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Processes & Strategies for Adapting to Climate Change

A basic principle in adaptation planning is to integrate climate adaptation planning with the organization’s overall strategic planning, that is, adaptation to other environmental, economic, and social changes. This mainstreams climate risk as a normal aspect of risk assessment and planning. Climate risk is assessed for both standard projects and projects to prepare for climate change. This also means balancing adaptation and mitigation policies, strategies and investments, and particularly avoiding projects that increase GHG emissions. 

A Planning Process for Climate Adaptation

The basic steps in a regional process to plan adaptation to the impacts of climate change include:

1. Develop an organizational structure for planning.
2. Assess system vulnerability, risk level, and capacity.
3. Assess likely climate impacts.
4. Develop strategic plan for adaptation.
5. Implement the plan.
6. Evaluate performance and changes in risk patterns.

Who needs to be involved in climate adaptation planning?

Public agencies, business associations, major companies, and non-governmental organizations with responsibilities and interests in:
  • Water and energy resources;
  • Coastal, bay, and estuary regions;
  • Biodiversity and habitat;
  • Agriculture, fisheries, and food processing;
  • Forestry;
  • Human health care;
  • Tourism;
  • The built environment, infrastructure and planning;
  • Natural disaster management.
Details of the planning process:

1. Develop an organizational structure for planning.
  • Identify the organization that will act as home base for the adaptation process and recruit an initial set of stakeholder organizations from public and private sectors. Determine the level of capacity for adaptation planning in the system and the means for capacity building.
  • Develop channels of communication and action to involve people and stakeholder organizations in the planning and action processes of adaptation. Include a web site, speakers bureau, town meetings, involvement of schools and colleges, and media briefings.
2. Assess system vulnerability, risk level, and capacity.
  • Assess the capacity of natural systems to adapt to climate change. Identify current stresses affecting the region and its natural resources. This baseline vulnerability assessment studies issues such as deforestation, water scarcity, air quality, soil degradation, loss of wetlands, and exhaustion of aquifers.
  • Assess the capacity of current human systems to adapt, such as economic sectors, the transportation, water, and energy infrastructure, county and city master plans, and building codes.
3. Assess likely climate impacts.
  • Identify and prioritize likely impacts of climate variability and change that will either amplify or lessen current stresses, or create new ones. This can be done at two levels;
    • a) stakeholders identify climate impacts based upon their working experience and history of climate events and trends; and
    • b) interdisciplinary teams of experts and stakeholders conduct a scenario planning process based upon regional application of climate change models.
  • Create alternative scenarios for best case, middle case, and worst case possibilities for all key variables.

4. Develop strategic plan for adaptation.
  • Identify adaptation strategies that will address the likely impacts of climate change as well as the current stresses analyzed in step 3. Link these strategies with other important trends, like the transition to sustainable farming, energy and water efficiency, the implementation of renewable technologies, and sustainable land use master plans.
  • Prioritize adaptation strategies, projects, and plans according to the likelihood, intensity, and cost of climate impacts they address. Determine an appropriate balance between the effort and budget devoted to climate adaptation and mitigation activities.
  • Choose policies, investment strategies, and action plans in each of the major areas of adaptation to climate change. Identify the early no-regrets actions that will pay off, however climate change unfolds. Look for interventions that will achieve both climate adaptation and greenhouse gas reductions.
5. Implement the plan.
  • Assess the organizational structure and communication channels to assure clear responsibility for oversight and coordination of stakeholders.
  • Start with no regrets actions and steps responsive to climate impacts your system is already experiencing.
6. Evaluate performance and changes in risk patterns.
  • Set up an evaluation system with indicators of both the critical climate impacts and of your adaptation responses.
  • Modify and update plans, based upon the input from this monitoring and from scientific studies and scenarios.
Adaptation strategies

A Canadian guide to urban adaptation planning presents a useful classification of adaptation strategies, which we have amplified (
Adapting to Climate Change: An Introduction for Canadian Municipalities prepared by Canadian Climate Impacts and Adaptation Research Network.) 
  • Business as usual or no adaptation: Rebuild (with no subsidy), or abandon, structures damaged by climate events.
  • Prevent the loss: Adopt measures to reduce vulnerability, such as establishing building codes that requie structures to withstand greater winds, heavier precipitation, storm surges, and more frequent flooding.
  • Spread or share the loss: Spread the burden of losses across different systems or populations through incentives for climate insurance.
  • Change project location: Relocate coastal infrastructure further inland, outside of the risk zone.
  • Change the activity: Ban activities that are not sustainable under the emerging climate and indicate alternatives. For instance, prevent development on coastal land below a certain elevation and rehabilitate natural vegetation.
  • Enhance adaptive capacity: Enhance the resiliency of the system to improve its ability to deal with stress. Preserve or rehabilitate natural coastal systems that protect the shore. Develop riparian corridor wetlands to absorb upstream flooding.
Further content on adaptation strategies is under construction.
back to adaptation home page

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