Defining response capacity to enhance climate change policy

TitleDefining response capacity to enhance climate change policy
Publication TypeTyndall Working Paper
SeriesTyndall Centre Working Papers
Tyndall Consortium Institution


Secondary TitleTyndall Centre Working Paper 39
AuthorsTompkins, E., and W. N. Adger
Year of Publication2003

Adaptation and mitigation are usually in different policy domains and communities. Hence, despite the clear overlaps in policy responses, they are treated separately. We propose that a useful starting point to developing national climate policy is to understand what societal response might mean. First we frame the set of responses as a trade off between investment in the development and diffusion of new technology, and investment in encouraging and enabling society to change its behaviour and or adopt the new technology. We argue that these are the pertinent trade-offs, rather than those usually posited between mitigation and adaptation per se. The preference for a more technological response as opposed to a policy response that focuses on changing social behaviour will be influenced by the capacity of different societies to change the climate; perceived vulnerability to climate impacts and capacity to modify social behaviour and physical environment. Starting with this complete vision of response options should enable policy makers to re-evaluate the risk environment and the set of response options available to them. From here, climate policy has to consider who is responsible for taking response decisions and when actions should be taken. Institutional arrangements dictate social and political acceptability, they structure worldviews, and they determine the provision of resources for investment in adaptation and mitigation technology. The importance of focussing on the timing of the response is emphasised to maximise the potential for adjustments through social learning and institutional change at different policy scales. We argue that the ability to adapt is linked to, not separate from, the ability to mitigate as both depend on social and technological constraints. The resilience of society to climate change impacts and the need for technological change for both decarbonisation and for dealing with surprise in general, are central to concepts of sustainable development. This paper was presented at the Workshop on Mitigation and Adaptation in Climate Change, at the Centre for Advanced Cultural Studies, Essen, May 15-16, 2003

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