One Cranfield researcher, working with three academic colleagues from Cardiff University, examined how UK local approaches to climate adaptation are currently more reactive than proactive, severely affecting local capacity to plan for future climate impacts.

Key Facts

    • Policy and governance stakeholders working on climate adaptation issues across a number of UK cities in devolved regions – Glasgow, Hull, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Leeds, York and London – were interviewed back in 2014.
    • Cranfield’s Dr Theresa Mercer worked in collaboration with Cardiff University (principal investigator Dr Andrew Kythreotis and two colleagues) on this research from November 2013 through to July 2016.
    • The findings were presented at the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) Annual International Conference at the end of August 2016.
  • Funded by Regional Studies Association (RSA).

Impact of our research

Four recommendations arising from this collaborative project were presented at the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG, the Institute of British Geographers) Annual International Conference in August 2016.

National statutory frameworks, for example The Climate Change Act 2008 and the Localism Act 2011, need to go even further in providing a stronger local regulatory framework for local climate adaptation in the long term. Currently, in terms of adaptation long-term planning, they only provide the opportunity for local authorities to make changes, rather than statutorily obliging them to.

To ensure a transformative approach to climate adaptation, as framed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), responsibility for climate change at the national government level should come from a single department, not one department looking after mitigation and energy and another looking after adaptation. Adaptation and mitigation are not mutually exclusive.

Local approaches to climate change adaptation should not just involve throwing money into large-scale infrastructure problems, such as large-scale hard engineered flood defences, as a reactive adaptation response. Expenditure needs to be more closely aligned to local socio-political and environmental contexts, so that when climate-related impacts like floods do occur, communities are better prepared to limit potential damage.

The way in which climate change science is translated into policy needs to ensure wider appreciation of different academic disciplines and not just promote physical and technical fixed responses that can set the limits of transformative change. For example, The Kyoto Protocol treaty relies on specific technical knowledge to arbitrarily limit global temperatures.

Why the research was commissioned

‘Adaptation’ means anticipating the adverse effects of climate change and taking appropriate action to prevent or minimise the damage they can cause, or taking advantage of opportunities that may arise. It has been shown that well planned, early adaptation action saves money and lives later.

The way that climate adaptation transformation is defined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) does not reflect the realities of adaptation policy implementation on the ground. Therefore, current local climate adaptation responses in the UK are not transformative or effective in nature; they are reactive.

Why Cranfield?

Dr Theresa Mercer has research and teaching experience in climate change adaptation. She completed her first postdoc at the University of Hull at the Centre for Adaptive Science and Sustainability focusing on interdisciplinary research dealing with adaptation issues linked to the energy sector for the Yorkshire and Humber region. She has also published in this field while at Cranfield with an article examining the role of technology and governance in adapting to extreme events related to natural variability and climate change in the journal Environmental Science and Technology.