There is no single approach or simple formula to adapt to climate change. In some cases adaptation occurs naturally (or spontaneously) in response to changing environmental, social or economic conditions, for example, tourists come when the climate is right. In other cases, anticipatory or planned adaptation actions will be needed to lessen climate risks and to protect vulnerable groups. Common approaches for this type of climate change adaptation include risk, vulnerability and resilience-based approaches. Each approach offers a different lens with which to understand adaptation.
A Risk-based Adaptation Approach typically focuses on identifying hazards (climate change may be one among many), assessing the severity of the hazards and the probability of their occurrence. The goal of the adaptation strategy in this case would be to find a way to mitigate the most severe risks in the most cost-effective and efficient way and/or to invest in initiatives which enhance capacity to deal with the risks.
A Vulnerability-based Adaptation Approach focuses on understanding how sensitive or exposed particular ecosystems or populations are to climate change. An impact assessment of this kind, would look at how highly fragile ecosystems or vulnerable populations, such as the poor, the elderly and the young will be effected by climate change. This will be determined in part by the risks they face, but more importantly, by how sensitive they are to climate changes. The adaptation strategy in this case would typically focus on addressing the underlying causes of their vulnerability – whether it be social or economic inequality, habitat encroachment or some other combination of factors.
A Resilience-based Adaptation Approach is a broad assessment of total system integrity; it considers the capacity of the entire socio-economic and ecological network in any given region or sector to adapt to climate change, with a particular focus on assessing how much disturbance a society or ecological system can take before it starts to lose its capacity to function as a system. An adaptation strategy based on resilience would focus on building the capacity of systems to withstand disturbance and change, by making the systems more robust, more flexible and diverse.