Twelve reasons why climate change adaptation M&E is challenging

This is the first guidance note in a series of three from the SEA Change Community of Practice and UKCIP that focuses on the monitoring and evaluation of climate change adaptation projects. Written by Dennis Bours, Colleen McGinn & Patrick Pringle, the note highlights twelve challenges evaluators may face when trying to monitor and evaluate climate change adaptation programs and then offers strategies to address each.

Guidance Note 2: Selecting indicators for climate change adaptation programming

Guidance Note 3: Theory of Change approach to climate change adaptation


"Climate change adaptation (CCA) refers to how people and systems adjust to the actual or expected effects of climate change. It is often presented as a cyclical process developed in response to climate change impacts or their social, political, and economic consequences. There has been a recent upsurge of interest in CCA among international development agencies resulting in stand-alone adaptation programs as well as efforts to mainstream CCA into existing development strategies. The scaling up of adaptation efforts and the iterative nature of the adaptation process means that Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) will play a critical role in informing and improving adaptation polices and activities.

Although many CCA programmes may look similar to other development interventions, they do have specific and distinct characteristics that set them apart. These stem from the complex nature of adaptation itself. CCA is a dynamic process that cuts across scales and sectors of intervention, and extends long past any normal project cycle. It is also inherently uncertain: we cannot be entirely sure about the course of climate change consequences, as these will be shaped by societal decisions taken in the future. How then should we define, measure, and assess the achievements of an adaptation programme?"


  • Adaptation is not an objective or end point.
  • Long timeframes stretch far beyond common programme cycles
  • Uncertainties are inherent when implementing CCA interventions
  • Measuring avoided impacts
  • Diversity of key concepts and definitions
  • Tracking a ‘moving target
  • Climate change is global – but adaptation is local
  • Adaptation spans multiple scales and sectors
  • Assessing attribution versus contribution.
  • No one set of indicators or M&E approaches
  • Causing harm: the ‘maladaptation’ problem
  • Conflicting purposes and fit: when ‘sustainable development’ and adaptation are not inter-changeable


Bours, D. McGinn, C. & Pringle, P. (2014). Twelve reasons why climate change adaptation M&E is challenging. SEA Change Community of Practice and UKCIP. Retrieved ​from:

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Emma Smith's picture
Emma Smith

Thanks Bill, 

These links have now been updated. 

Best wishes, 


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