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Mikael Allan Mikaelsson

PhD, Science and Innovation Policy Advisor, Europe Lead on Net-Zero Innovation & Climate Change

13th October 2021 Stockholm, Sweden

Towards action-oriented climate adaptation research

This article is co-authored by Dr Jonathan Hassall, Environment Research Lead of the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office; and Dr Mikael Allan Mikaelsson, Europe Lead on Net-Zero Innovation & Climate Change of the UK Science & Innovation Network 

The 6th Assessment Report from the IPCC‘s Working Group I published in August 2021 painted a sobering picture of the world’s future climate. There will be more heatwaves, droughts and flooding caused by hotter global temperatures that will be felt in every corner of the world. The IPCC found that even with radical changes in our current direction of CO2 emission trajectories, global temperatures could reach 1.5°C above pre-Industrial levels by 2040.

Whilst we know that weather extremes will become more frequent, what we are adapting to is uncertain; bringing this uncertainty into decision-making and planning requires engagement with the science community that is generating and providing the relevant information.  This requires radical collaboration between the research and action communities and a transformation of the research – action landscape. We need to use knowledge and research as essential enablers to ensure that the adaptation action is targeted and effective.

In recent years there has been a growing recognition that climate adaption research needs to be more action-oriented. Action-oriented refers to the iterative process of transdisciplinary and co-produced knowledge, which produces actionable, locally and contextually relevant solutions that meet local needs and demands of those most vulnerable to current and future climate risks (as well as local capacity to implement these solutions).  There are significant barriers that are impeding the scope and scale of action-oriented research at present, that is hindering our ability to deliver against the magnitude and urgency of actions required.

Listening to the needs of local communities, the United Kingdom’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) co-developed the Adaptation Research Alliance (ARA) with international partners to make this radical change in climate adaptation efforts happen.

In support of the UK COP26 Presidency’s goal to adapt to climate change, the FCDO and the UK Science & Innovation Network co-hosted a two-day online consultation workshop on action-oriented adaptation research last week, in partnership with the International Institute for Environment and Development. The workshop, funded by the FCDO’s Europe Prosperity Fund, brought together over 40 representatives from government ministries, research councils, overseas-development agencies, policy think-tanks and research institutions from across Europe. The meeting promoted the Adaptation Research for Impact Principles – principles co-developed by the ARA and international partners  that address: the purpose of research, the research process itself, the value and benefits of research and the linkages between research and action. The workshop also highlighted the benefits of action-oriented research programmes; outlined how countries can better coordinate their efforts for improved adaptation and resilience in the Global South and for the most vulnerable communities; as well as shore-up support for the ARA and expand its membership.

The workshop was opened by Dr Rosalind West, the FCDO’s Climate Science Lead, and Dr Aditya Bahadur of the International Institute for Environment and Development and ARA secretariat member. Dr Bahadur set out the purpose of the workshop, the importance of action-oriented, showcasing the ARA’s vision and objectives. Dr Bahadur detailed that the ARA currently owes 60% of its membership from organisations and actors in the Global South. Dr Chandni Singh, Senior Research Consultant of the Indian Institute of Human Settlement (IIHS) talked to participants about why IIHS joined the ARA and the need for this initiative, especially for local communities at risk from climate change. Jesse DeMaria Kinney, Head of the ARA Secretariat and Deputy-Director of Plan-Adapt, outlined the visions of the ARA and its workstreams.

The workshop presented an important opportunity for participants to highlight how their work aligned with each other, with the ARA’s activities and the ARA’s Adaptation Research for Impact Principles. This included workshop participants’ initiatives that employ local knowledge from at-risk communities to shape adaptation practices and implementations, as well as influence financing agenda and policy processes. During the workshop it became clear the need for the ARA to help further proliferate action-oriented climate adaptation research into the mainstream. Participants highlighted the ARA could use its advocacy role to help address institutional inertia hindering incorporating local perspectives into climate adaptation work.

Overall, the ARA workshop was timely and merited. There was clear recognition of the value of the ARA’s thrust on catalysing partnerships and collaboration. These could include linking institutions in Europe working on climate adaptation action and research with Global South institutions and ensure that the voices of those on the frontlines of climate change are contributing to decision-making. Following the workshop, the ARA counted the Basque Centre for Climate Change, the Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations (IDDRI), and the Dutch Research Council (NWO) as ARA members.

This article is the first in the blog series: The Road To COP26: The Role of  Science & Innovation

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About Mikael Allan Mikaelsson

Europe Lead of Net-Zero Innovation and Climate Change for the UK Government's international science and innovation division, under the auspice the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) and Dept.…

Europe Lead of Net-Zero Innovation and Climate Change for the UK Government's international science and innovation division, under the auspice the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) and Dept. for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS).

As part of my work, I have regional oversight and coordination of the work carried out by FCDO/BEIS’ science and innovation division on international collaboration on research, technology and innovation for climate mitigation and adaptation/resilience in Europe.

Our work informs the UK Government’s international strategy on evidence-based climate policy, net-zero-transition across the energy, transport and industry sectors, and climate adaption and resilience, through strategic and targeted policy exchange, innovation-needs assessments, technology-transfer and strengthened international research and innovation partnerships.