Identifying adaptation options

A detailed plan of action, setting out how, when and by whom specific adaptation measures should be implemented is crucial to achieve adaptation on the ground. To develop this plan of action it is important to identify potential adaptation options (in this step) and narrow them down (see Step 4)

This step assists national and sub-national authorities to identify potential adaptation options and collect relevant information for these options in a portfolio, which will facilitate further prioritisation of the options.

Adaptation options aim to address the previously identified concerns also arising from climate change vulnerability and risk assessments (see Step 2) to bring negative or adverse impacts of climate change at an acceptable level and can reduce the risks. Further, adaptation options may allow taking advantage of any positive opportunities that arise from climate change. Adaptation options can range from actions that build adaptive capacity (e.g. knowledge creation and sharing information, creating supportive institutional frameworks) or establish management systems and supportive mechanisms (e.g. better land management planning, insurance mechanisms) to adaptation actions implemented on the ground, e.g. physical or ecosystem-based measures. This step facilitates an exploration of potential adaptation options and helps to identify relevant actions.

Adaptation options can be categorized in grey, green and soft measures. Grey measures refer to technological and engineering solutions to improve adaptation of territory, infrastructures and people (e.g. refurbish building; enhance flood defences, increase capacities of sewage systems).

Green measures are based on the ecosystem-based (or nature-based) approach and make use of the multiple services provided by natural ecosystems to improve resilience and adaptation capacity (e.g. implementing or expanding green infrastructure for water runoff management or micro-climate moderation, widening rivers and create natural water retention buffers).

Soft options include policy, legal, social, management and financial measures that can alter human behaviour and styles of governance, contributing to improve adaptation capacity and to increase awareness on climate change issues. ‘Soft’ adaptation measures, including the following types: managerial (e.g. introduce flexi-time work during heat waves; facilitate working from home), strategic (e.g. commission new building with climate resilient design as part of planned capital building programme) or temporary (e.g. use large umbrellas to reduce solar heat increase).

Other ways to classify adaptation options are available; that proposed by the IPCC in its WG II AR5 report is one of the most commonly accepted (see Chapter 14: Adaptation needs and options). IPCC clusters adaptation options in three main categories, further divided in sub-categories: structural and physical options, social options and institutional options. The following classification system is used:

  • Institutional
    • Economic options
    • Government policies and programs
    • Laws and regulations
  • Social
    • Behavioural
    • Educational options
    • Informational
  • Structural /physical
    • Engineered and built environment options
    • Technological options
    • Ecosystem based options
    • Service options

Adaptation options can be aimed at:

  • accepting the impacts, and bearing the losses that result from risks (e.g. managing retreat from sea level rise),
  • off-setting losses by sharing or spreading the risks or losses (e.g. through insurance),
  • avoiding or reducing exposure to climate risks (e.g. building new flood defences, or changing location or activity),
  • exploiting new opportunities (e.g. engaging in a new activity, or changing practices to take advantage of changing climatic conditions).

Adaptation options need to cover a broad range of issues, including technological, informational, organizational, behavioural, ecosystem-based and socio‐economic at various governance levels, sectoral as well as cross‐sectoral. There are limits to adaptation and adaptive capacity for some human and natural systems at global warming of 1.5°C, with associated losses. Once the main concerns have been identified, possible adaptation options shall be collected.

This section facilitates an exploration of potential adaptation options and helps identify relevant actions, and their potential co-benefits.

Additional, the IPPC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5 °C, concludes that a wide range of adaptation options is available to reduce climate risks.

Building adaptive capacity involves developing the ability of people and systems to respond effectively to climate change. This includes gathering and sharing information from the following areas:

  • accessing research results or participating in research projects,
  • monitoring data and relevant information sources, and
  • raising awareness through education, sharing experiences and training initiatives, and
  • creating a supportive institutional framework, by e.g.:
    • changing standards,
    • amending legislation,
    • establishing funding mechanism(s)
    • providing good practice guidance, and
    • developing appropriate policies, plans and strategies.

When compiling measures attention should be given to:

  • choosing adaptation options responding to the vulnerabilities identified,
  • including also non-conventional and innovative solutions (doing business as usual often hampers adaptation),
  • creating a good mix of different types of options (e.g. technical and non-technical);
  • putting long-term goals above short-term political interests.

Please explore adaptation options here.