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Getting Started
The following will help you get started in adaptation planning. It includes the five tenets of successful adaptation, steps from EcoAdapt’s Awareness to Action Program on becoming ‘climate savvy’, cautions on how adaptation can go wrong, and examples of adaptation project that uses existing resources and data.
Five Tenets of Adaptation Based on the book Climate Savvy: Adaptation Conservation and Resource Management to a Changing World by Dr. Lara Hansen and Dr. Jennie Hoffman, successful adaptation will rely on a mixture of approaches. The following five tenets are recommended for successful adaptation:
  1. Protect adequate and appropriate space for a changing world
  2. Reduce stressors that are exacerbated by or exacerbate the effects of climate change
  3. Manage for uncertainty
  4. Reduce the rate and extent of local and regional climate change
  5. Reduce the rate and extent of global climate change
Source: Climate Savvy: Adapting Conservation and Resource Management to a Changing World. Hansen and Hoffman. 2010. Island Press.
Climate Savvy Planning and Action
The questions below give a general framework for methodically thinking through what you want to do, why you want to do it, and how you can do it in a way that maximizes its likelihood of success in a changing world. This broad framework can be supplemented with more detailed questions and worksheets depending on your needs and goals.
  1. What is the goal of your project or organization? What are you trying to do?
  2. How are you trying to achieve this goal? (Strategies, approaches, patterns)
  3. How might climate change affect your likelihood of success?
  4. What can you do to increase your likelihood of success given these climate change effects?
Watch out for Mal-adaptation
Some adaptation efforts can actually make things worse by increasing overall vulnerability to climate change or having negative secondary adverse effects, an outcome known as mal-adaptation. These actions often look at short term gain without considering long term impacts, or focus on a single element of a system rather than taking a holistic view. Adaptation planning needs to take a comprehensive approach to vulnerability to climate change including non- climate related side effects. The following are situations that can lead to mal-adaptation:
1. Sectors developing adaptation strategies without consultation, such as
  • Developing agriculture and water strategies in isolation
  • Developing community and natural resource strategies in isolation.
    2. Sectors working at cross purposes, such as
    • Mitigating for damaged wetlands with alternate properties at risk from sea level rise
    • Infrastructure projects that are less vulnerable to climate change but create barriers for species or natural processes.
    3. Relying heavily on short-term coping strategies that increase longer-term vulnerability
    • Investing in intensive shoreline hardening rather than focusing on rolling easements, smart land use planning, or other options that move people and infrastructure out of harm’s way
    • Relying on air-conditioned “cooling stations” that contribute to global warming to cope with heat waves rather than investing in green infrastructure solutions that reduce the risk of such heat waves in the first place
    4. Conducting short-term risk-assessments for long-term decisions
    • Restoration strategies that don’t plan for future conditions
    • Designing or siting infrastructure based on analysis of risk shorter than the lifespan of the project.
    5. Creating adaptation strategies that address one threat, species, or habitat but fail to consider the bigger picture.
    • Using non-native invasive species to control coastal erosion
    6. Mitigation efforts that stymie adaptation, such as
    • Investing in large hydropower projects that limit the ability of aquatic species to respond successfully to climate change
    • Poorly sited renewable projects
    Example: Working With What You’ve Got Many groups are starting to incorporate climate change adaptation into existing programs or are using existing resources to implement new programs without any new funding, new regulations, or laws. The time to start incorporating climate change adaptation into all programs is now. Climate change is happening and inaction will just make resources and organizations more vulnerable if no action is taken. The following project illustrates one approach to using readily available resources and data to start developing adaptation strategies.
    Pacific Northwest Blueprint Project Recognizing that rapid climate change is expected to significantly impact the natural systems that wildlife and human communities depend on, Sierra Club has launched a pilot project in the Pacific Northwest (PNW) as part of their Resilient Habitats Campaign. This campaign seeks to reduce the vulnerability of species, lands, and communities to climate change. The PNW Blueprints Project is using existing using existing data such as biodiversity information, species habitat concentration areas, wildlife corridors, and future development risk in conjunction with climate change models to identify priority areas and strategic conservation actions under changing climate conditions. Results of these analyses will help focus resilient conservation efforts.
    Project Leads: EcoAdapt and the Geos Institute