The right stuff? Informing adaptation to climate change in British Local Government

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Local government has a crucial role to play in climate change adaptation, both delivering adaptation strategies devised from above and coordinating bottom-up action. This paper draws on a unique longitudinal dataset to measure progress in adaptation by local authorities in Britain, comparing results from a national-scale survey and follow-up interviews conducted in 2003 with a second wave of research completed a decade later. Whereas a decade ago local authority staff were unable to find scientific information that they could understand and use, we find that these technical-cognitive barriers to adaptation are no longer a major problem for local authority respondents. Thanks to considerable Government investment in research and science brokerage to improve the quality and accessibility of climate information, local authorities have developed their adaptive capacity, and their staff are now engaging with the 'right' kind of information in assessing climate change risks and opportunities. However, better knowledge has not translated into tangible adaptation actions. Local authorities face substantial difficulties in implementing adaptation plans. Budget cuts and a lack of political support from central government have sapped institutional capacity and political appetite to address long-term climate vulnerabilities, as local authorities in Britain now struggle even to deliver their immediate statutory responsibilities. Local authority adaptation has progressed farthest where it has been rebranded as resiliency to extreme weather so as to fit with the focus on immediate risks to delivering statutory duties. In the current political environment, adaptation officers need information about the economic costs of weather impacts to local authority services if they are to build the business case for adaptation and gain the leverage to secure resources and institutional license to implement tangible action. Unless these institutional barriers are addressed, local government is likely to struggle to adapt to a changing climate.




Porter, J. J., Demeritt, D., & Dessai, S. (2015). The right stuff? Informing adaptation to climate change in British Local Government. Global Environmental Change, 35, 411–422.

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