Adaptation planning & decision-making

Effective adaptation planning and decision-making needs to balance multiple, often competing factors. Actions to address near-term priorities need to avoid locking in systems and behaviour that might be maladaptive, increassing risks in the medium to long term. Conversely, actions to address future risks need to be acceptable and feasible given existing social and economic contexts. The priorities of different stakeholders need to be balanced, and agreement achieved between diverse groups, often with competing interests. The need for adaptation to consider scientific information relating to specific future risks and impacts needs to be balanced against the need for local stakeholders to have ownership of adaptation actions.

To address these tensions, we advocate a strong emphasis on the genuine ‘co-creation’ of adaptation responses, by bringing together relevant stakeholders for collaborative decision-making. The goal is to ensure that those whom adaptation is intended to benefit have ownership of the adaptation process, and are in the driver’s seat when it comes to decision-making. These actors will take decisions that are informed by scientific and technical information, packaged in a way that is relevant, understandable and actionable. This process of co-creation may involve direct decision-making at the community level, or decision-making at higher levels of governance that effectively integrates the voices of local communities and other stakeholders. Critically, those affected by adaptation decisions need to be involved from the outset, including in the identification of the challenges that adaptation is intended to address.

We also advocate a focus on transformational adaptation that looks beyond the preservation of ‘climate proofing’ of existing systems through incremental changes (e.g. more irrigation, higher flood defences). Such approaches may be sufficient in some contexts, but are likely to become increasingly unviable as the world warms and climate change impacts intensify. Transformational adaptation becomes relevant when existing systems and practices become physically or practically unviable as a result of changes in climatic, environmental or other conditions. In such contexts, phased transitions from incremental to transformational adaptation can be pursued, facilitated by the identification of thresholds beyond which transformational adaptation is imperative or desirable, and the use of climate and other information to assess proximity to these thresholds.

Garama has supported adaptation decision-making processes in Nepal through its transitional support to the National Climate Change Support Programme, with Landell Mills. We have developed approaches for understanding decision-making processes in relation to adaptation through our work on the CAMELS framework with IIED, and our recent review of support for local adaptation governance for the OECD.