Adaptation Actions for Local Government


This research undertaken by Edward Boydell (from the Fenner School of Environment and Society, Australian National University) examines adaptation to climate change in the context of local government practice. Increasing attention is being paid towards the practical dimensions of implementing adaptation.

The honours research thesis, investigated the emergence of adaptation to climate change in local government practice. Three SCCG Member Councils participated in the qualitative research project, which captured a snapshot of their adaptation-related activities from late 2009 to early 2010. These councils had previously been involved in the “Systems Approach to Regional Climate Change Adaptation in Metropolises” (hereafter “Systems Approach”). This research project was a collaboration of the SCCG, CSIRO and the University of the Sunshine Coast.

The research builds upon this work, particularly the proposed “adaptation actions for local government”, and aimed to focus on what can be learnt from subsequent, emerging practical examples of adaptation in local government. Guided by the broad research question ‘How is adaptation to climate change emerging in practice?’ the following specific research questions where addressed:

(Q1) What practical adaptation activities are Councils and individual officers engaged with?

(Q2) How is the development and implementation of these activities connected to the broader context of local government?

(Q3) How do social processes come together with this context to shape adaptation learning and practice?

(Q4) What can the resulting trajectories of practice reveal about overcoming barriers to adaptation?


‘The findings suggest that although local governments have only recently begun to attend to climate change impacts and adaptation, it is the interest and motivation of individual actors that has driven the agenda forward. I identified nine key responses to climate change, which were influenced by policy and external research, internal factors within councils, and interaction with the community. Although a number of these activities were ad hoc, they were starting to coalesce into a strategic direction of adaptation. I demonstrate that learning occurs at variety of scales, with actors drawing upon their practical experience, local knowledge, local and extended networks and known information resources. The analysis highlighted that adaptation practice is facilitated by a level of personal and organisational ownership of activities, with connection to broader strategic directions and the identity of the organisation. It also proposes trajectories of practice and avenues for transcending barriers to adaptation.

Connecting climate change adaptation, learning, and practice places the actions of local government staff at the centre of this inquiry. It acknowledges that their experience provides important and legitimate insight into the organisational context that shapes this action. The research develops and demonstrates a novel and insightful approach to understanding the practice of adaptation, through the situated learning perspective. Greater understanding of adaptation practice and trajectories of change are vital for enabling, supporting and enhancing action to address climate change.

Adaptation to climate change in practice. Learning from a local government case study.