New publication on mainstreaming ecosystem-based adaptation into municipal planning

Dr Christine Wamsler, Associate Professor at LUCSUS, Christopher Luederitz, a graduate of the LUMES program and LUCID and LUCSUS PhD Candidate Ebba Brink have co-authored an article in Global Environmental Change: Local levers for change: Mainstreaming ecosystem-based adaptation into municipal planning to foster sustainability transitions. The research was carried out in the context of two research projects: Sustainable Urban Transformation for Climate Change Adaptation, led by Dr Christine Wamsler and funded by the Swedish Research Council FORMAS, and Ecosystem Services as a Tool for Climate Change Adaptations in Coastal Municipalities (ECOSIMP), funded by the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency. The article focuses on four coastal municipalities in southern Sweden (Malmö, Helsingborg, Lomma and Kristianstad) and examines the key characteristics of their existing strategies to integrate, or mainstream, ecosystem-based adaptation to climate change into municipal planning. The results show that the combination of different mainstreaming strategies, based on both vertical and horizontal integration processes, can reinforce and complement each other to overcome adaptation barriers.

Why ecosystem-based adaptation in cities?

In the absence of adequate international responses to climate change and the need for place-based adaptation, local governments have a pivotal role in fostering sustainability transitions. In fact, the recently published IPCC Chapter on Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability in Urban Areas stresses the importance of city and municipal governments ‘‘acting now to incorporate climate change adaptation into their development plans and policies and infrastructure investments’’. Ecosystem-based adaptation, that is, the ‘‘use of biodiversity and ecosystem services as part of an overall adaptation strategy’’, is increasingly recognized as a comprehensive approach to reducing the adverse effects of climate change. Being place-based, ecosystem-based adaptation offers multiple co-benefits, such as greenhouse gas mitigation, livelihood protection and improvement, creation and conservation of recreation areas, support for biodiversity, improving human well-being, as well as the potential to be more cost efficient than alternative adaptation approaches. It is also considered to be a way to reassess the prevailing paradigm of dealing with risk and natural disasters which, for decades, has been dominated by technical solutions and grey infrastructure. Although the concept is still in its infancy, systematic integration of ecosystem services into municipal planning addresses the inherent linkages between nature and human well-being and, ultimately, has the potential to harmonize human-environment systems and foster sustainability transitions. A systematic identification and characterization of particular strategies to support this integration is however missing.

What is mainstreaming?

In order to increase knowledge on the potential ways to mainstream ecosystem-based adaptation into municipal planning, the authors present a novel framework for structuring mainstreaming strategies based on six themes that emerge from the literature. While the term mainstreaming often has no clear definition, its motivation originates in the need to change the dominant paradigm. Accordingly, mainstreaming is framed as incorporating new aspects into existing core work and it has been used for cross-cutting issues such as gender, environment, risk reduction, HIV/AIDS, education and learning and climate change adaptation. The framework introduced in the article, which can be used for both analysing and planning systematic mainstreaming of ecosystem-based adaptation, largely builds on previous research by Dr Christine Wamsler. It was developed in an iterative process that included the distillation and analysis of existing approaches, close cooperation with governmental and non-governmental organizations, and application in the field.

What did they find?

The paper by Wamsler, Luederitz and Brink is mainly based on the analysis of documents and interviews with staff members from departments engaged in spatial and environmental planning in four municipalities in southern Sweden (Malmö, Helsingborg, Lomma and Kristianstad). Using the framework for systematic mainstreaming, it identifies the key strategies and change patterns for each municipality’s integration of ecosystem-based adaptation issues into their sectoral work. The authors further examine some of the critique that other mainstreaming approaches have faced (e.g. gender mainstreaming) through the lens of ecosystem-based adaptation. The results show that although ecosystem service planning and climate change adaptation planning together establish the conceptual foundation for ecosystem-based adaptation, activities related to these two areas are often implemented separately and are rarely comprehensive. The results also illustrate, however, that the combination of different mainstreaming strategies has the potential to reinforce and complement each other to overcome adaptation barriers. For instance, in some of the municipalities studied, strong leadership in the integration of processes has partly compensated for a lack of guidance or supporting legislation from higher decision-making levels.

The authors conclude that systemic mainstreaming of sustainability issues is a promising avenue for initiating and promoting sustainability transitions and has the potential to address the criticism that other mainstreaming topics have faced. Effective and meaningful application, however, requires explicit consideration of counteracting forces.

Full reference:

Wamsler, C., Luederitz, C., and Brink, E., 2014. Local levers for change: Mainstreaming ecosystem-based adaptation into municipal planning to foster sustainability transitions. Global Environmental Change, 29, 189–201.

Read the article here



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