IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2007
Climate Change 2007: Working Group II: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability

18.3.2 Stakeholder roles and spatial and temporal scales

Climate change engages a multitude of decision-makers, both spatially and temporally. The UNFCCC, its subsidiary bodies and Member Parties have largely focused on mitigation. More recently, an increasing interest at the grassroots level has yielded additional local mitigation activities. Adaptation decisions embrace both the public and private sector, as some decisions involve large construction projects in the hands of public-sector decision-makers while other decisions are localised, involving many private-sector agents.

The roles of various stakeholders cover different aspects of inter-relationships between adaptation and mitigation. Stakeholders may be characterised according to their organisational structure (e.g., public or private), level of decision-making (e.g., policy, strategic planning, or operational implementation), spatial scale (e.g., local, national or international), time-frame of concern (e.g., near term to long term), and function within a network (e.g., single actor, stakeholder regime or multi-level institution). Decisions might cover adaptation only, mitigation only, or link adaptation and mitigation. Relatively few public or corporate decision-makers have direct responsibility for both adaptation and mitigation (e.g., Michaelowa, 2001). For example, adaptation might reside in a Ministry of Environment while mitigation policy is led by a Trade, Energy or Economic Ministry. Local authorities and land-use planners often cover both adaptation and mitigation (ODPM, 2004).

Stakeholders are exposed to a variety of risks, including financial, regulatory, strategic, operational, or to their reputations, physical assets, life and livelihoods (e.g., IRM et al., 2002). Decision-making may be motivated by climatic risks or climate change (e.g., climate-driven, climate-sensitive, climate-related) although many decisions related to adaptation and mitigation are not driven by climate change (Watkiss et al., 2005). Risk is commonly defined as the probability times the consequence, while uncertainty is often taken to represent structural and behavioural factors that are not readily captured in probability distributions (e.g., Tol, 2003; Stainforth et al., 2005). Although this distinction between risk and uncertainty is simplistic (see Dowie, 1999), stakeholder decision-making takes account of many factors (Newell and Pizer, 2000; Bulkeley, 2001; Clark et al., 2001; Gough and Shackley, 2001; Rayner and Malone, 2001; Pidgeon et al., 2003; Kasperson and Kasperson, 2005; Moser, 2005): values, preferences and motivations; awareness and perception of climate change issues; negotiation, bargaining and social norms; analytical frameworks, information and monitoring systems; and relationships of power and politics.

Faced with the deep uncertainty of climate change (Manne and Richels, 1992), stakeholders may adopt a precautionary approach with the intention of stimulating technological (if not social) change, rather than seeking to explicitly balance costs and benefits (Harvey, 2006). For instance, estimates of the social cost of carbon, one measure of the benefits of mitigation, are sensitive to the choice of decision framework (including equity weighting, risk aversion, sustainability considerations and discount rates for future damages) (Downing et al., 2005; Tol, 2005b; Watkiss et al., 2005; Guo et al., 2006; Fisher et al., 2007; see also Section 18.4.2; Chapter 20).

Criteria relating to either mitigation or adaptation, or both, are increasingly common in decision-making. For example, local development plans might screen housing developments according to energy use, water requirements and preservation of green belt (e.g., CAG Consultants and Oxford Brookes University, 2004). Development agencies have begun to screen their projects for relevance to adaptation and mitigation (e.g., Burton and van Aalst, 1999; Klein, 2001; Eriksen and Næss, 2003).

Many stakeholders link climate, development and environmental policies by, for example, linking energy efficiency (related to mitigation) to sustainable communities or poverty reduction (related to adaptation). For example, the World Bank’s BioCarbon Fund and Community Development Carbon Fund include provision for buyers to ensure that carbon offsets also achieve development objectives (World Bank, undated). The Gold Standard for CDM projects also ensures that projects support sustainable development (Carbon International, undated). Preliminary work suggests that there may be a modest trade-off between cost-effective emissions reductions and the achievement of other sustainable development objectives; that is, more expensive projects per emissions reduction unit tend to contribute more to sustainable development than cheaper projects (Nagai and Hepburn, 2005).

The nature of adaptation and mitigation decisions changes over time. For example, mitigation choices have begun with relatively easy measures such as adoption of low-cost supply and demand-side options in the energy sector (such as passive solar) (see Levine et al., 2007). Through successful investment in research and development, low-cost alternatives should become available in the energy sector, allowing for a transition to low-carbon-venting pathways. Given the current composition of the energy sector, this is unlikely to happen overnight but rather through a series of decisions over time. Adaptation decisions have begun to address current climatic risks (e.g., drought early-warning systems) and to be anticipatory or proactive (e.g., land-use management). With increasing climate change, autonomous or reactive actions (e.g., purchasing air-conditioning during or after a heatwave) are likely to increase. Decisions might also break trends, accelerate transitions and mark substantive jumps from one development or technological pathway to another (e.g., Martens and Rotmans 2002; Raskin et al., 2002a, b).

Inter-relationships between adaptation and mitigation also vary according to spatial and social scales of decision-making. Adaptation and mitigation may be seen as substitutes in a policy framework at a highly aggregated, international scale: the more mitigation is undertaken, the less adaptation is necessary and vice versa. Resources devoted to mitigation might impede socio-economic development and reduce investments in adaptive capacity and adaptation projects (e.g., Kane and Shogren, 2000). This scale is inherent in the analysis of global targets (see Section 18.4).

National and sub-national decision-making is often a mixture of policy and strategic planning. The adaptation-mitigation trade-off is problematic at this scale because the effectiveness of mitigation outlays in terms of averted climate change depends on the mitigation efforts of other major greenhouse-gas emitters. However, adaptation criteria can be applied to mitigation projects or vice versa (Dang et al., 2003). A national policy example of synergies might be a new water law that requires metered use, enabling water companies to adjust their charges in anticipation of scarcity and conserve energy through demand-side measures. This policy would then be implemented in strategic plans by water companies and environment agencies at a sub-national level.

On the operational scale of specific projects, there may be trade-offs or synergies between adaptation and mitigation. However, the majority of projects are unlikely to have strong links, although this remains as a key uncertainty. Certainly there are many adaptive actions that have consequences for mitigation, and mitigation actions with consequences for adaptation.

The inter-relationships between adaptation and mitigation also cross scales (Rosenberg and Scott, 1995; Cash and Moser, 2000; Young, 2002). A policy framework is often seen as essential in driving strategic investment and operational projects (e.g., Grubb et al., 2002; Grubb, 2003) for technological innovation. Operational experience can be a precursor to developing sound strategies and policies (one of the motivations for early corporate experiments in carbon trading). In many cases the results of action at one scale have implications at another scale (e.g., local adaptation decisions that increase greenhouse-gas emissions, or national carbon taxes that change local resource use).