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Autonomous adaptation to climate change: a literature review

Publication date:
A. Malik (ed)
Type of publication:

The global climate is already shifting and further significant change is expected in the coming decades. Studies on climate change have long focused on mitigation, although adaptation has drawn more attention in recent years. This literature review focuses on autonomous adaptation and starts by providing a conceptual framework for thinking about autonomous adaptation, including its definition, its relation and linkage with other types of adaptations, and the elements that will contribute to successful autonomous adaptation. It reviews empirical work and looks at various aspects of autonomous adaptation, such as perceptions of climate change, adaptation strategies, adaptation capacities, as well as the role of institutions. The paper reviews studies that have been carried out in Asia, Africa, and Latin America.In the conceptual framework, the review delves into the literature on:

adaptation strategies/methods which include mobility, storage, diversification, communal pooling and exchange
determinants of adaptation, barriers to adaptation, and adaptive capacity
elements of successful autonomous adaptation and government’s role
definitions of adaptation and 'autonomous adaptation'
empirical work – focusing on developing countries
perceptions of climate change
development and adaptation
adaptation and institutions.

The review highlights the following key points regarding some common themes across the various case studies:

governments should assist the poorest who are least able to adapt, to escape the 'poverty trap' because people are faced with multiple stresses in addition to the climate and so focusing only on climate related issues is not enough
some autonomous adaptation strategies increase people’s exposure to climate and other risks which calls for better information, guidance and other forms of assistance from the government
there should be more investment in research and development (R&D), especially developing new crop varieties
improve road and irrigation infrastructure
provide and improve extension services
provide local climate information.

The review also identifies the following ideas for future research:

more case studies
quantitative and qualitative analysis of cases
development of decision tools in the development-adaptation continuum framework
development of case studies and models for adaptive policymaking.