Coping with change: climate adaptation and resilience


( Toolbox )


Adaptation refers to adjustments in ecological, social, or economic systems in response to actual or expected climatic stimuli and their effects or impacts. It refers to changes in processes, practices, and structures to moderate potential damages or to benefit from opportunities associated with climate change. In simple terms, countries and communities need to develop adaptation solution and implement action to respond to the impacts of climate change that are already happening, as well as prepare for future impacts.

Adaptation solutions take many shapes and forms, depending on the unique context of a community, business, organisation, country or region. There is no ‘one-size-fits-all-solution’—adaptation can range from building flood defences, setting up early warning systems for cyclones and switching to drought-resistant crops, to redesigning communication systems, business operations and government policies. Many nations and communities are already taking steps to build resilient societies and economies, but considerably greater action and ambition will be needed to cost-effectively manage the risks, both now and in the future.


Successful adaptation not only depends on governments but also on the active and sustained engagement of stakeholders including national, regional, multilateral and international organisations, the public and private sectors, civil society and other relevant stakeholders, as well as effective management of knowledge. Adaptation to the impacts of climate change may be undertaken across various regions, and sectors, and at various levels.

The IPCC considers three main clusters of adaptation options: structural and physical options, social options and institutional options, and has made a number of suggestions for possible actions for each.

1. Structural/physical options

  • Engineered and built environment, e.g. coastal defences, flood defences, adjusting electricity grids.
  • Technological, e.g. new crop varieties, water-saving technologies, cooling systems, renewable energy technologies, biofuels.
  • Ecosystem-based, e.g. restoring wetlands, peatlands, planting trees, changing land-use.
  • Services, e.g. food banks, public water services, social security schemes.

2. Social options

  • Educational, e.g. awareness-raising, including adaptation in schools programmes, ensuring gender equality in education, sharing local and traditional knowledge that can support adaptation, exhibitions and public information programmes.
  • Informational, e.g. early warning systems, information on climate scenarios, access to climate data, information on community adaptation programmes.
  • Behavioural, e.g. moving home, abandoning high risk areas, soil and water conservation, green livelihoods.

3. Institutional options

  • Economic, e.g. taxes and subsidies supporting adaptation, water tariffs, insurance.
  • Laws and regulations, e.g. land zoning for house-building, building standards, laws to support adaptation and reduce disaster risk, protected areas.
  • Government policies and programmes, e.g. national and regional adaptation plans, city-level plans.


DEFRA (2010) developed a set of principles for successful climate adaptation:

Consider the long-term impact of adaptation actions.

Proportionate and integrated
Climate impacts should be assessed as part of normal risk management processes.

Collaborative and open
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, and flexible to respond to future climate scenarios and socio-economic changes.

The costs, benefits, risks and timing of adaptation actions should be fully considered.

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 risks.³

While these principles were developed to support the adaptation of communities and towns, they can also be considered by single institutions such as museums, or to help shape the adaptation of the museum sector, so that adaptation of the sector can be as successful as possible.


Museums can consider climate adaptation and resilience in terms of:

  1. Adaptation and resilience of museums themselves, so they are less at risk of damage or losses due to climate impacts.
  2. Supporting adaptation and resilience of people, communities and natural places associated with museums, for example the town or region in which a museum is located.
  3. Supporting adaptation and resilience farther afield, for example through partnerships that mobilise or develop resources that assist with adaptation and resilience.

The following seven key activities can help focus efforts on climate adaptation drawing on museums.

1. Protect and safeguard cultural and natural heritage, both in museums and more generally, in ways that contribute to climate adaptation, and that adapt themselves.

  • Ensure collections are kept in buildings that are secure from serious climate impacts, both in the present and under future climate scenarios.
  • Use risk-based approaches to management of cultural and natural heritage, actively managing risk rather than simply trying to prevent/ reduce losses as a result of disasters.
  • Ensure collections develop in ways that respond to a changing climate – and a changing society – in terms of whose culture and heritage feature in collections.
  • Collect people’s experiences and knowledge, and share information, on local technologies, and/or technologies people are aware of from elsewhere that could contribute meaningfully to climate adaptation.
  • Ensure that communities that are forced to relocate as a consequence of climate impacts are able to access their own heritage, whether by relocation or other means.
  • Ensure that lessons are learnt from both successful and unsuccessful examples of protecting and safeguarding cultural and natural heritage in a changing climate, and shared widely.
  • Ensure cultural and natural heritage are utilised and mobilised so that people can draw on them in adaptation efforts, to accelerate adaptation.
  • Ensure collections are a useful infrastructure for understanding traditional technologies relating to climate adaptation.
  • Prioritise collections development to incorporate heritage linked to threats, risks and adaptation options, taking a forward-facing (resourcing and empowering) rather than backward-looking (documenting) approach.
  • Ensure collections develop so that they continue to be a researchuseful infrastructure, in the context of a changing climate, and that they and information associated with them is readily and freely available worldwide.
  • Ensure collections-care approaches and standards adapt to a changing climate, notably in terms of reducing their energy and resource requirements, and that they acknowledge changing sources of risk in a changing climate.
  • Ensure unused or low-quality collections, that consume energy and other resources, are made more use of, or disposed of.

