Attention is increasing in academia towards the governance of adaptation, specifically how state and non-state actors are defining the adaptation ‘problematique’ and crafting public policies to address it. Adaptation is the ‘adjustment in natural or human systems in response to actual or expected climatic stimuli or their effects, which moderates harm or exploits beneficial opportunities’. The challenge for governments is taking this rather vague concept and turning it into viable and implementable public policies. This implies that they have to make choices as to the types of polices to create, the sectors they should cover, ministerial jurisdictions and funding. This article contributes to the discussion on the adaptation governance by presenting a conceptual framework that outlines policy choices governors need to make, by applying this framework to a number of countries, and starting the debate on which choice or choices were particularly instrumental in shaping adaptation policy in particular countries as a whole. It focuses on four countries traditionally seen to be adaptation leaders: Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden and the United Kingdom.