Study shows effects of climate adaptation are difficult to determine

Published on
November 3, 2021

Human beings are adapting, but whether this is sufficient to reduce the consequences of climate impacts such as heat stress, flood risk and drought is difficult to determine. This is shown by a comprehensive international study to which 126 scientists have contributed. An article about the study was recently published in Nature Climate Change.

Effects are difficult to measure

The scientists screened more than 48,000 scientific articles and analysed 1,682 articles. “All these articles show that a lot of adaptation measures are being taken, but that they’re fragmented, aren’t innovative enough and are on a small scale. Moreover, the effects of all these measures are difficult to chart”, according to Robbert Biesbroek, co-author and associate professor at the Public Administration and Policy group at Wageningen University & Research.

All kinds of conceptual and methodological problems hinder a good analysis of adaptation effects, he says: “It’s difficult to determine how much adaptation is needed and how long the measures are effective for.” In addition, there are side effects from other measures. “If I insulate my house to save energy, this has the positive side effect that my house is also better insulated against heat. The question is: how do you measure this effect and how do you add it to all the other effects of climate adaptation? It’s particularly complicated because climate adaptation consists of so many components, from human behaviour and technical measures to political-administrative interventions.”

Governments need insight

Governments need insight into the effects of climate adaptation in order to take good policy decisions however difficult it may be to measure the effects. Biesbroek: “It’s relatively easy to see the effects of climate mitigation – measures to reduce climate change – from greenhouse gas emissions. But there’s no simple unit of measurement for adaptation. If we fail to achieve our mitigation targets, people will have to adapt even more. Governments, but also companies and citizens, need to know how much adaptation is needed and which measures are effective.”

Climate summit

The publication of the study comes has come out just before the climate summit that is taking place from 1 to 12 November in Glasgow. As the findings are based on a huge number of scientific studies, these will play a major role in the discussions on how to determine whether countries are also actually achieving their climate-adaptation ambitions, expects Biesbroek.