rise evenly around the globe, and coastline characteristics influence the consequences of rising sea levels markedly. Developed countries are certainly better able to prepare for change, but on the other hand, financial risks are huge in metropolises like London and New York. Human impacts are most severe in developing countries' low-lying river delta regions, such as those of the river Ganges and river Nile, where millions of people may be exposed to floods on an annual basis in future [3].

All in all, climate change threatens those already on the borderline of subsistence, thus threatening to increase poverty and famine. It also further burdens habitats already weakened by human activity, such as coastal wetlands and agricultural areas troubled by drought [3]. The impacts intensify in densely populated areas, particularly in large coastal cities on all continents.

Mitigation measures and support to developing nations facilitate alleviation of global impacts

In international climate negotiations, adaptation has gradually emerged alongside mitigation as a key response to the consequences caused by greenhouse gas emissions already realised. However, the United Nations Development Programme UNDP points out that the assets internationally allocated to developing nations' adaptation measures have so far been inadequate, and the financing arrangements are partly confusing from the viewpoint of applicant countries. The present challenge is to move from impact assessments through the assessment of local vulnerability towards concrete adaptation measures [4].

As in Finland, on the global scale, too, the price and possible benefits of adaptation measures are hard to assess because of great variation in regional impacts and adaptation capacity. In general, uncertainty still prevails in issues such as the non-monetary benefits of adaptation, links between mitigation and adaptation goals, more extensive cross-sectoral economic impacts, and the limits of the ability to adapt. It is particularly difficult to evaluate non-structural adaptation measures such as changes in market systems, or cultivation practices for instance [5]. The responsibility of developed nations for the consequences of climate change caused by their emissions in developing countries is a key moral issue [4].

The Finnish Government's foresight report on climate change and energy policy points out that support to human development will also strengthen the capacity of developing and less-developed countries to adapt [1]. Most costs of adaptation occur in at less-developed countries and a significant portion of these costs concern water management and health care issues [1], which already pose a challenge to the international community - with one sixth of the Earth's population, ie. almost one billion people, still lacking clean drinking water. Even more people are without functioning water and waste management [6]. Introduction of climate issues as part of development co-operation and its financing is one of the methods highlighted as a way of improving the situation, also from the viewpoint of adapting to climate change [1].


  1. Prime Minister’s Office. 2009. Government Foresight Report on Long-term Climate and Energy Policy: Towards a Low-carbon Finland. Prime Minister’s Office Publications 30/2009. 188 p.
  2. Raleigh, C., Jordan, L., & Salehyan, I. 2008. Assessing the Impact of Climate Change on Migration and Conflict. Social Development, The World Bank, Waschington, DC. 49 p.
  3. European Commission. 2009. Impact Assessment. Commission Staff Working Document Accompanying the White Paper Adapting to Climate Change. SEC(2009)387/2. 133 p.
  4. Schipper, L., Cigarán, M. P. & McKenzie Hedger, M. 2008. Adaptation to climate change: The new challenge for development in the developing world. UNDP, Environment & Energy Group. 41 p.
  5. United Nations Framewok on Climate Change UNFCCC. 2009. Potential costs and benefits of adaptation options: A review of existing literature. Technical paper. UN, FCCC/TP/2009/2. 80 p.
  6. UN-Water 2011. Statistics: Graphs & maps. Drinking water and sanitation.