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Image Banner: Climate Change: Adaptation critical as global warming accelerates


Video: Saving Lake Chad. Once the sixth largest freshwater lake in the world, Lake Chad used to cover more than 10,000 square miles. Today, it is one-fifth of its original size due to extremely warm temperatures and changed rainfall patterns. 2008. UNTV

Scientists are reporting alarming new evidence that the earth is warming faster than previous studies have projected. Studies expanding on the 2007 findings of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) now suggest most of the Arctic ice could melt away in 30 years. While there is wide international recognition that greenhouse gas emissions must be drastically reduced, climate experts say greater attention must be devoted to creating strategies to adapt to a rapidly warming planet. Adaptation programmes launched by the UN in 2008 have set in motion various approaches to reduce the destructive impact of climatic shifts already under way.


The Story

Millions of people are already experiencing the impact of climate change, as extreme weather conditions trigger more frequent floods, droughts, forest fires, and catastrophic storms. Some small island-nations and coastal regions confronted with the prospect of losing land to rising sea levels have begun contemplating ways to relocate their citizens. Farmers in regions prone to drought and typhoons are adjusting planting schedules to adjust to changing rainfall patterns and shortened growing seasons. Countries hardest hit by typhoons and hurricanes are making substantial investments to improve warning systems, disaster education and evacuation plans to try to minimize the impact of extreme weather events on their lives and livelihoods. 

Recent studies suggest climate-related changes are occurring at more rapid rates than previously suggested. Scientists now say global warming is likely to bypass a 2-degree Celsius rise above pre-industrial levels that has been regarded as the maximum level to avoid dangerously high sea levels, floods, and heat waves. Temperatures are already up 0.7 Celsius.
Since the landmark IPCC report in 2007 established scientific consensus that climate change is driven by greenhouse gases linked to human activities, there has been consistent evidence that weather patterns are indeed changing and resulting in more floods, droughts and higher temperatures. The year 2008 is likely to rank as the 10th warmest year on record in the last 150 years. Adaptation strategies to lessen the impact of climate change will be more critical than ever to save lives and bolster our resilience to natural disasters and other environmental changes caused by global warming.

As the world looks ahead to the December 2009 negotiations in Copenhagen for a new climate change agreement that would enter into effect after the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012, scientists and climate policy experts are increasingly emphasizing the need for adaptation strategies to reduce the impact of climate-related disasters. The Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC), a group of key UN and non-UN aid agencies, is pushing for the Copenhagen negotiations to address the humanitarian impacts of climate change and the special needs of vulnerable communities already suffering from poverty, hunger and disease. 

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has urged governments to boost adaptation efforts, stressing adaptation should not be seen as an added cost, but as an essential investment in our collective future. Various UN initiatives are under way to support developing countries with information and technology to bolster disaster risk reduction efforts, a first line of defense against the impacts of climate change.


The Context

  • Recorded disasters related to extreme weather have doubled in number from 200 a year to more than 400 over the past two decades.
  • The numbers of people affected by disasters have risen sharply over the past decade with an average of 211 million people directly affected each year, nearly five times the number affected by armed conflict in the same period.
  • In 2007, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimated that by 2100, sea levels could rise by anywhere between 7 and 23 inches. Since the IPCC study, other indications suggest that rises could be as much as five feet by the end of the century. The governments of small island-nations like the Maldives in the Indian Ocean and Kirabati in the Pacific have begun considering options for relocating their citizens.
  • IPCC projections indicate that for some countries in Africa, yields from rain-fed agriculture could fall by up to 50 per cent by 2020, threatening the survival of large populations dependent on semi-subsistence farming.
  • The UN’s International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR) has called for enhanced disaster reduction responses and preparedness to respond to the humanitarian challenges posed by mass displacement and migration of populations as a result of prolonged droughts, floods and storms. In 2008 alone, more than 20 million people were displaced by climate-related natural disasters, according to a study by OCHA and the Norwegian Refugee Council’s Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre.
  • The World Meteorological Organization launched a new information outreach network in 2008 to help policy makers use climate data to formulate adaptation strategies. In sub-Saharan Africa, the UN Environmental Programme (UNEP) and UN Development Programme (UNDP) are providing financial and technical assistance to promote partnerships and regional cooperation on climate change adaptation efforts and to integrate global warming adaptation measures into national development projects.
  • UNEP undertook an evaluation of two dozen adaptation measures applied in different settings around the world. In Zambia, UNEP researchers found drought adaptation measures – such as the introduction of new crop varieties, irrigation and fertilizers – could help farmers increase crop yields. In other regions prone to drought, UNEP researchers proposed water-saving irrigation strategies, conservation of soil moisture through the use of plastic films and deep plowing methods.
  • A World Bank drought adaptation initiative in India is assisting the state of Andhra Pradesh in groundwater management and conservation efforts and helping to integrate adaptation incentives into existing relief programs.
  • The 1997 Kyoto Protocol, an international and legally binding agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, entered into force in February 2005 and its first commitment period expires in 2012. Under this treaty, signed by 184 countries at present, industrialized countries have committed to reducing their emissions by 2012, by an average of 5 percent compared with 1990 levels.


United Nations Department of Public Information (UNDPI):
Dan Shepard, Senior Information Officer for Climate Change
Tel: +1 212 963 9495
Send an email


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Honduras: Banana crop destroyed by Hurricane Mitch, which caused irreparable loss of life and damage to Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala and El Salvador in October 1998. Recorded disasters related to extreme weather have doubled in number, from 200 a year to more than 400 over the past two decades. FAO/L. Dematteis The UN is working to mitigate deteriorating conditions in some of the driest countries of the world, including Yemen, where this river bed is part of an extreme arid zone characterized by long droughts and sand dune encroachment. FAO/Rosetta Messori An aerial view of Sundarbans, Bangladesh, 2008, showing damage from Cyclone Sidr which devastated the lives some 6.7 million people. Ambassador Fazlul Karim of Bangladesh told the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization that such natural disasters should serve as a wake-up call to the need to develop ways of helping vulnerable countries face the challenges of climate change. FAO/Giulio Napolitano Bangladesh is affected by both drought and flooding. The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization is working to help people to adapt to climate variability and change, to develop sustainable livelihoods, and to prepare for natural disasters. One example is this project in Prosadapur Village, Gomostapur district, to make biofuel from cow manure. FAO/Giulio Napolitano