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Communicating Climate Change Adaptation and Resilience  

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 to Climate Change  

Tim Forsyth

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.


Perceptions of and Resilience to Coastal Climate Risks  

Beate Ratter and Catherine Leyshon

Coasts are dynamic places operated on by powerful natural and human forces. They are also historically attractive places for human settlement and use, with a still constantly growing concentration of people due to increased population growth and migration toward the coast. Coastal societies historically have evolved and developed culturally embedded relationships with their environment, which have resulted in different cultural settings, influencing the way they experience and react toward climate change impacts in their lifeworld. Coastal risks are specific to different regional, natural, and societal settings and can be distinguished between slow-onset (e.g., sea level rise or ocean acidification) and sudden extreme events (e.g., tropical cyclones or storm surges). Coastal climate risks come from flooding, storms, storm surges, saltwater intrusion, invasive species, declining fish stocks or shifting species’ regimes, coral bleaching, coastal erosion, and morphological change. For centuries, coastal societies have learned to defend the coast against threats from the sea with a broad range of technical measures based on a long history of trial and error, with successes and failures. Further, for centuries, littoral societies have constructed coasts and infrastructure according to their interests and needs (e.g., engineering the coastline, installing coastal defenses, constructing harbor and landing infrastructures, and even claiming land from the sea). Risks at the coast have always been there—but are exacerbated by climate change. A more integrated and transdisciplinary approach to understanding coastal climate risks is required, in keeping with the characterization of climate change as a wicked problem. The ways in which individuals, societies, and politics respond to climate change are in many cases contingent on perceptions of its causes, consequences, and wider implications. To study climate change impacts, therefore, an improved understand is required of the place-specific perception of coast and of coastal climate risks. These perceptions, along with other influencing factors, such as economic interests and politics, will inform the societal resilience and response of a coastal community. Resilience—understood as people’s ability to respond adequately to shocks and stressors—is place-dependent and closely connected to historic experiences and learning processes in dealing with hazards as well as the existing political and institutional arrangements that underpin governance structures. Resilience does not simply reflect the expected effects of quantifiable factors such as level of assets, or even less quantifiable social processes such as people’s experience, but is also determined by more subjective dimensions related to people’s perceptions of their ability to cope, adapt, or transform in the face of adverse events. Based on the existing place-specific experience of the littoral society, with its liminal environment and development, adaptation strategies and policies for the future need to be developed between the extremes of “living with” and “making way for” coastal and climate changes. Against this background, climate change adaptation (CCA) strategies have to be integrated and merged with disaster risk reduction (DRR) challenges, based on the integration of multiple interests in a transdisciplinary way. Societal risk construction and negotiation are crucial elements of integrative risk management, requiring participative, transparent, and flexible processes for the implementation of discursive practices and—in extreme situations—the transformation of governance structures. To understand and evaluate climate change adaptation strategies and measures along the coastline, climate change impacts threatening coastal livelihoods have to be understood alongside the societal frames of CCA policies. The capacity to adapt to changing conditions is based on the ability to develop new risk cultures and the flexibility to transition by (a) developing new norms, practices, and material culture; (b) resisting the lock-ins from routines and habits; and (c) guiding changes through scrutinizing new options or creating technocultural niches that favor certain technologies over others. Adaptive capacity in coastal societies plays an important role in dealing with coastal climate risks. The focal questions are the following: Which societal frames of climate change perception precondition adaptation? Which risks are perceived? Which cultural and political barriers hinder successful adaptation? How can DRR be integrated in CCA endeavors and future climate-resilient and sustainable pathways?


Climate Change and Migration  

Silja Klepp

The topic of climate change and migration attracts a strong following from the media and produces an increase in academic literature and reports from international governmental institutions and NGOs. It poses questions that point to the core of social and environmental developments of the 21st century, such as environmental and climate justice as well as North–South relations. This article examines the main features of the debate and presents a genealogy of the discussion on climate change and migration since the 1980s. It presents an analysis of different framings and lines of argument, such as the securitization of climate change and connections to development studies and adaptation research. This article also presents methodological and conceptual questions, such as how to conceive interactions between migration and climate change. As legal aspects have played a crucial role since the beginning of the debate, different legal strands are considered here, including soft law and policy-oriented approaches. These approaches relate to questions of voluntary or forced migration and safeguarding the rights of environmental migrants. This article introduces theoretical concepts that are prompted by analyzing climate change as an “imaginative resource” and by questioning power relations related to climate-change discourses, politics, and practices. This article recommends a re-politicization of the debate, questions the often victimizing, passive picture of the “drowning” climate-change migrant, and criticizes alarmist voices that can trigger perceived security interests of countries of the Global North. Decolonizing and critical perspectives analyze facets of the debate that have racist, depoliticizing, or naturalizing tendencies or exoticize the “other.”


