An introduction to adaptation

Submitted by Sukaina Bharwani | published 25th Mar 2011 | last updated 17th Mar 2020
Please note: content is older than 5 years


This page brings together some of the basic information that you should know about adaptation, the way the weADAPT group sees adaptation, and pointers to further information!

Adaptation can be defined as adjustments of a system to reduce vulnerability and to increase the resilience of system to change, in this case in the climate system. Two articles from Lawrence Flint of ENDA describe theoretical concepts of adaptation and Adaptation from the view of a southern NGO.

There are many synergies between adaptation and other sectors such as Development, Disaster Risk Reduction and Biodiversity, amongst others.

Here is a glossary of terms that might help you interpret the world of climate change adaptation.


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weADAPT principles on adaptation

  • We see adaptation a process of socio-institutional learning relevant for specific contexts, and producing adaptation outcomes and processes that are robust against a wide range of future situations. It recognizes often competing stakeholder goals and processes and uses information at various levels and in many ways. Adaptation is not simply a reduction in future vulnerability as a scientific or technical forecast.
  • Effective adaptation equips people and institutions alike to cope with a wide range of contingencies. Learning is achieved through rolling re-assessments that account for changing conditions. Our aim is to integrate climate change and climate change adaptation in 'good enough' practice in risk management. We do not expect decision makers to adopt new perspectives and analytical tools related only to climate change, nor should they differentiate between decision making for current issues and long-term sustainable development.
  • The value of information is in making a decision (on adaptive strategies and measures). In contrast, other approaches, such as risk assessment, scenario development and decision evaluation, require assembling considerable information that is presumed to be useful to decision makers. Often the outcome of an adaptation project is seen as this information rather than as a catalyst to changes in the behaviour of targeted actors (from awareness to action).
  • We seek to introduce information about vulnerability and climatic risks in ways that communicate robust conclusions and critical uncertainties that might influence a decision outcome; rather than leaving users to sift through the caveats and confidence ratings in scenarios and forecasts.
  • The development of appropriate communication tools to encourage consensus among stakeholders on adaptation options requires shared information and participatory techniques focused on exploring synergies, conflicts and awareness raising around potential adaptation pathways.
  • Enduring partnerships, between experts and practitioners, multiple stakeholders and across scales, are essential for building adaptive capacity over the time scales required by climate change. Such partnerships rest on shared purpose, principles and vision, and fairness and trust in working together.
  • Adaptation can not be related to those activities done to or for people; it is those activities that the vulnerable communities or people do for themselves and there may or may not exist external support.
  • At all levels, adaptation takes place the matter is only the scale and scope. Adaptation could be changes in global systems and policies to changes at national or regional to adaptations made by local communities.
  • The tool is not the answer! weADAPT as a platform provides the basis for an approach to understanding adaptation, and methods and approaches that help to think about the problem at hand and make decisions based on the best available knowledge. It will not 'tell you what to do', nor will it solve all your problems!