The Adaptation Challenge
Historically, the approach to climate change has been predominantly reactionary, as sectors were primarily responding to extreme weather events. These interventions were often small-scale, reflecting the immediate pressures and resource limitations experienced by individuals, businesses, and organizations. The shift from such reactive measures to more strategic, future-oriented planning, while necessary, can seem daunting considering current resource constraints.
Fortunately, our understanding of the future consequences of climate change is growing, providing a vast pool of information that is increasingly available to all. This knowledge, paired with innovative strategies for proactive adaptation, is inspiring organizations and sectors to make more ambitious, long-term plans. Adaptation pathways is one such strategy helping to build resilience and adaptation capacity in a changing climate.
What are Adaptation Pathways?
When building adaptation pathways, there can be dozens of decision points, based on different observable indicators of change (see Table 1). This idea is similar to the interactive book series “Choose Your Own Adventure”. When new situations pop up, the reader must make choices that determine the final outcome of the story. When a threshold for one of the decision points is reached, it prompts a choice: do nothing, advance along the current pathway, or transfer to a different pathway.
Each pathway is a series of possible, manageable adaptation actions. Multiple parallel pathways offer flexibility, allowing decision-makers to decide which actions line up best with their goals, capacity, strengths, cultural norms, and so on. Decision-makers can commit to one pathway, pursue multiple pathways at once, or switch back and forth. For example, a farmer might use an indicator of yield loss due to drought stress and a threshold of 10% loss. Once the threshold is reached, they could choose between making no changes or at least one of the following pathways:
- Pathway 1: collaborating with experts → adopting new precision irrigation technology → investing in new equipment
- Pathway 2: training staff on new opportunities → recruiting new customers → diversifying operations to create new revenue streams
- Pathway 3: planting drought-tolerant varieties → recruiting new customers → trialing new crops
Growing the scale and complexity of actions within a pathway over time makes adaptation more manageable. This also allows for a better match between the complexity and intensity of adaptation actions and the type, timing, and severity of climate change impacts. The flexibility of multiple options and pathways also helps organizations and sectors keep up with the dynamic nature of climate change and leaves them with outs if unexpected issues occur.
Where Does Climate and Hazard Data Come In?
Choosing observable indicators of change that are relevant and sensitive is key. These indicators could include changes in regulations, commodity pricing, and operational constraints. This is also where climate and hazard data come into play, and why sites like ClimateData.ca are so important. Table 1 provides examples across different sectors.
Table 1: Sample observable indicators, sample threshold levels, and relevant adaptation options.
Sample Indicators and Thresholds
Potential Adaptation Options
Max daily temperature > 35°C
Note: The meat quality of rangeland beef is affected by heat stress when temperatures exceed 35° Celsius [1,2]
Extract the number of days > 35°C, for both the historic period and the modeled future, from the ClimateData.ca Analyze Page.
- Shifting feed times
- Sourcing and pricing additional water
- Adding shade (trees, structures)
- Upgrading barn ventilation systems
Days with Humidex > 35°C
Note: The threshold would vary based on an individual’s comfort level and ability to regulate their body temperature. Vulnerable groups may require a lower threshold. Environment and Climate Change Canada bases its heat warning criteria on geography.
View a map of the projected change in the number of Days with Humidex >35°C on ClimateData.ca. Zoom into a region and click on the map to view and download data.
- Communicating risks and responses
- Opening cooling centres
- Staffing extra paramedics and first responders
Sea surface temperature > 22°C
Note: Water that is too warm affects fish growth, health, welfare, and production. Warmer water also holds less oxygen and encourages sea lice production. 
Sites like ClimateData.ca are hoping to add variables like sea surface temperature to its database, so stay tuned for future updates and marine-specific work in the near future.
- Expanding hatchery operations
- Identifying genetic markers for temperature tolerance
- Relocating to sites with cooler conditions
Property within projected 2050 1-in-100 year flood zone
Note: Depending on public safety concerns and risk tolerance of the property owner (e.g., shed versus home versus hospital), the threshold could be lower or higher.
ClimateData.ca offers future-shifted IDF data, including the 1-in-100 year rainfall events for certain locations.
- Purchasing insurance
- Expanding wetlands
- Floodproofing basement
- Installing floodwalls
- Raising structures
- Relocating structures
It is important to remember that a thorough plan necessitates a diverse and extensive set of indicators. These should extend beyond climate and hazard data to account for a multitude of impacts such as heat stress, emergence of invasive species, and coastal flooding. Indicators should also take into account shifts in regulations, the availability and expense of insurance coverage, among other factors. The specific thresholds applied for each will vary, depending on the decision-maker’s context and their level of risk tolerance.
Projected climate data provides decision-makers with a timeline for implementing necessary actions, enabling them to prepare resources and strategies in advance. It’s essential to continually monitor and assess the effectiveness of these adaptation measures. Regular updates with the most recent climate data projections, impact information, and adaptation options contribute significantly to the long-term success of these initiatives.
How Will This Approach be Used?
CLIMAtlantic is currently supporting different organizations in the use of adaptation pathways. Not only will this approach help them with proactive planning, it comes with other advantages as well.
As part of the PEI Federation of Agriculture’s sectoral adaptation plan, CLIMAtlantic is supporting the co-development of adaptation pathways for each commodity group, which will then be reviewed together to identify partnerships and shared investment opportunities at the sectoral level. Without this critical step, producers may inadvertently create competition for capacity, resources, and expertise.
The PEI Government’s climate change coordinators are working across departments to implement the provincial Climate Adaptation Plan. CLIMAtlantic is supporting the capacity building of the coordinators to take on this work. Adaptation pathways are being used to explore how certain actions can open up future possibilities whereas others may lead to an entrenched pathway that limits options and flexibility.
 Kadim, I., Mahgoub, O., Al-Ajmi, D., Al-Maqbaly, R., Al-Mugheiry, S., Bartolome, D. (2004). The influence of season on quality characteristics of hot-boned m. longissiumus thoracis. Meat Science, 66, 831-836.
 Grimmer, B.J. (2017). Climate Friendly Guidelines for Canadian Beef and Sheep Ranchers. https://sencanada.ca/content/sen/committee/421/AGFO/Briefs/2017-04-06-CanadianSheep_e.pdf
 Duchene, L. (2017). Industry-academia project in Atlantic Canada explores impacts of climate change. Global Seafood Alliance.