(Re)Conceptualising Maladaptation in Policy and Practice: Towards an Evaluative Framework
35 Pages Posted: 13 Aug 2015 Last revised: 26 Oct 2015
Date Written: Junes 12, 2015
Maladaptation has received notable policy attention in recent years, but has yet to be fully explored in both conceptual and practical terms. As a consequence, the term suffers from a lack of consensus regarding its definition and application.
We outline five areas of conceptual clarity needed in understanding and evaluating maladaptation: 1. Deliberate non-action should, if contributing to increased climate risks and negative outcomes for people and communities, be considered maladaptation.
2. Strategies that do not have a primary focus on climate change should also constitute maladaptation.
3. It is only with time that the success or failure of an intervention will become evident; maladaptation can occur long after a project cycle has completed. One of the principal challenges in evaluation is therefore knowing when to classify a strategy as maladaptive or not. In addition, any assessment of maladaptation has to take into account the discounted value of an intervention’s impacts both now and in the future.
4. Ecosystems, livelihoods and economies are not static. Under climate change, climate risks and vulnerabilities to particular climate variables are also likely to shift. Assessments of maladaptation therefore need to recognise the complexities associated with shifting baselines and establishing counterfactuals.
5. Distributional aspects of adaptation need to be recognised in any evaluation of maladaptation. Not only is climate change is likely to affect segments of the population differently, in terms of both direct impacts and influences on wider drivers of development, but the act of implementing (or choosing not to implement) an adaptation strategy can fail to uniformly reduce climate risks across all social groups.
Building on this conceptualisation of maladaptation, we present the groundwork for a framework that can lend itself to qualitative and quantitative assessment of adaptation strategies and clarify the differences between four distinct types of adaptation outcomes – ranging from optimal adaptation to maladaptation. In our framework, maladaptation is categorised by determining the impact strategies have on climate risk and wellbeing. The framework also assesses the implications for each category through a distributional and temporal lens.
Crucially, we also highlight the framework’s applicability in assessing strategies that do not explicitly seek to address climate change or are not labelled as adaptation (and hence cannot be considered as maladaptation in the traditional sense of the term). This is particularly relevant when recognising the large potential for development activities to impact (positively or negatively) on people’s climate risk, now and into the future. For this reason, we discuss the concept of ‘maladaptation-like’ outcomes, for which the framework can also be applied.
We then use the framework to highlight a number of different ‘symptoms’ that can act as early warnings for maladaptive outcomes, hoping to guide policymakers in achieving early diagnosis. In doing so, our aim is to make this onerous concept more tractable and applicable for planners and practitioners so as to make it possible to diagnose strategies that are likely to lead to maladaptation. It is our hope that this work will stimulate debate and galvanise interest in advancing efforts to understand and, critically, to avoid maladaptation in the face of increasing climate risks in the coming decades.
Keywords: maladaptation, climate change, resilience
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