Tool 2: Developing Adaptation Actions

This section of the Climate Change Adaption Toolkit details Tool 2.

Tool 2 is designed to assist users in identifying and exploring potential adaptation actions based on the identified risks. Tool 2 is best used in conjunction with Tool 1; however, if you already have the required preparatory work (refer to requirements below) then it is not essential that you have worked through Tool 1.

Tool 2 involves a series of workshops in which you will consider adaptation actions in response to each risk, following these steps:

  • Identify potential adaptation actions

  • Explore potential adaptation actions and their implications

  • Identify those adaptation actions to be implemented.

More detail on each of these steps is provided below.

Understanding the context for adaptation

Adapting to climate change is central to effective climate change risk management. There are many ways a community or an organisation can adapt. Adaptation can focus on climate change impacts already experienced or impacts projected to take effect in the future. Whatever its focus, adaptation at its core requires change. Changes, or climate adaptations, include simple actions aimed at coping with impacts in the short term as well as longer-term strategic planning. Climate adaptation can focus on changing community perceptions and attitudes to climate change risk; it can also focus on major construction projects, significant retrofit of existing infrastructure, or changes to buildings standards and planning schemes. Adaptations can anticipate future climate change impacts – for example, altering planning schemes to prevent building in coastal areas exposed to the effects of sea level rise. They can also be reactive – for example, retreating from an area exposed to inundation when it becomes uninhabitable.

Climate change risks almost always interact with other risks faced by communities or organisations. For example, risks to vulnerable communities from extreme heat events combine with economic, health and psychological risks that many vulnerable communities already face. This broader risk context, which is not always obviously related to climate change, must be considered when managing climate change risk or considering adaptation actions. Similarly, the wide range of impacts expected from climate change should be considered when managing non-climate change risks.

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Prerequisites and materials required

Before beginning you should have at least:

  • One or several priority climate change risks

  • Detailed output from the Tool 1 worksheets or a clear understanding of the key characteristics of the context and uncertainties associated with each risk, obtained otherwise

  • A problem statement.

More detail on assumed preparatory work is outlined below.

  • You will be required to obtain the following materials to be used during the workshops:

  • Large sheets of butchers paper

  • Post-it™ notes

  • Tool 2 worksheets (refer to Appendix B)

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Assumed preparatory work

It is assumed that you will have at least one climate change risk and a problem statement for each identified climate change risk. These risks will be the input to Tool 2: Developing Adaptation Actions.

The following process assumes that the priority climate change risk context and problem statement have been carefully and accurately compiled in consultation with a broad range of stakeholders.

It is vital to have a clear understanding of the risk context, drivers, characteristics, possible consequences and uncertainty. This information will aid you to formulate adaptation actions. Tool 1 of this Toolkit is designed to provide step-by-step support for gathering the appropriate level of information; however, you may already have the appropriate information available to you.

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The output from Tool 2 will be a list of adaptation actions for further consideration or implementation. The list will include information on prioritisation, cost, benefits, timeframes and any signposts that might trigger changes to the timing or focus of the action.

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Overview: Developing Adaptation Actions

In Tool 2 you will consider possible adaptation actions for each prioritised climate change risk, using the following steps:

  • Identify a broad set of possible adaptation actions

  • Explore and evaluate the feasibility of the actions identified

  • Prioritise adaptation actions for implementation.

Figure 2.1 illustrates the process.

Flow diagram showing how activities 1, 2, 3 and 4 relate to each other
Figure 2.1: Overview of Tool 2 process
The picture is a flow diagram that visualises how activities 1, 2, 3 and 4 of Tool 2 relate to each other. This detail is also outlined in the text surrounding the document.


At the end of Tool 2, you will have developed and assessed a set of adaptation actions. You will have evaluated the actions and either prioritised them for implementation, retained them for further review, decided they need redesign, or flagged them for future implementation.

Tool 2 includes four activities:

  • Activity 1: Brainstorming Adaptation Actions is a blank piece of paper that allows you to brainstorm possible adaptation actions or points of intervention for the relevant priority climate change risk.

  • Activity 2: Exploring an Adaptation Action is to be used once brainstorming is complete. It is designed to help you explore one of the more promising adaptation actions in more detail. A separate worksheet should be filled in for each adaptation action explored.

