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CIRCE Foundation Paper – part 1

Foundatation paper on adaptation options and screening. Suggested approach views adaptation as a socio-institutional process of learning and change that needs to be supported in innovative ways
Multiple Authors


This paper was developed as CIRCE project deliverable D13.2.1 “Foundatation paper on adaptation options and screening”. In summary, it is clear that while many people are working on issues of adaptation from different stand points, we are suggesting a particular approach that views adaptation as a socio-institutional process of learning and change that needs to be supported in innovative ways.

Background and Context

Adaptation is an ongoing process inherent in natural and social systems. When faced by changing circumstances, particularly when they become uncomfortable or undesirable, people, like plants and other animals, tend to change the way they are and/or do things so as to survive or benefit from the new conditions. Adaptations generally can be structural, physiological or behavioural in nature, and in the case of human climate adaptation, we are interested in exploring the options for behavioural change, which in some cases may in turn manifest as structural changes in the things we produce.

It is now widely acknowledged that society will need to invest in adapting to inevitable climate change, while continuing mitigation efforts to reduce the extent of these human induced changes in the climatic system. Whether or not regions, countries, sectors and communities can successfully adapt to climate change will determine whether they are in a position to make the most of any opportunities created as a result of a changing climate, and reduce the extent of likely adverse impacts associate with these changes.

This process of adaptation needs to be encouraged, enabled, supported and facilitated by those individuals and organizations in positions to do so, particularly as people recognize the value of proactive (as opposed to reactive) adaptation, taking action now to avoid unnecessary losses and expenses in the future. In addition to this we recognize that capacity to adapt is not equal among all groups (and neither are the contributions to causing these human induced climate changes) and therefore targeted support is necessary.

Countries in the Mediterranean will, like others, need to adapt in order to successfully overcome the challenges they face from a changing climate. A brief overview of the climate trends and main predicted impacts for the Mediterranean is given below.

Climate Trends

According to the IPCC 4th assessment report, climate trends in the Mediterranean are more robust than in many regions “the different climate models vary in the detail, but agree that the Mediterranean basin will become hotter and drier over the next century” (IPCC 2007a). The IPCC results for 2070-2099 for the A1b SRES scenario predict annual average warming of +2.2C-5.5C, with 1.7-4.6C winter warming and 2.7-6.5C of summer warming. Annual precipitation around the Mediterranean coast is likely to decrease 4-27% for the same period, and a reduction of 20% appears to be a typical response across models (IPCC 2007a)*. The frequency and duration of dry spells and heatwaves is also likely to increase.


The changes in temperature and precipitation are expected to reduce run-off in the Mediterranean by up to 23% by the 2020s and 36% by the 2070s, and increase the frequency, intensity and duration of droughts and forest fires. Water scarcity will be a major problem, particularly in N. Africa, where even under present climatic conditions, it is estimated that water extraction would exceed renewable levels in most countries by 2025 (IPCC 2007b). Sea-level will rise 0.09-0.88m by the end of the century, but local factors such as subsidence due to groundwater extraction and local tectonics may increase this by as much as 50% (IPCC 2007c). This will have major impacts on coastal ecosystems and heavily populated low-lying areas such as the Nile delta. An increase is heat-related morbidity is predicted, as events such as the 2003 heatwave in Europe that killed an estimated 35,000 people become more common towards the end of the century. Climate change is expected to contract the range of many tree and plant species and increase the vulnerability of Mediterranean ecosystems, with local losses of up to 62% of plant species in fragile ecosystems. Heat stress and reduced soil moisture will reduce crop yield and may change the viability of crops in certain areas. For example in Algeria wheat is currently grown along the coastal strip but production is frequently disrupted due to lower than average rainfall. Downscaled climate data for Algeria indicate that rainfall could decrease by 20-30% during the important autumn months at the beginning of the growing season (Oct-Dec) for the period 2046-2065 (SEI CCE 2008) and as much of this land is marginal for rainfed wheat production (FAO 2008) wheat production may become unviable. An increase is heat-related morbidity is predicted, as events such as the 2003 heatwave in Europe that killed an estimated 35,000 people become more common towards the end of the century.


A variety of adaptation measures are already in place in the Mediterranean to adapt either to current climate variability, or with a view to future climate change. These include, amongst others, water harvesting and conservation techniques, early warning systems for droughts and floods, improved seasonal forecasting, improved crop cultivars, strengthening and integrating regional management practices and improving conservation strategies (IPCC 2007b,c). There are a multitude of different adaptation options which exist, some of which are appropriate and will reduce vulnerability to future changes, and some of which may not be locally appropriate and may actually increase vulnerability of the system (Adger et al 2003). The purpose of this paper is to review the current literature on adaptation theory and where possible practice, although it must be noted that very little has been written on the actual practice, before outlining a framework for assessing vulnerability and screening adaptation options. The section on screening adaptation options will support Circe deliverable 13.2.2 to develop an open source core toolkit for identifying and evaluating adaptation options. The aim is to provide a process which gives guidance and support to stakeholders and allows them to make decisions on adaptation which are robust against a wide range of future changes.

Further Readings

For more details on the projected climate trends and impacts for the Mediterranean region please refer to the following IPCC chapters, or the UNFCCC National Communications of the relevant countries.

IPCC 2007a: Working Group I – Chapter 11: Regional Climate Projections

IPCC 2007b: Working Group II – Chapter 9: Africa

IPCC 2007c: Working Group II – Chapter 12: Europe

CIRCE Foundation Papers

CIRCE Foundation Paper – Part II Key Concepts

CIRCE Foundation Paper – Part III Socio-Institutional Learning

CIRCE Foundation Paper – Part IV Principles

CIRCE Foundation Paper – Part V Prototypes

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