Adaptive management and governance

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Climate changes may be global, but adaptation responses need to be local, national and European, as well as incorporating adjacent countries. It is necessary to consider climate change in the context of other human uses, responding to emergencies and the predictable aspects of climate change, social and equity issues, examples of adaptive management, and appropriate communication and governance.

Under the European Climate Change Program II and in the EU Green Paper on Adaptation to Climate Change in Europe, the European Commission is considering the establishment of a European Advisory Group for Adaptation to Climate Change. This would operate as a Commission's Expert Group; consisting of representative policy-makers, leading scientists and civil society organisations; and commenting on the work of a number of specific working groups over a period of 12 months starting in November 2007.

In the green paper, it is suggested that this Advisory Group cover the following topics:

  • water;
  • biodiversity;
  • agriculture and forestry;
  • marine resources;
  • industry;
  • public health;
  • transport;
  • energy;
  • research;
  • technology and innovation;
  • financial services and insurance;
  • cohesion policy and regional funds;
  • external action and co-operation with non-EU countries; and
  • use of land use instruments and spatial planning.

In the green paper, the Commission suggests providing a secretariat and chairing the different working groups. The European Advisory Group could present its first report in mid-2008, which the Commission could use during the development of its Communication on adaptation, which is scheduled to be presented by the end of 2008. The establishment of the European Advisory Group is a useful measure. Given the high level of expertise and knowledge within the Advisory Group, it seems that it might be useful to focus some of its activities and expertise on complex cross-cutting issues, or on highly impacted ecosystems and regions.

Complex crosscutting issues include environmental costing, social equity and human rights, communications and engagement of civil society, and governance, all of which are discussed here. Highly impacted and vulnerable ecosystems and regions include the Arctic, coast and marine zones, high altitude and mountainous regions, and the Mediterranean, and are discussed elsewhere in these comments.

Throughout Europe and globally, complex and unforeseen interactions in the climate may become more than interesting exceptions. An example is snow depletion in the Himalayan mountains, which resulted in more intense monsoon winds, greater circulation in the Arabian Sea, that in turn resulted in fish kills and nitrogen gas releases (, Goes et al., Warming of the Eurasian Landmass Is Making the Arabian Sea More Productive, Science 2005 308: 545-547).

Though unforeseen interactions may increase, many of the changes now occurring are known and predictable, with regional and small scale modelling more accurately reflecting and predicting the changes that are occurring now, or will occur in the future. A future challenge for Europe and elsewhere will be understanding and monitoring how existing human uses - such as coastal development, fishing, land-based nutrient pollution, other forms of pollution and water uses- combine with and increase the negative impacts of climate change. Though these other human interactions combine with climate change to potentially increase the impact of these events, they do not mask these changes, and preclude effective responses.

It is possible to determine impacts from climate change in coastal regions and water catchments, particularly sea level rise, temperature and precipitation changes, and the likelihood and intensity of extreme weather events. Sea temperature is an immediate climatically induced factor, and equal if not greater importance than sea level rise, which will have greater implications in the near and distant future. Ocean acidification is the one of the greater unknowns, particularly for understanding the limits of carbon sequestration in the oceans, and the breadth of the impacts throughout the marine food web and for all marine ecosystems.

Adaptive management and governance requires the integration of disaster management and climate variability into coastal and marine management. For disaster management, there are tsunamis to hurricanes, tidal surges, wind and water impacts and flooding, and the need to consider inter-regional responses and learning opportunities from Asia, Africa, Europe, North America, and the circumpolar Arctic.

Some analysis has already occurred for New Orleans and the Mississippi delta on the interaction between human development, sea surface temperature rise, and extreme weather events like hurricanes. The analysis of the increased intensity of hurricanes due to warmer sea surface temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico suggests climatic impacts are already occurring there, with parallel developments are occurring for monsoons in Asia. There are suggestions that the southern Atlantic and the Mediterranean Sea could become vulnerable to hurricanes in the future. The Canaries experienced this in 2006 when a developing storm that normally would have entered the Atlantic veered off course and touched the islands.

For the human settlements, infrastructure and development, sea level rise will continue well into the future. Planning for sea level rise will require long term strategies in the developed countries, and a long term assessment with support in developing countries. Given the extensive research as well as the high vulnerabilities within Europe, there are relevant examples and case studies.

