Progress Report and Key Findings (Nov 2011)

The results from the PLAN project show that adaptation to climate change is a social, cultural and human process that is influenced not only by objective, exterior factors such as observed changes in ecosystems and climate variability, regulations and incentives, but also by subjective, interior factors such as cognition, values, beliefs and worldviews. The different subprojects highlight that climate change is not only a technical problem, but an adaptive challenge that requires new approaches, as well as new types of communication and leadership. Draws on a wide range of social science perspectives and methodologies, the PLAN project draws attention towards the need for a deeper understanding of individual and collective responses to change. The subprojects contribute new insights on what climate change means to individuals and communities, including the role of place attachment, cultural identity, cognition and political discourses, and how these affect public engagement and participation in adaptation processes. This research makes an important contribution to the the international literature on climate change adaptation, raising new questions about the meaning of adaptation in countries that are considered to have a high adaptive capacity--based on objective measures, such as resources, technology and education.

To briefly summarize the findings of the PLAN project, the research emphasizes that adaptation to climate change involves more than creating a “to do list” based the identification of strategies and measures to reduce the observed or projected impacts of climate change. Although scenarios of future climate change play an important role in political debates about responses to climate change, the uncertainties associated with these scenarios tend to constrain adaptation responses. “Adaptation to what?” remains a key question for planners and decision makers. Uncertainties about future greenhouse gas emissions, socioeconomic scenarios, parameterizations of interactions and feedbacks in the climate models, local consequences, and other factors limit adaptation options. Meanwhile, little attention has been given to adaptation as a social, cultural and human process, and to the interior, subjective dimensions of adaptation that influence behaviors and systems changes. PLAN results suggest that the problem of climate change must be considered as an “adaptive challenge” that requires questioning beliefs, assumptions, loyalties, habits and mindsets. Adaptation involves the realization that the future does not yet exist, but instead is being created through every decision and action; these influence the range of potential outcomes. Considering climate change as an “adaptive challenge” suggests that the “anthropogenic forcing” of climate change must be integrated into contemporary worldviews if society is to respond successfully to its unprecedented challenges. In other words, adapting to the idea that humans are changing the climate—and also have the capacity to create an alternative and sustainable future—is indeed as important as adapting to the physical consequences associated with of a warmer world.

The PLAN project has continued to engage with artists in discussions, dialogues and dissemination activities related to climate change adaptation. For example, in October 2010 several PLAN project participants contributed to the “Gentle Actions” exhibition at Kunstnernes Hus. PLAN has also collaborated with artist Eva Bakkeslett in developing dissemination activities for the 2011 Forskningstorget in Oslo. PLAN will also be participate in the choreographed Hut Project at the Opera House in Oslo in October 2011, contributing to a dialogue on the relationship between adaptation and sustainability.

One of the most rewarding experiences in the PLAN project has been the internal, transdisciplinary collaboration among project participants. Throughout the four years of the project, researchers with different disciplinary backgrounds have interacted by focusing on the issue of adaptation, creating new conversations that combine methodologies and perspectives and result in collaborative papers, editorials, and new initiatives.

PLAN has inspired new approaches and thinking on how to address climate change adaptation, not the least by promoting a values-based approach to vulnerability and adaptation. PLAN results stress that adaptation to climate change requires attention to cultural and experiential factors that influence how problems are perceived, framed and approached, which influences prioritized technologies and institutional arrangements. The results also highlight the contributions of different methods and disciplinary approaches to understanding and responding to the complex issue of climate change, and emphasize the benefits of methodological pluralism and multiple validity claims. Finally, the project demonstrates how an integral perspective that addresses both interior and exterior dimensions of climate change can provide new insights on adaptation. The results from the project will be published in an edited book on “The Adaptive Challenge of Climate Change”, to be published in 2012 by Cambridge University Press.

Published Nov. 2, 2011 4:57 PM