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PROVIA Guidance on Assessing Vulnerability, Impacts and Adaptation to Climate Change

This guidance provides clear technical guidance on climate change vulnerability, impacts and adaptation at the local, national and international levels, in both developed and developing countries.
Multiple Authors
Kelvin Luck


Climate change poses a wide range of risks – and, in some cases, opportunities – to human and natural systems around the world. In order to understand and address these risks and opportunities, stakeholders need clear technical guidance.

In 1994 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change published Technical Guidelines for Assessing Climate Change Impacts and Adaptations. These guidelines outlined a series of generic steps to be followed when designing and conducting a climate change impact and adaptation assessment. The guidelines were complemented in 1996 by the UNEP Handbook on Methods for Climate Change Impact Assessment and Adaptation Strategies. The IPCC Guidelines and the UNEP Handbook were applied in a range of country studies during the decade following their publication.

The past decade has seen a shift from centralized guidance for climate vulnerability, impact and adaptation assessment to the development of specific, often sectoral or place-based approaches. There has been a proliferation of assessment methods and tools, and it has become increasingly difficult for potential users to understand the utility, benefits, requirements and tradeoffs of those methods and tools. Stakeholders’ demand for knowledge on vulnerability, impacts and adaptation needs to be matched with the supply from the research community of clear technical guidance that takes into account both the academic developments of the past 20 years as well as user needs at local, national and international levels.

This document responds to that challenge by updating and improving existing guidance for assessing climate change vulnerability, impacts and adaptation, covering the range of available approaches, methods and tools.

*Download the full report from the right hand column. The key messages from the report are provided below. See the full text for more detail.

Methods and Tools

PROVIA has updated and improved on existing guidance, discussing key issues at each stage of the adaptation cycle and covering the wide array of approaches, methods and tools available to address them. The resulting materials should be useful to researchers, adaptation practitioners, planners and policy-makers alike.

The conceptual basis, the decision trees and the methods and tools included in the PROVIA Guidance build on research conducted within the project MEDIATION: Methodology for Effective Decision-making on Impacts and Adaptation, funded by the European Commission’s 7th Framework Programme. MEDIATION undertook a detailed review of these approaches and methods, and tested them in a series of case studies.

Adaptation learning cycle

The guidance is structured along a five-stage iterative adaptation learning cycle:

1. Identifying adaptation needs:What impacts may be expected under climate change? What are actors’ vulnerabilities and capacities? What major decisions need to be addressed?

2. Identifying adaptation options:How can the specific risks and opportunities that were identified be addressed? There may be several options available to achieve the desired goals.

3. Appraising adaptation options:What are the pros and cons of the different options, and which best fit the adaptation actors’ objectives?

4. Planning and implementing adaptation actions:After an option is chosen, implementation can begin. The focus here is on practical issues, such as planning, assigning responsibilities, setting up institutional frameworks, and taking action.

5. Monitoring and evaluation of adaptation.As measures are implemented, the process is monitored and evaluated to ensure it goes as planned, identify any problems, document the outcomes achieved, change course as needed, and draw lessons from the experience.

The adaptation learning cycle (Figure 1.3.1 in the report)

This is an idealized model of adapting to climate change; “real-world” adaptation processes may not be linear, and in fact, may require refinement through iteration. This guidance therefore provides multiple entry points, highlighted in boxes throughout the document, to allow readers to enter (and re-enter) at various stages or sub-stages of the process.

All of these tasks are complex, and many need to be carried out by experts. There is no “one size fits all” approach, and this document emphasizes the diversity of adaptation challenges and the variety of methods and tools available to address them. We use decision trees to identify key criteria that may indicate the need for a particular kind of analysis or method, but never prescribe an approach as the only valid one. The aim of the document is to provide an overview of the range of activities that make up climate risk assessment and adaptation, and a coherent and integrated structure for addressing them.

In the report

Below we provide brief overviews of the four sections of the document, which can be found in greater detail in the Featured Download on the right-hand side of the page.

Section 1: Introduction

This section introduces the basic structure and terminology used in the guidance, including how to frame the adaptation process, how to differentiate adaptation challenges based on different criteria, and how to identify the most relevant (salient) tools and approaches to address those challenges. We also stress the importance of stakeholder participation at all stages of the adaptation learning cycle, which should cover the full range of affected groups, including women and marginalized populations. This is particularly the case for collective adaptation situations, to understand and take steps towards harmonizing the diverse and potentially conflicting perspectives of different actors.

Section 2: Choosing approaches for addressing climate change adaptation

This section goes through each stage of the adaptation cycle and identifies tasks that may arise and different approaches that may be applicable.

The stages of the adaptation cycle are:

  1. Identifying adaptation needs
  2. Identifying adaptation options
  3. Appraising adaptation options
  4. Planning and implementing adaptation
  5. Monitoring and evaluating adaptation

For each stage, tasks and different approaches are provided. The figure below shows how, for an adaptation challenge, Section 2 can be used to choose approaches, and Section 3 can be used to learn about the methods and tools used to implement adaptation options.

Exemplary decision tree and its iterative application for choosing approaches based on the current adaptation challenge. Decision nodes on empirical criteria are represented by yellow hexagons; decision nodes on theoretical criteria are represented by orange octagons. The salient approaches are represented by blue rectangles. The entry point to a decision tree is a decision node with bold borders. Exit points are approaches that lead to the next stage in the overall adaptation cycle. They are represented with dashed bold borders.

Section 3: Methods and tools

This section provides in-depth guidance on the approaches discussed in Section 2, as well as additional methods and tools, often with examples from the literature.

It provides an overview of methods and tools in each of the following areas:

  • Participation and engagement
  • Impact analysis
  • Capacity analysis
  • Scenario analysis
  • Behavioural analysis
  • Institutional analysis
  • Formal decision-making
  • Valuation methods
  • Tools for adaptation planning and implementation
  • Methods for monitoring and evaluating adaptation
  • Tools for learning and reflection

Section 4: Example cases

In this section, we provide three case studies of how the characteristics of an adaptation situation can be mapped to specific tasks to be addressed, and to specific approaches. Each case study begins with a narrative description of the situation, which describes the adapting actors, the climate hazards and the geographic location. Next, the key characteristics of the situation are analysed in order to identify critical tasks. Finally, a schematic diagram is presented which illustrates the sequence of questions to be addressed within a given case.

Project Information:

Download a summary version of the document (20 pages) here:

The Global Programme of Research on Climate Change Vulnerability, Impacts and Adaptation (PROVIA) is a scientific initiative of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) that seeks to harmonize, mobilize and communicate the growing knowledge base on vulnerability, impacts and adaptation.

The preparation of the PROVIA Guidance was funded by UNEP, with additional support provided by the Government of Sweden.

Suggested Citation:

PROVIA, 2013: PROVIA Guidance on Assessing Vulnerability, Impacts and Adaptation to Climate Change.Consultation document, United Nations Environment Programme, Nairobi, Kenya, 198 pp.

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