Climate adaptation fundamentally challenges current ways of thinking, planning and acting in environmental management. While public land managers across the US grapple with mandates to “integrate adaptation” into their decisions, very little is known about how land managers and users conceptualise adaptation and the challenges it presents to local decisions, economies and landscapes.
In a recently published paper in Regional Environmental Change, we explore how residents and land managers in Grand County, Colorado perceive adaptation in the context of environmental change and uncertainty. We used a novel, iterative scenario building methodology to engage research participants in a conversation about local landscape change in their region. We found that past experiences of environmental change enabled residents to envisage a high capacity to respond to future change.
This presentation is an overview of the paper.
However, perceptions of uncertainty and powerful cross-scale processes related to federal land management and water diversions constrain possible adaptation pathways. Adaptation pathways envision adaptation as a continual pathway of change and response embedded within a broader socio-political context. Given these cross scale constraints on adaptation, we propose that it is not enough to simply suggest that building local capacity will enable these actors to move towards adaptation.
Adaptive capacity refers to the capacity of actors to respond to change. It is mediated by a number of different factors, including the availability and distribution of resources and technology, the structure of institutions and governance, levels of social and human capital, knowledge generation and management, and perceptions of agency, efficacy, and risk. We argue that the dominant framings of adaptive capacity conflates diverse enabling and constraining factors from cognitive processes to macro-scale political economic structures with little attention to their interactions. This conceptual “lumping” limits our ability to tease apart the different ways that social structures, collective or individual agency affect adaptation at different scales.
We propose the idea of an “adaptation envelope”, which enables and constrains the capacity of local actors to respond to climate change. Envelopes shape both decision space and implementation, and are created by interacting local and extra-local cultural, economic, political, and institutional processes. Because these processes make some actions possible while creating barriers to other actions, they make some pathways possible while shutting down others. These constraints are dynamic, so both local and non-local actors can sometimes expand the envelope. Expanding the adaptation envelope may lead to improved adaptation outcomes because local actors have a broader set of pathways to pursue.
This conceptual distinction between adaptive capacity and adaptation envelopes helps to target policy interventions more appropriately. We argue that actions to expand the envelope are likely to be very different to those which will build more local capacity.
Wyborn, C. Yung, L. Murphy, D. Williams, D. (2014) “Situating adaptation: how governance challenges and perceptions of uncertainty influence adaptation in the Rocky Mountains” Regional Environmental Change DOI: 10.1007/s10113-014-0663-
You can download the paper here