The UK Climate Resilience Programme ran from 2019 to 2023

Explaining the adaptation gap in the UK: the hidden story of policy lock-ins (Webinar)

UK Climate Resilience Programme Webinar Series 2021-2022

Date: 25 May 2022, 12.00pm (GMT)

Speakers: Meghan Alexander (UEA, Tyndall Centre) and Tim Rayner (UEA, Tyndall Centre). Respondent: Tom Handysides (Defra)

Chair: Suraje Dessai

See below for links to the webinar recording and presentation slides


Responding to the declared climate emergency demands systemic and transformative change in policy and governance systems, and decisive adaptation action to be taken now. Yet, a long-standing ‘adaptation gap’ continues to prevail. This can be symptomatic of hidden path dependencies and self-reinforcing ‘lock-in’ dynamics that work to preserve current systems and make them highly resistant to change. Uncovering these hidden dynamics is therefore vital if we are to ‘unlock’ opportunities for change and accelerate adaptation action.

Focusing on England, we examined the political, institutional, behavioural and infrastructural forces that create and maintain lock-in dynamics in a number of problem areas – including coastal adaptation, water scarcity, biodiversity, forestry, heatwave adaptation and mental health under extreme events. Based on empirical research conducted within the Adapt Lock-in project, we present some of the key lock-in dynamics currently hindering adaptation in a selection of these problem areas. Visualised through causal loop diagrams, we illustrate how both distinct and overlapping lock-in dynamics operate within and between these problem areas. To conclude, we reflect on the implications for targeting interventions and designing unlocking strategies to help close the gap on adaptation.


Dr Meghan Alexander is a Senior Research Associate in climate change adaptation within the School of Politics at the University of East Anglia (UK) and is affiliated with the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research. As an environmental-political geographer, Meghan’s research examines matters of governance and policy, and corresponding implications for societal resilience, well-being and social justice. Her current research within the Adapt Lock-in project examines how self-reinforcing lock-in dynamics are hindering climate adaptation in the UK, and the corresponding implications for unlocking transformative change to accelerate adaptation.

Dr Tim Rayner is a Research Fellow in the School of Environmental Sciences, University of East Anglia (UK). Part of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, since 2006 he has participated in a range of European Union and national research council-funded projects covering climate change governance and policy, particularly from EU and UK perspectives, including Adapt Lock-in. From 2019-21, he was involved as a consortium partner in the Jean Monnet Network ‘Governing the EU’s Climate and Energy Transition in Turbulent Times’ (GOVTRAN).

Tom Handysides is UK government official, with a background in climate policy and utility regulation in the energy and water sectors. He is the UK government’s policy lead on climate change adaptation and resilience, and is developing the third National Adaptation Programme, due in 2023.