Tompkins, Emma L., Boyd, Emily, Nicholson-Cole, Sophie, Adger, W. Neil, Weatherhead, Keith and Arnell, Nigel
Observed adaptation to climate change: UK evidence of transition to a well-adapting society?
[in special issue: 20th Anniversary Special Issue]
Global Environmental Change, 20, (4), . (doi:10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2010.05.001).
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This paper investigates whether and to what extent a wide range of actors in the UK are adapting to climate change, and whether this is evidence of a social transition. We document evidence of over 300 examples of early adopters of adaptation practice to climate change in the UK. These examples span a range of activities from small adjustments (or coping), to building adaptive capacity, to implementing actions and to creating deeper systemic change in public and private organisations in a range of sectors. We find that adaptation in the UK has been dominated by government initiatives and has principally occurred in the form of research into climate change impacts. These government initiatives have stimulated a further set of actions at other scales in public agencies, regulatory agencies and regional government (and the devolved administrations), though with little real evidence of climate change adaptation initiatives trickling down to local government level. The sectors requiring significant investment in large scale infrastructure have invested more heavily than those that do not in identifying potential impacts and adaptations. Thus we find a higher level of adaptation activity by the water supply and flood defence sectors. Sectors that are not dependent on large scale infrastructure appear to be investing far less effort and resources in preparing for climate change. We conclude that the UK government-driven top-down targeted adaptation approach has generated anticipatory action at low cost in some areas. We also conclude that these actions may have created enough niche activities to allow for diffusion of new adaptation practices in response to real or perceived climate change. These results have significant implications for how climate policy can be developed to support autonomous adaptors in the UK and other countries.
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