Documented adaptation initiatives have increased significantly since 2006
Of the 2,084 publications from the peer-reviewed and grey literature selected for initial review, 261 were retained for analysis as reporting adaptation initiatives and were joined by NCs from 27 countries. 288 documents were reviewed altogether, and we identified and coded 760 unique adaptation initiatives (see supplementary materials). Within the NCs, 189 initiatives were reported, ranging from one initiative in Gabon to 25 in South Africa and averaging 7 per country. On average, peer-reviewed articles included 1–2 adaptation initiatives (for a total of 150 documented initiatives), while grey literature documents reported 2–3 (for a total of 421 documented initiatives). There has been notable growth in reporting on adaptation initiatives in hotspot countries included in the analysis, across all literature types (Fig. 1; Table 1). The peer-reviewed literature describing adaptation has emerged predominantly since 2008 and has grown rapidly.
Adaptation initiatives are predominantly being reported from African and low-income countries
Despite our stratification of the grey literature review process to increase literature sampled for Asia, reporting from southern and eastern African nations remained dominant with the exception of key Asian nations, namely India, Bangladesh, and Nepal (Table 2). Close to three quarters (n = 562, 74 %) of all adaptation initiatives recorded are from African nations (Fig. 1), with 24 % (n = 195) from Asian countries included in the analysis (Fig. 1). Among our sample, on a population basis, there are 0.67 initiatives per million people in the African nations compared with 0.12 in Asia. This proportion has not changed substantively since 2006. The highest number of documented adaptation initiatives was reported in Kenya (n = 59), followed by Ethiopia (n = 54), India (n = 51), South Africa (n = 42), Bangladesh (n = 41), Malawi (n = 40), and Rwanda (n = 36) (see supplementary materials).
There is a notable absence of reporting on adaptation in Central Asia. There was no NC available for Afghanistan at the time of review, although one has since been submitted in March 2013, and only one peer-reviewed article (Krysanova et al. 2010). Only two grey literature documents by international organizations were available (UNEP 2011; WFP 2011), and no reporting by formal government structures. While NCs were available and reviewed for Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan, peer-reviewed literature on adaptation in these nations is limited. Only a few grey literature documents led by international organizations and NGOs were available for the region in general (International C 2008; IOM 2009b; RECCA 2011; World Bank 2008, 2011), and two journal articles also general to the region (Krysanova et al. 2010; Stucker et al. 2012). NC content is limited to a few vulnerability assessments, with the exception of Uzbekistan, which has gone beyond groundwork initiatives to develop preliminary health care adaptation projects and a drought early warning system. All Central Asian nations—except for Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan—have fewer than 10 documented adaptation initiatives (Fig. 1).
Table 2 identifies the top and bottom 20 nations reporting adaptation initiatives and compares these nations with the most vulnerable countries in the hotspot regions identified in the GAIN vulnerability index. Over half (n = 11) of the most vulnerable nations from GAIN are among the top adaptors documented in this study. However, 30 % (n = 6) of the most vulnerable nations are also among the lowest adaptors based on reported adaptations. Interestingly, low-income countries were significantly more likely (p = 0.02, Fisher’s exact test) to be top adaptors: 74 % of the top 20 adaptors were low-income nations compared with 36 and 14 % for lower-middle and upper-middle-income nations, respectively. Liberia and Afghanistan are notable outliers. Comparing data on international finance for adaptation with documented adaptations for the hotspot regions reveals that those topping funding are more likely (p = 0.03, Fishers exact test) to be top adaptors (80 vs 39 %), while 61 % of bottom funders were low adapters compared with only 20 % of top funders.
Initiatives involve a combination of groundwork and more concrete adaptation actions
Of the 760 adaptation initiatives documented, 48 % were classified as groundwork and 52 % adaptation actions (Table 2). This proportion has changed little since 2006. Nations reporting the highest number of adaptations were also leaders in implementing concrete adaptations designed to intentionally reduce vulnerability/increase adaptive capacity to climate change, including Kenya (n = 34), India (n = 32), Ethiopia (n = 29), Bangladesh (n = 25), Mozambique (n = 22), and Ghana (n = 20). Mali (n = 16), Namibia (n = 7), Nepal (n = 17), Senegal (n = 14), Sudan (n = 15), Uganda (n = 19), and Zimbabwe (n = 12), were notable for reporting substantially more actions than groundwork. Nations reporting few adaptations have made limited progress on implementing adaptation actions. There are no significant differences between region (i.e., Africa vs. Asia) in the reporting of groundwork versus adaptation actions.
