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Adapting to Climate Change: Why Adaptation Policy is More Difficult than We Think (and what to do about it)

Wisconsin Initiative on Climate Change Impacts (WICCI) , William Walker, David Liebl, Lewis Gilbert, James LaCro, Pete Nowak, and John Sullivan
Created: 9/30/2010 - Updated: 3/13/2019


This paper explores the nature of climate change adaptation. The goal of this paper is to make readers aware of three fundamental problems with climate change adaptation. Those problems limit what society will be able to achieve through adaptation, but they also suggest important ways to focus adaptation efforts.  This paper is an overview and synthesis of the adaptation literature. The goal is to identify important issues in adaptation, both to alert policy-makers to their importance and to encourage researchers to explore them.

The authors propose three concepts around which the Wisconsin Initiative on Climate Change Impacts could organize its future work: uncertainty, indirect benefits, and planning horizons. These three concepts have three things to recommend them:

  1. They are general enough to cover a range of climate change adaptation topics.
  2. They are definite enough to yield specific policy recommendations.
  3. In the authors' views, they are the three most important problems facing climate change adaptation.

Published On

Friday, October 1, 2010


State / Provincial
Sector Addressed: 
Type of Adaptation Action/Strategy: 
Capacity Building
Infrastructure, Planning, and Development
Governance and Policy

Related Resources

Sector Addressed: 
Development (socioeconomic)