Toward Climate Resilience

A Framework and Principles for Science-Based Adaptation

Published Aug 1, 2016


Communities and nations of the 21st century face a great challenge: to protect people from the harm caused by an increasingly volatile climate.

The damaging impacts of climate change will grow as the climate changes and adaptation fails to keep pace, unless societies take steps to increase their resilience through aggressive action on both climate mitigation and adaptation.

This report focuses on adaptation, where choosing among possible actions is often not straightforward or intuitive, and highlights 15 principles for decision makers to use to prioritize investments in climate change adaptation.

isle de jean charles biloxi chitimacha choctaw tribe
In southern Louisiana, the Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw tribe and the United Houma Nation have watched their home on Isle de Jean Charles disappear. Rapidly sinking land and extreme erosion caused by fossil fuel development and other activities in the area,  exacerbated by sea level rise, leave the tribes with no other option but to resettle.
Photo:Josh Haner/New York Times

Narrowing the climate resilience gap

The climate resilience framework outlined here reflects the idea that climate change policy should “manage unavoidable changes and avoid unmanageable ones” and describes how policies can best meet these goals.

Graphic explaining the concept of the climate resilience gap

It starts with the concept of a climate resilience gap, which is defined here as the scope and extent of climate change-driven conditions for which people (individuals, communities, states, and even countries) remain unprepared, leaving them open to potentially harmful impacts.

Responding to climate change requires us to narrow the climate resilience gap through action on both climate mitigation and adaptation.

low water lake mead by hoover dam
Severe drought in parts of the western Unites States has driven water levels in the Lake Mead reservoir to record lows. Decision makers in the Colorado Basin and elsewhere are striving to implement policies that perform well under a variety of climatic conditions.


The report outlines 15 principles that are designed to be used by decision makers and practitioners from the local to the federal level.

They are structured around three basic themes: science, equity, and commonsense ambition. 

The application of these 15 principles can help to ensure that actions taken in the United States in the name of climate adaptation are scientifically justified, ambitiously conceived, and equitably implemented.

For a complete list and full details of these principles, please see the full report.

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