Climate change adaptation indicators for the natural environment (NECR038)

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As organisations develop climate change adaptation actions we need to monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of these actions. Over recent years the development of indicators has become a key part of policy development, ensuring that new policies and programmes are measurable and accountable.

Yet measuring adaptation poses a number of challenges given:

  • the uncertainty of outcome;
  • the imperfect state of knowledge; and
  • the long time-scales involved.

Often we are trying to measure an avoided event (such as preventing loss of species from a nature reserve), against no fixed baseline (how would we know what species might have been lost had we not intervened?) at an uncertain point in the future or over a long time period. We also have to take account of the fact that climate change is one of a number of interacting causes of change (including air pollution and changing patterns of land management) and climate change adaptation is likely to be most effective when integrated into a broader range of objectives.

In this context, we commissioned this report to examine how an initial set of adaptation indicators for the natural environment might be developed.

The project aimed to identify a package of indicators to measure the level of adaptation planning and activity (process indicators) and the resilience of the natural environment (which can be regarded as a proxy outcome indicator). Whilst it may not be possible to define a desired adaptation outcome, there is a degree of consensus about characteristics that promote the resilience of the natural environment to climate change and this is a frequent objective of adaptation measures.

Natural England will use the findings to help inform our understanding of these issues and we are publishing the report so that other interested parties can use the same information. In reading the report, it is important to bear in mind that this is an evolving field and new opportunities may open up in the next few years.

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NECR038 edition 1, PDF, 510.9 KB 2011/10/06