Costs and benefits of climate change adaptation measures

Background and Goals

To date, far less attention has been paid to the economic aspects of climate change adaptation than to the economic issues of emission reduction. In particular, there has been a lack of the cross-sectoral work that is necessary to evaluate different policy options. Against this backdrop, it is necessary to test and evaluate the existing methods for assessing climate adaptation measures, in order to develop consistent instruments for cost/benefit analyses in this area and as a basis for prioritising measures. The following research questions have been addressed:

  • To what extent is the cost/benefit analysis applicable to selection and planning of adaptation measures?
  •  What conclusions are possible based on the data situation in Germany and what does the situation look like in individual fields of action?
  •  To what extent (and where) does an economic analysis provide new points of relevance and knowledge relevant to decision making?
  • How can economic criteria (costs and benefits) support prioritisation of adaptation measures?

The objectives are:

  •  Compilation of current knowledge on economic adaptation issues;
  •  Development of (economic) criteria for comparison of different adaptation measures;
  •  Consolidation and standardisation of (economic) information base, particularly on the costs and benefits of adaptation, ensuring the comparability of measures;
  •  Extension of the existing information base in the areas where there is the greatest requirement or the most effectiveness.

Content time


Research area/region

  • Germany

Steps in the process of adaptation to climate change

Step 1: Understand and describe climate change

Approach and results 

The project used different climate scenarios.

Parameter (climate signals)
  • Altered rainfall patterns
  • Higher average temperatures
  • Sea level rise und storm surges
  • Storm

Step 2a: Identify and assess risks - climate effects and impact

Approach and results 

A wide range of socio-economic consequences of climate change resulting from changed mean temperatures, changed precipitation distribution, sea level rises and changed wind conditions were studied.

Step 2b: Identify and assess risks - Vulnerability, risks and chances

Approach and results 

The vulnerability was identified as a basis for detailed cost/benefit estimates for adaptation measures. The assessment was largely based on losses and risks arising, in some cases incorporating socio-economic changes.

Step 3: Develop and compare measures

Measures and/or strategies 

The central focus of the research is the question of the costs and benefits associated with adaptation measures. Estimates of the proportion of these losses that can be prevented by adaptation measures and the costs associated with these measures are of interest. A total of 28 adaptation measures across 13 fields of action were analysed.

Results: The results of the cost benefit analyses for the measures studied fluctuate between very favourable cost/benefit conditions, e.g. for heat warning systems and adapted plant species, to very unfavourable, such as adaptation of the power supply network. From the 28 measures studied here, the results show that measures for spatial planning, improving human health and civil defence have a particularly positive or balanced cost/benefit ratio. These include expanding fresh air corridors, cooling in hospitals and warning systems for heat. Measures that disseminate information about climate change adaptation and those that improve awareness of the consequences of climate change also have a balanced cost/benefit ratio. Infrastructure measures tended to have worse cost/benefit conditions than other types of measures. However, caution is advised when interpreting the results as for many measures only some of the anticipated effects could be quantified or expressed in monetary terms; assumptions were also necessary at many points to compensate for gaps in the data.

Step 4: Plan and implement measures

Costs of the measures 

The project analysed the costs at which an adaptation measure is capable of preventing losses. First of all, existing cost components were researched and various methods, including "benefit transfer" were used to apply them to a specific case. For example, in some cases it was necessary to apply cost variables from other countries to Germany. Three adaptation measures were produced as detailed case studies, in which specific local cost data was researched.


Funding / Financing 

German Environment Agency (UBA)

Project management 

Ecologic Institut


Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research ISI; INFRAS


Fraunhofer-Institut für System- und Innvoationsforschung (ISI)
Breslauer Straße 48
D-76139 Karlsruhe

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Fields of action:
 agriculture  biological diversity  buildings  civil protection and disaster management  coastal and marine protection  energy infrastructure  financial services industry  fishery  human health and care  industry and commerce  soil  spatial planning, urban and settlement development  tourism industry  transport and transport infrastructure  water regime and water management  woodland and forestry  cross sectoral