Agriculture is the dominant focus of reported adaptation initiatives
Close to one-third of all adaptation initiatives documented related to agriculture (n = 220, 29 %) (Table 1), involving a mix of groundwork and adaptation actions. Agriculture was a key focus across countries, but particularly those with semi-arid regions. Initiatives include, for example, national assessments of impacts and adaptation opportunities within the agricultural sector, institutional guidelines for adaptation, and recommendations or public awareness program for adaptive measures to reduce risk (for example, see NCs for India, Namibia, South Africa, Egypt, DRC, and Mauritania). Reporting of sub-national initiatives on agriculture is predominantly found in the grey literature and includes programs led by international organizations and NGOs to identify, implement, and evaluate adaptations to increase resiliency and reduce vulnerability within the agricultural sector (ATPSN 2011; FAO 2011a, b; IIED 2010; World Bank 2011). In many cases, local adaptations or mechanisms for dealing with agricultural variability are used as a proxy for adaptive capacity and resiliency within agricultural livelihood systems. Research by the International Institute for Environment and Development in Niger, for example, has focused on identifying existing community ‘champions’ representing local agricultural adaptations already present in the region to build on and promote existing adaptive capacity mechanisms, as well as engaging in print and electronic media to disseminate adaptation options available to communities in Ghana (IIED 2010).
Other key foci of documented adaptation initiatives include disaster and risk management (n = 114, 15 %), which was a top priority for adaptation in large river basins, with an emphasis on flood management (GIZ 2011; IOM 2009a; WFP 2011; also see NCs for Bhutan, South Africa). Nations with low-lying deltas also emphasized initiatives related to agriculture and disaster risk management. Disaster management is dominated by flood mitigation initiatives, including programs to reduce the likelihood of floods (soil stabilization, crop diversification), improve forecasting (early warning systems), and providing support during flooding events (emergency health care, radio communications, communication networks). Uzbekistan, for example, has developed a drought early warning system as part of a broader national program to reduce hazard vulnerability and manage climate risk. This includes programming to reform insurance markets to integrate climate risk (see Uzbekistan NC). Interestingly, infrastructural based adaptations (e.g., flood protection) were not widely reported. While disaster management figured prominently in adaptation reporting, nations with a high vulnerability to natural disasters according to the GAIN index with no strategic disaster-related adaptation identified at the national level included the Democratic Republic of Congo, Togo, Namibia, Sierra Leone, and Rwanda. Most disaster reporting is by international institutions and NGOs such as the World Bank, UNDP, UNEP, CARE. Initiatives associated with the management, extraction, treatment, storage, distribution and general use of water, were also well documented (n = 100, 13 %).
Key sectors lagging on reported adaptation initiatives include public health, which was identified as a priority for adaptation in the NCs, yet few, primarily groundwork, adaptations specifically target the health effects of climate change (n = 32, 4 %). Reporting on health adaptations is highest in the NCs, where it accounts for 15 % of adaptation initiatives. The peer-reviewed and grey literature have a marginal focus on health adaptation (<1 %) (Table 1). These results may reflect differing jurisdictions among sectors, where health often falls under national jurisdiction and may thus be overrepresented within the NC documents. This lack of translation of national policy priorities is further seen in our recording of primary author affiliation within the peer-reviewed literature. Of adaptation initiatives reported here, primary author affiliations are primarily based in the social (~60 %) and physical (~40 %) sciences. No documents were identified with primary author affiliation in health sciences.
Adaptation initiatives are being primarily driven at the national level, with minimal involvement of lower levels of government or collaboration across nations
Documented adaptation initiatives are primarily being developed and led by national governments (n = 202, 26 %), international institutions (e.g., UN-bodies) (n = 178, 23 %), and non-governmental organizations (n = 158, 21 %). There is minimal involvement of lower levels of government in leading the development of adaptations profiled here, including at the municipal level (n = 15, 2 %) and at the state/provincial level (n = 3, <1 %) (Table 1). The private sector was absent in adaptation reporting, with fewer than 1 % of all initiatives implemented within the private sector. Notably, given the trans-boundary nature of a number of key risks facing the hotspot regions, adaptations taken in partnership between two or more nations by government, NGOs, or international institutions were documented in only 23 (3 %) cases. Eight of these involved water management, focusing on large African rivers including the Nile, Limpopo, Orange, and Niger, and one focused on the Amudarya basin in Central Asia. These are all groundwork adaptations, evaluating legal, technical and economic policies/procedures for water resource management in light of climate change. Adaptation initiatives involving national government were primarily groundwork in nature (76 %), compared with those led by international institutions and NGOs which involved adaptation actions (67, 70 %).
