This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Climate Science. Please check back later for the full article.
Adaptive governance is defined by a focus on decentralized decision making, procedurally rational policy, and intensive natural and social science. Decentralization factors a large and complex problem like global climate change into many smaller problems, each more tractable for policy and scientific purposes. These smaller problems are not delimited by scientific discipline but are focused on a particular organization, community, or region as a whole. In any specific context, procedurally rational policy is an adaptation to profound uncertainties arising from system complexity and human cognitive constraints, among other scarce resources. Continuous appraisal of incremental actions dominate over projections, targets, and timetables. Intensive science assumes that contexts evolve. Hence it is centered on particular contexts considered comprehensively from multiple disciplinary standpoints. Progress in adaptive governance depends on politics to integrate or balance the valid and appropriate interests of all participants in the process. Progress is gauged by the extent to which participants in each context clarify and secure their common interest.
Versions of adaptive governance emerged in response to the limitations of scientific management, the dominant pattern of governance in the 20th century. In scientific management, technically rational policies, based on extensive science and enacted by a central authority, are intended to rise above politics to realize targets and timetables efficiently. This approach was manifest, in the years around 1990, in the framing of climate change as a globally irreducible problem. It was to be addressed through the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to assess climate science for the Parties to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Kyoto Protocol prescribing national targets and timetables for reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, and through related means. The limitations of this approach were recognized after the Conference of the Parties in Copenhagen in 2009, and as the concentration of greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere continued to increase. But progress in response to our many climate-related problems does not require a central global authority.
Some organizations, communities, and regions have significantly reduced their greenhouse gas emissions or their losses and vulnerability to the impacts of climate change and variability. Thus they have integrated or balanced these climate-policy interests with their many other interests and circumstances. Any policy that appears to have worked satisfactorily anywhere in their networks tends to be diffused for possible adaptation in similar circumstances elsewhere. Their progress supports demands on higher-level authorities to reallocate resources in support of strategies that have worked consistently at lower levels. The scholarly literature on adaptive governance and climate change is most constructive, for both policy and scientific purposes, when it takes the standpoints and experiences of these leading organizations, communities, and regions into account—for example, by providing third-party evaluations of what worked and what didn’t, by identifying bottlenecks in the process of diffusion, and the like. Climate change may be the primary concern of scholars, but it is just one set of considerations to be integrated with many others in the on-going process of development in each context. The context matters.
Climate change adaptation is the ability of a society or a natural system to adjust to the (changing) conditions that support life in a certain climate region, including weather extremes in that region. The current discussion on climate change adaptation began in the 1990s, with the publication of the Assessment Reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Since the beginning of the 21st century, most countries, and many regions and municipalities have started to develop and implement climate change adaptation strategies and plans. But since the implementation of adaptation measures must be planned and conducted at the local level, a major challenge is to actually implement adaptation to climate change in practice. One challenge is that scientific results are mainly published on international or national levels, and political guidelines are written at transnational (e.g., European Union), national, or regional levels—these scientific results must be downscaled, interpreted, and adapted to local municipal or community levels. Needless to say, the challenges for implementation are also rooted in a large number of uncertainties, from long time spans to matters of scale, as well as in economic, political, and social interests. From a human perspective, climate change impacts occur rather slowly, while local decision makers are engaged with daily business over much shorter time spans.
Among the obstacles to implementing adaptation measures to climate change are three major groups of uncertainties: (a) the uncertainties surrounding the development of our future climate, which include the exact climate sensitivity of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, the reliability of emission scenarios and underlying storylines, and inherent uncertainties in climate models; (b) uncertainties about anthropogenically induced climate change impacts (e.g., long-term sea level changes, changing weather patterns, and extreme events); and (c) uncertainties about the future development of socioeconomic and political structures as well as legislative frameworks.
Besides slow changes, such as changing sea levels and vegetation zones, extreme events (natural hazards) are a factor of major importance. Many societies and their socioeconomic systems are not properly adapted to their current climate zones (e.g., intensive agriculture in dry zones) or to extreme events (e.g., housing built in flood-prone areas). Adaptation measures can be successful only by gaining common societal agreement on their necessity and overall benefit. Ideally, climate change adaptation measures are combined with disaster risk reduction measures to enhance resilience on short, medium, and long time scales.
The role of uncertainties and time horizons is addressed by developing climate change adaptation measures on community level and in close cooperation with local actors and stakeholders, focusing on strengthening resilience by addressing current and emerging vulnerability patterns. Successful adaptation measures are usually achieved by developing “no-regret” measures, in other words—measures that have at least one function of immediate social and/or economic benefit as well as long-term, future benefits. To identify socially acceptable and financially viable adaptation measures successfully, it is useful to employ participatory tools that give all involved parties and decision makers the possibility to engage in the process of identifying adaptation measures that best fit collective needs.
