Looking out on a packed auditorium at the opening of the Adaptation Futures conference on Tuesday, the science writer Vivienne Parry noted the urgency of the topic all had gathered to discuss. The Paris Agreement sets makes adaptation and resilience-building a clear priority.

“The time now”, she said, “is for actions and solutions”. The “crème de la crème” of adaptation experts has gathered in Rotterdam, she added, “and the world is depending on you for its health, for its well-being, and for its livelihoods”.

Adaptation Futures is the biennial conference of the Global Programme of Research on Climate Change Vulnerability, Impacts and Adaptation (PROVIA ), an initiative hosted by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to guide and bring coherence to adaptation research worldwide. This year the European Commission and the Government of the Netherlands are co-hosts.

SEI Senior Research Fellow Richard Klein represented PROVIA on the 2016 conference steering committee, helping to shape the programme, and is speaking and facilitating discussions. SEI is a sponsor, with a booth, project displays, weADAPT demonstrations, and 16 staff attending, including Klein.

Richard Klein speaks at an event on adaptation technologies.“The size of this event, the diversity of the participants, and the depth and quality of the discussions show how far adaptation has come even just in the last decade,” Klein said. “We no longer have to explain why adaptation is important; the main focus now is on what works and how to implement it.”

In opening remarks (see video ), Melanie Schultz van Haegen, Minister of Infrastructure and the Environment of the Netherlands, noted that while there are “still many questions crying out for answers” on what the future “new normal” will be, it is clear that “climate change is going to impact our economic development and our quality of life as a whole, and those effects will trickle through every society and every economy”.

The key is to “stay a step ahead of the future”, she added. “Our challenge is to prevent disasters. Our goal is to make people and their societies and economies resilient.”

Ibrahim Thiaw, deputy executive director of UNEP, urged participants to focus on “using science for solutions in the real world today”, and he stressed that adaptation is not just a developing-nation problem. “There is a false impression that adaptation is for the poor only. Of course they are more vulnerable, but adaptation is a concern for all of us,” he said.

Christiana Figueres, who is stepping down as executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), encouraged participants to think more about “the personal level… the human level” of climate risk and adaptation as they go about their work (see video ).

Her eyes welling up with tears, she invited all to think of at least three women: perhaps a mother whose home was washed away by catastrophic floods; another expecting her first child amid a devastating drought in India; a 15-year-old girl in Kiribati who has seen her water sources salinated. “What is she going to do?” she said. “She wants to have children. She wants to have a future. And above all, she wants to have a future in Kiribati.”

“Think about the individual human, because that is where we have to make a difference,” Figueres concluded. Yes, achieving the Paris Agreement was important, “but that’s not where the work stops – that’s where the work starts”. Every morning, all who work on climate issues need to ask whether they are making life better for people like those three women. “It is not until we can answer that question with ‘yes’ that we have finished our work.”

Learn more about the conference »