The Science of Adaptation: A Framework for Assessment

  • B. Smit
  • I. Burton
  • R.J.T. Klein
  • R. Street

DOI: 10.1023/A:1009652531101

Cite this article as:
Smit, B., Burton, I., Klein, R. et al. Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies for Global Change (1999) 4: 199. doi:10.1023/A:1009652531101


This paper outlines what is meant by "adaptation" to climate change, and how it might be addressed in the IPCC Assessments. Two roles of adaptation in the climate change field are identified: adaptation as part of impact assessment (where the key question is: what adaptations are likely?), and adaptation as part of the policy response (where the central question is: what adaptations are recommended?). The concept of adaptation has been adopted in several fields including climate impact assessment and policy development, risk management, and natural hazards research. A framework for systematically defining adaptations is based on three questions: (i) adaptation to what? (ii) who or what adapts? and (iii) how does adaptation occur? The paper demonstrates that, for adaptation purposes, climate extremes and variability are integral parts of climate change, along with shifts in mean conditions. Attributes for differentiating adaptations include purposefulness, timing, temporal and spatial scope, effects, form and performance. The framework provides a guide for the treatment of adaptation in the IPCC assessments, both in the assessment of impacts and in the evaluation of adaptive policy options.

adaptationclimate changeimpact assessmentresponse optionsvulnerability

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1999

Authors and Affiliations

  • B. Smit
    • 1
  • I. Burton
    • 2
  • R.J.T. Klein
    • 3
  • R. Street
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of GeographyUniversity of GuelphOntarioCanada
  2. 2.Environmental Adaptation Research GroupUniversity of Toronto; Environmental Adaptation Research Group, Atmospheric Environment ServiceOntarioCanada
  3. 3.Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact ResearchPotsdamGermany
  4. 4.Environmental Adaptation Research GroupAtmospheric Environment ServiceOntarioCanada