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Webinar: Adaptation Pathways – From Concept to Practice

ASSAR, in collaboration with CSIRO (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation), organised a webinar on Adaptation Pathways on Friday 14 October 2016, available online here.
a person at a path splitting two ways
Webinar: Adaptation Pathways – From Concept to Practice

How climate change can be mainstreamed into decision-making

ASSAR, in collaboration with CSIRO (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation), organised a webinar on Adaptation Pathways on Friday 14 October 2016. A two-hour webinar was hosted by Professor Mark New from the African Climate and Development Initiative at the University of Cape Town (UCT).

The webinar discussed how climate change can be mainstreamed into decision-making. This process is complicated by the uncertainties in climate change projections and impacts. There is also a necessity for cooperation between public and private actors across. In addition, other drivers such as population growth, increasing economic volatility and modernisation interact with climate change to generate unexpected outcomes and shocks.

During the webinar, Dr Russell Wise from CSIRO gave an insightful presentation on what adaptation pathways are, using some real world examples. Followed by his colleague, Dr James Butler’s presentation gave examples on how adaptation pathways are being used in practice. Dr Sumetee Pahwa Gajjar from the Indian Institute for Human Settlements (IIHS), discussed the definition of pathways in development with examples from India. IIHS and UCT are two of the five organisations that lead the ASSAR project.

Download the presentations below:

Russell Wise

James Butler

Sumetee Pahwa Gajjar

The speakers

Dr. Russell Wise

Dr Russell Wise is a sustainability economist passionate about working with people to help understand the challenges caused by rapid technological and environmental change and economic development and to develop approaches that enable learning and decision making under uncertainty. Core areas of Russ’s research include: Further developing economic theory and analytical approaches to help structure adaptation problems and inform the evaluation of trade-offs in resource allocations under uncertainty; exploring how concepts such as adaptation pathways can be used to build shared understanding of complex problems and generate responses over time; and developing ways to support individuals and agencies learn and adapt through ‘smart failures’ that build confidence and capacity to make decisions under risk and uncertainty. Photo and text: CSIRO website

Dr. James Butler

Dr. James Butler is a sustainability scientist with a background in agricultural economics, terrestrial, freshwater and marine ecology gained in southern Africa, Europe and Australia. He joined CSIRO in 2006, and is based in Brisbane, where he leads the Livelihoods and Adaptive Development Team. His research analyses complex development problems in the Asia-Pacific region, with a focus on trans-boundary issues linking northern Australia, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea. He applies concepts of social-ecological systems, resilience, transformation and well-being to explore alternative livelihood development pathways and trade-offs through participatory action research. Photo and text: CSIRO website

Dr. Sumetee Pahwa Gajjar

At IIHS, Dr Pahwa conducts research on vulnerability as it is experienced in rural, urban and peri-urban areas in India. Sumetee is interested in translating research on urban sustainability into practice and policy. Her doctoral thesis examined business decisions aimed at corporate environmental sustainability, including reduced carbon emissions. Sumetee’s current engagement on the CARIAA research programme allows her to delve into dynamic rural and urban connections in semi-arid regions, in the context of a changing climate. Photo and text: IIHS website

Some key messages from the presentations

Some key messages from the presentations can be found below. Watch the webinar for much more detail and additional question and answer session.

Why use an adaptation pathways approach?

  • Widely understood across cultures and disciplines.
  • Powerful visualisation tool of interdependencies between current decisions and future uncertain changes.
  • Decision / actor focused in order to:
    • Ensure the constraints and agency of actors is considered;
    • Recognise multiple subjective, often contested, pathways exist;
    • Overcome decision paralysis often created by problem-focused approaches (e.g., risk and vulnerability assessments).

Consistencies across all pathways approaches:

  • Designed to incorporate flexibility into planning to deal with uncertain often novel change.
  • Have learning as a key objective and underpinning process.
  • Based on understanding of scenarios, thresholds, adaptation tipping points, decision triggers, and decision lifetimes.
  • Focus on decision makers or decision processes as opposed to geographical regions.
  • Guided by the goals of avoiding maladaptation and staying within boundaries of acceptable risks.
  • Can be translated into visual aids such as route maps for communication purposes.

Adaptation pathways principles

  • Understand the formal and informal decision-making context, governance and politics for strategies.
  • Work within existing planning/governance systems (e.g. private sector)
  • Identify and involve the relevant stakeholders.
  • Engage the influential decision-makers – provide value propositions to encourage participation by powerful actors.
  • Building capacity for pathways is part of the adaptation pathways process.
  • Expect significant time to build capacity for pathways (5+ years); this process takes a long time and significant resources.
  • Generate change agents to drive process over the long term, and to take windows of opportunity.
  • Introducing pathways thinking to planning processes is itself potentially transformational (especially if it empowers the most vulnerable in decision-making).
  • Participatory evaluation is a critical component of the process.

Avoiding Maladaptation

  • Actions taken to avoid or reduce vulnerability to climate change can impact adversely on, or increase the vulnerability of other systems, sectors or social groups. This is maladaptation.
    • Locked in vulnerability: Certain development decisions lock-in vulnerability, close down the response space (options available), and increase opportunity costs.
    • Failed policies (or even successful ones) have adaptation repercussions and lock systems into trajectories of potential maladaptation
  • Development and adaptation action have to be assessed across spatial and temporal scales to test maldaptative outcomes.
  • Pathways appraoches provide a means of doing this, and through ongoing decision-cycles, can help keep activities ‘on track’ and out of maladaptive space.

This webinar was part of the Global Climate Change Week, held from 10 ‒ 16 October 2016.

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