Over the past two decades the adaptation landscape has changed dramatically. From its early days as a vague theoretical concept, which was often viewed as a threat to advocating for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, it has developed into a widely, albeit not universally, recognized governmental mandate to reduce societal vulnerability to climate change. While it is important to appreciate the progress that we are making on this issue, it is impossible to ignore the urgent need to do more. Smart investment can be made by reflecting on what is already underway in order to determine where to build on existing efforts and where to innovate new approaches to fill the gaps in the path forward.
In this report we provide illustrative examples of the variety of work on climate change adaptation that is underway in the United States. This is by no means an exhaustive survey of the field; however it does provide insight into the dominant focus of work to date, the resultant gaps, and the opportunities available for advancing this essential aspect of sustainability. We focus on four areas of activity -- agriculture, natural resources, human communities, and policy. The general trends relevant to these sectors can be applied more broadly to other sectors and countries.
Adaptation can be thought of as a cycle of activities that ultimately -- if successful -- reduces vulnerability to climate change. This process starts with identifying the impacts of climate change to determine the types of problems climate change might pose. This includes all of the research on the causes and the global, regional, and local manifestations of climate change, often referred to as impacts assessments.