15 January, 2024

Machine learning evidence map reveals global differences in adaptation action


Anne Sietsma, Emily Theokritoff, Robbert Biesbroek, Iván Villaverde Canosa, Adelle Thomas, Max Callaghan, Jan Minx, James Ford

Governments are increasingly creating policies to adapt to the impacts of climate change. Tracking these policies globally is difficult with traditional methods, but we can use recent advances in machine learning to create an ‘‘evidence map’’ from scientific articles on adaptation policy. This highlights how governments around the world use different tools at different levels and in different regions. Most of this evidence, however, comes from the Global North, and we also see relatively few studies on information-based policies overall.


  • Use of machine learning to create a dataset of scientific adaptation policy literature
  • The policy tools studied differ considerably by governance level and location
  • Some of the most vulnerable countries are under studied
  • Limited evidence for a shift in adaptation policy after the Paris Agreement and SDGs

Science for society

As the impacts of climate change are increasingly felt around the world, tracking if and how adaptation is taking place is crucial; it enhances transparency and accountability while also showing where current efforts are falling short. This work adds to an emerging body of literature that uses machine learning to this end. In theory, such methods can provide a nuanced and detailed picture of large datasets. This allows the evidence map created here to be expansive, covering scientific publications from multiple databases globally and also including articles that could not be considered with manual- or keyword-based approaches.

Moreover, an explicit link is made to public administration theory—in particular, the NATO typology of policy tools—alongside more common characteristics, such as the type of climate impact a policy is responding to and the geographic location of studies and their authors. This results in a rich data set, which could be a fertile basis for further analyses.

We find that international level policies, as well as policies in North America and much of the Global South, emphasise financial instruments, whereas national policies, particularly in Europe and Oceania, favour authority-based legislation. Collaborative approaches are most common at the local level. Despite a rapidly expanding evidence base overall, we note persistent geographic inequalities and limited evidence on information-based policies, policy implementation, and structural reforms.