WIREs Clim. Change http://doi.org/4cd (2015)

Politicians increasingly tout short-term climate adaptation as a 'no regrets' strategy. But it's becoming clear that such policies can sometimes unexpectedly increase vulnerability.

Lisa Dilling and colleagues from the University of Colorado Boulder and the National Center for Atmospheric Research, USA, surveyed over 150 pieces of literature that assess climate adaptation policies, including the latest Assessment Report of the IPCC. Policies were deemed to be no regrets options if they were “considered worthwhile in their own right, independent of climate change considerations”.

The researchers found that although many policies reduced vulnerability to current climatic events, they sometimes increased communities' vulnerability in other ways. For instance, building flood defences led to greater numbers of people living on flood plains, increasing exposure to catastrophic events should the defences be breached. In another case, Ghanaian workers started producing charcoal to supplement farming and fishing livelihoods that were at risk from climate change. But the charcoal production led to longer-term forest degradation that put the communities at greater risk.

Dilling and colleagues call for a more critical appraisal of supposedly no regrets climate adaptation policies. Such policies must be considered as part of a connected system, they argue, in an attempt to decrease overall vulnerability to future climatic events.