Is Adaptation Success a Flawed Concept?

Universally applicable notions of climate adaptation success are not realistic—adaptation is ever-changing, and implemented at local levels with wildly different baseline conditions. In a new Nature comment, CSTPR faculty Lisa Dilling and international colleagues ask: is adaptation success a flawed concept?

Nature Climate Change (2019)

The Paris Agreement established a global goal on adaptation and invites parties to review the effectiveness of adaptation actions. However, the measurement of adaptation success remains elusive. Focusing on the capabilities of households and governments to pursue a range of adaptation futures provides a more robust foundation.

The Paris Agreement established a global goal on adaptation (Article 7, para. 1) and invites Parties to “review the adequacy and effectiveness of adaptation” in a global stocktake (Article 7, para. 14c). Creating universally applicable measures of adaptation success remains elusive, however, given that most adaptation projects are implemented at the local level and start from wildly differing baseline conditions. Further, the adaptation process is never truly ‘finished’ in a changing, evolving climate1. Berrang-Ford et al.2 propose tracking government adaptation policy instruments as a way to assess progress. However, these and other approaches do not address what constitutes ‘success’, focusing instead on government planning, or how vulnerability is changing — and leaving open the questions of vulnerability of whom, to what, and who decides. In this Comment, we propose that the focus should be on bolstering and measuring the capabilities of individuals and institutions — capabilities that are necessary to pursue a range of resilient futures and adaptation goals.

We know from experience in other fields that developing metrics to define progress or success can be challenging. Although technologies of assessment might appear apolitical, in fact they privilege certain worldviews and processes over others3. Read more …

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