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Strategic environmental assessment and adaptation to climate change

Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) provides a framework for assessing and managing a broad range of environmental risks which need to be addressed in the development and appraisal of policies, plans and programmes (PPPs). This Advisory Note aims to show how SEA approaches can help mainstream adaptation to climate change into strategic planning, in order to reduce the hazards, risks and vulnerabilities posed by climate change to systems and populations. It aims to show how SEA can be used to assess how PPPs might mediate climate change risks, for example by facilitating or constraining adaptive choices and behaviour. This Advisory Note aims to help development professionals working with SEA in the context of national and sectoral planning, to factor in climate change adaptation issues where warranted. At a national level, an SEA may help to identify elements of national PPPs that are sensitive to or at risk from climate change, or whose viability in the context of projected future climatic conditions is in question. At a sectoral level, climate change considerations within an SEA might be used to assess strategies for sectoral reform with a view to identifying which strategies are, and which are not, resilient under different climate change scenarios, or to identify where adaptation interventions will be required to enhance the resilience of the sector in the face of climate change.

The following topics are covered: the role of SEA in climate change adaptation; key steps and questions to ask in addressing climate change adaptation through SEA; issues to be mainstreamed in all stages of an SEA; and capacity development considerations.

Existing studies on climate change adaptation have tended to focus on the obvious issues such as flooding, sea level rise and effects on discrete concerns like tourism where relatively precise predictions can be made. However, the bigger challenge will be to apply SEA to other policy areas, including health, poverty alleviation and sustainable economic development. Where climate screening of country strategies has taken place, it is recommended that development partners should identify those policy sectors which are least well prepared to address the impacts of climate change and consider introducing pilot SEAs in these areas.