Climate Change Adaptation

Adaptation activities build resilience to the unavoidable impacts of climate change, including disasters such as flood events, storms, and droughts and slower onset impacts such as sea-level rise and rising temperatures.

USAID’s adaptation activities build the resilience of partner countries, communities, individuals, and natural assets to climate change and variability. Adaptation efforts help protect existing investments from climate impacts, safeguarding development gains and economic security.

USAID builds on countries’ existing adaptation priorities, which may be set out in National Adaptation Programs of Action (NAPAs), National Communications, or other national climate strategies or plans. We support three broad types of activities:

  1. Improving access to science and analysis for decision-making. Strengthening knowledge about what to expect and what can be done to adapt to climate change.

  2. Establishing effective governance systems for adaptation. Supporting engagement, coordination, participation, and planning processes necessary for effective adaptation.

  3. Identifying and piloting actions that increase climate resilience. Implementing adaptation strategies that deliver development gains in a changing climate.

Through field missions in Africa, Asia and Latin America, and through global and regional programs, USAID implements climate change adaptation projects that support science, governance, and action for adaptation.

What is Adaptation?

  • Adjustments in natural or human systems in response to actual or expected climate change stresses, which moderate harm or take advantage of beneficial opportunities

  • In practical terms for USAID, adaptation is a process of identifying and understanding climate-related vulnerabilities and risks, and building countries’ capacities to take actions that reduce vulnerability.

What is Vulnerability?

  • In general terms, vulnerability is the degree to which something or someone is likely to be harmed by a stress. In the context of climate change, it is the degree to which social, economic or environmental systems are likely to be harmed by adverse impacts of climate change stress.

What is Climate Resilience?

  • The ability of a social, economic, or environmental system to adjust to or rebound from climate-related stresses while still maintaining its basic function and structure. Climate-resilient systems may not look exactly like they did before, but they are able to prosper despite climate change and related stresses.

How do you Assess Vulnerability?

Three components together determine vulnerability:

  • Exposure – Are key inputs to support development faced by climate stresses? For example, coastal farming areas are exposed to sea level rise and storm surge, and populated river deltas are exposed to flooding.

  • Sensitivity – What are the properties of a valued development input that make it susceptible to harm from a climate stress? For example, maize and cattle are sensitive to heat stress, while rice is sensitive to salinity.

  • Adaptive capacity – What capabilities do people have to adjust to, prevent or moderate damages, take advantage of opportunities, or cope with the consequences of climate stress? For example, access to advance information in the form of flood warnings or seasonal forecasts give people and communities the ability to change behaviors, like changing planting dates or evacuating from threatened areas to avoid harm.

Related Sectors of Work 

Last updated: February 11, 2014

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