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Identifying adaptation options

3.1 What are the possible adaptation measures for urban areas and how to collect them in a catalogue of potential measures?

As urban areas are a melting pot for human activities and often hit by several climate change impacts simultaneously, adaptation measures 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.

A catalogue of measures allows systematic collection of potential adaptation measures for a specific urban context or sector. It allows to classify the information found according to a fixed grid of attributes (e.g. costs, benefits, lifetime, acceptance) in order to compare and analyse these measures further (see STEP 4). 


Adaptation options can be retrieved from literature review and databases, from scientific experts and/or colleagues from other authorities, as well as through stakeholder involvement. Relevant measures can also be found in sector-specific development and risk management plans. In general adaptation options aim to:

  • accept the impacts and bear the losses that result from risks (e.g. managing retreat from sea level rise),
  • off-set losses by sharing or spreading the risks or losses (e.g. through insurance),
  • avoid or reduce exposure to climate risks (e.g. land-use planning, building new flood defences, or changing behaviours, location or activity),
  • exploit new opportunities (e.g. engaging in a new activity, or changing practices to take advantage of changing climatic conditions).

Another way of considering adaptation options is to think of the types of actions that can be taken. These may be:

  • managerial (e.g. introduce flexi-time work during heat waves),
  • strategic (e.g. commission new buildings with climate resilient design as part of planned capital building programme)
  • temporary (e.g. use large umbrellas to reduce solar heat gains),
  • technical / ‘grey' (e.g. refurbish building; enhance flood defences),
  • ecological / ‘green' (e.g. expanding green infrastructure)

The first three are also called ‘soft' adaptation measures, the last ‘green' measures and the rest ‘grey' adaptation measures.

In the last years several catalogues of measures have been developed by researchers, city networks or stakeholder organisations. These catalogues should form the basis for a catalogue that fits within the specific urban context. When compiling measures attention should be given to:

  • the vulnerabilities identified;
  • non-convention solutions and innovation (doing business as usual often hampers adaption);
  • a good mix of different types of options is selected (e.g. technical – non technical); and
  • that political preferences are left out.

Municipalities can also choose to focus on building ‘adaptive capacity' which involves developing the ability of people, authorities and sectors to respond effectively to climate change. This includes gathering and sharing information within the following areas:

  • undertaking research,
  • 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 a local funding mechanism,
    • providing good practice guidance, and
    • developing appropriate policies, plans and strategies.

For further discussion and a better communication with politicians and stakeholders, it is recommended that adaptation options are described briefly in fact sheets following a common structure. See Q4.1.


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