  • Activity 3: Evaluating an Adaptation Action is designed to summarise the outcomes of the adaptation action explored – including assessing whether the action should be implemented, further assessed, redesigned or deferred and describing any caveats or conditions around your selection.

  • Activity 4: Prioritising Adaptation Actions is designed to take the evaluated adaptation actions and prioritise them.

All worksheets are provided in Appendix B.

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Activity 1: Brainstorming Adaptation Actions

The first step in developing actions to manage climate change risk is to identify a wide range of potential adaptation actions. Not all options will prove feasible and you should expect to implement fewer options than you identify at this stage.

This step is important because it opens up a variety of possibilities for managing climate change risk. During Activity 1, it is important to consciously remain open to coming up with as many adaptation actions as possible. This stage is basically a brainstorming activity, and efforts need to be made by all participants to not constrain their thinking to the way risks have always been managed or to what may be considered feasible for your organisation.

Climate change risks and their interactions with other risks faced by your organisation or the communities it serves often present decision-makers with new and unfamiliar issues. It can be difficult to be certain about the exact timing, magnitude or likelihood of many climate change risks. These characteristics of climate change risk often demand a flexible and adaptive risk management response. One important way to maintain flexibility and encourage adaptive management is to consider – and usually retain – a wide range of options that respond to any given risk.

The work completed in Tool 1 – particularly the Problem Statement and the risk context material – provide essential context to the identification of adaptation actions. Make sure that all those involved in working on Tool 2 are familiar with these earlier outputs. Ideally, everyone involved should have been part of the development of these outputs.

Techniques for framing the brainstorming of adaptation actions

Below we provide a structure for considering appropriate adaptation actions. This structure allows the user to tackle each risk across multiple fronts and in a manner that efficiently uses the organisation’s resources. Despite its utility, it may not be appropriate or sufficient as a process for devising adaptation actions for all risks. Users should not feel constrained by this approach and should consider it as one of many possible methods.

Identifying adaptation actions should be done in consultation with all other groups/regulatory bodies affected by the risk or with an interest in the vulnerable sector/asset/region. The organisation will need to explore as many adaptation actions as it can. The actions:
  • Need to address vulnerability in some manner. They should take into account the risk context described above, including groups particularly vulnerable to the risk.

  • Should be prepared as part of a suite of options – a portfolio approach that minimises the risk associated with the failure of a single adaptation action by addressing the risk in a number of different ways.

  • Should consider whether they can build on initiatives already operating. For example do these actions require links with other organisations/stakeholders/etc. that are already active in this area?

  • Factor in the various types of uncertainty explored as part of Tool 1, in particular, whether the types of uncertainty identified call for flexibility and adaptive management.

Adaptation Actions – and vulnerability

Climate change vulnerability is the degree to which a system is susceptible to shocks or impacts resulting from climate change and its interactions with other social, environmental or economic stressors. It is a function of exposure, sensitivity and the adaptive capacity of the system. To address climate change vulnerability, an adaptation action must tackle these three components; exposure, sensitivity, and adaptive capacity.

Diagram showing the factors that influence vulnerability
Click to Enlarge Image

Figure 2.2 Vulnerability

The diagram above describes the factors that influence vulnerability. There is an inner box which represents the relationship between three key factors of vulnerability – exposure, sensitivity and adaptive capacity. Vulnerability lies within a broader system of influences and climate related impacts, which is indicated by a large box around vulnerability. External to the system are a set of climatic, economic and environmental stressors that directly interact with exposure and sensitivity.

Fünfgeld, H. and McEvoy, D. 2011, Framing Climate Change Adaptation in Policy and Practice. Working Paper 1. Melbourne: Victorian Centre for Climate Change Adaptation Research accessed 12/08/12.

To illustrate these concepts by way of an example, consider the story of the three little pigs. All pigs were exposed to the wolf, because he huffed and puffed at each of the pig’s houses. Sensitivity captures the fact that not all of the houses responded in the same way to the wolf’s efforts – the house of bricks was far less sensitive than the house of straw.

Adaptive capacity refers to other skills, relationships and assets the pigs could have drawn on (and might in the future) to protect themselves. The pig in the straw house may have had low adaptive capacity because straw is all he could afford to build with, but he could increase his adaptive capacity by learning ways of predicting the wolf’s arrival to ensure he was safely elsewhere.

