A global assessment of policy tools to support climate adaptation

The Global Adaptation Mapping Initiative Team

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Governments, businesses, and civil society organizations have diverse policy tools to incentivize adaptation. Policy tools can shape the type and extent of adaptation, and therefore, function either as barriers or enablers for reducing risk and vulnerability. Using data from a systematic review of academic literature on global adaptation responses to climate change (n = 1549 peer-reviewed articles), we categorize the types of policy tools used to shape climate adaptation. We apply qualitative and quantitative analyses to assess the contexts where particular tools are used, along with equity implications for groups targeted by the tools, and the tools’ relationships with transformational adaptation indicators such as the depth, scope, and speed of adaptation. We find diverse types of tools documented across sectors and geographic regions. We also identify a mismatch between the tools that consider equity and those that yield more transformational adaptations. Direct regulations, plans, and capacity building are associated with higher depth and scope of adaptation (thus transformational adaptation), while economic instruments, information provisioning, and networks are not; the latter tools, however, are more likely to target marginalized groups in their design and implementation. We identify multiple research gaps, including a need to assess instrument mixes rather than single tools and to assess adaptations that result from policy implementation. Key policy insights Information-based approaches, networks, and economic instruments are the most frequently documented adaptation policy tools worldwide. Direct regulations, plans, and capacity building are associated with higher depth and scope of adaptation, and thus more transformational adaptation. Capacity building, economic instruments, networks, and information provisioning approaches are more likely to target specific marginalized groups and thus equity challenges. There are many regions and sectors where certain tools are not widely documented (e.g. regulations and plans in Africa and Asia), representing a key research gap.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)77-96
Number of pages20
JournalClimate policy
Issue number1
Early online date18 Nov 2021
Publication statusPublished - 14 Jan 2022


  • Climate change adaptation
  • Equity
  • Global Adaptation Mapping Initiative (GAMI)
  • Policy instruments
  • Systematic review
  • Transformational adaptation


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