Understanding power and different worldviews for achieving more just and sustainable coastal adaptation outcomes

Adaptation has become the centre of Small Island States’ (SIS) political response to cope with the impacts of climate change. Efforts to mainstream coastal adaptation policy among different sectors and improved access to international funds to meet adaptation costs have led to an increase in the number of adaptation projects. For SIS that depend on marine and coastal ecosystems, some interventions such as the construction of coastal protective structures and mangrove and coral restoration are increasingly being promoted as adaptation strategies. However, whilst this should be a cause for celebration, there is growing evidence that current interventions are failing to reduce the vulnerability of those people who are supposed to be supported by these very adaptation actions. But why are current efforts not necessarily reducing vulnerability? And what can we do to overcome these challenges so as to produce outcomes that are just and sustainable?
Fishers in Saint Lucia Photo
credit: Fabiola Espinoza

In this special issue of Eco Magazine -Rising Seas 2021, I unravel these questions by highlighting the role of power dynamics and worldviews in the governance of climate change adaptation. It is common that adaptation goals and priorities are set up and decided upon by people in positions of power, either intentionally, due to political decisions, or inadvertently, due to poorly designed and executed interventions. In doing so, the intended beneficiaries are often left out. For example, the construction of infrastructure as a flood protection strategy has proven to be effective in reducing the vulnerability of SIS to sea level rise, but is frequently implemented by those who have the power to do so, with a particular vision and interest in mind. This affects access to key resources and livelihoods, typically impacting groups who already tend to be marginalized. In this sense, if scientists and policy-makers truly want to reframe adaptation interventions, we must understand how these interventions are interconnected with the wider processes of political and social dynamics. Not only must we must understand ‘who decides what’, but also how values, interests and desired goals are weighted in decision making, and how this can affect the success of adaptation interventions. As the latest IPPC report highlights, with ocean warming, sea level rise and other changes to marine and coastal ecosystems expected to continue in the coming years, coastal adaptation as a policy response to climate change must be prioritized, now more than ever. While this is an indisputable challenge for policy makers and coastal communities, by considering how power and different values, beliefs and worldviews influence the design and institutional interventions of adaptation, we can use this opportunity to rethink current approaches and push for fairer and more equitable pathways.

To read the full article “More than Fixed Solutions: Power and Different Worldviews in Framing Coastal Adaptation Actions” in EcoMagazine-Rising Seas 2021 click here.

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