Principles of good adaptation

A changing climate is one of many factors that will shape future societies, alongside technological advances, changes in the population, the economy, the political arena, legislation and other environmental changes. To be sustainable, adaptation planning needs to be flexible enough to take these types of changes into account. Noting the complexities, a number of broad ‘guiding principles’ have been developed to help define good adaptation. These principles can also be a useful way to measure performance.

The following principles, developed by Defra (2010) state that adaptation should be:


We should consider the long term impact of adaptation actions. This means that actions to adapt should not add to climate change, or limit the ability of other parts of society or future generations to adapt.

Proportionate and integrated

Climate impacts should be assessed as part of normal risk management processes. Action must relate to the level of risk and the desired outcomes, and will need to be taken at the most appropriate level and timescale.

Collaborative and open

The impacts of climate change will affect all of us. No one organisation or community will be able to adapt in isolation. We need to work together to identify and understand climate change impacts and agree actions.


Actions should take account of wider societal challenges, be context specific, implementable, and enforceable. They should also be flexible and able to respond to a range of future climate scenarios, as well as socio-economic, technical and other changes.


The costs, benefits, risks and timing of adaptation actions should be fully considered. Wherever possible, opportunities should be taken to implement actions as a normal part of planned development and regeneration.


Action to adapt to climate change should help to reduce wider inequalities and, ensure that individuals or groups do not bear a disproportionate share of costs or residual risks.