For example, London and the Thames Estuary are currently protected to a high standard (generally 1:1000 years or 0.1% at the year 2030). The design of the Thames Barrier allowed for sea level rise but did not make any specific allowance for changes due to climate change in fluvial flows coming down the Thames or the size of storm surges arising in the North Sea. Rising sea level and rapidly increasing development within the tidal flood plain mean that flood risk is increasing and by the year 2030, improved arrangements will be required if flood protection standards are to be maintained at present levels (T Reeder et al, Broad Scale Tidal Flood Risk Assessment for London using MDSF and FLOODRANGER, paper for 3rd National CIWEM Conference, October 2004).

The Thames 2100 initiative also addresses climate change and flood defences for the Thames estuary and London. Under the Thames 2100, the Environment Agency is reviewing studies undertaken and identifying further research to obtain an overview of coastal defences required for the period up to 2100. The study will also identify opportunities for habitat creation and managed retreat and realignment on the basis of a habitat audit. This will establish the type and extent of habitats and identify the need for habitat creation. It will be necessary to consider processes and management responses outside the boundaries of the study as decisions on coastal or flood defence in the estuary could have major impacts elsewhere.

Two other European examples are the central coastal region of Portugal and the Venice lagoon. The Atlantic coast in the central region of Portugal and settlements such as Aveiro and Figueira da Foz have high erosion rates. It is very vulnerable to combination of climate changes and coastal erosion, storm events, and changes in sediment deposit due to coastal dikes, groynes and upstream dams. The Venice lagoon, its infrastructure and its communities are vulnerable to sea level rise and storm events, with natural and human-induced vulnerability increased by climate changes. Venice is not only threatened by high tides, but is sinking through subsidence at the same time as the Adriatic Sea is rising. The surrounding marshes which used to break the waves coming into the city have gradually disappeared, and industrial development on the mainland has added to the increased subsidence and pollution. The Moses project, which is comprised of 79 barriers or dikes is designed to rise from the seabed to block the inlets of the Venice lagoon from the Adriatic Sea when high tides are forecast.

Climate change will also affect major economic sectors like fisheries, marine transport and tourism. Taking the example of tourism, considerable research and practical projects are currently underway examining the impacts of climate change at a European and global level. There is the European climate change and sustainable tourism initiative under the European Network of Coastal Practioners, The EU-funded Coastal Practise Network considered climate change as one factor for coastal and beach management, and resulted in preliminary consideration of this issues across all the partners and participants, and the communication of more detailed case studies and approaches in different regions of Europe. The UN affiliated World Tourism Association (, and the Djerba Declaration on Tourism and Climate Change, ( ).

One aspect of adaptive management is understanding the costs of climate impacts and solutions. These costs are knowable, though they are not always built into regulatory frameworks, or evenly distributed within a society. Different assumptions and regulatory frameworks will impose different costs on and for ecosystem and human health. This gives rise to concerns of social equity and human rights. The European directives and policy frameworks impose obligations to cost out, and to improve and maintain ecosystem health, such as the Water Framework Directive which has obligations for estuaries and coasts. Due to Europe’s approach to education, health care and social benefits, the health and economic impacts of climate change may be more fully understood and borne across the society, as opposed to individuals. However, even within Europe, it will be important to be alert to social equity and human rights aspects of climate change. Europe can learn from other examples, as well as share its experiences and approaches.

Given the state and national regulatory framework in the United States, the ecosystem and environmental costs of climate change are not fully accounted for or included. In the absence of universal education, health and social benefits, climatic impacts are disproportionately borne by vulnerable individuals and minorities, versus these costs being distributed through the entire society. Under Hurricane Katrina, the burden of what may be a climatically augmented extreme weather event was and continues to borne by poorer minorities within New Orleans, Louisana and the southern states. Even subsequent disaster relief has been denied to these parties, i.e., the requirement of certain credit provisions to gain access to re-building funds prevents the poor and now homeless for applying.

While both developing and developed countries will experience these impacts and costs; developing countries and economies may not be as able to ameliorate the negative impacts, or these costs will be disproportionately borne by the rural and urban poor. This has implications for looking again to the lessons of Hurricane Katrina, as well as insurance assessments for less catastrophic climate impacts like flooding in the UK, even within developed economies, directly impacted parties within these societies, can have problems with bearing economic costs.

In undertaking any cost analysis, it is important to understand what is meant by cost, and to economically evaluate the range of services provided by natural and modified ecosystems. Ecological, environmental, and social costs need to be included in any cost analysis. Progress has been made on evaluating non-monetary costs and social and cultural consequences. There is now whole body of literature in environment and natural resource evaluation, and environmental and socio-economic impact assessment that is also applicable to climatic impacts. Most costs may initially seem to be generated by disasters and extreme weather events. However, depending on the vulnerability of a region, more normal events can also be problematic. Considering European examples again, Venice and its lagoon can be affected by routine storms, and minor changes in sea level. Over the past few years, Spain and Portugal were seriously affected by changes in seasonal rain patterns and drought.