To understand vulnerability to a particular climate change risk, you need to have an understanding of all three components and how they interact.

Each of these elements represents a possible point of intervention.

The questions to ask include:

  • Can we reduce exposure?

  • Can we reduce sensitivity?

  • Can we increase adaptive capacity?

Once possible points of intervention are identified, the issue becomes how to then intervene.

There are a number of accepted categories of adaptation actions:

  • Accepting the impacts and bearing losses – a decision not to act can be a valid option. This could either recognise that sufficient procedures are already in place to deal with the risk, or that the relevant assets/systems are not worth the effort or cost associated with protecting them.

  • Loss prevention – actions to reduce vulnerability to climate change (through impacting exposure, sensitivity or adaptive capacity). This occurs prior to experiencing the impact. The most extreme form of this would be to move vulnerable populations or systems away from the hazards introduced by climate change – however, this will not always be viable.

  • Loss sharing spreading the risk of loss among a wider population. This occurs after the impacts have been experienced (e.g. through insurance).

  • Behaviour modification eliminating the activity or behaviour that causes the exposure or sensitivity. Again, this must occur prior to experiencing the impact.

  • Exploiting positive opportunities – this recognises that there may be benefits to new activities, behaviours, practices or species arising out of climate change impacts or adaptation activities. New opportunities may also be exploited by moving activities to a new location to take advantage of changed climatic conditions’

Adopted from UKCIP, n.d. AdOpt, available at accessed on 28 March 2012, accessed 14/08/12.
See UKCIP AdOpt referenced above.

Actions should not be constrained by this list. There are also other options available, such as focusing on recovery efforts after experiencing an impact, either through the organisation acting alone, or by establishing community networks for action.

Box 2-1 below outlines examples of different categories of intervention.

Box 2-1: Examples of adaptation actions for a priority risk

Priority risk: ‘Decreased health and viability of fragile coastal ecosystems due to salt water intrusion’

  • Sea walls and barriers
    This option addresses exposure by limiting the extent to which changes in sea level or storm surges can be experienced by the coastal ecosystem. It involves loss prevention, by establishing a physical barrier that can help prevent salt water from reaching the ecosystem.
  • Planting salt-tolerant species and improving ecosystem health
    The sensitivity of the ecosystem may be influenced by increasing the proportion of salt-tolerant species present, or by other factors already affecting the ecosystem (for example, where the location is polluted and therefore already under stress). Part of this also relates to improving the adaptive capacity of the system, as a method of loss prevention.
These improvements and any on-going repairs to the ecosystem could be paid for by introducing a levy for all people entering the area, which would be a method of loss sharing.

Priority risk: ‘Health impacts due to an increase in the frequency and intensity of heat waves’

  • Minimum insulation standards for houses
    Mandating a minimum level of insulation for houses is a method of loss prevention that decreases both exposure and sensitivity of the population to extreme heat events. However, social equity considerations would need to be taken into account to ensure all home owners can afford the additional insulation irrespective of their socio-economic situation.
  • Community awareness campaigns
    Increasing awareness of the risks associated with extreme heat and of the need to activate support networks for vulnerable people in these conditions is an important method of behaviour modification that develops adaptive capacity.

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Activity 2: Exploring an Adaptation Action

Tool 2 Activity 2 is about adding detail and further information that will allow for effective evaluation and prioritisation of adaptation actions.

This section consists of an initial analysis of the adaptation actions, to examine which should be carried forward to the next stage of the process. It is designed to assist the organisation in prioritising and implementing robust adaptation actions. The worksheet is provided in Appendix B.

Below is the list of questions contained in the worksheet. These should be further investigated to ensure adaptation actions are based on robust decision making. Ultimately, the information gathered in this exercise will assist in determining whether a given action should be implemented immediately, put to a more detailed analysis, abandoned or redesigned.

(1) What is the organisation’s control or responsibility over any or all aspects of the adaptation action?

In order to manage community expectations and ensure it limits the scope of its responsibilities, it is vital the organisation considers (a) what it is obliged and/or adequately resourced to do; and (b) what it has the power or authority to do, before acting.

(2) Does the action ‘lock in’ outcomes? Are the outcomes robust under different futures?

