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We must adapt to the changing climate

By adapting to climate change, we can alleviate the negative impacts of climate change and, at the same time, take advantage of the opportunities it presents. Climate change adaptation was adopted as an international objective in the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, but municipalities have a great responsibility for its practical implementation.
An underpass and traffic sign are partially covered by water due to the flood.
© Adobe stock

Finns are relatively well protected from the most serious consequences of climate change. Despite this, climate change presents significant risks also for Finland. Climate change has a significant impact on weather conditions, and thus on many industries and infrastructures. The consequences of climate change depend on the characteristics of each region, such as its location and the structure of the economy and population. It is therefore important that adaptation measures pay particular attention to local conditions. 

Active adaptation is needed alongside mitigation measures

Even if we succeed in reducing emissions and increasing carbon sinks, the impacts from this will not be visible for many years. Whatever happens, we must nevertheless adapt to our changing climate and environment. The longer it takes to curb our emissions, the greater the need for adaptation.

The purpose of adaptation is to reduce our vulnerability to the effects of climate change. Through adaptation measures, we can adapt to our changing living environments and also prepare for future changes. Proactive adaptation is more economical than responding to changes that have already taken place. For this reason, it is important that adaptation measures take into account the long-term impacts and consequences for different sectors of society. Nevertheless, our current resources may not be sufficient for responding to all impacts. 

Adaptation works best when combined with mitigation

Wherever possible, adaptation measures should be combined with climate change mitigation measures. The construction of new infrastructure and urban planning, for example, can often simultaneously take both objectives into account. 

Adaptation may sometimes conflict with mitigation, however, if adaptation measures lead to increased emissions. Air conditioning equipment installed for dealing with prolonged heatwaves, for example, can provide efficient cooling – but also consumes energy in the process.  

Climate change mitigation may call for major changes in daily life and eating habits. Adaptation to climate change can thus also be understood as adaptation to mitigation measures and to a new, more sustainable lifestyle. 

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Adaptation is needed in many sectors

Agriculture and forestry must adapt to changing climate conditions

Natural resource sectors face significant climate risks. Increased drought and heat increase the risk of large-scale forest fires, which can inflict losses on the forestry sector. So far, large-scale forest fires have been prevented by means of effective fire prevention, a dense forest road network, and forest management.  

Climate change also increases the challenges of agricultural production by lowering harvest yields and quality. The challenges faced by arable farming include heavy rainfall, the shortening and disappearance of frost cycles in Southern Finland and, in particular, the growing season’s higher temperatures and droughts, which increase evaporation. A further cause of crop losses are the increasing numbers of pests. Reindeer husbandry is another sector which is sensitive to the negative impacts of climate change. Climate change and changing weather conditions have a direct impact on the nutrition and well-being of reindeer and on practical reindeer husbandry work.

The agriculture sector can adapt to the impacts of climate change through for example water management, favouring diverse farming, and selecting farming varieties that are better suited to local conditions. 

The changing climate poses risks to infrastructure

The consequences of climate change on infrastructure are significant, as they also affect service reliability. Harsh weather events have already caused disruptions in the Finnish energy sector, particularly through damage caused to electricity distribution infrastructure. The functioning of the electricity network is important, for example, for the functioning of information networks. Transport and communication infrastructure is in general also directly exposed to weather impacts. Disruptions to transport and communications have knock-on effects on other sectors by disrupting information sharing and the transport of persons and goods. The risks of storm damage to electricity distribution and data transmission can be curbed through the use of underground cabling and by relocating power lines from forests to roadsides. 

Climate change increases challenges in water supply

Water supply services ensure the availability of clean water and effective purification of wastewater. The Finnish water supply sector is, in principle, well placed to adapt to climate change, but the challenges posed by floods, increasing surface run-off, rising average temperatures, changes in frost conditions and fluctuations in the quality of water resources may cause technical and water-quality issues in water management plants. Drought can cause problems with water sufficiency and quality, and heavy rainfall increases nutrient leaching in raw waters.

