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Assessing adaptation options

Assessing possible adaptation options in terms of effects, time, costs, benefits and efforts

Decision makers should aim for ‘win-win’ (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) or at least ‘no-regret’ (worthwhile whatever the extent of future climate change will be) adaptation options. Each option needs to be assessed in two ways: a) to which extent will the option help to achieve the adaptation target and b) what are the impacts on broader social and environmental aspects.

The assessment of possible options and their comparison should include:

  • Identifying the risks the option addresses (i.e. each option may have an effect on or treat multiple risks) and by how much the option will likely reduce the risks;
  • The urgency of the climate hazard or risk that the option aims to mitigate. Some adaptation actions will be suited for the implementation in the short term to address urgent risks or opportunities; others will require lengthy preparation and planning. So considering the time frame to implement the option and when it shall become effective, reflecting identified risks and the range of urgency to act;
  • Performance against general and wider objectives and avoidance of mal-adaptation. Mal-adaptation refers to a situation when actions do not achieve their aims or cause side-effects that impede adaptation elsewhere or in the future. For example, building a dyke in one location can cause more flooding in another location and might prove inadequate protection for the flood levels of the future.
  • If the option is of incremental or transformative nature. Transformational adaptation involves questioning the effectiveness of existing systems and processes in light of changing circumstances. It is a way of adaptation that changes the fundamental attributes of a system in response to climate and its effects.
  • Addressing direct and indirect effects of the option in economic, environmental and social (i.e. the equality of protection against climate hazards as a result of a given adaptation option and its impacts on social inclusion and cohesion) terms (including effects on climate change mitigation) with an emphasis on potential benefits. Measures with multiple benefits should be preferred;
  • The link to climate mitigation measures. Measure that contribute to climate change should not be implemented.
  • An assessment of effectiveness and efficiency. Effective options reduce a particular vulnerability or number of vulnerabilities to a desired level. Efficient options are those whose benefits exceed costs and are more cost-effective than the alternatives;
  • Assessing costs and benefits to predict whether the benefits (e.g. avoided damage) of an option outweigh its costs, and by how much in relation to other alternatives (i.e. one can rank alternate options in terms of the cost-benefit ratio). All costs and benefits should be quantified where this is possible and meaningful, otherwise a qualitative assessment shall be delivered;
  • Considering the barriers to implementation of adaptation actions including budget required, the need of a policy change or introduction of legislation, the expected level of acceptance to stakeholders as well as the extent of research and development needed.

In order to assess feasible adaptation options, the analysis of costs and benefits is crucial. Estimates of costs and benefits are emerging, but vary substantially with the objectives of the study, and the aggregation level and sector. For further information on cost and benefit assessments, please see here.

Explore the Cost Benefit Database

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Highlighted resources

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The results of the assessment can be described in concise option factsheets, started with the creation of a portfolio that do not contain too much technical detail, but rather give a quick overview easily understood by non-experts. These factsheets can be very useful later for the prioritisation exercise (see next step). Information within the factsheets should be provided at least on the following points:

  • Adaptation option description
  • Which climate change impact(s) does the option address
  • The potential to reduce vulnerability to the identified climate change impact(s), effectiveness, flexibility to be upgraded or downgraded if necessary
  • Spatial scope, visual mapping
  • Information on which stakeholders’ participation is needed or recommended
  • Success and limiting factors (based on own experience or other cases)
  • Costs (implementing and operational) and economic benefits expressed in monetary terms
  • Social and environmental co-benefits or disadvantage, necessary remedial action
  • Financial resources required, investment timing and sources of funding
  • Time frame for planning and implementation until fully functional, operating lifetime
  • Responsibility for implementation and maintenance within the municipality departments or other institutions
  • Interlinkages with other proposed adaptation options, interchangeability, combinability
  • Reference information