Reflections from the Adaptation Futures Conference – Ragne Low, Project Manager, ClimateXChange

ClimateXChange’s Project Manager Ragne Low recently travelled to Fortaleza Ceará in Brazil for Adaptations Futures 2014 ( The conference brought together researchers, policy makers, and practitioners from developed and developing countries to share insights into the challenges and opportunities that adaptation presents, and to share strategies for decision making from the international to the local scale.

Here she reflects on some of the key themes emerging from the conference:

We are moving into a new phase in adaptation. Where the primary focus in the early days of adaptation dialogue was on ‘arresting maladaptation’ and addressing the adaptation deficit, we are now firmly in the phase of adaptation planning and informed decision making, and we are perhaps even at the early stages of a new phase: ‘transformational adaptation’.

Should we be problem-orientated or solution-oriented? There was some debate about the nuance here, and indeed it seems there is a need for both approaches. Problem-oriented means working to better understand the problem, and the key thing now is for problem-orientated research to be truly transdisciplinary and collaborative. Solution-orientation implies working together to find answers and intervention options, rather than aiming only for an ever deeper understanding of the problem.

Adaptation research is making strides in ensuring stakeholders are not viewed as ‘end users’ but as partners. Co-design and co-production are now the norm, but some argue for even greater use to be made of knowledge from practitioners, non-academic experts and communities. ‘Shared learning’ is a very commonly used term, and means involvement of stakeholders at all stages in the research, and indeed beyond the time span of specific projects, to support network building for continuing knowledge sharing.

Adaptation is absolutely not just an environmental issue and it must not be communicated as such. It is a socio-economic issue first and foremost, whilst of course also having a strong environmental component. Adaptation also needs to be communicated in terms of risk management – this is the language that resonates with decision-makers across sectors and in particular with private sector actors. Framing the climate change adaptation imperative in the context of risk management also allows climate change to be seen as a threat multiplier; and it helps us look at high-end and ‘less likely’ impacts and scenarios.

Measuring adaptation is a challenge – both at the project level and at the programme or national, strategic level. A particular challenge is how we measure outcomes. There are temporal and attributional challenges that make it very difficult to really measure the outcomes of adaptation actions.

Other issues that came up repeatedly were:

  • how do we ensure we identify the most vulnerable?;
  • community-based adaptation – what does it look like and how can we best achieve it?;
  • institutions and governance remain critical;
  • are we properly aware of what a ‘ >4 degrees world ‘ might mean, what does the risk of ‘>4 degrees’ demand of the adaptation research and practice community?;
  • how can we ensure that bottom-up approaches are widely adopted – and succeed?;
  • as well as showcasing successes, how can we best share lessons of failure?

Watch this space:


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