Climate Adaptation Terms and Definitions

Adaptation: Action to prepare for and adjust to new (climate) conditions, thereby reducing harm or taking advantage of new opportunities. (National Climate Assessment)

Climate Equity: Alleviating the climate burden on underserved and vulnerable communities, with the intent that no individuals or groups of people should carry a greater environmental burden than the rest of the community/country, especially when they are least responsible for creating climate change.

Climate Justice: Links human rights and development to achieve a human-centered approach to climate change, safeguarding the rights of the most vulnerable and sharing the burdens and benefits of climate change and its resolution equitably and fairly. Climate justice is informed by science, responds to science, and acknowledges the need for equitable stewardship of the world’s resources. (

Cross-sectoral: Across and among multiple sectors, jurisdictions, and scales.

Gray infrastructure: Projects that require engineering and construction—such as pipes, pumps, ditches, ponds, and seawalls—for stormwater management and/or to help abate flooding.

Hazard Mitigation: The effort to reduce loss of life and property by lessening the impact of disasters. It is most effective when implemented under a comprehensive, long-term mitigation plan. State, tribal, and local governments engage in hazard mitigation planning to identify risks and vulnerabilities associated with natural disasters, and develop long-term strategies for protecting people and property from future hazard events. Mitigation plans are key to breaking the cycle of disaster damage, reconstruction, and repeated damage. (FEMA)

Holistic: Relating to or concerned with whole or with complete systems rather than with the analysis of, treatment of, or dissection into parts; holistic adaptation views humans and the environment as a single system.

Nature-Based Adaptation: Solutions that draw from, restore, or enhance ecosystem services using blue (water) and green (nature and parks) landscape features to protect against flooding, extreme heat, and other effects of climate change. Examples include wetlands and floodplains, living shorelines, and shade trees.

Resilience: The capacity of a community, business, or natural environment to prevent, withstand, respond to, and recover from a disruption. (U.S. Climate Resilience Toolkit)

Resilience: The ability to prepare and plan for, absorb, recover from, and more successfully adapt to adverse events. (Disaster Resilience A National Imperative)

Resistance: Staying unchanged or returning to a reference state after a temporary disturbance.

Transformation or “Bounce Forward”: Actions or interventions that become available when the limits of resilience or incremental adaptation have been reached (UKCIP).

  • Transformation (biologically based): A significant shift in species composition, especially involving dominant / umbrella / structuring species. A forest that has shifted to grassland demonstrates a transformation; an ecosystem in which just one or a few individuals of a new species shift does not demonstrate a transformation.

  • Transformation (socially based):  When the goods and services valued by key stakeholders changes substantially or a key service is lost altogether. If we don’t have enough snow for skiing, the system is transformed. Earlier snowmelt would not qualify. Both definitions involve major value judgments – in the first case that the biology is paramount, and not the services. In the second case there are values inherent in selecting which stakeholders and which services are in focus.

Vulnerability: The propensity or predisposition of people, resources, ecosystems, infrastructure, and the services they provide to be adversely affected by hazards. Vulnerability encompasses exposure, sensitivity, potential impacts, and adaptive capacity. (U.S. Climate Resilience Toolkit)