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All planning is tricky. Planning for adaptation to a changing climate is really tricky.

Planning for climate change must deal with uncertainty and complexity, as must most planning, but there are some additional characteristics to manage as well:

  • Future climates are uncertain, and are further confounded by uncertainty about how mankind will influence them through emissions or mitigation.
  • The consequences of any given future climates for societies, economies and the environment are uncertain and complex.
  • The range of public attitudes, values and beliefs about climate change, and the time-frames involved, further complicate planning and engagement.

New tools help counter those challenges, but we may have been over-using those tools for assessments and analysis, at the expense of planning and action. Effective climate adaptation planning requires a suite of traditional, modified and new approaches.

No matter how climate planning is undertaken, it is important to:

  • Consider a range of different futures and plan a number of alternative pathways,
  • Be clear on what to monitor to determine when key decision points are approaching,
  • Take action now on matters requiring an immediate response and build the capacity to make transformational changes, if and when they are required, and
  • Revise plans regularly (say every five years) to keep them relevant and vital.

More specific advice to assist regional climate adaptation planning includes:


  • Focus on strategic responses for high-priority themes. A triple bottom-line, landscape context is best for regional planning.
  • Given the complexity and uncertainty of climate change, and the long time-frames to be considered, focus on key decision-makers and their advisers as the primary audience for engagement, and get them planning how they will manage for the future.
  • Ensure plans are rooted in the values of regional communities and reflect the things that matter most to them.
  • Complex systems. Landscapes are dynamic, complex systems driven by interactions that are not precisely predictable and which may be influenced but not controlled. Approach climate planning in that context.


  • Climate vulnerability assessments. Focus more on understanding potential consequences and adaptive responses, e.g. by using conceptual models, rather than scoring vulnerability alone.
  • Start with a synthesis of what is already known, not a blank sheet.


  • Style of planning. Adaptation is an agile activity. Adaptation plans must be agile, full of ‘action now’ as well as less prescriptive strategies for how to respond should specified futures unfold.
  • Transformational versus same old, same old. Resilience may rest upon doing basic things very well. Avoid the trap of sticking with ‘business as usual’ by challenging people to contemplate the transformational changes needed for excellent outcomes.
  • Response ready. There will be actions that are needed immediately, others that should occur to build the capacity to respond at a future date, and some that lie ‘dormant’ until situations arise when they may be enacted promptly.
  • Adaptation action. Plan for action and get commitment to it. Bind decision-makers and leaders to their role in instilling adaptation planning throughout organisations and communities, and engage them in driving any necessary cultural change in their organisations.
  • Regular review. Consider the latest science on climate change, how local landscapes are changing, how the adaptation plan is going, and whether community aspirations have changed.

This blog presents information from a publication authored by Peter Day, Prof. Wayne Meyer, and Dr. Mark Siebentritt, reflecting on their collective and individual experiences in adaptation planning. We hope that sharing some thoughts will be useful in stimulating discussion and the further exchange of ideas on how to continually improve how we all plan for the future.

A presentation is available at SA NRM Science Presentations (DEWNR). and the original publication is available upon request.