Climate Change Adaptation Guiding Principles

The Interagency Climate Change Adaptation Task Force identified a set of guiding principles that governments, communities, the private sector, and others should consider when designing and implementing adaptation strategies. The Council on Environmental Quality has incorporated these principles into the planning requirement for federal agencies.

Adopt Integrated Approaches

Climate change adaptation strategies should be integrated into core policies, planning, practices, and programs.

Prioritize the Most Valuable

Adaptation plans should prioritize helping people, places, and infrastructure that are most vulnerable to climate impacts. They should also be designed and implemented with meaningful involvement from all parts of society. Issues of inequality and environmental justice associated with climate change impacts and adaptation should be addressed.

Use Best-Available Science

Adaptation should be grounded in best-available scientific understanding of climate change risks, impacts, and vulnerabilities. Adaptive actions should not be delayed to wait for a complete understanding of climate change impacts, as there will always be some uncertainty. Plans and actions should be adjusted as our understanding of climate impacts increases.

Build Strong Partnerships

Adaptation requires coordination across multiple sectors, geographical scales, and levels of government and should build on the existing efforts and knowledge of a wide range of stakeholders. Because impacts, vulnerability, and needs vary by region and locale, adaptation will be most effective when driven by local or regional risks and needs.

Apply Risk-Management Methods and Tools

A risk management approach can be an effective way to assess and respond to climate change because the timing, likelihood, and nature of specific climate risks are difficult to predict. Risk management approaches are already used in many critical decisions today (e.g., for fire, flood, disease outbreaks), and can aid in understanding the potential consequences of inaction as well as options for risk reduction.

Apply Ecosystem-Based Approaches

Ecosystems provide valuable services that help to build resilience and reduce the vulnerability of people and their livelihoods to climate change impacts. Integrating the protection of biodiversity and ecosystem services into adaptation strategies will increase resilience of human and natural systems to climate and non-climate risks, providing benefits to society and the environment.

Maximize Mutual Benefits

Adaptation should, where possible, use strategies that complement or directly support other related climate or environmental initiatives, such as efforts to improve disaster preparedness, promote sustainable resource management, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions including the development of cost-effective technologies.

Continuously Evaluate Performance

Adaptation plans should include measurable goals and performance metrics to continuously assess whether adaptive actions are achieving desired outcomes. In some cases, the measurements will be qualitative until more information is gathered to evaluate outcomes quantitatively. Flexibility is critical to building a robust and resilient process that can accommodate uncertainty and change.

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