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Assessing adaptation options

4.2 Prioritising adaptation options and selecting preferred ones

Based on the assessments of possible adaptation options, a selection of the most suitable ones should be carried out. Most often a multi-criteria analysis (MCA) can prove useful for ranking and selecting preferred options. The preferred list of adaptation actions should also be agreed with stakeholders and stakeholders should be involved in MCA assessments in order to include different values and criteria in the assessment.

Such a MCA should include a set of criteria, such as:

  • urgency with respect to already existing threats
  • early preparatory action (to avoid future damage costs)
  • range of effect (options covering multiple risks might be favoured)
  • cost-benefit ratio
  • efficiency and effectiveness of the measures to deliver adaptation
  • time-effectiveness
  • robustness under a broad range of likely future impacts
  • flexibility for adjustments or reversibility in case of diverging developments
  • political and cultural acceptability
  • enhancement of learning and autonomous adaptive capacity, etc.

When uncertainty could become a reason for inaction, applying the principles of adaptive management (e.g. focus on flexible solutions, win-win options, robust measures under a range of possible scenarios) will facilitate decision-making (see How to factor in uncertainty?).

When it comes to selecting and prioritising appropriate adaptation options for implementation, a prudent approach begins by recognising that there are several viable options, and combinations of options, for effective adaptation. Some of them will be better suited to minimise the risks associated with implementation even in the face of associated uncertainties regarding the risks and benefits. These options are referred to as:

  • "No-regrets adaptation options" that are worthwhile whatever the extent of future climate change will be;
  • "Low-regrets options" that are adaptive actions for which the associated costs are relatively low and for which the benefits, although primarily realised under projected future climate change, may be relatively high;
  • "Win-Win options" are adaptation actions that deliver the desired result in terms of minimising the climate risks or exploiting potential opportunities but also have significant contribution to another social, environmental or economic goal;
  • "Flexible or adaptive management options" are those options that can be adjusted easily (and with low cost), if circumstances change compared to the projections made initially; and
  • "Multiple-benefit options" provide synergies with other goals such as mitigation, disaster risk reduction, environmental management or sustainability (e.g. ecosystem based approaches usually provide such multiple benefits).

Due to the broad range of potential future climate change impacts and their implicit uncertainties, multiple-benefits, no-regret and low-regret adaptation options should be favoured (see key principles). Examples include water saving devices in regions experiencing drought or insulation of buildings in regions exposed to heat waves. Insisting on options with multiple benefits can also facilitate the funding of related measures, by pulling resources and putting the emphasis on shared benefits which outweigh the costs of investments.

Climate-ADAPT database items

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