Ecohydrological Concepts of Water-Vegetation Interaction in the Drylands of Africa  

A. Johannes Dolman, Luis U. Vilasa-Abad, and Thomas A. J. Janssen

Drylands cover around 40% of the land surface on Earth and are inhabited by more than 2 billion people, who are directly dependent on these lands. Drylands are characterized by a highly variable rainfall regime and inherent vegetation-climate feedbacks that can enhance the resilience of the system, but also can amplify disturbances. In that way, the system may get locked into two alternate stable states: one relatively wet and vegetated, and the other dry and barren. The resilience of dryland ecosystems derives from a number of adaptive mechanisms by which the vegetation copes with prolonged water stress, such as hydraulic redistribution. The stochastic nature of both the vegetation dynamics and the rainfall regime is a key characteristic of these systems and affects its management in relation to the feedbacks. How the ecohydrology of the African drylands will change in the future depends on further changes in climate, human disturbances, land use, and the socioeconomic system.


Climate Change Communication and Indigenous Publics  

Candis Callison

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.


Adaptive Governance  

Ronald D. Brunner and Amanda H. Lynch

Adaptive governance is defined by a focus on decentralized decision-making structures and procedurally rational policy, supported by intensive natural and social science. Decentralized decision-making structures allow a large, complex problem like global climate change to be factored into many smaller problems, each more tractable for policy and scientific purposes. Many smaller problems can be addressed separately and concurrently by smaller communities. Procedurally rational policy in each community is an adaptation to profound uncertainties, inherent in complex systems and cognitive constraints, that limit predictability. Hence planning to meet projected targets and timetables is secondary to continuing appraisal of incremental steps toward long-term goals: What has and hasn’t worked compared to a historical baseline, and why? Each step in such trial-and-error processes depends on politics to balance, if not integrate, the interests of multiple participants to advance their common interest—the point of governance in a free society. Intensive science recognizes that each community is unique because the interests, interactions, and environmental responses of its participants are multiple and coevolve. Hence, inquiry focuses on case studies of particular contexts considered comprehensively and in some detail. Varieties of adaptive governance emerged in response to the limitations of scientific management, the dominant pattern of governance in the 20th century. In scientific management, central authorities sought technically rational policies supported by predictive science to rise above politics and thereby realize policy goals more efficiently from the top down. This approach was manifest in the framing of climate change as an “irreducibly global” problem in the years around 1990. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was established to assess science for the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The parties negotiated the Kyoto Protocol that attempted to prescribe legally binding targets and timetables for national reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. But progress under the protocol fell far short of realizing the ultimate objective in Article 1 of the UNFCCC, “stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference in the climate system.” As concentrations continued to increase, the COP recognized the limitations of this approach in Copenhagen in 2009 and authorized nationally determined contributions to greenhouse gas reductions in the Paris Agreement in 2015. Adaptive governance is a promising but underutilized approach to advancing common interests in response to climate impacts. The interests affected by climate, and their relative priorities, differ from one community to the next, but typically they include protecting life and limb, property and prosperity, other human artifacts, and ecosystem services, while minimizing costs. Adaptive governance is promising because some communities have made significant progress in reducing their losses and vulnerability to climate impacts in the course of advancing their common interests. In doing so, they provide field-tested models for similar communities to consider. Policies that have worked anywhere in a network tend to be diffused for possible adaptation elsewhere in that network. Policies that have worked consistently intensify and justify collective action from the bottom up to reallocate supporting resources from the top down. Researchers can help realize the potential of adaptive governance on larger scales by recognizing it as a complementary approach in climate policy—not a substitute for scientific management, the historical baseline.