Ideally, given the uncertainty associated with climate change, an adaptation action should maximise flexibility and avoid being ‘locked in’ to a particular outcome (that is, a type 1 decision – refer to Box 2-2 below). By maximising flexibility and adaptive management, the decision process can evolve incrementally as we experiment and learn. This will not always be possible (for example, in the case of replacing long-lived infrastructure).

If the adaptation action involves ‘locked in’ outcomes (that is, type 2 decisions), consider whether it could be approached in a different way. If not, the action will need to be tested against scenarios to ensure robust performance. Examples of type 1 (adaptive/flexible management outcomes) and type 2 (‘locked in’ outcomes) are included in Box 2-2 below.

Box 2-2: Examples of decision types 1 and 2 in adaptation

Type 1 decision: adaptive or flexible management
Example: Maintaining sporting fields. During drought conditions, the number of sports fields a council operates could be reduced, dependent on water availability. When rainfall increases again, the number of sports facilities maintained by a council could increase again. This is the ideal adaptive management situation. There is no need to lock in an outcome relating to how many to open and when. The policy of when to open sporting fields, and how many, can remain flexible and therefore evolve with changing circumstances. Future decisions can be informed by lessons learnt and relevant processes adapted, as knowledge of climate change increases and as our ability to adjust to changing water availability improves or decreases.
Other categories of options that may be adaptively managed include:
  • Legislation and regulation (Note: The application of legislation/regulation may not be adaptive, but may involve a ‘locked in’ outcome: the evolution of a planning scheme can be adaptively managed, but the application of that planning scheme to a particular piece of land may be a ‘locked in’ outcome.)
  • Economic instruments
  • Governance
  • Research and innovation
  • Capacity development
  • Information and communications
  • Education
Type 2 decision: ‘locked in’ outcome
Example: Constructing a major road. This decision involves a long-lived asset. There is no chance of adaptive management, as a decision regarding the location of the road and appropriate road construction materials must be made that essentially locks decision-makers in for the lifetime of the asset. This is because reconstructing or even resurfacing a road is a costly exercise that uses up large amounts of funding, materials and time, and all cost estimates are based on an assumed long life-time of the asset.

(3) Describe the assumptions that underpin the effectiveness of the adaptation action? How reliable are the assumptions in light of future uncertainty?

How sensitive is the effectiveness of the adaptation action to broken assumptions? For example, a Council decides to build a sea wall to withstand a 0.8m rise in sea levels. This assumes that sea level rise will not exceed 0.8m for the life of the asset. This assumption can be broken in two ways:

  1. The wall ends up being too low, and sea level rise exceeds 0.8m within the asset’s life; or

  2. The wall ends up being too high, and sea level rise falls well short of 0.8m.

In both cases, the adaptation action has resulted in considerable overinvestment in an asset that is ultimately not appropriate – either because it was over-designed or because it failed. As such, this adaptation action is highly sensitive to broken assumptions.
When you have identified the assumptions, you must consider how reliable they are, in particular how they are affected by future uncertainty. This should be determined through testing assumptions against future scenarios.

Testing adaptation actions against future scenarios

There are a number of places in this chapter where testing an answer against future scenarios is recommended. There are a number of possible ways to do this, but below is a recommended approach.


  • If there is one particular biophysical variable that is essential to the answer (or assumption underpinning the answer), then draw from data on that biophysical variable from an appropriate source (for example, the Bureau of Meteorology or CSIRO). Guided by these institutions, get an understanding of the range of possible outcomes for this variable to inform your decision-making. Similarly, forecasting information is available for some socio-economic trends (for example, from the Australian Bureau of Statistics).

  • If there are multiple trends as well as multiple biophysical or social variables that need to be considered, you should consider preparing scenarios. These are a decision-aid that integrates potential demographic, economic, environmental and climatic trends into a series of stories that describe possible plausible futures. Preparing scenarios is a very useful way to explore the interaction of these trends, and their development can aid in many strategic planning contexts, not merely in climate change risk assessments. Appendix D includes examples of future scenarios developed from work done by the Victorian Department of Primary Industries with communities in southwestern Victoria under the Victorian Climate Change Adaptation Program (VCCAP).

  • Scenarios do not provide a prescriptive definition of the future, nor should they be used as merely expressing aspirations for how you want the future to look. Rather, scenarios should be treated as a tool that allows you to explore how your answer/proposed action performs under a variety of different, yet plausible future conditions.

