Unerstanding Adaptation Science

The adaptation process consists of several steps that may be presented in different ways. The one proposed below comprises four major steps preceded by a stakeholder awareness phase. 

Steps of the Adaptation Process

The adaptation process is a continuous, iterative process that must take into account any newly-acquired knowledge or changes in the system. For example, a better understanding of the climate can call into question the magnitude of anticipated risks, while a significant change in regulations (municipal or provincial) can influence potential adaptation measures or trigger an amendment to those already in place.

The adaptation process also requires a holistic, integrated understanding of the issues, which are numerous and potentially interrelated. For example, the potential lowering of water levels in the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence due to climate change affects a number of sectors, notably transportation, energy, and agriculture. A transversal approach to the issues facilitates adaptation strategies that support all concerned sectors.

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Avoiding Maladaptation

Regardless what kind of approach is advocated for planning adaptation solutions, implementing certain measures can lead to maladaptation, meaning problems may be aggravated rather than mitigated. For example, to adapt to increasing coastal hazards, installing riprap or a protective wall on a coastal property may in certain cases exacerbate erosion on adjacent lots.

To avoid maladaptation, certain factors may be taken into consideration when selecting an adaptation measure. For example, the measure might be able to generate environmental, social or economic co-benefits and help mitigate multiple risks simultaneously. When these factors are taken into account, maladaptation can be avoided, even in a context of uncertainty in climate projections.

Photo opposite: When waves pound a retaining wall or riprap, their energy is redirected to the structure’s extremities, which can accelerate erosion of the adjacent shoreline. This is referred to as the flanking effect. Source: Ministère de la sécurité publique du Québec

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