2. Support educational programmes that address climate adaptation and resilience

  • Incorporate climate adaptation into museum educational, awareness-raising and other public-facing programmes.
  • Use collections, exhibitions and events as a basis for education and public awareness on adaptation options.
  • Promote the understanding and development of local regulations, national laws and international agreements (such as the Paris Agreement).
  • Ensure people have awareness and information to help with the uptake of renewable energy sources, and energy efficiency, and the importance of moving away from fossil fuel use.
  • Empower people to understand land rights, including Indigenous land rights, nationally and internationally.
  • Ensure that people are aware of climate impacts facing their community and other communities, and of current or necessary actions to reduce the effect of these impacts.
  • Empower people to understand how their personal choices can reduce their exposure to climate impacts (e.g. in terms of where they live).
  • Empower people to take part in democratic processes, understand their rights and how climate change impacts on them, peaceful protest and to make demands of their representatives and governments.
  • Ensure people have relevant information to support uptake of climate-adapted farming and crops, and to conserve soil and water effectively.
  • Ensure people have access to relevant social and information networks for shared adaptation actions and initiatives.
  • Support education and awareness-raising initiatives on vaccination programmes.
  • Provide people with practical skills and knowledge to contribute to e.g. biodiversity conservation, planting and plant care, support for conservation, and implementing green infrastructure at home.

3. Promote cultural participation for all, to support adaptation across society

  • Ensure that information on adaptation reaches everyone in forms that are appropriate, relevant and suited to their circumstances, prioritising those most at risk from climate impacts, and those whose participation is most needed in mitigation and adaptation.
  • Support and provide information on urban upgrading programmes. • Empower people to understand and make use of weather and climate reports, forecasts and scenarios.
  • Empower people to participate in community-based climate adaptation, and local community planning and development.
  • Empower people to understand, support and participate in landscape and watershed management, coastal management, ecosystem-based management and sustainable forest management.
  • Play a role in providing public health information relating to climate change impacts (e.g. extreme heat or cold). • Provide information on how to access public services.
  • Empower all people to know about, care about and have opportunities to participate in climate adaptation.
  • Support the sharing of local and traditional knowledge, notably linked to climate adaptation.
  • Share information widely as part of a distributed network to promote climate adaptation everywhere.
  • Ensure that displaced people, including migrants and refugees, are welcomed and provided with relevant and appropriate cultural activities, to combat and reduce marginalisation and stigmatisation.
  • Ensure that displaced people, including migrants and refugees, are able to access their own heritage and to contribute to the cultural life of the community.

4. Support sustainable tourism, adapting tourism practices

  • The growth of mass-tourism is a recent phenomenon. Adapt tourism activities to support local tourism rather than international tourism.
  • Discourage mass tourism, which generates vast greenhouse gas emissions, and empower people to be responsible tourists.
  • Empower people to draw on and share local knowledge and practices that can help adapt to climate change and its impacts.

5. Support research for climate adaptation

  • Support research using collections to explore adaptation options, exploring historic aspects of e.g. water, flooding, land use.
  • Develop collections as a research-useful infrastructure, in the context of a changing climate.
  • Ensure that collections and collections information are well networked and information available in other countries that can make use of data and specimens to support mitigation and adaptation to climate change, e.g. managing biodiversity.

6. Direct internal leadership, management and operations to climate adaptation

  • Ensure staff have necessary knowledge, attitudes and skills to support climate adaptation.
  • Adopt and promote policies and standards for climate mitigation and adaptation.
  • Adapt museum buildings and building systems to keep pace with climate change.
  • Take up financial incentives that support mitigation and adaptation.
  • Ensure buildings and other resources are suitably insured against current and projected climate impacts.

7. Direct external leadership, collaboration and partnerships towards climate adaptation, as part of sustainable development

  • Collaborate with agencies and researchers working on these topics, and provide opportunities for them to interface with the public.
  • Foster an inclusive approach to adaptation that incorporates community concerns and aspirations, as a basis of communitybased adaptation.
  • Support adaptation, disaster planning and preparedness through supporting the development of plans, public participation in such developments, and communication of these plans to the whole of the community.
  • Play a key part in early warning and response systems related to climate change and related health impacts: ensure people have information on the climate impacts that may affect them and their property, and information on how to act to reduce their exposure and vulnerability to climate impacts.
  • Use collections and public-facing activities to support ecological restoration and biodiversity conservation.
  • Play a part in community-based natural resource management.
  • Ensure that collections information related to climate-related hazards and vulnerability is effectively mobilised and incorporated into mapping activities.


