The local level and private actors play an important role in the implementation of climate change adaptation. The engagement of the private sector and citizens has received increasing attention in recent years. Local authorities' choice of policy instruments, the distribution of responsibilities and the benefits of adaptation as a public or a private good have a bearing on the involvement of private actors. Based on interviews and documents from Copenhagen and Helsinki, we analyse how public authorities' choices, to whom and how they shift responsibilities, can foster transformational, participatory or market-oriented elements of adaptation. The results indicate that local authorities play a dominant role in providing adaptation. Public authorities steer where the private sector and citizens are expected to take responsibilities. This mix of top-down steering, market mechanisms and citizen involvement might reduce the advantages that a shift of responsibilities towards private actors could provide for the handling of climate change adaptation.