PROVIA Guidance on Assessing Vulnerability, Impacts and Adaptation to Climate Change

Submitted by Michael Rastall | published 12th Nov 2013 | last updated 17th Mar 2020

This guidance aims to meet a growing demand for knowledge on climate change vulnerability, impacts and adaptation by providing clear technical guidance that combines robust science with explicit consideration of user needs at the local, national and international levels, in both developed and developing countries.

The conceptual basis, the decision trees and the methods and tools included in the PROVIA Guidance build on research conducted within the project MEDIATION: Methodology for Effective Decisionmaking on Impacts and Adaptation, funded by the European Commission’s 7th Framework Programme.

PROVIA has updated and improved on existing guidance, discussing key issues at each stage of the adaptation cycle and covering the wide array of approaches, methods and tools available to address them. The resulting materials should be useful to researchers, adaptation practitioners, planners and policy-makers alike. The PROVIA Guidance is meant to be informative rather than prescriptive, and is conceived as a “living document”: the current version is a consultation document that will benefit from feedback from users.


Climate change poses a wide range of risks and, in some cases, opportunities to human and natural systems around the world. In order to understand and address these risks and opportunities, stakeholders need clear technical guidance that combines robust science with explicit consideration of user needs at local, national and international levels. This document responds to that challenge by updating and improving existing guidance for assessing climate change vulnerability, impacts and adaptation, covering the range of available approaches, methods and tools.

The guidance is structured along a five-stage iterative adaptation learning cycle:

1. Identifying adaptation needs: What impacts may be expected under climate change? What are actors’ vulnerabilities and capacities? What major decisions need to be addressed?

2. Identifying adaptation options: How can the specific risks and opportunities that were identified be addressed? There may be several options available to achieve the desired goals.

3. Appraising adaptation options: What are the pros and cons of the different options, and which best fit the adaptation actors’ objectives?

4. Planning and implementing adaptation actions: After an option is chosen, implementation can begin. The focus here is on practical issues, such as planning, assigning responsibilities, setting up institutional frameworks, and taking action.

5. Monitoring and evaluation of adaptation. As measures are implemented, the process is monitored and evaluated to ensure it goes as planned, identify any problems, document the outcomes achieved, change course as needed, and draw lessons from the experience.

This is an idealized model of adapting to climate change; “real-world” adaptation processes may not be linear, and in fact, may require refinement through iteration. This guidance therefore provides multiple entry points, highlighted in boxes throughout the document, to allow readers to enter (and re-enter) at various stages or sub-stages of the process.

All of these tasks are complex, and many need to be carried out by experts. There is no “one size fits all” approach, and this document emphasizes the diversity of adaptation challenges and the variety of methods and tools available to address them. We use decision trees to identify key criteria that may indicate the need for a particular kind of analysis or method, but never prescribe an approach as the only valid one. The aim of the document is to provide an overview of the range of activities that make up climate risk assessment and adaptation, and a coherent and integrated structure for addressing them.

Generally, this document is targeted at professionals such as researchers, consultants, policy analysts and sectoral planners who have some prior knowledge on climate risk assessment and adaptation. Some of the material is technical and requires some relevant experience. The guidance should also be of use to those leading or initiating planned and collective adaptation, such as community-based organizations or NGOs. Below we provide brief overviews of the four sections of the document, with an emphasis on Section 2, which guides readers through the adaptation cycle and suggests approaches to different tasks.

Recommended citation

PROVIA, 2013: PROVIA Guidance on Assessing Vulnerability, Impacts and Adaptation to Climate Change. Consultation document, United Nations Environment Programme, Nairobi, Kenya, 198 pp.

Further resources

The Global Programme of Research on Climate Change Vulnerability, Impacts and Adaptation (PROVIA) is a scientific initiative of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) that seeks to harmonize, mobilize and communicate the growing knowledge base on vulnerability, impacts and adaptation.

The preparation of the PROVIA Guidance was funded by UNEP, with additional support provided by the Government of Sweden.