Does Mainstreaming Climate Adaptation into Policies Lead to Concrete Actions?

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Even after countries came together during the Paris Agreement in 2015 to reduce CO2 emissions, they struggled to meet the reduction targets. The world continues to feel the effects of climate change.

This has pushed policymakers to focus on climate adaptation and mainstream it into policies across sectors to adapt to climate change.

Researchers wanted to determine whether policymakers have successfully mainstreamed climate adaptation into policies and whether mainstreaming adaptation into policies resulted in concrete adaptation actions across sectors.

According to the study, “climate adaptation policy forms a new policy field, and mainstreaming is considered a means to implement that new policy at different levels and in different sectors”.

To know whether mainstreaming climate adaption into policies are effective in terms of its outcomes, researchers reviewed several studies on climate adaptation mainstreaming from various countries and sectors to find out the following:

  1. what mainstreaming practices have achieved results and strategies used,
  2. mainstreaming differences between policy sectors and countries, and
  3. find out the factors that make mainstreaming effective. 

Researchers find that interest and practices in mainstreaming climate adaptation have been increasing steadily in the past decade. Reviewing related studies, they find that mainstreaming adaptation happened more at a national level than at a local government level.

Researchers thought that local governments and municipalities should focus more on mainstreaming adaptation into their policies as they are considered key stakeholders in adaptation planning.  

The study finds that sectors with significant climate adaptation mainstreaming in their policies are environmental and natural resource management and the areas that it covers, such as agriculture, coastal zone management, biodiversity, green infrastructure etc., followed by urban and regional land use planning, water/flood risk management and, lastly, crisis management and risk reduction planning.

Researchers found fewer reports of climate adaptation mainstreaming in critical infrastructure sectors like water supply, sanitation, housing, transportation, and telecommunication.

According to the study, these sectors should be given more attention for adaptation mainstreaming because critical infrastructure involves long planning and investment horizon.

The study enumerated various mainstreaming strategies used by different countries to integrate climate adaptation into their policies (policy output) and described which ones effectively implemented concrete climate adaptation actions (policy outcome).

It finds that there is a gap between policy output and policy outcome, “results clearly show that mainstreaming has been more successful in producing effective policy outputs than effective outcomes.”

When comparing regions in terms of the efficacy of their policy outputs, the study finds that countries in Europe have the highest share in terms of effective policy outputs. In developing countries, mainstreaming strategies have yet to mature; they show great difficulties sustaining adaptation practices.

The study also identifies barriers and drivers for successful mainstreaming, but the most frequently reported barriers that inhibit mainstreaming are lack of the following: financial resources, information, guidance, coordination and cooperation between department, staff resources and access to adaptation knowledge and expertise as well as conflicting interests. 

Some factors that are known to be drivers can act as barriers, such as coordination/cooperation between government departments and information and guidance, suggesting that it is crucial to get these things right.

Another important finding of the study is that access to expertise and information, and guidance is not prominent barriers, which revealed that the implementation gap is not mainly an issue of lack of knowledge or financial resources.

But the problem lies in the inner-organisation structures, practices, and ways of collaboration both internally and externally. Simply put, practitioners know potential adaptation measures but are struggling more to put them into practice within existing structures.

Overall, the study finds that first, the often-used definition of climate adaptation and its objectives into sectoral policies are too vague; the focus is not clear regarding the process of mainstreaming and the result it aims for.

The study suggests that mainstreaming adaptation should use a more explicit and systematic conceptualisation in both practice and researcher and measure climate mainstreaming in terms of policy outputs and outcomes or the extent to which climate-proofing is achieved in any sector.

Secondly, they find that the lack of sustained political commitment, lack of effective cooperation and coordination between stakeholders are barriers to mainstreaming and implementing climate adaptation.

The study suggests that mainstreaming climate adaptation should be a strict requirement at the national and international level as this will drive climate adaption action at lower levels of government. 

Active involvement from civil society and private sectors could also help maintain climate adaptation on the policy agenda.

To read the entire study, click the link below:

Source Citation:

Runhaar, H., Wilk, B., Persson, Å. et al. Mainstreaming climate adaptation: taking stock about “what works” from empirical research worldwide. Reg Environ Change 18, 1201–1210 (2018).

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