30 January 2018 14:40

Climate change is already wreaking havoc on many people around the world, and adaptation is their only hope for survival, according to researchers publishing in Nature Climate Change this week.

Dr Christina Hicks of Lancaster University was part of the research team. She said: “Coral reefs are increasingly impacted by climate change, and these changes have a knock on effect on people’s livelihoods. For example, rising sea surface temperatures can bleach and kill a coral reef, which is likely to reduce the fish available to local fisheries and possibly damage the tourism industry.”

Professor Joshua Cinner from James Cook University’s ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies led the research.

He said: “Millions of coastal people in the tropics have been affected by the global coral bleaching event that unfolded over the previous two years. We need to find ways to help these people adapt to change.”

The international group of social scientists from the USA, Australia, UK, and Chile reviewed evidence on what works for coastal communities based on existing studies across the world, from Central America to the Pacific to develop a five point strategy for building up people’s ability to adapt to climate change:

  1. Ensuring that people have the assets to draw upon in times of need. These assets can include household wealth or public goods such as health services, but these need to be developed in ways that don’t exacerbate existing inequalities.
  2. Providing the flexibility to change. “Having some flexibility can enable people to minimise losses or even take advantage of climate-related change,” said Dr Christina Hicks of Lancaster University. “For example, fishers might need to change fishing grounds or target new species.”
  3. Learning about climate change and adaptation options. “People need to learn about new techniques and strategies that can help them cope with changing circumstances,” said Professor Katrina Brown at the University of Exeter, UK.
  4. Investing in social relationships. “The formal and informal relationships that people have with each other and their communities can help them deal with change by providing social support and access to both knowledge and resources,” said Dr Michele Barnes from James Cook University’s ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies.
  5. Empowering people to have a say in what happens to them. “We also need to ensure that people have the ability to determine what is right for them,” said Professor Brown.

 The paper "Building adaptive capacity to climate change in tropical coastal communities" was published in the February 1 issue of Nature Climate Change. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41558-017-0065-x