4 Adaptation options

Step 4 will help you to:

  • identify a range of adaptation options
  • select the most appropriate options
  • put together an implementation programme.

Continue to find out more about any less well understood risks while you carry out this step.


Adaptation actions manage your climate risks to a level that is acceptable to your organisation, and allow you to take advantage of any positive opportunities.

4.1 Identify a range of adaptation options

Planned adaptation is often described as either Building Adaptive Capacity (BAC) or Delivering Adaptation Actions (DAA). In practice, many capacity building actions are also adaptation actions, but distinguishing between the two can help you think around options.

Building Adaptive Capacity (BAC) involves developing the institutional capacity to respond effectively to climate change. This means compiling the information you need and creating the necessary regulatory, institutional and managerial conditions to undertake adaptation actions. BAC activities include:

  • Gathering and sharing information (e.g. undertaking research, monitoring data and company records, and raising awareness through education and training initiatives);
  • Creating a supportive institutional framework (changing standards, legislation, and best practice guidance, and developing appropriate policies, plans and strategies);
  • Creating supportive social structures (changing internal organisational systems, developing personnel or other resources to deliver the adaptation actions, and working in partnership).

Delivering Adaptation Actions (DAA) involves taking practical actions to either reduce vulnerability to climate risks, or to exploit positive opportunities and may range from simple low-tech solutions to large scale infrastructure projects. DAA can include:

  • Accepting the impacts, and bearing the losses that result from those risks (e.g. managed retreat from sea level rise)
  • Off-setting losses by sharing or spreading the risks or losses (e.g. through insurance)
  • Avoiding or reducing your exposure to climate risks (e.g. build new flood defences, or change location or activity)
  • Exploiting new opportunities (e.g. engaging in a new activity, or changing practices to take advantage of changing climatic conditions).

Another way of considering adaptation options is to think of the types of actions that can be taken:

  • Temporary (e.g. use large umbrellas to reduce solar heat gains)
  • Managerial (e.g. introduce flexi-time; facilitate working from home)
  • Technical (e.g. refurbish building; enhance flood defences)
  • Strategic (e.g. commission new building with climate resilient design as part of a planned programme).

4.2 Evaluate your adaptation options

You now need to assess the ability of each of your adaptation options to achieve your strategic objectives. Your organisation may have its own criteria which you should use, or if not, select from the list:

  • Effectiveness – will the actions meet your objectives?
  • Efficiency – do the benefits exceed the costs?
  • Equity – the action should not adversely affect other areas or vulnerable groups
  • Flexibility – is it flexible and will it allow for adjustments and incremental implementation?
  • Sustainability – does it contribute to sustainability objectives, and are they themselves sustainable?
  • Practical – can the action be implemented on relevant timescales?
  • Legitimacy – is it politically and socially acceptable?
  • Urgency – how soon could it be implemented?
  • Costs – consider social and environmental costs, not just economic
  • Robust – is the option able to cope with a range of future climate projections?
  • Synergies / coherence with other strategic objectives – does it help to achieve other objectives?
  • Any other factors which your organisation regards as important

4.3 Factors to consider when evaluating options

How soon do you need to act?

If you are already experiencing problems with climate-related impacts, you may wish to address those risks straight away. You’ll also want to act quickly if you’re interested in taking advantage of any climate change opportunities, to get a head start on your competitors.

If you are considering a project with a long lifespan, it is crucial that you take account of climate change as early as possible in the decision-making process. It is much cheaper and easier to incorporate adaptation options at the design stage than to introduce them late in the planning process, or after an asset has been built. Other factors that will determine the time frame for your adaptation plan include how soon you expect any critical thresholds to be exceeded, and the lead-in time for planning and implementing adaptation measures.

Remember that proactive adaptation is generally more effective and less costly than reactive adaptation.

What level of adaptation is required?

Although we are confident in the general trends for our future climate, we cannot be sure exactly how much change will occur, and precisely what the impacts will be. As a result, there will be some uncertainty over the ‘ideal’ level of adaptation needed.

How much adaptation you plan will depend on your attitude to risk, and the costs involved. You will need to find a suitable balance between:

  • not adapting and dealing with the costs and consequences;
  • adapting to a level of risk and accepting the costs of the remaining or residual risks;
  • the cost of an adaptation plan and the benefits of those actions.

