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Adaptation Targets

Adaptation Targets
Multiple Authors
Jyotiraj Patra

Adaptation to climate change is not only multidimensional, encompassing various impacts, sectors, actions and governance levels, but is also closely linked to development processes. Adaptation mainstreaming is probably the most efficient way of tackling multi-dimensional adaptation needs. Factoring climate risks into social, economic, and environmental planning, in the context of short and long-term adaptation strategies to address current and long-term climate change, will facilitate climate-resilient development.

Although some steps have been taken towards mainstreaming adaptation, there remain some unresolved issues and challenges that need further discussion. The main challenges to mainstreaming adaptation relate to the level of uncertainty associated with climate change, which makes it difficult to calculate potential impacts and thereby the return on investments in adaptation. Moreover, measuring the impacts of climate change at country level depends on the downscaling and calibration of global models, which is still an immature science. In addition, there is a lack of information on adaptation costs, in part because it is complicated to account for, and to estimate costs related to, the effects of adaptive capacity building processes.

One way to overcome some of these challenges, and thus contribute to mainstreaming adaptation at different levels of governance, is to set adaptation targets. In order to measure the progress in achieving these targets, metrics are needed. Defining metrics for adaptation can give an indication of the effectiveness of adaptation actions. Setting targets for adaptation could assist agencies to agree on which adaptation measures should be taken and how best to allocate resources. Furthermore, adaptation targets could help to:

  • identify adaptation options and technologies needed;
  • prioritize sectors, regions and locations for adaptation investment;
  • facilitate adaptive capacity-building processes;
  • establish possible inter-institutional coordination;
  • assist in the estimation of the economics of adaptation.

Nonetheless, the definition of targets for adaptation is not a straight-forward task. Adaptation targets should be policy-relevant, flexible enough to be applied at different scales, transferable, and context-specific. Also, they should account for strategic thinking, innovation and organizational learning.

Climate Change Adaptation Targets (CCAT): Case Studies

One way to initiate work on setting adaptation targets is to build on similar steps already taken in the development and disaster risk reduction communities (e.g., Millennium Development Goals and Paris Declaration indicators of progress). In 2007, the Climate Change Adaptation Targets (CCAT) project was launched under the Netherlands Climate Assistance Programme(NCAP) with the main objective of exploring the development of a common but differentiated methodology to set adaptation targets aiming at reducing vulnerability and contributing to human development. The idea of setting adaptation targets under this project is to assist national governments in their efforts to produce a climate change adaptation strategy with specific targets that can be incorporated into their sectoral and development planning.

The CCAT supported case studies in three countries: Bolivia, Mongolia and Bangladesh. The following table summarizes the common features of the country approaches to develop a methodology for setting adaptation targets.

Scale of Action Scope Methodology and Tools Stakeholder Participation Targets and Metrics
  • All three country projects conducted national-level system analyses evaluating institutions, policies, programmes and actions.
  • None of the countries performed local-level, longitudinal studies based on pilot projects.
  • Bolivia and Mongolia adopted a narrow, sector-specific focus. While Bolivia focused on urban slums, Mongolia targeted the livestock sector. In both cases high vulnerable sectors to climate change and variability were selected.
  • Bangladesh, instead, focused on four broad goals:reduce vulnerability to and risks of disasters; ensure food security; ensure optimum health conditions for the population; achieve a certain level of security of ecological goods and services.
  • All three country projects undertook a vulnerability/resilience assessment of institutions, policy frameworks, and vulnerable sector to identify ‘adaptation deficits’ and establish a baseline.
  • To carry out the assessment, Bolivia and Mongolia used a policy-institutional matrix that incorporates a scoring system to identify the development stage of each category assessed.
  • Baseline results were illustrated using spider-web graphs.
  • Using the baseline and based on stakeholder participation approaches targets were set for each category.
  • All three country projects engaged stakeholders from ministries, NGOs and the research community. Bolivia also included inter-governmental organizations.
  • Mongolia took further steps to engage local-level stakeholders in the vulnerability assessment.
  • All countries used non-structured interviews, questionnaires, workshops and expert meetings to engage stakeholders.
  • Adaptation targets were agreed in consensus with the stakeholders.
  • Targets for each country differ according to the scope taken: some targets are sector-specific, some are generic targets.
  • In general, targets are related to development goals and often respond to sectoral interests. Only Mongolia set finance-related targets.
  • In general, targets set by the countries are non-numerical with exception of Bolivia that set a country-specific, numerical and direct climate change and MDG related target.

For details on the country projects, see:

In addition to the efforts undertaken to investigate climate adaptation targets in Bolivia, Bangladesh and Mongolia, other countries are now beginning to explore this approach. For example, the Government of Vietnam has launched a National Target Program to respond to climate change and is planning community level pilot projects to gain experience in setting and achieving adaptation targets. Furthermore, the Government of Ghana is planning to host a workshop on climate adaptation targets and metrics in early 2009, to share experience gained so far in this field.

Thoughts for the Future Development of Climate Adaptation Targets

Adaptation can be measured through both a process-oriented and outcome-oriented approach, i.e. can be measured according to the process of building adaptive capacity (e.g., adaptation is a social and institutional process that involves reflecting on and responding to current trends) and the expected results of adaptation (e.g., the resources available to continue with development processes). Also, vulnerability and resilience assessments can uncover adaptation deficits and underline the necessary steps to build adaptive capacity.

Using both approaches, targets and metrics for adaptation can be designed in different ways (see Designing Metrics for Adaptation). They can be expressed as financial commitments, can be linked to development metrics, or can be expressed as sectoral policy indicators. Financial commitments could include national allocations that, according to the needs and level of institutional learning and capacity, incorporate funding for adaptation efforts, while development-related metrics could be based on measurable indicators that would allow measuring gradual progress on adaptation-sensitive development, including building adaptive capacity. Lastly, policy indicators could take account of the costs and benefits of adaptation measures in vulnerable sectors and the economy.

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