Climate action, like cutting pollution to get to net zero, gets a lot of attention as the main solution to our climate crisis. But we also need to address the impacts — by supporting communities to adapt and rebuild.

There are three ways the world needs to take action on climate change.

  1. Action to cut pollution and limit climate damage
  2. Climate adaptation and community resilience
  3. Supporting communities to rebuild from loss and damage

In Australia and around the world, people are already having to change how they live and work in the face of climate damage. 

Adapting, building resilience and supporting communities to rebuild from what they have already lost is an important part of the story.

But what does adaptation and resilience really mean? And how does the world compensate for ‘loss and damage’ from climate change impacts? 

“This is about providing relief, rehabilitation and support to those who are displaced forever."

What is climate adaptation?

Climate adaptation is when communities prepare for climate change impacts. It means helping communities get ready for climate-fuelled floods, storms, drought and fires.

Sydney_floods.jpgHawkesbury floods in NSW Photo: Chad Ajamian

It is one part of how we can protect people, livelihoods and our environment, and it’s how we become more resilient to impacts of climate damage that are already locked in. 

The world has already warmed around 1.1 C since pre-industrial times. In Australia, it’s closer to 1.4 C. It’s clear climate damage is here now, and there are some long-term climate impacts we need to deal with.

What climate adaptation looks like in Australia 

The Australian Government recently released their Climate Adaptation and Resilience Strategy.  

Communities are already taking on adaptation. For example: 

  • Traditional Owners working with land and fire management agencies to reintroduce proactive ‘cultural’ burning.
  • The ACT Government helping renters adapt their homes to extreme heat. Many local governments now have heatwave plans in place.
  • The Darwin Living Lab testing and evaluating how to keep communities cool for future tropical urban design.
  • Farmers developing new technologies and practices to better cope with less rain. 

Traditional burning can support a healthy climate Photo: Annette Ruzicka/MAPgroup

What climate adaptation looks like in other countries

Climate adaptation is especially critical for countries hardest hit by climate change, like Bangladesh and the Pacific Islands region. 

Wealthy countries like Australia have committed to support low-income countries build their adaptation and community resilience — and it’s their responsibility to do so.

Adaptation solutions around the world include

  • Building flood defences in flood-prone areas
  • Planting trees and creating green spaces in cities to reduce extreme heat 
  • Switching to crops that cope better with less rain
  • Setting up early warning systems for hurricanes and cyclones
  • Restoring sea grasses and mangroves to help protect communities from storm surges
  • Painting roofs white to help deflect heat

"We used to call them the ‘most vulnerable communities.’ I don’t say that anymore. I call them the first adapters. They’re the adapting to the realities of climate change as we speak,” says Saleemul Huq, Director of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD) in Bangladesh 

Any adaptation plan should be developed at a local level in collaboration with each country and their communities — there is no one size fits all. 

Traditional knowledge of Indigenous peoples must be included alongside broader community input and science too.

"I call them the first adapters. They’re the adapting to the realities of climate change as we speak."

africa_plants_climate.jpgFarmers adapt to drought-tolerant crops Photo: Vic Josh/Shutterstock

COP26 says money for adaptation is critical

Adaptation action must be scaled up quickly to help countries already dealing with extreme climate change impacts.  

At COP26, a Global Goal on Adaptation agreement aims to ‘enhance adaptive capacity, strengthen resilience and reduce vulnerability to climate change.’ 

Climate finance is going to play an important role in this goal. 

A pledge for $100 billion from wealthier nations was made in 2009 but plans to have it in place by 2020 have not been fully realised — 50% of that finance is meant to help developing countries with adaptation efforts. 

COP26 has brought new commitments on finance, including significant increases by the US, UK, EU and Japan. 

red_cross_COP26.jpgPreparedness is part of adaptation Photo: ChameleonsEye/Shutterstock 

At COP26, Australia increased its climate finance commitment to $2 billion, a boost of $500 million over five years from what has already been committed. More needs to be done to reach Australia’s estimated fair share of the USD$100 billion target which is AUD$4 billion annually.

Many countries around the world have already suffered from the impacts of climate change. 

An often overlooked climate change action is understanding what communities have already lost — and continue to lose — because of climate change. 

At COP26, acknowledging ‘loss and damage’ and providing compensation for communities is important for supporting climate adaptation and resilience. 

“This is about providing relief, rehabilitation and support to those who are simply displaced forever," says Harjeet Singh, Senior Adviser for CANI

What is loss and damage?

In climate change terms, ‘loss and damage’ describes the permanent loss and irreparable damage that results from climate change impacts. 

In 2020 alone, more than 30 million people were displaced from their homes due to climate damage. 

By 2030, the cost of loss and damage is estimated to be between $290 and $580 billion USD in low-income countries. 

Bangladesh.jpgClimate-fuelled floods in Bangladesh Photo: Sohel Parvez Haque/Shutterstock

What the world is doing about loss and damage

At COP26, a coalition of more than 100 countries bearing the brunt of climate change impacts are demanding stronger financial support from wealthy nations to address climate change impacts.

Scotland showed real leadership, announcing they would partner with the Climate Justice Resilience Fund to address loss and damage. 

This was backed by £1 million investment to help the world’s most vulnerable communities repair and rebuild after climate disasters. But the rest of the world must follow. 

fiji_flood.jpgAustralia needs to commit to supporting our closest neighbours Photo: ChameleonsEye/Shutterstock

Australia’s role in addressing loss and damage

Australia currently does not provide contributions towards loss and damage, despite calls from Torres Strait Islanders or our closest neighbours in the Pacific Islands

The TorresStrait8 have brought a human rights complaint against the Australian Federal Government to the Human Rights Committee of the United Nations over the Government’s inaction on climate change. 

The establishment of the National Recovery and Resilience Agency is a first step to respond to climate damage domestically. But much more needs to be done to support Australian and international communities as we all face increased impacts from climate change. 

Pj Jacobs

National Climate Change Campaigner