Indigenous experiences with climate change have become increasingly visible through media stories of rising sea levels, heavy storms, and coastal erosion due to climate change in places as different as Tuvula in the South Pacific and Shishmaref in the Alaskan Arctic. Despite these bursts of attention, indigenous concerns and experiences have not been well or diversely represented in media coverage, nor have they been consistently studied in media scholarship—nor until recently, have indigenous people or knowledge been mentioned in major climate agreements and scientific assessments. There is, however, a growing body of interdisciplinary scholarship that draws on indigenous knowledge, experiences, and activism related to climate change.
Indigenous peoples comprise 5% of the world’s population and live in over 90 countries around the world. Because indigenous communities are often located outside major urban centers, indigenous peoples are likely to suffer disproportionately from the impacts of climate change. Many indigenous people live in close connection with the ecosystems in their region, and collectively held Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) is passed down through multiple generations, providing in-depth, systematic, meaningful, and historically informed views of climate change and potential pathways for resilience and adaptation.
Indigenous people have often been portrayed in media coverage as victims with little attention paid to TEK, communal resilience, human rights and climate justice frameworks, or the historical contexts that may amplify climate change impacts. While indigenous people have diverse circumstances and histories, many are likely to have suffered enormous upheaval in recent centuries due to colonialism, resource development, economic shifts, loss of human rights, and lack of self-determination. Climate change often intensifies existing vulnerabilities and risks. These deeply intertwined social and environmental crises create distinct challenges for considering how and what climate change means for diverse indigenous peoples, how to address it at all levels of governance, and how media can and should be accountable to and represent indigenous publics.
Susanne C. Moser
Communicating the impacts of climate change and possible adaptive responses is a relatively recent branch of the larger endeavor of climate change communication. This recent emergence, in large part, is driven by the fact that the impacts and policy/planning/practice responses have only recently emerged in more widespread public consciousness and discourse, and thus in scholarly treatment. This article will first describe the critical and precarious moment of when impacts and adaptation communication becomes important; it will then summarize proposed approaches to do so effectively; and discuss key challenges confronting climate change communication going forward. These challenges may well be unique in the field of communication, in that they either uniquely combine previously encountered difficulties into novel complexities or are truly unprecedented. To date, scholarship and experience in climate, environmental, or risk communication provide little guidance on how to meet these challenges of communicating effectively with diverse publics and decision makers in the face of long-term degradation of the life support system of humanity. The article will conclude with an attempt to offer research and practice directions, fit at least to serve as appropriately humble attitudes toward understanding and engaging fellow humans around the profound risks of an utterly uncertain and far-from-assured future.
Community-based adaptation (CBA) to climate change is an approach to adaptation that aims to include vulnerable people in the design and implementation of adaptation measures. The most obvious forms of CBA include simple, but accessible, technologies such as storing freshwater during flooding or raising the level of houses near the sea. It can also include more complex forms of social and economic resilience such as increasing access to a wider range of livelihoods or reducing the vulnerability of social groups that are especially exposed to climate risks. CBA has been promoted by some development nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and international agencies as a means of demonstrating the importance of participatory and deliberative methods within adaptation to climate change, and the role of longer-term development and social empowerment as ways of reducing vulnerability to climate change. Critics, however, have argued that focusing on “community” initiatives can often be romantic and can give the mistaken impression that communities are homogeneous when in fact they contain many inequalities and social exclusions. Accordingly, many analysts see CBA as an important, but insufficient, step toward the representation of vulnerable local people in climate change policy, but that it also offers useful lessons for a broader transformation to socially inclusive forms of climate change policy, and towards seeing resilience to climate change as lying within socio-economic organization rather than in infrastructure and technology alone.
For several decades, the Sahelian countries have been facing continuing rainfall shortages, which, coupled with anthropogenic factors, have severely disrupted the great ecological balance, leading the area in an inexorable process of desertification and land degradation. The Sahel faces a persistent problem of climate change with high rainfall variability and frequent droughts, and this is one of the major drivers of population’s vulnerability in the region. Communities struggle against severe land degradation processes and live in an unprecedented loss of productivity that hampers their livelihoods and puts them among the populations in the world that are the most vulnerable to climatic change. In response to severe land degradation, 11 countries of the Sahel agreed to work together to address the policy, investment, and institutional barriers to establishing a land-restoration program that addresses climate change and land degradation. The program is called the Pan-Africa Initiative for the Great Green Wall (GGW). The initiative aims at helping to halt desertification and land degradation in the Sahelian zone, improving the lives and livelihoods of smallholder farmers and pastoralists in the area and helping its populations to develop effective adaptation strategies and responses through the use of tree-based development programs. To make the GGW initiative successful, member countries have established a coordinated and integrated effort from the government level to local scales and engaged with many stakeholders. Planning, decision-making, and actions on the ground is guided by participation and engagement, informed by policy-relevant knowledge to address the set of scalable land-restoration practices, and address drivers of land use change in various human-environmental contexts. In many countries, activities specific to achieving the GGW objectives have been initiated in the last five years.