Enabling Climate Change Adaptation

June 14, 2024

Tia Brullo is a researcher on Enabling Best Practice Adaptation and is a Research Fellow at The University of Melbourne. Previously she has conducted research analysing the distribution of urban greening in Australian local government areas, to better understand inequalities. Her professional work has included non-profit program evaluation and international disaster response. 

We are already seeing the impacts of climate change. Understanding how to facilitate climate change adaptation is an important step for adaptation practitioners. A review of the academic literature recently published from the Enabling Best Practice Adaptation project outlines factors that can enable climate change adaptation. Here we reflect on some of the key findings of the paper and consider what they might mean for the institutions and governments seeking to drive forward the adaptation agenda.


What factors enable climate change adaptation?

A summary of some of the key enabling factors identified by the review.

Amongst the most frequent enabling factors discussed in the reviewed literature, the importance of proactive leaders who help to overcome barriers and drive forward change is noteworthy. The role of these individuals (or groups driving bottom-up change) is, however, complex and closely intertwined with many other enablers.

Leaders are often motivated by their own knowledge of climate change adaptation and their perception of climate risk: which can create a sense of urgency or concern for the potential impacts of climate change. Indeed, both knowledge and perception of risk were recognised in the literature as enabling factors in their own right.

In institutional settings, adaptation can also be aided significantly by shared or mandated priorities that give adaptation practitioners the independence necessary to act. Spires and Shackleton highlighted flexibility to act in new ways, the support of managers (without micro-managing) and positive attention from political leaders as examples. This review reflected on the important role of institutional support and the need for political backing to be able to maintain this.

Another enabling factor frequently discussed was sufficient resourcing, which plays an important role in enabling sustained adaptation plans. This includes financial, human, natural and technological resources. While the importance of resources is somewhat self-evident, resource deficiency has previously been discussed as a major barrier to adaptation action.

Although resources committed to adaptation is important, it does not seem to be a sufficient condition to drive forward adaptation. Instead, it seems resources are best considered among a larger set of enabling conditions.

Thus the enablers of adaptation are interconnected and vary significantly across contexts.

How does this connect to barriers?

Barriers to adaptation are something that have had considerable attention in the academic literature in recent years and continue to raise questions for practitioners. Enabling factors are sometimes posed as the opposite of barriers. In this review, however, we see that enabling factors might function more independently and may not simply be the removal of barriers to adaptation. Rather, existing literature showed that to promote adaptation and overcome barriers a combination of enabling conditions are necessary.


Still much to learn

A graph showing the actors which the papers identified relate to.

While this review provides some useful insights on the current knowledge of enablers, there is still a long way to go in this space. Much of the literature focusses on adaptation actions taken by local community and local government actors, and very few other actors were examined. There is a need for further research focused on enabling factors at a regional and national scale, and by civil society and private sector actors. The Enabling Best Practice Adaptation project is undertaking case studies of implemented climate change adaptation projects in Australia to help improve our understanding of enabling factors and how they link to good adaptation outcomes.


So what does this mean?

With Australia’s National Adaptation Plan underway, and our state, territory and local governments working hard to build and implement their adaptation plans, this review highlights the valuable role of political support, quality planning, coordination and institution building in empowering adaptation practitioners. Ensuring the work that is underway results in sustained adaptation action will be a key focus of the coming months and years, building on these enabling factors and a good understanding of our Australian adaptation context.

Read the full article The enablers of adaptation: a systematic review by Tia Brullo, Jon Barnett, Elissa Waters and Sarah Boulter is here or read the summary here.

Back to News