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Assessing risks and vulnerability to climate change

2.4 How to assess adaptive capacity?

Adaptive capacity refers to "the ability of a (human) system to adjust to climate change (including climate variability and extremes), to moderate potential damages, to take advantage of opportunities, or to cope with the consequences". Adaptive capacity is a function of available financial recourses, human resources and adaptation options, and will differ between risks and sectors. For example, a region that is well prepared to cope with floods may be taken aback by a heat wave. This section provides guidance on assessing adaptive capacity.  

Income indicators (such as GDP), education statistics, availability (or lack) of impact data, appropriate emergency response, business continuity schemes or overall adaptation strategies planned are all indicators that could be used to assess adaptive capacity. A number of other factors contribute to this capacity, including leadership and the experience of an administration in implementing a specific adaptation option. When assessing adaptive capacity there is a need to be clear about the scale of the assessment. The abilities of people and ecosystems at a local or regional level to respond to climate change may be significantly different from those observed at a national level. 

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