Climate Change Adaptation

What is adaptation?

Adaptation should be thought of as a process, and not just a list of actions that are meant to address specific impacts of change (Eriksen et al., 2011). Wise et al. (2014) advocate for a decision-centered approach to adaptation, focusing on the process of decision-making, rather than the outcome, that emphasizes decision points and the adaptive nature of making decisions in the face of uncertainty.

Eriksen et al. identify four principles to guide responses to climate change:

  1. The need to recognize multiple stressors (environmental, social, economic, institutional, cultural), the context for vulnerability, and direct and indirect consequences of adaptation efforts, including spatial and temporal effects.
  2. The need to acknowledge that differing values and interests affect adaptation outcomes and influence the prioritization of adaptation strategies.
  3. The need to integrate local knowledge and different understandings of problems and solutions into adaptation responses.
  4. The need to consider feedbacks between local and global processes, which could be positive or negative.

Likewise, Wise et al. emphasize five critical dimensions of the adaptation challenge:

  1. The acknowledgment that climate adaptation is not separable from the cultural, political, economic, environmental, and developmental contexts in which it occurs.
  2. The prevalence of changes and responses that cross spatial scales, sectors and jurisdictional boundaries, leading to threshold effects.
  3. The knowledge that future pathways are contingent on historical pathways and are often difficult to change.
  4. The acknowledgement that it is difficult to determine where the system is currently, on what trajectory, due to the emergent properties of the social-ecological system.
  5. The realization that societal processes are enabled or constrained by the prevailing rules, values and knowledge cultures, and their interdependences, and the need to understand the influences of these interdependencies and how to change them to better enable successful adaptation.
How is CEMML implementing adaptation?

CEMML uses an ecosystem-based, adaptive management approach that is a good foundation for building climate adaptation strategies to protect threatened and endangered species. Because species vulnerabilities were assessed at the population level, and not the specific populations at installations, a generalized adaptation approach is suggested. Climate change consideration should be included in all steps of the adaptive management process (Figure 1). 

Figure 1. Adaptation process from America’s Climate Choices (Credit: Bierbaum et al., 2013).

Adaptation management actions can be forward-looking (proactive/prospective) or reactive (retrospective). The appropriate actions are site-specific and based on the needs of the threatened and endangered species in the context of the installation’s mission. Figure 2 depicts examples of each type of adaptation strategies (Comer et al., 2012). 

Figure 2. Adaption Strategy Framework (Credit: Comer et al., 2012)


  • Bierbaum, R., Smith, J.B., Lee, A. et al. (2013). A comprehensive review of climate adaptation in the United States: more than before, but less than needed. Mitig Adapt Strateg Glob Change, 18, 361–406.
  • Comer, P. J., Young, B., Schulz, K. et al. (2012). Climate change vulnerability and adaptation strategies for natural communities: piloting methods in the Mojave and Sonoran deserts. iii Table of Contents Executive Summary1, 3. Retrieved from
  • Eriksen, S., Aldunce, P., Bahinipati, C. S. et al. (2011). When not every response to climate change is a good one: Identifying principles for sustainable adaptation. Climate and Development3(1), 7-20.
  • Wise, R. M., Fazey, I., Smith, M. S., et al. (2014). Reconceptualising adaptation to climate change as part of pathways of change and response. Global Environmental Change28, 325-336.

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