Managing adaptation in a changing world

Adaptation is a word often used in conjunction with climate change, but it is something that society has always done. Adapting to (any) change means adapting the way we do things – in all areas of our lives – to respond to the changing circumstances. It means not only protecting against negative impacts, but also making us better able to take advantage of any benefits. For example the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) defined adaptation as “any adjustment in natural or human systems in response to actual or expected climatic stimuli or their effects, which moderates harm or exploits beneficial opportunities”.

Adaptation planning will be more effective if it is systematic and strategic. As the (Australian DoE) Adapting to Climate Change introduction points out, such an approach will need to engage stakeholders, identify and set priorities for action, assign responsibility for action and monitor implementation, and keep adaptation strategies under regular review. More emphasis will be required to be strategic about planning and risk management. Attention needs to be paid to address the linked concepts of community vulnerability and resilience. Adaptation will probably require a special focus and dedicated resources, but must build into existing practices and strategies. One outcome of adaptation planning may be to modify existing practices and policies. The following links lead to more information on adaptation within the wider governance environment. Another page in this section provides information on adaptive management as a particular form of adaptation.

Towards a heuristic for assessing adaptation knowledge: impacts, implications, decisions and actions
Nicholas Cradock-Henry, Franca Buelow, Stephen Flood, Paula Blackett and Anita Wreford (2019) Environmental Research Letters
Climate change poses a significant challenge to primary industries and adaptation will be required to reduce detrimental impacts and realise opportunities. Despite the breadth of information to support adaptation planning however, knowledge is fragmented, obscuring information needs, hampering strategic planning and constraining decision-making capacities. In this letter, the authors present and apply the Adaptation Knowledge Cycle (AKC), a heuristic for rapidly evaluating and systematising adaptation research by analytical foci: Impacts, Implications, Decisions or Actions.

Adaptation knowledge for New Zealand’s primary industries: Known, not known and needed
Nicholas Cradock-Henry, Franca Buelow, Stephen Flood, Paula Blackett and Anita Wreford (2019) Climate Risk Management
Climate sensitive primary industries including pastoral farming, high-value horticulture and viticulture are central to Aotearoa-New Zealand’s economy. While advances have been made in understanding the impacts and implications of climate change critical knowledge gaps remain, particularly for adaptation. A detailed assessment of adaptation knowledge identifies critical research gaps and emerging needs. Results show research to date has focused almost exclusively on understanding the impact of climate variability and extremes on land management. There are significant empirical (e.g. location and sector) and methodological (e.g. integrated assessments, scenarios, and vulnerability assessment) gaps, for at risk regions and sectors, and limited understanding of the decisions and actions necessary to enable successful adaptation. To inform future adaptation planning, additional work is required to better understand the implications, decision-making processes and obstacles to action.

PDIAtoolkit: A DIY Approach to Solving Complex Problems
The Problem Driven Iterative Adaptation (PDIA),toolkit by Salimah Samji, Matt Andrews, Lant Pritchett and Michael Woolcock (2018) provides a step-by-step approach which helps you break down your problems into its root causes, identify entry points, search for possible solutions, take action, reflect upon what you have learned, adapt and then act again. It is a dynamic process with tight feedback loops that allows you to build your own solution to your problem that fits your local context. PDIA is a learning by doing approach. Also see the short description of the process at Building capability by delivering results: Putting Problem-Driven Iterative Adaptation (PDIA) principles into practice.

Forests and Climate Change in Latin America: Linking Adaptation and Mitigation
Climate change can be addressed by mitigation (reducing the sources or enhancing the sinks of greenhouse gases) and adaptation (reducing the impacts of climate change). Mitigation and adaptation present two fundamentally dissimilar approaches whose differences are now well documented. Forest ecosystems play an important role in both adaptation and mitigation and there is a need to explore the linkages between these two options in order to understand their trade-offs and synergies. This paper by Bruno Locatelli and colleagues presents examples of linkages between adaptation and mitigation in Latin American forests. Through case studies, the authors investigate the approaches and reasons for integrating adaptation into mitigation projects or mitigation into adaptation projects.

Adaptation emerges as key part of any climate change plan
This easy to read report by Bruce Stutz notes that after years of reluctance, scientists and governments are now looking to adaptation measures as critical for confronting the consequences of climate change. And increasingly, plans are being developed to deal with rising seas, water shortages, spreading diseases, and other realities of a warming world. This report is part of the Yale Environment 360 publication produced by the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies.

These pages from the UK Climate Impacts Programme (UKCIP) provide an introduction to adaptation. They talk about diffferent ways of classifying adaptation: by drivers, by how they contribute to either actions or capacity, and by the type of risk involved. Common barriers that work against adaptation are also discussed. Another good introduction to adaptation to climate change is provided by the US Environmental Protection Agency.

Climate change adaptation and development: Exploring the linkages
This 2007 Tyndall Centre working paper by Lisa Schipper addresses the new adaptation discourse, arguing that work on adaptation so far has focused on responding to the impacts of climate change, rather than sufficiently addressing the underlying factors that cause vulnerability. While there is a significant push all around for adaptation to be better placed in development planning, the paper finds this to be putting the cart before the horse. A successful adaptation process will require adequately addressing the underlying causes of vulnerability: this is the role that development has to play. This work results from research aimed at exploring the international discourse adaptation to climate change and the meaning of adaptation to climate change in the context of development.

Canadian communities’ guidebook for adaptation to climate change – Including an approach to generate mitigation co-benefits in the context of sustainable development
This guidebook by Livia Bizikova, Tina Neale and Ian Burton explores the potential for adaptation to climate change by suggesting a process closely tied to on-going planning cycles to help decision-makers in incorporating responses climate change into their local development initiatives. The authors’ intent is that this guidebook will be of use to planners, decision-makers, local practitioners and to anyone interested in responding to climate change and building a resilient community. This Guidebook emphasizes the importance of being proactive in creating responses that prepare communities for future climatic, policy and development challenges. The Guidebook provides additional reference materials, including: information on how to interpret the consequences of climate change; an extensive list of adaptation options available; a list of published guidebooks; and several other resources available for consultation.

Climate change adaptation by design: a guide for sustainable communities
This 2007 report by Robert Shaw, Michelle Colley and Richenda Connell aims to communicate the importance of adapting to some degree of inevitable climate change, and to show how adaptation can be integrated into the planning, design and development of new and existing communities. Drawing on research just published as part of the Building Knowledge for a Changing Climate programme, the guide uniquely considers how adaptation options are influenced by geographical location and the scale of development. It considers the interrelated roles of the planning system, communities, other stakeholders and delivery bodies. It seeks to ensure a better understanding of climate risks while demonstrating effective adaptation strategies through case studies from around the world.

Addressing human vulnerability to climate change: Toward a’no regrets’ approach
This paper by Rasmus Heltberg, Paul Bennett Siegel, and Steen Lau Jorgensen presents and applies a conceptual framework to address human vulnerability to climate change. Drawing upon social risk management and asset-based approaches, the conceptual framework provides a unifying lens to examine links between risks, adaptation, and vulnerability. The result is an integrated approach to increase the capacity of society to manage climate risks with a view to reduce the vulnerability of households and maintain or increase the opportunities for sustainable development. We identify’no-regrets’ adaptation interventions, meaning actions that generate net social benefits under all future scenarios of climate change and impacts. We also make the case for greater support for community-based adaptation and social protection and propose a research agenda.

Most of the resources here on adaption are of use to planners, decision-makers, local practitioners and to anyone interested in responding to climate change, they will also help in building a resilient community.