3.3 Adaptation at the global scale

Author: Sebastian Weissenberger

A comparison of adaptation strategies all over the world reveals that the three strategies explained above – protection, accommodation and retreat (but not so often precaution!) – are all adopted, depending on the particular situation of countries and regions. Often, they are used in combination with each other. As can be expected, affluent countries often resort to protection as the main strategy, especially in the presence of high value infrastructure on the coast, as in the case of London, Venice or in the Netherlands. In less affluent countries, accommodation is more common and often multifaceted. Bangladesh is often seen as an example of efficient adaptation, managing with limited means to achieve spectacular results through good planning, early action, population participation and favouring research. Retreat is rarely considered as a proactive or voluntary measure. However, certain small insular and oceanic states are well aware that due to their geographic situation and in the presence of continuing sea level rise, retreat will be inevitable over the long run.

Such a clear dichotomy separating affluent and not affluent states with respect to their adaptation strategies would however be an oversimplification. Most coastal zones practice a mix of adaptation strategies. Developing or emerging nations like Bangladesh or Indonesia do rely on protections as well as other measures. On the other end, the Netherlands, traditionally the very symbol of dike-building skills and nationwide protection, is increasingly turning to accommodation and, differential zoning and the creation of buffer zones including limited retreat. It thus becomes clear that the changing climate forces coastal communities to constantly re-evaluate their adaptation strategies, and indeed their whole modes of development and of land occupation and use. In that context, the exchange of information between coastal regions on their experiences, their successes and their failures in adapting to climate change and coastal risks, can be highly valuable.