The UNFCCC uses a model for an adaptation cycle with four stages. The stages are summarised below, and actions for museums are suggested for each stage, in terms of how museum can support this stage in their community, and what this stage means for museums themselves.

1. Assess impacts, vulnerability and risks
An initial assessment is needed of the ways that climate change is affecting or will affect human societies, habitations and nature, for example by altering water or food availability, temperature and extreme weather. This stage, and all stages, should involve a wide range of stakeholders and groups, to share knowledge and guidance, and collaborate effectively.

How museums can contribute to this stage in their community:

  • Use museums, collections and events to empower people to understand how climate change is affecting or will affect human societies, habitations and nature, including their own community and more widely, to build people’s knowledge, awareness, attitudes and skills.
  • Ensure people have opportunities to share their own views and experiences in impact assessment.
  • Empower everyone to participate in these activities, notably marginalised/under-served groups and communities.

What this means for museums themselves:

  • Understand the climate risks facing your museum and community, involve a wide range of people and groups in assessing these risks, both to the museum itself and to the functions they support in society.
  • Understand what functions and services will be required by your community and stakeholders as the climate alters in your location, and the community transforms.
  • Understand how your current approaches to engaging with people as individuals, social groups and communities may need to change in order to support climate adaptation effectively.

2. Plan for adaptation
This stage helps to identify possible adaptation activities and measures, their costs and benefits, pros and cons. This stage can help ensure effective co-ordination, and ensure that decisions don’t have unwanted consequences that hamper sustainable development.

How museums can contribute to this stage in their community:

  • Ensure people have opportunities to input into and follow the adaptation planning process, for example by providing information, ongoing opportunities to participate in planning activities, and opportunities to contribute to consultations and reviews of planned adaptation measures.
  • Ensure that the voices of marginalised/under-served groups and communities are heard in adaptation planning processes, and use diverse methods to involve people in planning for adaptation, reaching all social groups.
  • Ensure adaptation measures are assessed openly and transparently, to ensure that adaptation measures follow sustainable development approaches and don’t create new risks or disadvantage already disadvantaged groups. What this means for museums themselves:
  • Understand what possible actions could be taken to ensure your museum can adapt to climate change in an ongoing way, either by increasing its resilience, by transforming, or by relocating. Understand the limits to adaptation.
  • Understand what relationships are required to plan adaptation measures effectively.
  • Understand how your possible actions will better contribute to sustainable development, and reduce your negative impacts as you improve your ability to face climate change.

3. Implement adaptation measures
Adaptation measures may be implemented locally through projects, in partnership through effective policies and relationships, or naturally. Climate adaptation measures may be implemented as part of other developments. This stage helps to strengthen the ability of all partners to face the challenges of climate change.

How museums can contribute to this stage in their community:

  • Museums can support the initiation and implementation of adaptation-related projects.
  • They can help people be aware of active climate adaptation projects, and direct people towards opportunities for involvement in adaptation.
  • They can undertake active educational and awareness raising programmes that empower people to understand, value and participate in adaptation themselves.

What this means for museums themselves:

  • Museums can take part in adaptation projects by adapting their own practices through staff training and altering their practices through changing standards.
  • Museums can adapt their operations – whether incrementally or in transformative ways - so that they are better suited to changing climate conditions, and their services and collections (not necessarily their current buildings) are more resilient.
  • Museums can collaborate with other sectors and actors to develop new adaptation activities that build the community’s collective capacity to face climate change.

4. Monitor and evaluate adaptation
Monitoring and evaluation can be undertaken throughout adaptation, and knowledge and information shared to ensure continuous learning and stakeholder inclusion and involvement, and to ensure continuous improvement in achieving adaptation aims through effective processes and relationships.

How museums can contribute to this stage in their community:

  • Museums can align their processes, activities and relationships with other sustainable development actors and stakeholders, and with local adaptation objectives, to ensure they provide relevant and appropriate activities, and ensure effective collation and flow of information, vertically, horizontally and transversally.
  • Museums can help gather information to contribute to the ongoing evaluation of adaptation initiatives.
  • Museums can share knowledge and information from adaptation projects with a wide range of stakeholders, to raise awareness and invite the sharing of perspectives.
  • Museums may ask:
    – To what extent are people – individually and collectively – able to access information on local adaptation objectives?
    – To what extent are minorities – individually and collectively – able to access information on local adaptation objectives?
    – To what extent are people empowered to benefit from local adaptation objectives?
    – To what extent are people empowered to contribute to the development of local adaptation objectives?
    – To what extent are people empowered to contribute to the implementation of local adaptation objectives?
    – How many people and communities are more resilient to climate impacts, and how?
  • Museums should be clear on the purposes of monitoring and evaluation, so that it goes beyond fulfilling reporting obligations to funders, but plays a part in adaptation. There is a growing tendency for initiatives to seek to ‘demonstrate changes in behaviour’, but while this may be an intended outcome, it should not be seen as an end in itself, as it does not fulfil a human rights-based approach (as discussed later).

