Adaptation Pathways

Decisions made today have long-lived consequences. How do we avoid locking in on a single strategy while taking into account uncertainties about the future? How do we design with flexibility and robustness in mind?

Stacks Image 162010

Source: Adapted from Haasnoot (2013)


The Adaptation Pathways approach to sustainable water management requires planners and decision makers to consider a wide range of options over time. It is a structured and dynamic approach to planning that allows for policies to change over the course of a project's lifetime, taking into account changes in the system, new vulnerabilities, and new opportunities. Changing conditions trigger "tipping points" that require the decision maker to explore alternate pathways, identifying the benefits and costs of each possible option. This adaptive planning approach leaves future options open and avoids having systems "locked in" to a singular approach. Adaptation Pathways acknowledges that we don't have all the answers now, but establishes a framework that ensures success even when conditions change over time.


Deltares, together with Carthago Consultancy, has made available the software necessary to generate your own adaptation pathways. The Pathways Generator is a free and open source tool that helps you explore policy pathways in an interactive way. This simple application allows users to create their own pathways in two ways: 1) Using adaptation tipping points based on the conditions under which a policy fails, or 2) Using the timing of adaptation tipping points determined from an analysis of different scenarios.

Visit the Deltares page to use the software. They provide video tutorials as well as step-by-step instructions for use. Currently the software is only available for Windows operating systems.


Haasnoot, M., Middelkoop, H., Offermans, A., van Beek, E. & Van Deursen, W.P.A. (2012). Exploring pathways for sustainable water management in river deltas in a changing environment. Climatic Change, 115(304), 795-819. DOI: 10.1007/s10584-012-0444-2

Haasnoot, M., Kwakkel, J.H., & Walker, W.E. (2012). Designing Adaptive Policy Pathways for Sustainable Water Management under Uncertainty: Lessons Learned from Two Cases. Third International Engineering Systems Symposium, CESUN 2012: Delft University of Technology.

Haasnoot, M. (2013). Anticipating Change: Sustainable Water Policy Pathways for an Uncertain Future. DOI: 10.3990/1.9789036535595

Haasnoot, M.; van Deursen, W. P A; Guillaume, J. H A; Kwakkel, J. H.; van Beek, E.; van Beek, E.; Middelkoop, H. (2014). Fit for purpose? Building and evaluating a fast, integrated model for exploring water policy pathways. Environmental Modelling and Software, 60, 99-120. DOI: 10.1016/j.envsoft.2014.05.020

Haasnoot, M., Schellekens, J. , Beersma, J., Middelkoop, H. and Kwadijk, J.C.J. (2015) Transient scenarios for robust climate change adaptation illustrated for water management in the Netherlands. Environmental research letters, 10 (10). 1 - 17. DOI: 10.1088/1748-9326/10/10/105008


To learn more about how organizations like Deltares (NL) are supporting Adaptation Pathways, visit


From the ADB-Deltares webinar series:

About the Knowledge Platform

The Knowledge Platform is designed to promote and showcase an emerging set of approaches to water resources management that address climate change and other uncertainties — increasing the use of "bottom-up approaches" through building capacity towards implementation, informing relevant parties, engaging in discussion, and creating new networks. This is an ongoing project of the Alliance for Global Water Adaptation (AGWA) funded by the World Bank Group.

We use cookies to ensure that you get the best experience on our website. By continuing to use this site without changing your settings, you consent to our use of cookies. Read our cookie policy.