Adaptation initiatives incorporate a mix of proactive and reactive responses varying by sector
Approximately 45 % (n = 342) of initiatives were planned or anticipatory actions, reflecting explicit intent to plan for anticipated climate change impacts (Table 1). Examples include implemented forecasting/warnings, development or revision of sectoral policies and programs, creation or revision of insurance programs, and the establishment of management bodies to assess and prepare for climate change impacts. 55 % (n = 408) of documented initiatives were reactive in nature, taken in response to impacts/stressors that have already been observed, and representing actions to cope with immediate impacts or to adjust to an altered environment. Reported adaptations were more likely to be proactive in the water sector (63 %, p < 0.01), and less likely to be less proactive in agriculture (37 %, p < 0.01), ecosystem services (22 %, p < 0.01), and disaster and risk management (33 %, p < 0.01) sectors. Adaptations were significantly more reactive among those implemented by NGOs (80 %, p < 0.01), international institutions (74 %, p < 0.01), and individuals/households or communities (83 %, p < 0.01). In contrast, adaptations by national governments are more frequently proactive (87 %, p < 0.01). Regionally, Asian nations were more likely to report proactive adaptations than those in Africa (53 vs. 43 %, p = 0.01), reflecting the greater role of national governments in adaptations documented in Asia. Notably, fewer than 1 % of adaptations emphasized taking advantage of climate change benefits.
There is negligible consideration of vulnerable groups in adaptation initiatives
Adaptation initiatives, in general, poorly integrated consideration of vulnerable groups (Table 2). Approximately one-fifth of documented initiatives considered socioeconomically disadvantaged populations, while one in ten considered the vulnerability of women. There was limited consideration of vulnerability among children, the elderly, or Indigenous populations. A number of documents noted that women in particular were not only more vulnerable to impacts, but may also be disadvantaged in access to adaptation resources and have lower success rates for adaptation initiatives. Djoudi and Brockhaus (2011), for example, report on lessons from communities dependent on livestock and forests in northern Mali, asking whether adaptation to climate change is gender neutral. They note substantive disparities in women’s ability to engage in and take adaptive action. In most cases where women are described as a vulnerable group in reports of adaptation action, however, there is limited evidence that this vulnerability is directly guiding the design and implementation of the adaptation policies or practices. In some cases, however, initiatives are clearly and explicitly targeted toward the gender dimensions of adaptation. Gippner et al. (2012), for example, describe a micro-hydro-electrification project undertaken in Nepal with the explicit goal of female participation and improving adaptive capacity among women.
Several NCs from southern and eastern Africa include special attention to women in programing, particularly including Malawi, Namibia, and Eritrea. Consideration of the gendered dimensions of adaptation policy and practice was more commonly reported in African nations, and notably limited in Central Asia and North African countries. Consideration of women as a vulnerable group also differed among initiatives depending on the implementing group. NGOs and institutional organizations most often considered gender vulnerabilities (14 and 17 %, respectively). In contrast, only 5 % of national government initiatives considered the vulnerability of women.
The profile of adaptation initiatives differs between data sources
Together the three data sources used in this article create a comprehensive inventory of adaptation initiatives in the hotpot nations. It is noteworthy, however, that the profiles of reported adaptations differed significantly between the peer-reviewed, grey, and NC literature (Table 1; Fig. 2). NCs are predominantly reporting initiatives at the national level and are dominated by groundwork activities such as vulnerability assessments prepared for or by national ministries and national plans of action. NC initiatives tend to respond to proactive goals such as preparing for climate impacts, and enhancing learning and research. The peer-reviewed literature, in contrast, actively reports on predominantly reactive adaptation in practice, with emphasis on the individual, household, and community levels. Goals of initiatives in the peer-reviewed literature are primarily reactive, including adjusting, accommodating, or coping with climate impacts. Grey literature documents were more mixed, and contain substantive consideration of initiatives led by civil society organizations and international institutions which were relatively absent from the NCs or peer-reviewed literature.