Adaptation Strategies for Climate Change

Although negligibly, climate change is happening, and addressing the issue in the short-term may prevent drastic future effects. When determining how to actually address climate change, two main strategies exist: mitigation and adaptation. While these two may appear similar, a nuanced difference distinguishes the two. Mitigation addresses the causes of climate change, while adaptation addresses the effects of climate change. Even though adaptation is a form of mitigation, it attempts to mitigate the harmful effects, not the causes. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), adaptation strategies can be either protective (guarding against the negative impacts of climate change) or opportunistic (taking advantage of any beneficial effects of climate change).

While an exact range is not agreed upon, most studies predict that the global mean in temperature has and will continue to rise. Some predict marginal gains, while others predict a drastic spike. Nevertheless, most agree that climate change is happening, and the evidence clearly reveals a trend in increasing temperatures. However, even though a consensus exists with regards to the veracity of climate change, no consensus exists on its causes. If the exact causes are unknown, nations spending money on mitigation strategies are taking shots in the dark at trying to stop climate change. Thus, nations may find adaptation measures more economically sensible than mitigation, as these strategies are a guaranteed way of protecting society.

As adaptation clearly appears the appropriate method of addressing climate change, many different strategies have been proposed to protect various sectors and industries. However, while the strategies may differ, the process of planning effective adaptation strategies tends to follow a similar, cyclical pattern for most nations. Here are the most common and effective six steps, according to the National Research Council:

  1. Identify current and future climate changes relevant to the system.
  2. Assess the vulnerabilities and risks to the system.
  3. Develop an adaptation strategy using risk-based prioritization schemes.
  4. Identify opportunities for co-benefits and synergies across sectors.
  5. Implement adaptation options.
  6. Monitor and reevaluate implemented adaptation options.

With this established methodology for discovering and implementing adaptation strategies, the EPA has given various examples of policies for each sector.

Agriculture and Food Supply
  • Breed crop varieties that are more tolerant of heat, drought, and water logging from heavy rainfall or flooding
  • Protect livestock from higher summer temperatures by providing more shade and improving air flow in barns
  • Promote shore protection techniques and open space preserves that allow beaches and coastal wetlands to gradually move inland as sea levels may rise.
  • Identify and improve evacuation routes and evacuation plans for low-lying areas, to prepare for increased storm surge and flooding.
  • Protect and increase migration corridors to allow species to migrate as the climate changes.
  • Promote land and wildlife management practices that enhance ecosystem resilience.
  • Increase energy efficiency to help offset increases in energy consumption.
  • Harden energy production facilities to withstand increased flood, wind, lightning, and other storm-related stresses.
  • Removing invasive species.
  • Promoting biodiversity and landscape diversity.
  • Collaborating across borders to create habitat linkages.
  • Managing wildfire risk through controlled burns and thinning.
Human Health
  • Implement early warning systems and emergency response plans to prepare for changes in the frequency, duration, and intensity of extreme weather events.
  • Plant trees and expand green spaces in urban settings to moderate heat increases.
  • Developing plans to help elderly populations deal with more extreme weather.
  • Relocating communities where in-place adaptation is not feasible.
  • Considering how the private sector can support and promote adaptation.
  • Understanding the specific needs of sensitive populations.
  • Raising the level of critical infrastructure.
  • Changing construction and design standards of transportation infrastructure, such as bridges, levees, roads, railways, and airports.
  • Abandoning or rebuilding important infrastructure in less vulnerable areas.
Water Resources
  • Improve water use efficiency and build additional water storage capacity.
  • Protect and restore stream and river banks to ensure good water quality and safe guard water quantity

Often times, an effective strategy takes the dual-mandate approach, implementing adaptation and mitigation processes. However, with mitigation looking less effective each day, going all in on necessary adaptation strategies seems to be more appropriate. While mitigation strategies may buy a little more time in the long-run, adaptation strategies must take precedence as they will have definitive positive impacts. Rather than implementing new regulations to curb carbon emissions or regulate business, the federal government should work to prioritize the protection of these industries.

Tanner Davis is a research associate at the National Center for Policy Analysis.

Comments (11)

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  1. Tom says:

    And you really expect that governments as a collective bunch will be able to do any of these things and do them competently without the negative “blowback” that they create being greater than any positive results that are intended? Since when has that ever been the case with any government led or directed effort of any kind?

    • Tanner says:

      First, thank you for commenting. I really appreciate you taking the time to digest the post and have a substantive comment.

