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Adaptation metrics: Perspectives on measuring, aggregating and comparing adaptation results

Climate adaptation initiatives are more important than ever, and globally more and more funds are invested in climate resilience. But how do we measure success? Find out in this UNEP DTU report.
adaptation metrics


The UNEP DTU Partnership (UDP) presents a new volume* addressing a key question for adaptation policy and practice: ‘How can we measure, aggregate and compare climate change adaptation needs and results across activities, countries and sectors?’

The volume collects together eleven articles from international experts and practitioners, each offering their own unique insights and perspectives on this main thematic question.

*Download the full volume from the right-hand column.

Overview and key findings of the articles contained in this volume

Section A: Conceptual and methodological perspectives

Section A’s contributions span more conceptual and methodological discussions related to this question.

The evolution of adaptation metrics under the UNFCCC and its Paris Agreement (Annett Möhner)

  • Provides an overview of the broad evolution of the concept of ‘adaptation metrics’ under the UNFCCC and in the Paris Agreement.
  • It notes the general evolution of its objectives from prioritizing countries’ adaptation needs to ensuring the accountability and effectiveness of adaptation projects and more recently towards assessing global progress.

Pitfalls and potential of measuring climate change adaptation through adaptation metrics (Timo Leiter, Patrick Pringle)

  • Examines the distinct characteristics of climate change adaptation versus mitigation and the implications for measuring progress in these two interrelated policy domains.
  • Through this discussion, the chapter also outlines some of the main pitfalls of applying adaptation metrics.
  • As such it serves as good introduction to many of the general themes in the volume.

Assessing Stakeholder Needs for Adaptation Tracking (Frances Wang et al.)

  • Presents a comprehensive study of adaptation tracking needs among 191 stakeholders across the public and private sectors, showing how the objectives of adaptation metrics can be very different depending on who you are asking.

Development of universal metrics for adaptation effectiveness (Axel Michaelowa, Martin Stadelmann)

  • The authors discuss why, in their view, universal metrics is an unavoidable concept when comparing the effectiveness of adaptation projects and prioritizing funding for them.
  • They assess two possible candidates for generic effectiveness metrics: economic benefits, and disability-adjusted life years.
Common uses of adaptation metrics and their interrelations (figure 1, page 34 of the report)

Section B: Practical experiences and lessons

Section B is sequenced based on a scale ranging from the local and/or project level to the national and sectoral or portfolio levels.

Developing meaningful local metrics for climate adaptation: learning from applying the TAMD framework at local scales (Susannah Fisher, Simon Anderson)

  • Analyzes experiences in developing adaptation metrics for local government and community planning in several countries using the Tracking Adaptation Measuring Development (TAMD) framework, concluding broadly that local metrics need to be contextualized to reflect local realities.
  • They further suggest that the best way forward for comparing and aggregating across such local contexts are through scorecard measurements.

Designing, setting up and implementing a climate change adaptation monitoring and evaluation framework: concrete examples from Madagascar (Gaetan Quesne, Nivohary Ramaroson, Michaël Manesimana)

  • The authors discuss M&E frameworks and metrics applied in three donor-funded adaptation projects in Madagascar, analyzing how successful they were in measuring adaptation impacts.

Setting up a national monitoring system for climate change impacts and adaptation (Petra van Rüth, Konstanze Schönthaler) and Development of national and sub-national adaptation metrics: Lessons from Kenya (Irene Karani)

  • Experiences from the development of two national-level adaptation M&E frameworks are presented in both these articles (Germany; van Ruth and Schönthaler, and Kenya; Karani).
  • The two articles together illustrate the similarities of the conceptual challenges involved, as well as large differences in national contexts in terms of data availability, institutional capacity and budgetary capacity.
  • A common lesson, however, seems to be the importance of basing national adaptation M&E systems on existing data and processes, both to reduce costs and avoid duplication of data-collection processes, and also to improve the integration of adaptation into general national planning and development.

Measuring AdaptationBenefits: TechnologyNeeds Assessments and their linkages to funding requirements (Prakriti Naswa, Sara Lærke Meltofte Trærup, Skylar Bee)

  • Looks at experiences from the global Technology Needs Assessment project and the indicators proposed by countries for measuring the impact and outcomes of prioritized technologies.
  • They then contrast these with the performance metrics expected by global adaptation investment funds such as the Green Climate Fund and propose ways to improve alignments between the two, thus increasing the chances of acquiring funding to implement countries’ Technology Action Plans.

Assessing results of climate change adaptation projects in practice: learning from German Technical Development Cooperation (Timo Leiter)

  • From the viewpoint of such an international adaptation funder, Leiterpresents the approaches applied by GIZ, Germany’s development cooperation organization, and explains how it has mainstreamed adaptation into its existing M&E systems.

Indicators for monitoring and evaluation adaptation within health systems (Kristie L. Ebi)

  • Presents experiences from the health sector in developing outcome-specific indicators and advocates the development of indicators adequate for health adaptation.
  • These would address both the factors that affect individual and social vulnerability to the hazards associated with a changing climate and the process of increasing resilience to the health risks of climate change.
National Climate Change Action Plan measurement, reporting and verification (with combined mitigation and adaptation functions) system (NCCAP MRV+; figure 1, page 115 of the report)

Lessons Learnt

While consensus on an ‘answer’ to the basic question asked in this volume is thus probably still a long way off, the articles it brings together do demonstrate some emerging patterns in respect of the key challenges that will be faced and outlines some general directions on what potential solutions could look like. These are summarized (in biref) as follows:

The gap between theory and practice

  • The global conversation around the measurement and tracking of adaptation is marked by a disconnect between the policy level and scholarly discussions, and practitioners in the field.
  • In the absence of a global consensus on concepts and methodologies, practitioners in the field have developed de factoapproaches and methodologies while implementing national and project-specific monitoring and evaluation systems.

The importance of context

  • The scale of inquiry is one of the critical issues: metrics that are appropriate in measuring the results of adaptation at the local or project level may not be appropriate at the national or international (aggregate) level.
  • Similarly, different metrics are often used in different sectors: agriculture-specific metrics, disaster-risk specific metrics, etc.
  • Moreover, the specific local economic, environmental or social context could make it necessary to use different metrics even for activities at the same scale and in the same sector.
  • This context-specificity of metrics illustrates that adaptation is itself a complex and highly embedded process that cannot easily be separated from the physical and social contexts in which it happens.

Learning from experience

  • The compilation of lessons obtained from ongoing or implemented projects provides great learning opportunities that could potentially inform both political and academic discussions.
  • Some examples of such practical experiences are included in the articles contained in section B. This begs the question of what we can learn from such practical experience.
    • Learning from stakeholders:The engagement of stakeholders in the co-creation of indicators has proved important in both sectoral projects and local adaptation tracking.
    • Learning from national and sub-national experiences: Nationally, government-mandated national M&E frameworks can provide valuable insights for progress. Several countries are also linking national and subnational adaptation M&E systems. These national efforts add value through the compilation of scattered data into a partial national illustration of adaptation progress. Local-level experiences are also crucial, given the local dimension of adaptation implementation.
From page 28 of the volume. Photo credit: Vadium Petrakov, Shuttershock

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