By switching to dark mode you can reduce the energy consumption of our digital service.

Framework for developing a municipal adaptation plan

Multiple Authors

This article originally appeared in Tiempo Issue 87 April 2008

A framework for the development of a Municipal Adaptation Plan (MAP)

By Pierre Mukheibir and Gina Ziervogel


In recent years, reducing vulnerability to climate change has become an urgent issue in low- and middle-income countries, and is at the forefront of any sustainable development policy agenda. Adaptation to climate change is a process whereby individuals and communities seek to respond to ‘actual or expected climatic stimuli or their effects’. This process is not new and throughout history, people have adapted to changing climate conditions. What is new is the incorporation of climate change and its potential impacts into policy making and planning at a range of scales.

National Adaptation Plans of Action (NAPA) have been developed recently under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) for Least Developed Countries (LDCs). However, to date there has not been a consolidated or coordinated approach to adaptation to projected climate impacts on a municipal scale. This needs to be addressed urgently as it is at this level that many people are directly affected by climate induced impacts and it is at this level that institutional solutions can be introduced that target wide numbers of people.

This article presents an overarching framework developed for a municipal level approach to adapting sectors to climate impacts

Towards a framework for adaptation to climate change at municipal level

The political discourse on climate change has been debated through the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), but the agenda has in the past mainly focused on mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions. Recently there has been a shift in focus, where policy makers and academics have begun to debate the issues surrounding adaptation to future climate impacts and to consider the implications for the future. In addition, all parties to the Convention, including South Africa, agreed to adopt national programmes for mitigation and adaptation and describe these in “national communications”. However, this has mainly been focused at the national level but the resources and capacity at local level to deal with the implementation and operational issues are not always considered.

Developing a framework for adaptation to climate change at the municipal scale is necessary therefore, to prioritise the most urgent local adaptation activities and identify the required local human and financial resources. If climate variability is to increase it is necessary to understand how climate impacts on the different sectors and their resultant vulnerabilities. This will focus attention on where priority intervention might reduce the impacts of climate change and help cities to adapt, rather than react when the damage has already been done.

The Adaptation Policy Framework developed by the UNDP, is structured around four major principles from which actions to adapt to climate change can be developed, viz:

  • Adaptation to short-term climate variability and extreme events is included as a basis for reducing vulnerability to longer-term climate change,
  • Adaptation policies and measures are assessed in a developmental context,
  • Adaptation occurs at different levels of society,
  • Both the strategy and the process by which adaptation is implemented are equally important.

These principles should continually be reflected on to ensure adaptation activities are achieving their desired goals.

A number of methodologies have been developed which are either at a national level in scale, such as the NAPA, or are project focused, such as the SSNAPP methodology developed by SouthSouthNorth.However, these methodologies do not institutionalise the approach at a local level.

In order to develop an appropriate local level or municipal adaptation strategy, the following ten steps are presented as a framework to guide the development of such an adaptation strategy (see also Figure 1):

  1. Assess current climate trends and future projections for the geographical region.
  2. Undertake a climate vulnerability assessment of the municipal area. Many cities will not have this information collected and analysed and would therefore have to develop this assessment from scratch.
    1. Identify current sectoral and cross-sectoral vulnerabilities based on current climate variability risks and trends.
    2. Identify future potential vulnerabilities based on future projected climate scenarios and future climate risks.
    3. Capture this information on local vulnerability maps using GIS and other tools. The climate impact assessment would include sea level rise, drought and flood prone areas.
  3. Review of current development plans and priorities. Most municipalities would be able to find this information in their various strategic plans.
  4. Overlay of development priorities, expected climate change, current climate vulnerability and expected future climate vulnerability, using GIS for spatial interrogation and other participatory and quantitative assessments for further analysis. These various overlays will assist in identifying hotspots of where to focus adaptation activities.
  5. Develop adaptation options using new and existing consultative tools. These options should integrate climate-sensitive responses with development priorities as well as focusing on areas that are highly vulnerable to climate variability.
  6. Prioritise the adaptation actions using tools such as multi-criteria analysis (MCA), cost benefit analysis (CBA) or a social accounting matrix (SAM).
  7. Develop programme and project scoping and design documents together with associated budgets. This document will be the Municipal Adaptation Plan (MAP).
  8. Implement the interventions prioritised in the MAP.
  9. Monitor and evaluate the interventions on an ongoing basis.
  10. Regularly review and modify the plans at predefined intervals.

Figure 1: FAC4T Process for developing a Municipal Adaptation Plan

The components should be complimented by two cross-cutting processes:

  1. Stakeholder engagement to identify vulnerable sectors and existing and potential adaptation initiatives. This engagement process is also necessary to bring politicians and decision makers on board and to give them insight into the projected impacts and potential adaptation actions. Since some of the actions will be capital intensive or politically unpopular, it is necessary to build political will to fund and support adaptation measures. Furthermore, some actions may require some tradeoffs that the stakeholders would need to deliberate.

In developing the MAP, various products would be produced including a vulnerability assessment, a climate impacts assessment and a vulnerability map highlighting hotspots where developmental priorities intersect with climate impacts. It is important that a broad range of expertise is drawn on to gather this evidence.

  1. Adaptive capacity assessment of the various sectors that would be affected by the impacts of climate change. Adaptive capacity can be defined as the potential or ability of a system to adapt to impacts of climate change. There are currently no methodologies for assessing the adaptive capacity of a sector, but this is a gap that should be addressed in future.

This process should also include an assessment of the local government’s capacity to implement adaptation actions in terms of budgetary and personnel constraints, with and without explicit climate change adaptation strategies.

