Climate change is seen as a problem facing current and future generations. Two measures exist in order to cope with its potential effects: mitigation and adaptation. Mitigation describes all measures which aim to reduce human based influences on the climate, namely CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions. On the contrary, adaptation entails all adjustments in response to actual or expected effects of climate change which serve to reduce harm or exploit potential benefits. While mitigation has been the focus of scientific and political discussions in the past decades, adaptation may become increasingly important as some of the effects of climate change are impending and already irreversible. From an economic point of view, adaptation, contrary to most mitigation options, can also be rational for individuals as they may come to the conclusion that is in their own interest to adapt to new environmental conditions. This study aims to shed light onto some of the factors supporting or hindering individual engagement in adaptation behavior, which little research has empirically investigated to date. In order to analyze behavioral change with regard to climate change, this paper takes on a broader perspective of adaptation, which can be defined as all changes an individual makes in order to adjust to a changing environment. In particular, the effect of information on the perceived risk of individuals was investigated, drawing on a psychological framework called Protection Motivation Theory. Three hypotheses were constructed which were empirically tested in the study: (i) higher levels of perceived risk lead to higher levels of motivation to adapt; (ii) providing information as opposed to not providing information increases perceived risk; (iii) providing locally-focused information as opposed to globally-focused information leads to higher levels of perceived risk. It was found that higher perceived risk did lead to significantly higher motivation to adapt, giving support to hypothesis one. However, hypothesis two and three could not be supported, as the effects of information (compared to no information), and locally-focused information (compared to globally-focused information) on perceived risk were not significant. These results suggest that, contrary to the assumptions in economic theory, the sole provision of information is not sufficient to spur motivation to adapt. A range of potential variables which may have an influence on these effects are discussed, including the comparably mild climate change effects in the study region and the lack of concrete behavioral advice.

Osberghaus, Daniel, Elyssa Finkel and Max Pohl (2010), Individual Adaptation to Climate Change: The Role of Information and Perceived Risk, ZEW Discussion Paper No. 10-061, Mannheim. Download


Osberghaus, Daniel
Finkel, Elyssa
Pohl, Max


individual adaptation, perceived risk, adaptation motivation, spatial-temporal distance, information, protection motivation theory