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How to Track Adaptation to Climate Change: A Typology of Approaches for National-Level Application

James D. Ford, McGill University
Lea Berrang-Ford, McGill University
Alex Lesnikowski, McGill University
Magda Barrera, McGill University
S. Jody Heymann, UCLA Fielding School of Public Health


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The need to track climate change adaptation progress is being increasingly recognized but our ability to do the tracking is constrained by the complex nature of adaptation and the absence of measurable outcomes or indicators by which to judge if and how adaptation is occurring. We developed a typology of approaches by which climate change adaptation can be tracked globally at a national level. On the one hand, outcome-based approaches directly measure adaptation progress and effectiveness with reference to avoided climate change impacts. However, given that full exposure to climate change impacts will not happen for decades, alternative approaches focus on developing indicators or proxies by which adaptation can be monitored. These include systematic measures of adaptation readiness, processes undertaken to advance adaptation, policies and programs implemented to adapt, and measures of the impacts of these policies and programs on changing vulnerability. While these approaches employ various methods and data sources, and identify different components of adaptation progress to track at the national level, they all seek to characterize the current status of adaptation by which progress over time can be monitored. However, there are significant challenges to operationalizing these approaches, including an absence of systematically collected data on adaptation actions and outcomes, underlying difficulties of defining what constitutes "adaptation", and a disconnect between the timescale over which adaptation plays out and the practical need for evaluation to inform policy. Given the development of new adaptation funding streams, it is imperative that tools for monitoring progress are developed and validated for identifying trends and gaps in adaptation response.

Key words

adaptation response; adaptation tracking; climate change adaptation; evaluation; indicators; methodology; monitoring; outcome-based tracking, process-based tracking

Copyright © 2013 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087