For example:

  • Where the cost of planning for climate change is low, but the climate risks are high, there is an obvious case for adaptation.
  • Where the costs of adaptation are high, but the climate risks are low, an adaptation plan may be disproportionate to the risks.
  • Where the cost of planning and the risks posed by climate change are both low, there are few downsides, regardless of the choice made.
  • In contrast, where the costs of adapting to climate change are high, and the climate risks are also high, an adaptation plan needs a delicate balance as the risks are very high for the planner.

To help you think about your adaptation options, compare the benefits of adaptation with the costs of implementation, discounted over time. The adaptation option you choose should offer the highest net benefit, taking account of the risks and uncertainties surrounding climate change.

Are there “windows of opportunity” for implementing adaptation?

Look for ways of incorporating climate response strategies into your mainstream activities, and think about how they work with or against your other strategies and policies. The costs of adaptation can be minimised when it is factored into:

  • the early steps of planning new developments
  • infrastructure that is being upgraded anyway
  • routine maintenance that is being conducted
  • plans that come up naturally for review
  • your routine work plan rather than being dealt with as an emergency situation.

What is your attitude to risk?

How much climate risk your organisation is prepared to accept will have an impact on your adaptation plan, and help you to assess the risks around your proposed options.If the organisation is risk-averse (dislikes risk), identifying and implementing quick fixes that will reduce your short-term vulnerability to climate risks may be an option while you investigate further options.Think about your organisation’s overall attitude to risk, as well as the individual risks facing your activity or decision.

What happens if you over- or under-adapt?

If you over-estimate the importance of climate risks compared to the other risks you face, you may over-adapt, leading to a waste of resources.

If you under-estimate climate risks compared to your other organisational risks, and don’t include sufficient adaptation measures, you will not be well enough protected (under-adapted).

Adopting a flexible decision-making process and using adaptive management – or “learning by doing, and adapting based on what’s learned” – can help you to keep your options open, and be more responsive to changing situations.

How confident are you in this assessment?

4.4 Develop an implementation plan

You should now have all the information you need to develop a detailed implementation plan, setting out what needs to be done, by whom, and by when, to convert your adaptation strategy into practical action.

Your chosen adaptations and your organisation’s internal procedures will strongly influence what you need to do and how you go about it. External influences such as standards, regulations, targets and indicators will also have an effect.

While the combination of these factors means that every adaptation plan is unique, there are a number of important factors you must consider when developing your plan:

What or who needs to change to enable adaptation to climate change?

Identifying and understanding potential barriers at the start will enable you to overcome them. Some barriers, such as a resistance to change, may prevent progress in other areas of your organisation – adaptation can lead the way for more generic improvements.

Who has to be involved for each option to be effective? What other inputs are needed from partners?

Adaptation actions are likely to require information, knowledge, finance or time from others. Make sure you take this into account when assessing options and developing your implementation plan.

Are there other organisations facing similar problems? (cooperation, co-financing etc.)

Ask who could be involved as well as who should be. There may be opportunities to work across a particular sector or with other organisations facing similar or complementary challenges.

How might vulnerable groups be affected?

It is important that you consider the likely impacts of your strategy, positive or negative, on specific groups. Is it possible to ensure that those most vulnerable to the impacts benefit directly from the plan?

What can be learnt from other organisations who have dealt with comparable situations?

Make use of what others have implemented and learnt to maximise the impact of your adaptation plan.

Do these options make use of existing organisational strengths?

Ask whether you are making use of your existing strengths and capacities. For example, if your organisation already has strong risk management expertise, make use of these skills in the planning process.

4.5 Implement your adaptations

How you implement your adaptation plan will also depend on the specific options you are considering and the structure of your organisation.

Make sure you have an effective process for monitoring and evaluating progress in place before you start (see Step 5).


4.1: Identify a long list of adaptation options

Create a new table and add in all of the adaptation options you identified in Steps 2 and 3.

Hold a workshop with colleagues from within and outside your organisation to generate a ‘long list’ of potential adaptations to address the risks identified in Step 3.

Consider whether the experiences of other countries and organisations in your neighbourhood or sector can be applied to your own situation.

