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.

Forests and Climate Change in Latin America: Linking Adaptation and Mitigation PDF icon 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. They also analyze the opportunities for mainstreaming adaptation–mitigation linkages into forest or climate change policies.

www_iconAdaptation 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.

www_iconAdaptation 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.

Are there social limits to adaptation to climate change? This 2009 paper by Neil Adgar and colleagues points out that while there is a recognised need to adapt to changing climatic conditions, there is an emerging discourse of limits to such adaptation. Limits are traditionally analysed as a set of immutable thresholds in biological, economic or technological parameters. This paper contends that limits to adaptation are endogenous to society and hence contingent on ethics, knowledge, attitudes to risk and culture.

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.

Adaptation: An issue brief for business This publication from the World Business Council for Sustainable development is focussed on providing an overview of adaptation from a business perspective. It describes potential impacts of climate changes, risks and opportunities for business, and why business should consider adaptation planning and measures. It summarizes intergovernmental efforts to promote adaptation in vulnerable regions and highlights areas in which business could have a role in promoting adaptation, both at community and global levels.

Understanding adaptation: what can social capital offer assessments of adaptive capacity? This paper from Mark Pelling and Chris High acknowledges that an increasing interest in social capital within the climate change community signals a positive movement towards a concern for the behavioural elements of adaptive action and capacity. But social capital is a slippery concept. In this paper the case is put forward for a critical engagement with social capital. There is need for an open debate on the dangers and opportunities that social capital presents. This paper discusses the formation, operation and utility of social capital and reviews options for future research agendas focused on communities of place and practice.


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.