Meeting the Needs, Keeping the Balance: Review of climate change adaptation tools and methods

Submitted by Michael Rastall | published 23rd Oct 2013 | last updated 13th Jan 2020


Summary

Climate change is an unavoidable challenge that society will have to deal with over coming decades. For developing countries, the task is particularly daunting. The process of adapting to new conditions, stresses and natural hazards that result from climate change will require additional interventions. Although most communities have some ability to respond to changes and extreme climatic events, the expected impacts of climate change will exceed this capacity almost in all cases. For this reason, it will be necessary to explicitly plan how to adjust to climate change. Adaptation planning begins with an assessment of current and future impacts and vulnerability to climate change. Such assessments are in themselves full of uncertainty, relying on good data that often may not be available. The steps between baseline analysis through to identifying possible adaptation actions are complex, and consequently, approaches to support the planning process have been developed. This report reviews many of the methods and tools that are available for planning adaptation.

The purpose of this review is twofold: it provides an introduction to the theoretical landscape of planning adaptation to climate change, offering an overview of many of its key concepts and approaches; and it draws out key issues that are especially relevant to countries in the Lower Mekong Basin (LMB) in the selection of approaches for adaptation planning.

Methods and tools for adaptation refer to the various guidelines, models, toolkits and frameworks that have been developed to support the process of planning adaptation. These range from complex models to assess climate change impacts to guidelines of the steps to take from identifying, designing, implementing and evaluating adaptation measures. These approaches are being developed by government agencies, non-governmental and community-based organisations, universities and think-tanks. A growing demand for such approaches means that they will need to be refined to suit different situations and so field testing to understand the capacities and limitations of the methods and tools is vital.

The process of adaptation planning involves many components, but each of the identified methods and tools generally only cover one or two of the steps.

There are seven main conclusions from the analysis of the reviewed methods and tools:

  1. Access and availability of methods and tools for adaptation is not a limitation.

  2. There is limited guidance available on how to select the most appropriate approaches for a given location.There are a number of overview documents listing the approaches, but few if any of these actually describe or contain information about experiences with applying the tools and methods.

  1. Because considerable knowledge gaps still exist about what adaptation is, training or other ways of sensitisation may need to be the first step before jumping into adaptation planning.

  2. Most of the methods and tools are not ‘plug-and-play’; their use requires training, skilful facilitators, significant data collection and/or large resources.

  3. No one single approach is sufficient to successfully support adaptation planning, each contributes a small piece of the puzzle.

  4. Monitoring progress would be an important component of adaptation planning and implementation because this is where the real lessons are drawn for application elsewhere.

  5. Expert judgment is still one of the most important ingredients for success and cannot be replaced by any of the available methods and tools.

An outcome of the review is a list of criteria to help in selecting methods and tools. Emerging from this list is a recommendation for more in-depth assessments of existing methods and tools. This would assess the approaches for quality, ease of use, resources needed and proven success. Such assessment could be based on the criteria developed in this review and would need to include a user perspective, interviewing users of different approaches and an outcome perspective evaluating of the outputs of the applied methods and tools. 

Suggested Citation

Schipper L., Liu W., Krawanchid D. and Chanthy S. (2010) Review of climate change adaptation methods and tools. MRC Technical Paper No. 34, Mekong River Commission, Vientiane.