Guide to Climate-Smart Conservation

Climate change already is having significant impacts on the nation’s species and ecosystems, and these effects are projected to increase considerably over time. How should we prepare for and respond to the impacts of climate change on wildlife and their habitat? What should we be doing differently in light of these climatic shifts, and what actions continue to make sense?

Climate Smart Conservation PDF cover

The publication Climate-Smart Conservation: Putting Adaptation Principles into Practice offers guidance for designing and carrying out conservation in the face of a rapidly changing climate.

Download National Wildlife Federation's Climate-Smart Conservation Guide >>

Developed by an expert workgroup, consisting of leaders in climate adaptation from federal and state agencies and non-governmental organizations, the guide is designed to help conservationists and resource managers incorporate climate change considerations into their work. The guide helps to demystify the discipline of climate adaptation by offering a common-sense approach to adaptation planning and implementation that breaks the process into discrete and manageable steps.

Making Conservation Climate Smart

An important goal of the guide is to help practitioners and policy-makers understand what constitutes “good” climate adaptation, and how to recognize those characteristics in existing work, as well as how to design new interventions when necessary. In particular, guide emphasizes four overarching themes in the practice of climate-smart conservation:

  • Act with intentionality through linking actions to impacts
  • Manage for change, not just persistence
  • Reconsider goals, not just strategies
  • Integrate adaptation into existing work

Key Characteristics of Climate-Smart Conservation


To assist practitioners in distinguishing when and whether climate considerations are suitably being incorporated into conservation work, the guide identifies several key characteristics that collectively define a climate-informed approach to conservation:

  • Link actions to climate impacts
  • Embrace forward-looking goals
  • Consider broader landscape context
  • Adopt strategies robust to uncertainty
  • Employ agile and informed management
  • Minimize carbon footprint
  • Account for climate influence on project success
  • Safeguard people and nature
  • Avoid maladaptation

The Climate-Smart Cycle

Carrying out effective climate adaptation involves an array of activities that can at first seem confusing. This guide offers a generalized framework—the Climate-Smart Conservation Cycle—that demonstrates how the various steps of the adaptation process fit together. Indeed, the heart of the guide is a detailed exploration of how to carry out these various steps in ways that are appropriate to the unique needs of different resource managers or conservationists.

Climate Smart Conservation Graphic

Putting Principles into Practice

Each conservation challenge is unique and there are no one-size-fits-all solutions to climate adaptation. Instead, we need thoughtfully crafted adaptation strategies that take into account not only likely climatic shifts and impacts, but the specifics of the ecological resources, existing stresses and threats, and opportunities for meaningful action. Climate-Smart Conservation is intended to help managers and policymakers put general climate adaptation principles into practice. Whether one already is focused on adaptation, or just beginning to think about climate change, this guide is designed to help you take the next step in making your conservation efforts climate smart.

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