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Research by UCD Earth Institute members impacting Policy

Published: Monday, 11 April, 2022

Recent research and publications by Earth Institute members is shaping policy both nationally through the Climate Change Advisory Council Working Paper series and internationally through the recent report of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Earth Institute members, Prof Mark Scott and Assoc. Prof Eoin O’Neill, recently published a Climate Change Advisory Council Working Paper on climate change adaptation at the household and community scale. The report was commissioned by the Council’s Adaptation Committee.

Climate change adaptation tends to focus on the role of government and state action, with less attention given to the potential role of individuals, households and local communities in adapting to climate change risks. However, this policy gap overlooks the necessity of a ‘whole-of-society’ approach to adaptation to complement a whole-of-government response to reduce exposure to climate change risks and to cope with vulnerability to further impacts.

As Earth Institute member, Prof. Mark Scott highlights, 

“it is important to understand that individuals and households may act independently of any government steer, with potential for reinforcing pre-existing socio-spatial inequalities or risking maladaptation or the displacement of risks onto others. At the same time, individual actions are ‘structured’ or enabled through wider institutional processes or legal frameworks, such as regulatory structures and property rights, alongside the influence of social norms”.

The report provides a review of evidence in relation to climate change risks experienced ‘in-place’ leading to household exposure to property damage, disruption to essential infrastructure, and health and wellbeing impacts. Other impacts will result from wider global challenges, for example, as climate change disrupts global supply chains, food production and energy security, with potential cost of living implications. The report examines social vulnerability related to individual and household characteristics, including income, age, social networks, and physical ability. These same characteristics also impact on an individual or household’s capacity to adapt. The report explores individual’s understanding of risk and motivations to take adaptive action.

The report highlights opportunities for influencing or enabling individual, household and community level adaptation. These include the influence of the market (e.g. insurance, price signals) and market-based instruments (incentives/disincentives); regulation; voluntary methods; public engagement and participation; and through more direct forms of community and collective actions. Community action offers significant potential, but requires nurturing, capacity building and resources to ensure effective adaptation outcomes. 

Commenting on the role of the Earth Institute, Assoc. Prof. Eoin O’Neill said,

The Earth Institute  has provided a much needed forum for recognising that the social dimensions of climate change are critical to translating climate change knowledge into policy action and wider societal change.”

You can read the full report here.

Assoc. Prof Tamara Hochstrasser (above) and Megan Best have also published a paper in the series, Detecting and avoiding impasse mechanisms for nature-based approaches to climate change adaptation in Ireland.  

The authors write: ‘The main question of this research was to ask why planners, local authority staff, farmers, engineers, and government officials are not embracing and implementing nature-based approaches - certainly not to the extent required for effective climate change mitigation and adaptation - even though best practice examples exist, and benefits are clearly recognized.’ 

The publication concludes: 'Ultimately, this study has shown that in the Irish context, our cultural norms, beliefs and values have moved away from our connection with nature, and to each other. To develop a systems approach to collaboration, background, history and culture need to be recognised and acknowledged as vital building blocks of people’s perspectives. To be effective, collaborative efforts towards building resilience must be explicitly based on, and informed by, the environmental, ecological, social, and economic drivers and dynamics of a particular place, and must be integrated across a range of linked scales (Pickett et al., 2004), i.e. local and national NGOs; local, regional, and national governments; international donor agencies and other organisations; and universities and research centres.'

The full report is available here.

Finally, congratulations to Assoc. Prof Andrew Jackson from the Sutherland School of Law who was cited in the most recent IPCC report’s chapter on National and sub-national policies and institutions.