Aim to identify a range of adaptation options that can be implemented individually or collectively. These may be:

  • No-regrets options that would deliver benefits that exceed their costs, whatever the extent of climate change.
  • Low-regrets options that would result in large benefits for relatively low costs or to make the most of an investment where the climate risks are uncertain.
  • Win-win options that enhance your adaptive capacity while contributing to other social, environmental or economic outcomes at the same time.
  • Flexible or adaptive management options which will allow you to put in place incremental adaptation options.
  • A decision to delay the implementation of your plan can be a reasonable strategy if evidence suggests you have time to find out more about your main risks and options. This will depend on factors including the lifetime of your proposed adaptation, the level of uncertainty, your attitude to risk and the flexibility of the adaptation measure.
  • A conscious decision to do nothing MAY be appropriate in the case of low priority impacts or where climate risks are outweighed by non-climate factors. However, this should not be a default position, and should only be reached after careful consideration. It must also be continually monitored and reviewed to make sure it remains the appropriate course of action.

Think creatively so as not to limit your options. At this stage, there can be no “wrong answers”.

The Types of adaptation strategy table can help to stimulate thinking on the range of possible adaptation strategies.

4.2: Evaluate your adaptation options

  • Establish the criteria against which you will evaluate your long list of adaptation options.
  • Agree on the evaluation criteria that are most relevant.
  • Describe and make a note of each of these criteria so that everyone involved has a shared understanding.
  • Assess each option in turn and score their performance against each of the criteria.
  • Weight the criteria to reflect the most important to your organisation.
  • Not all options will meet all criteria. However, the more criteria an option meets, the more suitable it is likely to be.
  • Keep a record of your assessment and decision-making, and make a note of any assumptions or judgements.

4.3: Factors to consider when evaluating options

  • Decide when you think it will be necessary to take action and why, and document your answer.
  • Cost your adaptation options. Compare these with costs of the impacts that adaptation could avoid  to estimate the financial benefit of an adaptation.

Apply a methodology such as the simplified costing guidelines to help you cost your adaptation options.

Analyse how your options would perform under different climate change scenarios to help you determine the level of adaptation you might need at a number of points in future.

  • Identify your organisation’s planned activities and think about incorporating climate adaptation into other planning and development projects.
  • Make a statement of your organisation’s attitude to risk and how this has influenced your evaluation of adaptation options.
  • Consider the consequences – physical, financial, reputation etc. – of over- or under-adaptation to help you establish the appropriate level. Make a note of this decision and the reasoning behind it.
  • Make a clear statement about the quality of the information on which your decision is based, and make a note of any uncertainties associated with the information and the decisions you have taken. Identify where any further work or more quantitative analyses could be needed as further information becomes available.

4.4: Develop an implementation plan

Develop a detailed implementation plan that:

  • Clearly identifies roles and responsibilities for the individuals involved;
  • Describes how preferred adaptations should be implemented (e.g. through new or existing management systems);
  • Identifies opportunities that could be exploited to incorporate climate adaptation with other planning and development projects;
  • Indicates what resources (staff, facilities, capital) will be required to implement the adaptations and monitor their effectiveness;
  • Notes what institutional and community support will be required to implement the adaptations;
  • Contains an effective communication strategy;
  • Identifies potential barriers to action and mechanisms to overcome these;
  • Mechanisms for evaluating the performance of the strategy, and the actions within it;
  • A detailed timetable for action.


  • Our searchable case study database contains examples of how some organisations are already adapting to climate risks, and help to illustrate what the various strategies could mean in practice.
  • About adaptation provides more information on, and examples of, Building adaptative capacity (BAC) and Delivering adaptation actions (DAA) and evaluation criteria.
  • Beating the heat (pdf, 7.4 MB) contains some good worked examples of adaptations to specific building types.
  • Section 10.3 of Preparing for local climate change provides examples of adaptation actions that might be taken by local authorities to meet sector specific adaptation objectives.
  • The Costings methodology can help you with costing climate impacts. The simplified spreadsheet version can help you to cost and compare adaptation options.
  • Climate Local, hosted by the local Government Association, – provides useful information for Local Authorities on adapting to climate change. Refer to this if you are from a Local Authority.
  • Adaptation Planning database is web-based guidance on the integration of biodiversity within adaptation planning, containing useful information and tools on how to adapt to climate change. It supports the integration of climate change impacts and response activities through implementation of the Convention on Biological Diversity.
  • Measuring Progress (pdf, 1.6 MB) provides an overview of key climate risks based on results of UKCIP regional and sectoral impacts studies.
  • For quantitative information to help you assess future climate risks in the UK, see the UK Climate projections (UKCP09).
  • The Socio-economic scenarios provide guidance on non-climate risks that you may wish to consider in your risk assessment.