The UK Climate Resilience Programme ran from 2019 to 2023

Climate Adaptation

Societal responses to climate risks arise from complex decision-making processes that are shaped by the choices of individuals as well as collective actors, such as firms, civil society, local authorities, national governments and international organisations. Effective management of and adaptation to climate-related risks by organisations, systems and society helps to minimise damage and exploit potential opportunities. This occurs in a social and institutional context where history, culture, values, ethics, institutions and governance are recognised as important determinants of adaptation responses. Most climate-related decisions operate in complex contexts which require greater attention to process and have become associated with problems.[1] Academic and practitioner research on governing[2] adaptation has been fragmented and ignored scale interactions.

Governing adaptation

Recognising the multi-faceted, multi-scaler, dynamic and reflexive nature of climate-related decisions needed to strengthen national resilience, this theme built on existing work and focused on understanding and tracking adaptation at the organisational and policy scales and the interactions between them:

Organisational and sector capacity: It is critical to improve understanding of how organisations of different cultures, scales and sectors make sense of information about climate-related risks and translate this into meaningful action in their specific context. We also need to understand how this is incentivised or constrained by internal or wider factors; and how to assess capacity to respond and ways to track and enhance it over time. Special focus could be given to organisations invited to report under the Adaptation Reporting Power, organisations critical to the UK economy and regulators or standard setters that have influence over other organisation’s decisions.

Policy, institutions and governance: The rules, laws and regulations we develop mediate how individuals, organisations, sectors and systems behave in response to risk information.  Effective governance is needed to establish credible and fair goals, link up diverse areas of policy, including that relating to mitigation and rapid decarbonisation, to strengthen alignment. Given the uncertainty regarding the level of adaptation needed, this needs to ensure that learning from experience leads to continuous course correction over time. Research needs to examine the appropriateness of existing rules, policies and regulation and how new governance arrangements, including ungoverned adaptation (that is more informal), are developed while ensuring they do not exacerbate existing inequality and the costs of adaptation are met in a socially just way.

Scale interactions: It is critical to improve understanding of scale interactions between policy and organisations through a system perspective. Failure to consider scale interactions can lead to lock-in, to undesirable pathways, unintended consequences and ultimately decreased resilience. Interactions between scales provide an opportunity to reshape the system to become more resilient to emerging climate risks.

Living with uncertainty

The magnitude and rate of climate change means that UK society has to make decisions about which landscapes, buildings, towns and even species we want to keep and which we lose.  As humans, we find such decisions difficult, painful, and even stressful. The term ‘solastalgia’ links memory of loved places with nostalgia and feelings of stress that can act to motivate or demotivate action to respond.  Direct experience of climate related change can increase awareness of our vulnerability (of people and places) and lead to increased action and greater resilience.

This theme sought to deepen our understanding and explore how these aspects affect our sense of place, identity, decision-making and the potential for new societal-environmental configurations.  We have much to learn from the relative vulnerability and resilience of past communities about intentional decision processes and where we need to let go of control and make decisions with considerable ambiguity.  At the same time, opportunities could arise in growing new crops, establishment of new species and lives saved (because of fewer cold-related deaths). The themes of accepting loss, living with uncertain or disorderly change and acknowledging new opportunities would benefit from interdisciplinary research led by the arts and humanities community.