For more information on developing these scenarios, see Wiseman, J. Edwards, T. Jones, R. Ison, R. Grant, A. Whetton, P. and Warwick, B. 2011, Scenarios for climate adaptation: guidebook for practitioners, accessed 27 August 2012
Soste, L. 2010, Victorian Climate Change Adaptation Program: Scenario Theme Technical Report, Department of Primary Industries, Tatura Victoria

For maximum benefit, any answer for which there is future uncertainty should be assessed against all the scenarios available. These scenarios will be designed to incorporate a broad range of possible social, economic and environmental trends and how they might interact with each other. Exploring a given answer against these various trends will help you tease out any assumptions you may have made, and how well you have incorporated uncertainty. Where a decision is more complex or a potential adaptation action represents a considerable investment, you might consider commissioning a more formal ‘robustness’ assessment before implementing the adaptation action.

(4) Describe the equity implications of the adaptation action

Does the action address any underlying inequalities, or entrench or reinforce existing disadvantage? For example, a mandatory home insulation scheme would significantly impact disadvantaged communities because it would require paying for insulation that they cannot afford. Key to the identification of all equity implications is to consider not only the groups that easily spring to mind – for example, the sick, the financially disadvantaged, the elderly, or people from a culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds – but also those that are less apparent. This requires some careful and creative thought about possible impacts.

Detailed equity analysis usually requires a combination of demographic and socio-economic data analysis and qualitative social research conducted ‘on the ground’. Geographic information systems (GIS) can be used to support the data analysis. For example, an equity impact study of potential inequalities resulting from mandatory home insulation could be carried out following these steps:

  • Quantifying the costs burden of installing insulation for different groups of residents (e.g. property owners, renters, small businesses, large businesses) and the financial, social and environmental benefits (i.e. energy costs saved, increased comfort, emissions saved, etc.).

  • GIS can assist with the analysis of socio-economic data, such as household income, and produce maps that illustrate the relative financial burden of the proposed scheme, as well as relative financial benefits. These maps can be used for communication with stakeholders where appropriate.

  • Undertaking a survey, sample resident interviews, and a series of community meetings to discuss equity concerns perceived by the residents. This information, in combination with the resident-based cost/benefit analysis can be used to consider different options for supporting disadvantages groups.

For more information on robustness assessment see Hallegate, S. Shah, A. Lempert, R. Brown, C. and Gill, S. 2012, Investment decision making under deep uncertainty, Policy Research Working Paper 6193, Office of the Chief Economist, The World Bank available at accessed on 1 October 2012

However, within the initial investigation (undertaken as part of this workshop), you may not yet have the information needed to conduct this type of analysis. The preliminary workshop analysis should consider the broad equity implications of all potential adaptation actions and whether further investigation is warranted.

(5) How will the adaptation action interact with or respond to other stressors and trends?

To achieve this, you may want to try to analyse the interaction of the risk to broader social/economic and environmental stressors using scenarios. This exercise does not need to be exhaustive; instead, the goal should be to isolate those stressors that are most relevant to the risk and adaptation option. In addition, it important to consider any interaction the adaptation action may have with other local trends.

For example, an adaptation action may involve preventing development on certain coastal sites due to concern over sea level rise. This may interact with demographic trends relating to population growth for the municipality. By decreasing the land available for development to spread the option is likely to place upward pressure on existing property prices. You may decide to go ahead with the adaptation action regardless of this possible outcome; however this should be a conscious, considered and documented decision.

To assist with identifying relevant trends and exploring the manner of interactions, wide-ranging discussion and consultation with local and external experts may be required. Deciding which trends to include is ultimately an informed value judgment. The analysis of the interaction of the original risk and the environmental, social and economic stressors may also help inform the workshop discussion at this stage.

(6) Is there an event that should trigger the implementation of the adaptation action? What is that event?

The best time to implement an adaptation action may be after the occurrence of a specific event or the crossing of a particular known threshold. If so, that trigger event should be specified and recorded. For example, a sea wall may only be considered as an option of last resort, to be implemented only when sea level gets to a certain height and key infrastructure is directly threatened. In these circumstances, the sea level height at which construction should commence will need to be recorded when developing such an adaptation action.

(7) What are the barriers, if any, to implementing or adopting the action?

These can be psychological, behavioural, institutional, or capacity/resourcing barriers. They can exist within the organisation or the broader community. For example, implementing options may be prevented by commonwealth legislation or lack of resources.