      Second, the government is not intended to do every single one of these tasks. Rather, they are simply suggestions about how to effectively adapt a specific sector to climate change that seems particularly threatened.

      Third, I feel as though the government would feel greater “blowback” by refusing to do anything now. If we wait too long and the effects arrive without having done something in that intermittent period, then the government will definitely be accused of failure to act and protect society.

      Fourth, most or all of these ideas are simply intended to protect investments. If the sea levels rose 5 feet over the next 100 years, many coastal investment and much coastal development would be damaged and completely lost. However, I don’t necessarily agree this will happen, but it is just a precaution. I would rather be safe than sorry, and the safer option comes in the form of adaptation as opposed to mitigation.

      • SPM says:

        Tanner, I liked your article as it nicely defined some terms that are usually taken for granted.

        However, do you really think that the American public would collectively hold the government responsible for the (supposedly) disastrous effects of climate change? Do Americans really believe that the government has the power to mitigate the effects of a global increase in world temperatures when a single volcanic eruption can undo any of the carbon emission regulations imposed by the EPA?

        Carbon emissions by the US are a not very likely at all to increase global temperature. EPA regulations are GUARANTEED to lead to lower standards of living by hurting economic growth.

        • Tanner says:

          SPM, thank you so much for your comment! I appreciate your gratitude. However, while I disagree with you on some points, we agree more than you might think.

          First,I honestly do think that the American public would hold the government responsible. The federal government has great manpower with regards to science research. However, if it chooses to prioritize something else (which is likely and fine) but the effects have devastating effects on society, such as reducing crop yield, destroying infrastructure and investment, or eliminating water resources, then yes, the public will likely blame the federal government for doing nothing to preempt the effects.

          Second, your comments about the government mitigating the effects are a little off point. I am not saying that they are going to prevent more frequent natural disasters or slow down a rising sea. Rather, I am saying that the government could take measures to reduce how drastic the effects could be on society (see chart above in the post).

          Third, I completely agree that carbon emissions are not necessarily causing the rise in temperature. For all we know, the rise could simply be natural. Thus, I agree that the new standards set by Obama are unnecessary and will in fact harm the economy more than help it. The recommendations above regarding how to adapt certain sectors were not intended for the EPA to implement. Rather, they are suggestions from the EPA about how to adapt each specific sector. I honestly think these strategies should be implemented by the free market, which would provide a substantial number of jobs, thereby boosting economic growth.

  2. Charles Shelton says:

    If you really want to keep the earth from warming, just hide and watch; it is happening now!

    Despite an ongoing increase in CO2, current temperature records show that the earth is in the 19th year of a periodic cooling cycle. Why? Because the sun is going through such a cycle and much of the heat stored in the oceans is being dissipated.
    Once again, it is taking foreign scientists to report the truth about global temperature cycles; search on Russian scientist, Dr Abdussamatov.

    Naturally, all the followers of Al Gore attack anyone that challenges their hysterical theories.

  3. Tanner says:

    Again, I appreciate your comment, but I am not convinced that we are about to enter a period of cooling or of an ice age.

    Temperatures have risen, but have stalled. I agree that temperatures are rising, but aren’t rising that fast. With climate science predicting many different ranges, it is hard to take climate studies at face value. However, while I don’t agree on how fast we are heating up, I do agree that we are heating at some sort of rate. We need to start adapting society and its sectors before it’s too late.

    Read the very first paragraph of this article (, which is spot on about what I am trying to get across.

    This is also a very good article from The Economist:

  4. Jeffrey says:

    I like the dual idea of the adaptation strategies presented here. Adaptation can be both protective and opportunistic. I wish that there was a bit more focus on the beneficial effects of climate change. Otherwise, a very well-written article.

  5. Energy Reality says:

    Al Gore is a liar and a fraud, watch this trailer then get the movie:

    • Tanner says:

      I am not Al Gore’s best friend, but I do agree that the world is warming. It may be natural or it may be anthropogenic. Either way, climate science has yet to come to a consensus on the causes of climate change. If we can’t nail down the causes but we know that warming is happening either way, then the best course of action will be to adapt instead of mitigate. It is the most economical! We shouldn’t impose regulations that limit carbon emissions when we don’t know that CO2 is at fault for the warming. Rather, we should just keep doing what we are doing while slowly adapting society and each sector/industry to climate change before the effects hit full force. There are definitely ways that adaptation can occur without disrupting economic growth.