22. August 2023

A Compass for Successful Climate Adaptation A Compass for Successful Climate Adaptation

Researchers led by the University of Twente have presented a guiding framework. The University of Bonn is involved

Work to adapt to climate change is becoming increasingly important across the globe. Ensuring that these efforts are effective and have no unintended negative consequences is a vital part of this process. Researchers from the University of Twente in the Netherlands have joined forces with colleagues from France, Kenya, India, South Africa, the US and the University of Bonn to propose a framework that they call “Navigating the Adaptation-Maladaptation Continuum” (NAM). This tool will aid decision-making on climate adaptation measures and help promote a more equitable and more sustainable future. Their findings have now been published in the journal “Nature Climate Change.” 

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Employing six different criteria to analyze adaptation measures, the NAM framework is designed to identify successful examples of adaptation in practice as well as spot potential maladaptation risks. For each criterion, decision-makers can use the NAM framework to determine specific factors that will lead to either a successful adaptation or a maladaptation. For example, maladaptation is a common danger where an option fails to account for impact on low-income sections of the population or marginalized ethnic groups. Conversely, possible adaptations that help meet climate targets, such as restoring nature and sequestering carbon, may bring significant additional benefits.

Emboldening decision-makers

The NAM framework offers a multidimensional approach for assessing climate adaptation measures. Besides enabling outcomes to be analyzed comprehensively, it also gives decision-makers the confidence they need to plot their way along the adaptation-maladaptation continuum. Applying this concept will allow adaptation measures to be seen as part of a broader strategy that optimizes synergy effects, compromises and conflicts while also aiding decision-making involving multiple stakeholder groups.

“The NAM-framework advocates for a shift away from a narrow, short-term perspective that solely prioritizes immediate effectiveness,” says Dr. Diana Reckien, a professor at the Department of Urban and Regional Planning and Geo-Information Management at the University of Twente in the Dutch city of Enschede. Instead, she says, it calls for a more holistic consideration of long-term impacts and interconnected responses. “By adopting this approach, adaptation measures can be better aligned with broader climate goals and contribute to sustainable development.”

Most maladaptations are only spotted after the fact

Prof. Dr. Lisa Schipper from the Department of Geography at the University of Bonn has been studying maladaptation for a long time now and brought her specialist expertise to bear in the study. “A maladaptation is when a strategy for adapting to climate change is put into action and actually makes people’s situation worse, not better,” the researcher explains. There is empirical evidence to show that many adaptation efforts all over the world result in maladaptations, she says. However, most of these cannot be detected until it is too late, i.e. once they have already happened. “This paper represents a major breakthrough in our way of thinking, because it provides a framework that can enable practitioners and researchers to spot maladaptations before they occur,” says Prof. Schipper, who is also a member of the Sustainable Futures Transdisciplinary Research Area at the University of Bonn. “Hopefully, this will also help dispel the fears that some funding providers have regarding the risk of maladaptations.”

Reducing risks

The criteria used in the NAM framework were devised following an in-depth review of the literature on adaptation and maladaptation, which formed part of the work done on the Sixth Assessment Report by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). They show that the risk of a maladaptation can be reduced if those who are most vulnerable to the effects of climate change are able to benefit from adaptation strategies. “This means taking the standard approach—where funding providers, external actors and wealthy elites make decisions and carry out adaptation projects without actually consulting the people who’ll be impacted by climate change—and turning it on its head,” Lisa Schipper explains. She likens the NAM framework to a compass for finding out how this practice can influence the risk of a maladaptation, allowing it to pave the way for rethinking and replanning adaptation strategies.

Institutions involved:

Alongside the University of Twente in Enschede (Netherlands) and the University of Bonn, the study also involved the Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations at Sciences Po in Paris (France), La Rochelle Université – CNRS (France), the United Nations Environment Programme in Nairobi (Kenya), the Indian Institute for Human Settlements in Bengaluru (India), the University of Cape Town (South Africa), Columbia University in New York (US), Tufts University in Boston (US) and the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre in The Hague (Netherlands). 

Read more: https://www.carbonbrief.org/guest-post-gauging-the-success-of-climate-change-adaptation/

Diana Reckien, Alexandre K. Magnan, Chandni Singh, Megan Lukas-Sithole, Ben Orlove, E. Lisa F. Schipper and Erin Coughlan de Perez: “Navigating the continuum between adaptation and maladaptation,” in “Nature Climate Change,” web: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41558-023-01774-6; https://doi.org/10.1038/s41558-023-01774-6

Prof. Dr. Lisa Schipper
Development Geography
Department of Geography
University of Bonn
Phone: +49 228 73-7896
Email: lschipper@uni-bonn.de

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