Box 2-3: Example of a potential perverse outcome of an adaptation action

Adaptation action: ‘Collective insurance purchasing across councils to insure infrastructure’

  • The collective purchasing of insurance across various organisations can enable smaller organisations to access lower insurance premiums. However, this mechanism can also diminish the incentive that organisations have in reducing the risk profile of their infrastructure. This reduces a council’s incentive to undergo costly adaptation actions that would reduce the climate change risk facing their infrastructure.

Further questions may also need to be considered in this context, such as: would these barriers be fatal to the action? Can these be addressed before the organisation attempts to implement the action, or are they too entrenched?

(8) Describe the high level benefits of the adaptation action. Describe the high level costs of the action. Do the potential costs outweigh the potential benefit?

Describing the potential costs and benefits of the adaptation action will assist you to further understand the characteristics of the identified action. At this stage, a high-level qualitative consideration of the costs and benefits is sufficient. Depending on the outcome of the prioritisation process, you may need to undertake a more thorough investigation of the costs and benefits of the proposed adaptation action.

The costs and benefits could be social, economic or environmental, and do not need to be expressed in monetary terms only. The broader social, economic and environmental costs are particularly important to outline, as these costs may be unacceptable to the organisation or community and therefore stop the action being implemented or make it unviable.

Broader social or equity impacts should also be considered. If there are considerable social costs associated with an option, you may need to consider assessing the option further with the aid of a formal decision support tool. Determining whether these costs or benefits can be meaningfully quantified assists in determining what type of decision support tool is appropriate. A description of a number of decision support tools and guidance as to when each is appropriate to use is described in Activity 3 below.

It is possible that a quick review of the benefits and costs of an action may demonstrate that the action represents a simple ‘win-win’ action. Such actions could include reducing pollution impacting a given ecosystem to increase its resilience, or improving the connectedness of a community or organisation to improve its adaptive capacity. Both are examples of actions that could be implemented even without any reference to climate change adaptation, and they are probably already being considered for implementation. These represent the ‘lowest hanging fruit’ in terms of potential adaptation actions, which can often represent non-controversial adaptation actions.

Box 2-4: Example of a benefits and costs

Adaptation action: ‘Restricting new development in area potentially affected by sea level rise’
  • Broader costs include, restricting the use of that land by those that would receive large enjoyment out of the land, increasing property values of other existing coastal development.
  • Broader benefits potentially include increasing public coastal access.
Adaptation action: ‘Planting salt tolerant species and improving ecosystem health of inland fresh river systems’

  • Broader cost could be the reduction of biodiversity in the area.
  • Broader benefits could include, improved overall management of the area, increasing the recreational value of the river system.
Adaptation action: ‘Mandating minimum air-conditioning standards for houses’

  • Broader costs could be increase in greenhouse gas emissions due to the increase in electricity use, and disproportionate effect on already disadvantaged families.

(9) Describe the drivers behind making a decision whether to implement this adaptation action

There could be many reasons behind a decision to implement an adaptation action. Understanding factors that may drive the implementation of a particular action will usefully inform the prioritisation of actions. Relevant factors can include whether

  • a potential source of funding will end soon

  • the action will take some time to deliver results or effect the necessary changes (such as an awareness raising campaign)

  • an action ceases to be a viable option if it is not implemented in the short term

  • climate change impacts are likely to affect the system/asset in the short term

(10) Does the adaptation option demonstrate the key properties of a robust adaptation action?

Planned adaptation, when incorporated into a risk management process, should demonstrate a number of key properties. In particular, they should:

  • Remain viable under the widest range of probable climate futures. This is essential given the high uncertainty surrounding climate change impacts, and how they will change weather and climate patterns. Global climate model projections show significant divergence on, for example, potential temperature rises and changes in rainfall patterns.

  • Be insensitive to broken assumptions

  • Increase flexibility and preserve options (where possible).

  • Maximise their value when planned as part of a portfolio of actions.

  • Build resilience and redundancy into physical, organisational and social systems.

  • Be implemented within planned budgets or based on evidence that is good enough to justify budget/revenue increases.

The careful planning and design that is required under robust decision-making minimises the chance of overadaptation, underadaptation, maladaptation and mistimed or mislocated adaptation.

