Even if the emission of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases is effectively reduced around the world, we are already committed to a significant degree of climate change. Previously emitted greenhouse gases can remain in the atmosphere for a long time, affecting Earth's radiation balance years after they initially entered the atmosphere. By reducing emissions now the worst consequences of climate change may be avoided, but Earth’s inhabitants must still somehow adapt to the changes that are already taking place in our environment. In the context of geological time these changes are happening rapidly. We and many other organisms on Earth do not have the time necessary to evolve bodily adaptations to aid our survival. However, there are various other types of adaptation that can take place.
Anticipatory or proactive adaptation takes place before the projected impacts of climate change are observed. Many national militaries are performing studies, based on IPCC’s climate scenarios, to determine their role in anticipating and adapting to the social and political unrest that will likely arise from climate change. The insurance industry is developing risk-assessment tools based on climate variability and change.
Autonomous or spontaneous adaptation is a non-conscious adaptation triggered by ecological changes in natural systems and by market or welfare changes in human systems. Such adaptation can be seen when organisms move to higher latitudes or altitudes due to a warming climate.
Planned adaptation is the result of deliberate policy decisions, based on an awareness that conditions have changed or are about to change and that action is required to return to, maintain, or achieve a desired state. Tourism sectors in France, Austria and Switzerland have adjusted their skiing industries by making their own snow, moving their ski slopes to higher altitudes and using white plastic sheets to guard against glacial melt.