Organisations waking up to need to adapt

Some of the of the world’s leading organisations have been praised for their ongoing efforts to take active steps to engage with the adaptation measures needed to tackle climate change.

In the study researchers from Mistra Geopolitics and Stockholm University have published the first dataset quantifying climate change adaptation by 30 international organizations between 1990 and 2017.  It found increasing engagement with adaptation, with striking consistency across all 30 organizations and nine issue areas examined.

Effective global governance of adaptation to climate risks for human health, development, migration and security, among others, is ever more pressing, said the study. As shown by the recent IPCC report existing decarbonisation efforts are insufficient to avoid dangerous effects of global warming. It may therefore come as no surprise that many international organizations, such as the African Union, United Nations, and World Bank, have increasingly engaged in climate adaptation.

The study “International Organizations and Climate Change Adaptation: A New Dataset for the Social Scientific Study of Adaptation, 1990–2017” is the first to quantify and examine international organizations’ engagement with climate adaptation. Measuring adaptation is a highly debated issue in both academic and practitioner circles, as adaptation can mean different things in different issue areas and cultural contexts. Recognising this challenge, researchers from Stockholm University, affiliated with Mistra Geopolitics, examined more than 2 000 adaptation activities by 30 international organizations between 1990 and 2017.

“The study’s evidence confirms earlier case studies suggesting that organizations like the International Organization for Migration and World Health Organization have increasingly integrated adaptation in their governance portfolios. Our dataset enables more large-scale and comparative analysis of global adaptation governance across time, issue areas, geographical regions and international organizations,” said lead-author Lisa Dellmuth, Associate Professor of International Relations at Stockholm University, and co-lead of the Mistra Geopolitics PhD Research School.

She added the study’s principal insights are twofold. First, with striking consistency, engagement with adaptation prevails for the 30 organizations examined across world regions and across nine non-climate issue areas: disaster risks, global development banking, migration, health, regional cooperation, development, food & agriculture, peace & security, trade & economy. That these very different organizations nowadays all govern adaptation is a conundrum that researchers have yet to better understand.

Second, the study observes a dramatic increase of adaptation engagement in 2007 after the 2007 IPCC report on adaptation and the Bali Action Plan. This finding suggests that world society has experienced major growth in global adaptation governance and its measurability over the past 15 years.

“Our study has important consequences for policymaking: international organisations’ engagement with adaptation, in conjunction with increasing cross-border flows and risks, has profoundly changed the global governance landscape. It has become ever more complex and interlinked with the climate crisis,” said co-author Ece Kural, PhD candidate in International Relations at Stockholm University, and member of Mistra Geopolitics.

To study warned there were still questions to be answered by future research. “Our quantitative evidence can be used for selecting cases for in-depth studies of individual organizations. For example, why is the Asian Development Bank one of the early adapters of adaptation activities, while ASEAN, located in the same region, has lagged behind?” said co-author Maria-Therese Gustafsson, Associate Senior Lecturer in Political Science at Stockholm University, and member of Mistra Geopolitics.

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