How are we adapting to climate change? A global assessment

  • Alexandra C. LesnikowskiEmail author
  • James D. Ford
  • Lea Berrang-Ford
  • Magda Barrera
  • Jody Heymann
Original Article


This paper applies a systematic approach to measuring adaptation actions being undertaken by 117 parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) with the goal of establishing a baseline of global trends in adaptation. Data are systematically collected from National Communications prepared by Parties to the Convention and submitted periodically to the Secretariat. 4,104 discrete adaptation initiatives are identified and analyzed. Our findings indicate that while progress is being made on conducting impact and vulnerability assessments and adaptation research in nearly every country in the sample, translation of this knowledge into tangible adaptation initiatives is still limited. The largest number of reported adaptations falls under the category of infrastructure, technology, and innovation. Some types of vulnerability were more frequently reported across initiatives, including floods, drought, food and water safety and security, rainfall, infectious disease, and terrestrial ecosystem health. Notably, reporting on the inclusion of vulnerable sub-populations is low across all actions. Diffusion of adaptation across sectors remains underdeveloped, with the environment, water, and agricultural sectors emerging as the most active adaptors. Our analysis indicates that national communications provide a valuable source of information for global-scale adaptation tracking, but important gaps exist in the consistency of reporting that should be addressed, as these documents could greatly enhance efforts to monitor and evaluate adaptation progress.


Adaptation Climate change Systematic review Tracking adaptation progress UNFCCC 



This project was supported by an Insight Development Grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research council, and a Knowledge Synthesis grant from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

Supplementary material

11027_2013_9491_MOESM1_ESM.docx (104 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 103 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Alexandra C. Lesnikowski
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • James D. Ford
    • 1
  • Lea Berrang-Ford
    • 1
  • Magda Barrera
    • 3
  • Jody Heymann
    • 3
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of GeographyMcGill UniversityMontrealCanada
  2. 2.School of Community and Regional PlanningUniversity of British ColumbiaVancouverCanada
  3. 3.Institute for Health and Social PolicyMcGill UniversityMontrealCanada
  4. 4.Fielding School of Public PolicyUniversity of California Los AngelesLos AngelesUSA

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