Last week, I was at the European Conference on Climate Change Adaptation (ECCA), in the lovely city of Copenhagen. There were researchers from many different perspectives, but all sharing an interest in climate change adaptation. I observed two strands of research to be quite dominant at the conference:
1) Research on knowledge supply. For example in terms of economic assessments, impact assessments, risk assessments. All more or less under the heading of improved insight into options, expected effects and events will enable better climate change adaptation. Which means that there is an underlying assumption that there is currently a lack of knowledge, and that there is an underlying assumption a certain willingness or readiness from decision making (or decision influencing) actors to use that knowledge. An interesting contribution nuancing this idea of knowledge supply came from James Porter, from the University of Leeds, who presented on a study about the relationship between knowledge on climate change and actions by local authorities (in the UK) – summarised in my own words as: knowledge is important to enable action, but without resources and political support, more knowledge is not likely to support action.
2) Research on participation, dialogue, knowledge exchange, learning, co-creation. Of which most research is more or less centred around the idea that actors are interested in and able to (and invited to) join a deliberative process around climate change adaptation. And on the idea that a deliberative process is beneficial to develop and implement an adaption plan. There was a refreshing contribution from Joanne Vinke-De Kruijf (from the University of Osnabrueck), who studies the factors why groups, networks or consortia learn (and what they actually learn) in cases around water management.
While climate change adaptation is increasingly being studied and considered in sectors such as agriculture, water management and nature conservation, there are also sectors which have been studied less in relation to climate change adaptation. And which have also been less active in climate change adaptation, such as health, sports and education. Dormant sectors, Mikael Hilden from SYKE in Helsinki, called them. Where there is still a lot of potential for actors to become more active in addressing climate change impacts, and for researchers to study these sectors.
At the conference last week, it was as if for many researchers climate change adaptation is something like a given, as something that is important and relevant and that obviously will require action. Well, considering the expected climate change impacts (floods, droughts, heat stress, storm surge impacts), adaptation may indeed be something wise to consider. But, in practice, climate change adaptation is not (yet) taking place everywhere, in all sectors, or is considered by various decision makers at various levels. In comparison to many other established environment-related topics (such as nature conservation, agriculture, sustainable development), climate change adaptation is still a relative newcomer. Established decisionmaking structures may not necessarily be open, willing or able to include climate change adaption. Wouldn’t this be something in particular interesting to study? To acknowledge that climate change adaptation is not automatically addressed everywhere. And to study why existing decisionmaking structures include a relative newcomer such as climate change adaptation or not?
PS: international academic conferences are essential for academic development. It enables to learn from each other, be introduced to new research, ask questions, follow and participate in debates, meet people, etc. (Unfortunately not replaceable by video conferencing.) However, flying all these researchers around the world obviously does not contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. There doesn't seem to be a solution for this insight, put perhaps we could think a bit more about it?