For further information on robust decision-making in the context of climate change see: Dessai, S., & Hulme, M. 2007. ‘Assessing the robustness of adaptation decisions to climate change uncertainties: A case study on water resources management in the East of England’ Global Environmental Change, 17(1), 59–72 and Wilby, R. L., & Dessai, S. 2010 Robust adaptation to climate change. Weather, 65(7), 180–185.

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Activity 3: Evaluating an Adaptation

Once actions are formulated and analysed, they must then be prioritised for implementation and further analysis. The results of the analysis above may direct you to:

  1. Implement immediately

  2. Conduct a further assessment to determine feasibility

  3. Return to earlier stages of this process and obtain basic information on the risk or the adaptation action

  4. Redesign the action

  5. Defer the adaptation action for future implementation

Each of these options, and when you may apply it, is explored in detail below.

1. Implement immediately

The analysis above should provide a sufficient level of information to inform your decision on which option should be implemented immediately. You could also consider the following guide to prioritisation.

Type of actions to be immediately implemented

  • No regrets options – these options deliver benefits that exceed their costs, whatever the extent of climate change

  • Low-regrets (or limited regrets) options – adaptive measures for which the associated costs are relatively low and for which the benefits, although primarily realised under projected future climate change, may be relatively large.

Both no and low regret options have merit in that they are directed at maximising the return on investment when certainty of the associated risk is low.

  • Win-Win options – adaptation measures that have the desired result in terms of minimising the climate change risks or exploiting potential opportunities but also have other social, environmental or economic benefits. Within the climate change context, win-win options are often associated with measures or activities that address climate impacts but which also contribute to mitigation or other social and environmental objectives.

These types of measures include those that are introduced primarily for reasons other than addressing climate change risks, but also deliver the desired adaptation benefits.

  • Flexible or adaptive management options – involve putting in place incremental adaptation actions, rather than undertaking large-scale adaptation in one fell swoop. This approach reduces the risks associated with being wrong, since it allows for incremental adaptation. Measures are introduced through an assessment of what makes sense today, but are designed to allow for incremental change, including changing tack, as knowledge, experience and technology evolve.
Adopted from UKCIP, n.d. AdOpt, accessed on 28 March 2012

Box 2-5: No regret, low regret, win-win and flexible and adaptive management actions

No and low regret actions
  • Building extra climate headroom in new developments to allow for further modifications (e.g. increased ventilation, drainage) consistent with projected changes in temperature and precipitation.
  • Restricting the type and extent of development in flood-prone areas.
  • Promoting the creation and preservation of space (e.g. verges, agricultural land, and green urban areas, including roofs) in support of biodiversity goals.
  • Sharing in developing and operating additional water storage facilities (e.g. water groups building and operating a joint water reservoir).

Win-win actions

  • Flood management that includes creating or re-establishing flood plains which increase flood management capacity and support biodiversity and habitat conservation objectives.
  • Improving preparedness and contingency planning to deal with risks (including climate).
  • Improving the cooling capacity of building through increased shading and/or alternative less energy intensive cooling strategies.
  • Green roofs and green walls which have multiple benefits in terms of reducing building temperature and rainfall runoff from buildings, and increased green spaces within urban areas, but also reduces energy use for both heating and cooling.

Flexible and adaptive management actions

  • Delay implementing specific adaptation measures while exploring options and working with appropriate levels of government to build the necessary standards and regulatory environment;
  • Introducing progressive withdrawal from coastal areas and creation or re-establishment of floodplains consistent with risks and development lifetimes; and
  • Progressive development and investments in recreation consistent with projected changes in climate (e.g. progressive investments towards developing and promoting multi-seasonal recreation activities).

2. Conduct a further assessment to determine feasibility

  • Under this option, if the answers to the questions above show there are significant arguments in favour or against implementing the adaptation option, or there is a considerable degree of uncertainty, you should consider input from some form of further assessment to determine feasibility. Table 3 below provides examples of available decision support tools, including a description of the tool and when it is appropriate to use. Different decision support and analysis tools are constantly being developed and revised to better suit an adaptation context, so it is important to look for other information.

