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Implications for policy

by Kate Lonsdale

What could policy makers do to support further action?

Some thoughts from the interviews:

Support for initiatives to establish collective action towards long-term adaptation goals should draw on a mix of authoritative and persuasive tools of governance. Authoritative measures are called for when issues are nationally homogenous (as, for example, legislation on development in flood zones, and possible future regulation of efficiency requirements); persuasive measures and economic incentives are likely to work better for locally-specific issues (for example, the impact of local development on context-specific water and waste issues).

SE England water resources, learning example

 'stakeholders believe that the central government has sometimes demonstrated an effective 'adaptive cycle', learning from public consultation after extreme events and taking concrete action. On the other hand, the government has frequently failed to follow through and take concrete action (e.g. on domestic water efficiency), opting instead to offer recommendations and suggest voluntary mechanisms. Its policy formation was characterised by stakeholders as more reactive than proactive (taking action in the wake of extreme weather events), and by the researcher as more-frequently persuasive rather than authoritative.'

SE England water resources learning example

'There may be an important role for national governments here in generating and providing access to good data, raising the awareness of the financial sector of the need to ensure that projects include adaptation measures, and putting legislative measures in place to move beyond the voluntary nature of the Equator Principles.'

Financial learning example

 'The link between adaptation and social justice is very important'

UK Urban learning example


With heat waves deaths are happening fairly abruptly. Cold events, on the other hand, tend to cause mortality displacement and result in consequences such as flu outbreaks which may not occur as immediately as impacts from heat waves. There is also an interesting political dimension that differentiates between the two - fuel poverty (and associated payments to the vulnerable) is a policy response for cold conditions in the UK, which is absent for periods of hot weather. The groups at risk from heat and cold events are different.

Health learning example

 'the ultimate lever in the building sector is considered to be the building regulations'

UK Urban learning example

Measuring adaptation - the development of performance indicators

'Things can change quickly when enforceable measures are introduced e.g. NI 188'    

UK Urban learning example

Guidance on adaptation is generally tied up with many other things, for example it is woven into a programme of regeneration (not flooding, as this is a more tangible event). In addition, Local Government funding is linked to the how well they score on indicators used in the Comprehensive Performance Assessment (CPA). These indicators are influential in getting local authorities to focus attention on particular areas. The new National Indicator on adaptation (NI188) is potentially a very effective driver for embedding adaptation considerations within the activity of local authorities. For adaptation it would be difficult (or impossible) to use criteria such as miles of flood defence as an indicator, so it has been developed as a process-based tool that measures the movement of a local authority along a spectrum from 'no action on adaptation' to 'full implementation of adaptation throughout the authority, its services and the community'1  although there is still a question as to how much wider issues such as leadership, agency, organisational learning etc. that are part of tools such as the PACT (Performance Acceleration Capacity-building Tool) framework should be part of such a indicator.  What kind of organisational change is considered necessary?  Is it sufficient to simply tweak 'business as usual' or is the change anticipated so significant that a more fundamental shift in how things are done is necessary, requiring a questioning of the organisations basic assumptions?

Other policy concerns brought up in the interviews include:

  • Potential for policy contradictions between mitigation and adaptation
  • Encouraging the development of space for experimentation and learning
  • Going  beyond voluntary measures e.g. the Equator Principles to authoritative guidance and targets that are followed up on
  • Being 'proactive' in policy development rather than 'reactive' (in the wake of a flood).
  • Supporting more informed debate

In combination with proposed legislative measures to promote a solid governance structure with distributed powers and responsibilities, a context-specific model that allows stakeholders to visualise scenarios under different assumptions, and to explore a wide range of options, could effectively stimulate broader stakeholder interest and participation and a culture of social learning across water authorities and stakeholders. In this way, the integration of social and techno-scientific methodologies and tools proposed in the IWRM framework could create the conditions for flexible and adaptive governance to manage existing water resources and to adapt to the conditions produced under climate change. The research in the UGB suggests that government is responsible for taking the first steps towards more participative governance; once institutional spaces and mechanisms for public participation are in place, stakeholders can then take an active role in crafting a context-specific form of participative and adaptive water governance.   

Guadiana water resources learning example

  • Acknowledging the limits to development

Lastly, there is a need for fundamental change in the national definition of 'sustainable development', in order to acknowledge and respect the environmental limits to development.

Without such a shift, the long-term economic consequences and environmental externalities of regional development will compromise the sustainability of natural resources and increase vulnerability to the effects of climate change.  

SE England water resources learning example

The European Union (EU) was perceived by interviewees to have an important role in promoting relevant policies, filling knowledge gaps, and coordinating region-wide strategies. It allocated substantial resources to climate adaptation in the 2005 EU Climate Change Programme, and highlighted the benefits of adaptation in terms of new economic opportunities as well as the economic and social benefits of taking action to reduce vulnerability to, and minimise harm from, climate change in its 2007 European Commission Green Paper on Adaptation.

  • Lack of political backing

Climate change adaptation is not given high priority on the political agenda, and is perceived to lack political buy-in and leadership. References to adaptation are perceived as rhetorical, without solid commitment or concrete action, and the location of national adaptation planning in the Federal Ministry of Environment, rather than the Chancellor's office, is seen as symbolic of the lack of serious political attention. In a (global) paradigm in which economic growth is paramount, environmental concerns are not allowed centre stage in urban planning.

Berlin urban learning example

  • Need for collaboration across political boundaries

The fragmented nature of political structures at federal and state levels constrains communication, coordination, and integration across interdependent areas of urban development like biodiversity, nature conservation, climate protection and adaptation, and transportation; some important areas, such as water management, fall through the net, with no one department in charge. The same is true of geographical boundaries; the city of Berlin and the surrounding area of Brandenburg are managed separately despite their overlapping biophysical systems. This fragmentation is reproduced at individual level, with individual knowledge limited to narrow subject-area expertise. There is a need for collective and collaborative learning across sectors and disciplines through dialogue and engagement in order to create more meaningful, holistic knowledge, and to move from knowledge to effective behavioural change.

Berlin urban learning example

1 Information on the CPA process and indicators can be found on the Energy Saving Trust website:
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  • © 2009 ADAM, Adaptation and Mitigation Strategies: Supporting European climate policy