A Tailored View of Successful Adaptation to Climate Change
Ayesha Dinshaw, Heather McGray
This technical report reviews how to assess the success of climate change adaptation strategies, with special consideration that projects must be context-specific. Adaptation intervention for any project must consider first how to characterize and assess the potential success of the project. The report provides a “point of departure” with a matrix intended to help practitioners and funders characterize their specific adaptation project or program.
The report authors propose a framework to assess adaptation intervention success. It is based on specific characteristics to help provide a tailored assessment. It does not, however, provide a mechanism to compare different adaptation projects or allow for an extrapolation of one project’s success from an entire portfolio of adaptation work.
Additionally, the term “transformational adaptation” is introduced, which is becoming more prevalent in the adaptation community of practice. Transformational adaptation implies fundamental and radical shifts from one stage in the adaptation process to the next. Unfortunately, to date, there is little consensus about the criteria or process of transformational adaptation. Practitioners and funders should assess all options strategically before choosing an adaptation method. They should also quantify adaptation success, and focus on monitoring and iterative learning to enhance the likelihood of success and link all projects to development to increase its efficacy and likelihood of success.
Excerpt from the report:
Below are two of three of the guidelines that reflect each of these key findings for funders, policymakers, and implementers involved in adaptation projects, plans, and programs.
- Link adaptation to development: The continuum of adaptation interventions (Figure 1) shows that adaptation may be more or less directly linked to development objectives, but that all efforts need to be considered within the overarching development context. Even responses to specific climate risks or impacts cannot occur outside of the field of development. For instance, if a project aims to help farmers incorporate climate data into planting decisions due to projected droughts (activities that manage specific climate risks – in this case, drought), then the project will be more effective if it considers the broader development policy context such as water policies, safety net schemes, and local institutional capacity. Disengaging adaptation from development (even if to ensure accountability to funders) would only diminish the efficacy of the project.
- Focus on monitoring and learning: Monitoring progress over time and learning from experience allows for adaptive management of an adaptation intervention. Gauging success is important to show efficient and effective use of funds and to showcase best practices, but given that adaptation efforts have begun implementation relatively recently, making causal connections between actions and outputs and outcomes requires ongoing or at least periodic tracking of key indicators over time (Moser et al., 2013). Additionally, if an adaptation intervention is no longer as effective as it could be, it does not necessarily qualify as a “failure” – for instance, beach nourishment may be desirable and cost-effective for some time but ineffective over a longer time horizon (Moser and Maxwell, 2013). In this instance, monitoring thresholds could highlight the need for an alternative course of action. Gathering experience in such adaptive management of adaptation interventions over time will contribute to learning, which in turn can guide future adaptation efforts.
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