For coastal regions, there will be very limited benefits from climate change, whether one considers these impacts locally, nationally or regionally. For example, changes in temperature suggest that the Baltic Sea may become a more desirable tourism destination in the future. However, climate change may also increase the impacts of eutrophication and algal blooms in the Baltic region, which would have an adverse impact on tourism. Even polar regions will experience significant and on balance negative impacts, despite potential benefits (Arctic Climate Impact Assessment Scientific Report (2004)|Arctic Climate Impact Assessment Scientific Report).

For Europe, it is necessary to include and expand the adaptive management approaches and strategies that are being considered, and to incorporate practical and ongoing initiatives that address climate change at all scales, and include participation by civil society. For example, there is the ESPACE project ( ESPACE or the European Spatial Planning: Adapting to Climate Events is a four-year European project that includes UK, Netherlands, Belgium and Germany, and promotes awareness of the importance of adapting to climate change and to recommend that it is incorporated within spatial planning mechanisms at local, regional, national and European levels. Focusing on north-western Europe, ESPACE looks at how water and coastal resources are managed, and future plans for a changing climate.

Practical approaches are required for local coastal managers, and for larger entities such as the National Trust in England. The National Trust owns and manages ten percent of the English coastline and is developing climate policies for carbon mitigation and coastal conservation. Practical approaches for coastal managers can include changes in day to day practices, planned adaptation measures, and longer term strategic planning under integrated coastal zone management. It is important to not underestimate the capacity of individuals and organizations, or what can be achieved under voluntary and local initiatives. Climate change monitoring and adaptive measures could also be included within voluntary programmes for beach and coastal management.

For example, the Blue Flag Programme is an exclusive voluntary eco-label for beaches and marinas implemented by the non-profit, non-governmental Foundation for Environmental Education. It started in Europe in 1987 to assist beaches with complying with the EU Bathing Water Quality Directive, and has evolved over time to address a wide range of issues and criteria, with member organizations in 46 countries as of 2006. The Blue Flag is given to beaches and marinas that meet a specific set of criteria for environmental information and education, water quality, safety and services, and environmental management. It has become a symbol of quality recognized by tourists and tour operators, and can be used to promote beaches or marinas that achieve this award (,

Climate change will necessitate changes to beach management. If member organizations choose, adaptive management, as well as mitigation measures such as energy conservation and carbon mitigation and sequestration, might be incorporated into Blue Flag Programme. Given the breadth of this programme, it could provide an extremely good opportunity for monitoring climatic changes, as well as a stellar example of a voluntary approach. Communication and public education and involvement are already key aspects of the Blue Flag Programme and other initiatives of the Foundation of Environmental Education. They will also be required for adaptation and mitigation to climate change across Europe.

Communication and public education are central for involving all aspects of the civil society in the response to climate change, whether individuals, local communities, small and local enterprises, or economic sectors. The IPPC Fourth Assessment Report and the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment Scientific Report are comprehensive scientific documents and reports that communicate to the scientific and political community. However, it is necessary to go beyond this audience and to communicate to all members of civil society in clear plain language, with films, photos, maps and graphical illustrations. This type of communication is beginning to occur under the European Climate Change Programme, its various reports and communications, and through the green paper on adaptation to climate change.

In addition to traditional methods of communication through print, radio and television, more innovative measures using the internet and web-based communications can also be considered. One example is this Coastal Wiki developed under the ENCORA project ( Under this open source approach, accredited parties write, edit and present information on all aspects of the coasts and marine areas and their management, including climate change impacts.

The last matter to be considered under adaptive management is governance. Within Europe and all countries, effective governance will be one of biggest challenges to adaptation to climate change. Too often, the discussion of adaptive management ignores the reality of governance, and the inconsistent application of laws and policies that preclude or limit the implementation of adaptive management responses. Changes to regulation and governance approaches, as well as ongoing reiterative monitoring, may need to be required to ensure adaptive measures are fully and appropriately implemented. As suggested earlier, governance might be one useful focus for the Advisory Group for Adaptation to Climate Change.

The main author of this article is Magdalena Muir
Please note that others may also have edited the contents of this article.

Citation: Magdalena Muir (2010): Adaptive management and governance. Available from [accessed on 22-06-2018]