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Mitig Adapt Strateg Glob Chang. 2018;23(7):1083-1108. doi: 10.1007/s11027-017-9773-9. Epub 2017 Dec 22.

Lessons learned from applying adaptation pathways in flood risk management and challenges for the further development of this approach.

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Staff Delta Programme Commissioner, The Hague, Netherlands.
IHE Delft Institute for Water Education, Delft, The Netherlands.
3Southampton University, Southampton, UK.
4HAN University of Applied Sciences, Arnhem, The Netherlands.
5University of Oxford, Oxford, UK.


Worldwide, an increase in flood damage is observed. Governments are looking for effective ways to protect lives, buildings, and infrastructure. At the same time, a large investment gap seems to exist-a big difference between what should necessarily be done to curb the increase in damage and what is actually being done. Decision-makers involved in climate adaptation are facing fundamental (so-called deep) uncertainties. In the course of time, the scientific community has developed a wide range of different approaches for dealing with these uncertainties. One of these approaches, adaptation pathways, is gaining traction as a way of framing and informing climate adaptation. But research shows that "very little work has been done to evaluate the current use of adaptation pathways and its utility to practitioners and decision makers" (Lin et al. 2017, p. 387). With this paper, the authors, as action researchers and practitioners involved in two of the world's largest real-life applications of this approach in flood risk management, aim to contribute to filling in that gap. Analysis of the experience in the United Kingdom and the Netherlands in long-term planning in flood risk management shows that the adaptation pathways approach is effective in keeping decision processes going forward, to the final approval of a long-term plan, and helps increase awareness about uncertainties. It contributes to political support for keeping long-term options open and motivates decision-makers to modify their plans to better accommodate future conditions. When it comes to implementing the plans, there are still some major challenges, yet to be addressed, amongst others: the timely detection of tipping points in situations with large natural variability, the inclusion of measures that prepare for a switch to transformational strategies, and the retention of commitment of regional and local authorities, non government organizations, and the private sector, to climate adaptation as national policies move from blueprint planning to adaptive plans. In delivering this feedback, the authors hope to motivate the scientific community to take on these challenges.


Adaptation pathways; Climate change; Flood risk management; Lessons learned; Uncertainty

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