As policy-makers struggle to define the policy agenda to address the challenge of climate change, three distinct influential approaches to climate policy are emerging in the climate change literature: implementing climate change adaptation; reducing social vulnerability; and managing ecosystem resilience. Each of these approaches has been developed in specific policy contexts associated respectively with natural hazard mitigation, poverty and social welfare investment, and natural resource management. In these contexts each approach has met with varying levels of past success. The fact that climate change is characterized by a high probability of surprise events; significant scientific uncertainty; and a need for long-term planning horizons only makes policy development more difficult.
In this chapter we argue that each of the three approaches involves implicit trade-offs in both the process of policy formation and in policy outcomes. These trade-offs are rarely considered in the evaluation of policy options, yet may have important implications for social welfare and sustainability. Through the analysis of case studies of adaptation to climate variability and change, we illustrate how the different ways of approaching the process of adjusting to future change can inadvertently lead to, for example, the privileging of efficiency over equitable distribution of resources (for example, risk-based adaptation approach), equity at the expense of cost (for example, social vulnerability approach), or intergenerational equity over political legitimacy (resilience approach).
In the next section, we first create caricatures of the three approaches to climate policy: risk-based adaptation, vulnerability and resilience.