Assessing vulnerability to current climate variability is challenging because of the range of factors that contribute to vulnerability in addition to climate. Therefore, assessing vulnerability to climate change is more challenging, especially because of the dynamic nature of vulnerability. Although some attempt to evaluate adaptive capacity provides an indication of the ability to adapt to future change, it is impossible to definitively define future vulnerability. However, some tools, such as scenarios, may help to evaluate future pathways of vulnerability.

Once the key vulnerabilities are identified, it is necessary to formulate an adaptation strategy consisting of a range of adaptation actions. These adaptation actions need to be developed for the local context in conjunction with key stakeholders, including those directly impacted, experts in the sectors and climate specialists who can comment on the nature of the climate variability. This is necessary in order to assess the secondary impacts of pursuing certain adaptation actions and to ensure there is equity and sustainability given the complex institutional arrangements of the city and its inhabitants.

Once adaptation actions have been identified, they need to be prioritised. One method of evaluating which actions might be pursued firstly is multi-criterion analysis (MCA). MCA enables options to be evaluated using a range of criterion that includes unquantifiable analysis, especially when distributional implications need to be considered. The purpose of using MCA is to aid decision-making rather than to evaluate options in monetary terms. It is useful for assessing options for adapting to climate change as there are many factors that need to be considered including equity, efficiency, short or long term benefits as well as many other non-monetary factors. Tools such as cost-benefit analysis (CBA) and social accounting matrix (SAM) are useful when determining the financial implications of an intervention, both in terms of cost and benefit to society. Issues such the impact on GDP and employment can be assessed. At the same time, the limitations of these methods should be addressed. For example, although MCA might enable non-cost factors to be assessed, the stakeholders defining the criteria and evaluating them may have biases. More flexible methods can therefore, also be explored for choosing priority adaptation actions.

One of the first steps towards developing a MAP would be to consolidate and integrate existing adaptation initiatives to avoid duplication and to work within budgetary and capacity constraints. A holistic approach to developing a municipal level adaptation plan should also include reviews of both the direct impact on natural resources, as well as the secondary impacts on the socio-economic environment and the livelihood of communities. Through stakeholder consultation and prioritisation, these and other sectors could be included.

A key component of a framework for the climate change strategy is the ongoing monitoring of the programmes and the projects that are prioritised and implemented. The effectiveness of the interventions should be regularly assessed and modifications made if necessary. Adaptation to climate change is not an event, but rather it is an ongoing process of social learning. The development of the MAP should lead to adaptation actions being integrated into development policy and planning at every level. It should not be an add-on or an after thought. Development itself is key to adaptation, since adaptation should be an extension of good development practice and should reduce vulnerability. All levels of government should ensure that policies, programmes, budget frameworks and projects take account of climate change, since critical economic, social and ecological challenges can only be effectively addressed on a regional scale. However, there is little evidence of this since low- and middle-income countries face two key barriers to integrating climate change into developing planning, viz. institutional constraints and technical capacity. These are discussed further in the conclusion.


This article presents a methodology designed for municipalities to develop an integrated adaptation plan. However, the MAP should not be seen as a once-off process. It should initially be used to educate planners of these potential impacts and develop interventions that are sectorally based as well those that are cross-sectoral. With time, the integration of climate-sensitive actions into development planning should become common place in all municipal departments and their strategic plans.

An integral part of the MAP is the inclusion of an early warning system, where daily and seasonal weather forecasts are monitored to identify any pending impacts and potential disasters. A communication protocol is required to ensure that early warnings from the relevant entities are effectively communicated to the affected authority and communities so that appropriate interventions can be initiated.

A number of potential barriers to implementing a MAP do however exist. Issues such as low local human capacity to undertake this kind of planning and the limited knowledge and understanding of climate issues at local and municipal level are some of the more obvious obstacles. Limited financial resources and competing priorities often result in medium to long term planning being sidelined and the implementation of projects that don’t fit into the short political life of decision makers do not get implemented. Furthermore, it is difficult to convince decision makers to consider the need for a climate strategy, when the climate projections cover a longer time horizon than the political and development framework and are associated with high uncertainty. And finally, without a legislative framework, comprehensive and consistent adaptation planning will not be done by all municipalities.

Developing a thorough methodology will require integrating the expertise of government stakeholders, researchers, civil society and the private sector. This integration may prove challenging and depend on the level of support.

The article serves as an initial, broad overview of the problem posed by projected climate change, and requires further attention to detail in many areas before a clear adaptive strategy can be developed. Further focussed study is required, mainly to reduce uncertainties in many areas relating to the climate projections themselves, and of inferences of impacts and sectoral and cross-sectoral vulnerabilities. More detailed assessments of the vulnerability of key threatened areas, together with likely timelines of impacts should be undertaken. Along with this is the need to better understand how institutions might ‘adapt’ to enable climate-sensitive development to become the norm to not only respond to projected climate impacts, but also to ensure some resilience to current climate variability.


This article is based on a report compiled by the authors for the City of Cape Town titled ‘A Framework for Adaptation to Climate Change in the City of Cape Town – FAC4T’. A longer version of the article has been published the Environment and Urbanisation journal: Mukheibir, P & Ziervogel, G 2007. Developing a Municipal Adaptation Plan (MAP) for climate change: the city of Cape Town. Environment & Urbanisation. 19 (1), 143-158. April 2007.

Contact: [email protected]

Related resources

Add your project

Exchange your climate change adaptation projects and lessons learned with the global community.