Climatic Change

, Volume 45, Issue 1, pp 223–251

An Anatomy of Adaptation to Climate Change and Variability

  • Barry Smit
  • Ian Burton
  • Richard J.T. Klein
  • J. Wandel

DOI: 10.1023/A:1005661622966

Cite this article as:
Smit, B., Burton, I., Klein, R.J. et al. Climatic Change (2000) 45: 223. doi:10.1023/A:1005661622966


Adaptation to climate variability and change is important both for impact assessment (to estimate adaptations which are likely to occur) and for policy development (to advise on or prescribe adaptations). This paper proposes an "anatomy of adaptation" to systematically specify and differentiate adaptations, based upon three questions: (i) adapt to what? (ii) who or what adapts? and (iii) how does adaptation occur? Climatic stimuli include changes in long-term mean conditions and variability about means, both current and future, and including extremes. Adaptation depends fundamentally on the characteristics of the system of interest, including its sensitivities and vulnerabilities. The nature of adaptation processes and forms can be distinguished by numerous attributes including timing, purposefulness, and effect. The paper notes the contribution of conceptual and numerical models and empirical studies to the understanding of adaptation, and outlines approaches to the normative evaluation of adaptation measures and strategies.

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2000

Authors and Affiliations

  • Barry Smit
    • 1
  • Ian Burton
    • 2
  • Richard J.T. Klein
    • 3
  • J. Wandel
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of GeographyUniversity of GuelphGuelphCanada
  2. 2.Environmental Adaptation Research Group, Institute for Environmental StudiesUniversity of TorontoTorontoCanada
  3. 3.Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact ResearchPotsdamGermany
  4. 4.Department of GeographyUniversity of GuelphGuelphCanada