Table 3 : Examples of decision tools that may be used when prioritising adaptation actions

Tool Description When appropriate to use
Cost benefit analysis (CBA) An economic decision support tool that can be used to determine in monetary terms whether the total benefits of an adaptation option exceeds its total costs. This involves calculating monetary values for all expected costs and benefits, for a defined range of stakeholders affected positively or negatively by the proposed adaptation option. Using a discount rate, benefits and costs are adjusted for the time-bound value of an investment, so that all flows of benefits and costs over time can be expressed on a common basis as a ‘present value’.

Sensitivity analysis, changing various assumptions to measure the impact on the analysis outcomes, should be undertaken to include some consideration of uncertainty.
Real options analysis can be used to modify the standard CBA to incorporate considerations of timeliness and flexibility. Real options analysis, explicitly values of created and destroyed options.
To evaluate adaptation actions with a single objective where quantitative monetary data is available or can be generated (e.g. infrastructure projects, single service provision projects).
Where quantitative monetary data is not available, cost effectiveness analysis can be used (see below).

CBA method can include various additions to incorporate some level of uncertainty consideration. There are limitations with CBA when there is a great deal of uncertainty, or where long timespans are involved.
Multi-criteria analysis (MCA) A suite of decision support tools that allow for assessing the benefits resulting from adaptation actions that cannot be costed in quantitative terms. There are many types of MCA. All involve developing and applying a specific framework for integrating a range of quantitative and qualitative, monetary and non-monetary factors into the analysis, which are then weighted and scored against a set of criteria. Monetary tools and evaluations such as CBA and CEA are frequently used as part of a MCA.


To evaluate adaptation actions that serve multiple objectives, where complex judgement is required to structure the decision-making process.
Cost efficiency analysis (CEA) A commonly used decision support tools that can help identify the least-cost option for achieving a defined, desired benefit (e.g. protecting properties from flooding). CEA has most commonly been applied in the health sector for identifying the least-cost option to achieve a specific non-monetary health outcome, such as increasing life expectancy in mothers.

To evaluate adaptation actions with a single, quantifiable well-being outcome (e.g. life expectancy, lives saved, etc.)

One example includes Hallegatt et al paper

3. Return to earlier stages of this process and obtain basic information on the risk or the adaptation action

This is required where the analysis has exposed knowledge gaps, either associated with the adaptation action or with the risk itself that needs to be filled before the adaptation action can be taken any further. This could require sourcing an expert, commissioning research, or tapping into existing knowledge networks or research.

As has been described earlier in relation to acting under conditions of uncertainty, you may still need to decide upon an action, even with incomplete information. This may require building in a more robust structure to the action or putting additional conditions or thresholds upon its application. This option should not be used as an excuse to delay action because there is still some uncertainty, as often this uncertainty can never be resolved.

4. Redesign action

Where analysis throws up fundamental issues associated with the action – be it questions regarding the management of cost, equity or robustness – it should be fundamentally redesigned and greater attention be given to resolving these issues where possible.

5. Defer adaptation action for future implementation

If an action is considered an effective and justifiable response to the risk, but not appropriate to implement immediately, it can be deferred for future implementation. In such circumstances, guidance should be provided on circumstances under which it should be implemented – such as a biophysical trigger, or another key event that should drive re-consideration of the action. A trigger event could be as simple as a periodic review of the action and its broader consequences.

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Activity 4: Prioritising Adaptation

Once the actions have been evaluated, all the actions that have not been deferred need to be evaluated against each other. To do this, they should be listed on the Activity 4: Prioritising Adaptation Actionsworksheet, and designated as high, medium or low priority. The rankings should ultimately be based on a review of all the information gathered earlier in the process. Below are some general guidelines.

  • Anything that falls into the above category of ‘implement immediately’ generally warrants consideration as ‘high’ priority, unless there is compelling information that supports the contrary.

  • If it does not fall into this category, but there is some other driver for earlier implementation (such as funding becoming available), an adaptation action may also need to be considered for a higher priority.

  • If there is some future trigger or driver for implementation, there may be no need for immediate implementation and it should be a medium/low priority.

  • When some other decision tool (MCA, CBA etc.) is used to assist in assessing feasibility of the adaptation action, the results will need to be considered in light of the information obtained, before priority is assigned.

For all adaptation actions that have been deferred, the worksheet should be kept on file so as this information is not lost and can readily be re-assessed. When it comes to evaluating actions, these ideas and analysis may inform ideas for other adaptation actions.

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Page last updated: Wednesday, 4 April 2018