Reasons for monitoring and evaluation of climate change adaptation efforts may include:

Assessing adaptation processes

  1. Monitoring the integration of adaptation into planning processes.
  2. Monitoring the implementation of adaptation programmes, projects or actions.
  3. Monitoring the implementation of the National Adaptation Plan (NAP) process.
  4. Tracking which adaptation activities are taking place at national or sub-national level.

    Assessing adaptation outcomes
  5. Assessing the results of adaptation projects or actions.
  6. Assessing the results of a programme or portfolio of adaptation projects.
  7. Assessing whether vulnerability has been reduced as a result of adaptation programmes, projects or actions
  8. Assessing progress towards adaptation goals, targets or intended outcomes at national level.
  9. Assessing whether resilience to climate change has been improved at national level.

What this means for museums themselves:

  • Museums can monitor and evaluate their own contribution to adaptation efforts, to ensure ongoing improvement and effectiveness.
  • Museums can consult with the wider community and stakeholders, to ensure that they are contributing effectively to adaptation efforts.
  • Museums can consult with the wider community and stakeholders, to better understand what they require of the museum to support their collective sustainable development processes, for longer term or more transformational forms of adaptation.

The four-stage cycle helps to raise awareness and ambition, provide space for inclusive participation, share information, knowledge and guidance, strengthen capacities among partners and stakeholders, facilitate sharing of support, and engage a wide range of stakeholders. All museums should reflect on their roles in facilitating effective climate adaptation, and plan activity accordingly.


The EU’s Urban Adaptation Support Tool (UAST) is a powerful tool that aims to assist cities, town and local authorities to develop, implement and monitor climate change adaptation plans. Museums can use the tool for more detailed planning and implementation than in the simple framework above.

The project Culture and Climate Change: Scenarios asked how arts and humanities can contribute to people’s engagement with a future consistent with the goal of the Paris Agreement.

The Louvre, in Paris, is situated right next to the River Seine, which has a long history of flooding. When the Louvre announced that it was moving collections to a collections conservation and research centre far from the River, it was major news, showing how museum decisions have a resonance beyond the museum themselves.

In California, wildfires are one of the most visible impacts of climate change, which prolongs the fire season and causes more intense fires. When a wildfire burned in Brentwood, California, thousands of people had to leave their homes. The Getty Center (a campus of the J Paul Getty Museum) was not threatened, as it had been designed to be resilient to fire and climate impacts.

Cultural Adaptations is an action-research project seeking to find creative, innovative and place-based methods to adapt to climate change, in Scotland, Ireland, Sweden and Belgium.

There are numerous resources linked to adaptation and resilience, notably: The UNFCCC Adaptation Knowledge Portal has a searchable database containing hundreds of case studies and tools that can be used to develop adaptation activities.

PreventionWeb Knowledge Base is a collation of thousands of practical tools, guidelines and reports on Disaster Risk Reduction, including climate adaptation.

The ICCROM Our Collections Matter Toolkit contains many tools that can help collections-based organisations plan and deliver sustainable development action, including climate adaptation activities. Climate Adaptation Platforms Many countries have their own climate adaptation platforms, which are databases and repositories of case studies, plans, tools and other resources to help aid and accelerate climate adaptation in their contexts. Some English-language examples include the following:

  • Climate Adaptation Platform (worldwide) is a key source of information LINK
  • Climate-ADAPT (European Union) LINK
  • Canada’s Climate Change Adaptation Platform (Canada) LINK
  • Climate Change Adaptation Resource Center (ARC-Ex) (USA) LINK
  • Climate Change in Australia (Australia) LINK
  • The Green Book (South Africa) LINK

A longer list of climate adaptation platforms can be found on the weADAPT website.

³ The headings come from DEFRA (2010). Measuring Adaptation to Climate Change: a proposed approach, https://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/ ukgwa/20130402151656/http://archive.defra.gov.uk/environment/climate/ documents/100219-measuring-adapt.pdf; the definitions are modified from those presented by Adaptation Scotland, https://adaptationscotland.org.uk/what-adaptation/principles-good-adaptation

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