Valuing adaptation under rapid change

This report addresses the need for collaborative frameworks for institutional decision making under uncertainty, and economic strategies to allocate risk, when planning to adapt to climate change.


The methods used to plan adaptation to climate change have been heavily influenced by scientific narratives of gradual change and economic narratives of marginal adjustments to that change. An investigation of the theoretical aspects of how the climate changes suggests that scientific narratives of climate change are socially constructed, biasing scientific narratives to descriptions of gradual as opposed rapid, non-linear change. Evidence of widespread step changes in recent climate records and in model projections of future climate is being overlooked because of this. Step-wise climate change has the potential to produce rapid increases in extreme events that can cross institutional, geographical and sectoral domains.

Likewise, orthodox economics is not well suited to the deep uncertainty faced under climate change, requiring a multi-faceted approach to adaptation. The presence of tangible and intangible values range across five adaptation clusters: goods; services; capital assets and infrastructure; social assets and infrastructure; and natural assets and infrastructure. Standard economic methods have difficulty in giving adequate weight to the different types of values across these clusters. They also do not account well for the inter-connectedness of impacts and subsequent responses between agents in the economy. As a result, many highly-valued aspects of human and environmental capital are being overlooked.

Recent extreme events are already pressuring areas of public policy, and national strategies for emergency response and disaster risk reduction are being developed as a consequence. However, the potential for an escalation of total damage costs due to rapid change requires a coordinated approach at the institutional level, involving all levels of government, the private sector and civil society.

One of the largest risks of maladaptation is the potential for un-owned risks, as risks propagate across domains and responsibility for their management is poorly allocated between public and private interests, and between the roles of the individual and civil society. Economic strategies developed by the disaster community for disaster response and risk reduction provide a base to work from, but many gaps remain.

We have developed a framework for valuing adaptation that has the following aspects: the valuation of impacts thus estimating values at risk, the evaluation of different adaptation options and strategies based on cost, and the valuation of benefits expressed as a combination of the benefits of avoided damages and a range of institutional values such as equity, justice, sustainability and profit.

The choice of economic methods and tools used to assess adaptation depends largely on the ability to constrain uncertainty around problems (predictive uncertainty) and solutions (outcome uncertainty). Orthodox methods can be used where both are constrained, portfolio methodologies where problems are constrained and robust methodologies where solutions are constrained. Where both are unconstrained, process-based methods utilising innovation methods and adaptive management are most suitable. All methods should involve stakeholders where possible.

Innovative processes methods that enable transformation will be required in some circumstances, to allow institutions, sectors and communities to prepare for anticipated major change.

Please cite this report as:
Jones, RN, Young, CK, Handmer, J, Keating, A, Mekala, GD & Sheehan, P 2013, Valuing adaptation under rapid change, National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility, Gold Coast, 184 pp.

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Geographic and Temporal Extents
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Attributions and Constraints
Roger N Jones,Celeste Young,John Handmer,Adriana Keating,Gayathri Mekala,Peter Sheehan