This week I attended Adaptation Futures conference, a bi-annual conference that is attended by people who work in climate adaptation science, policy and practice.
This conference was particularly interesting given that it was held in Cape Town, South Africa, that is going through a severe drought. At some point it was not even clear whether the whole conference could take place because of the fear that day 0 might arrive before the conference.
Day 0 would have meant that the whole city has run out of water. This luckily did not happen yet.
But it does provide a point for reflection to all of us: in the future with increased temperatures and droughts, what does ‘normal’ life look like for us? We all had to abide by severe water restrictions and I found myself thinking why this is not everyday practice in all of our countries…
Can we measure it?
In this conference one of the issues that was clearly on top of the agenda was how to measure and define adaptation success and effectiveness.
Several sessions focused on measuring and defining adaptation success, monitoring and evaluating adaptation, and what “effective” adaptation consists of. Lots of good work is being done in this space by GIZ and other organisations that aim to inform also the UNFCCC processes.
I also chaired a session on the topic (defining and measuring adaptation success) that was organised by multiple partners led by professor Lisa Dilling.
We were not sure if our session on measuring and defining adaptation success would be interest to a broader audience. But we were very wrong.
We luckily had been given a large room with 5 tables but so many people showed up that we had to improvise and split our facilitators so that we could form a large sixth group outside in the hallway.
The discussion was very lively and focused on three key questions: understanding adaptations success across roles, scales, and contexts, empirical basis for adaptation success, and our own assumptions in researching adaptation success and whether we pay enough attention to unintended consequences and maladaptation.
What the session reinforced to me is that there is really a passion and appetite in trying to find out and understand better how we can implement and plan climate adaptation.
We had practitioners, researchers, students, donors, and many IPCC authors to attend the session and we were extremely pleased with the engaging buzz in the room (and in the hallway).
This should not maybe come as a surprise because this topic has been brewing for years: how do we demonstrate that our efforts to adapt to climate change are actually going to make a difference?
This is not a just donor-led discussion about how they can ensure they are spending their money wisely but a broader debate in the field because if we do not understand which factors are conducive to adaptation success, we are missing an opportunity to truly make a difference.
Role of Personal Leadership
Several sessions mentioned also the concept of leadership, which I was very happy about. The session chaired by Professor Mark Pelling from Kings College London focused on exploring different aspects of leadership.
Likewise Professor Coleen Vogel in her reflections on adaptation science, practice and policy also spoke about the need to find leadership and how integral that is for leading ourselves but also others.
The message is clear that we need good leadership. We should not wait for a strong leader to emerge but that we are already leaders in ourselves.
To me that also reflects an integral part of adaptation: when we talk about adaptation, it’s not just focused on future generations but it’s also about us.
It’s also about our lives today and how we can take steps both in our personal and professional lives to think and act on adaptation.
This again to me also highlights the need for deeper reflection on our own assumptions, norms and values. And it also means that we need to think about our own leadership skills and how we can empower others to excel in their roles to the best of their ability.
Are we doing the same old?
But some of the more critical thinkers voiced concerns that much of what was presented at this conference conformed with the norm: the usual things we would expect to hear in climate adaptation conference.
This perhaps reflects the criticism of adaptation community that it still remains internally focused rather than drawing in on other disciplines. As such, this comment is not new.
From a disciplinary development perspective, the building of shared principles, theory and frameworks is actually a positive development.
This means that more and more people are agreeing on what constitutes adaptation, how it should be implemented and researched, and we can start drawing more consolidated robust messages that are also relevant for policy.
But even if disciplinary consolidation is important and crucial for the formation of adaptation as a science, we should not settle for just researching those areas that are accepted as proper areas of research in the science community.
We must strive for innovation ad stay relevant in order to ensure that climate adaptation science, policy and practice are cutting-edge and applicable.
This means we need look outside our field and embrace current and emerging areas such as Artificial Intelligence, blockchain technology, bitcoin and crypto currency, bioeconomies, culturomics, agile organisations at scale, branding and spread of ideas, leadership and management, and what all these mean in a changing world.
Therefore, my call for Adaptation Futures 2020 is to focus on and enable innovation in and for climate adaptation that is truly transdisciplinary, engages with recent and emerging trends, and that really interrogates the nexus between adaptation theory and practice.
This means also exploring different conference formats, eg TED talks, speed-dating in network building, and strong support for our early career professionals to work on the hard hitting areas where innovation is emerging.
I am truly excited about the possibilities we have to make adaptation into a world-class leading science, and will continue my efforts to do so.