Climate-related health risks can be taken into account in construction work 

Climate change poses challenges for buildings that are not designed for the climate of the future. Climate change increases the humidity load on buildings, which in turn increases the risk of mould formation if this is not taken into account during the planning phase.  Furthermore, heatwaves present increasing risks for buildings and cities which have not been designed to deal with such temperature increases. Prolonged heatwaves increase the risk of heat-related illness and death, especially among vulnerable groups of people living in urban heat islands in dwellings where indoor temperatures cannot be reduced and ventilation cannot be improved.

Climate change also presents opportunities

As climate change has so many negative impacts, it is important also to effectively utilise any positive changes. The realisation of such benefits, however, requires investment in adaptation measures. In Finland and other cold areas in particular, global warming can have many different positive effects. It reduces heating costs, for example, during the colder parts of the year. Finland may also benefit increasingly from tourism, as the relatively cool summers and cold winters may be increasingly attractive to tourists in the future. 

The rise in temperatures also prolongs the growing season. This can be beneficial for water protection, for example, if plant cover increases in areas bordering on water bodies. A longer growing season may also benefit agriculture and forestry. The growth of forests is increasing, especially in the northern parts of the country. Increased forest growth may also lead to faster harvesting cycles and an increase in logging outturn. 

Adaptation to climate change also brings other kinds of opportunities. For example, innovation in green technologies and sustainable business models can boost jobs and competitiveness. In addition, flood prevention measures that increase the quantity of green areas can also improve the pleasantness of cities. 

Adaptation as part of climate policy

Adaptation sits alongside mitigation in international climate policy

Climate change is a global crisis, and tackling it requires international cooperation. Although adaptation is mostly local in practice, it is now also better taken into account in international climate policy. For example, the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, which was signed in 2015, included for the first time adaptation as an equal goal alongside mitigation. In the EU Member States, adaptation measures are also guided by the EU’s own adaptation strategy, which was published in 2021. 

Municipalities are responsible for implementation and costs

In Finland, climate change adaptation has been coordinated since 2015 as part of national climate policy. Adaptation is based on a national adaptation plan prepared under the leadership of the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry. The plan is drawn up together with other ministries, research institutes and regional actors, as adaptation is needed in almost all sectors. 

The practical responsibility for the measures lies mainly with the municipalities, as local conditions determine what kind of adaptation measures are needed. The costs of adaptation are therefore also mostly covered by the municipalities. At the same time, the benefits or harm resulting from good or poor adaptation are also seen at the local level. There are many differences between Finnish municipalities in terms of adaptation. In most large municipalities, adaptation has either already begun or the needs for it have been identified, but in many smaller municipalities adaptation is only in the early stages. 

In urban planning, green structures play a particularly important role in climate change adaptation. Urban parks and vegetation improve the management of stormwater, for example, as well as reducing urban heat levels. At the same time, extensive green structures increase carbon sinks and promote diversity in urban nature. Factors such as humidity and heat are also important to take into account in construction projects.  

Justice in climate change adaptation

Justice and fairness have become increasingly central objectives in adaptation policy. When planning adaptation measures, it is important to take into account the distribution of benefits and disadvantages between regions and people. Just adaptation policy should also take into account inequality between groups of people and any special needs they may have. In addition, everyone should have equal opportunities and resources for being heard and participating in decision-making. 

You yourself can adapt to changing climate conditions

You can promote climate change adaptation through your own everyday choices. Property owners can find out how to best protect their property from flood damage, for example, and how indoor temperatures can be reduced if needed during hot periods. Everyone should also be prepared for longer power outages and problems with the availability of commodities. Taking the relevant personal adaptation steps can also reduce the burden on public services. At the same time, it must be recognised that socio-economic status determines to a large extent the vulnerability of different people and thus also their options for adaptation. 

Read more about climate change

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Climate Guide
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Finnish Environment Institute (Syke)