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When climate justice goes wrong: Maladaptation and deep co-production in transformative environmental science and policy

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Abstract

Maladaptation to climate change is often portrayed as arising from the unjust exclusion of vulnerable people. In turn, analysts have proposed knowledge co-production with marginalized groups as a form of transformative climate justice. This paper argues instead that maladaptation arises from a much deeper exclusion based upon the projection of inappropriate understandings of risk and social identity that are treated as unquestioned circumstances of justice. Drawing on social studies of science, the paper argues that the focus on co-production as an intentional act of inclusion needs to be considered alongside “deep” or “reflexive” co-production, which instead refers to the non-cognitive and unavoidable simultaneous generation of knowledge and social order. These processes have linked visions of planetary justice with an understanding of climate risk based on global atmospheric change, and an assumption that community forms an antidote to individualism. The paper uses a discussion of adaptation in western Nepal to illustrate how such deep forms of co-production have significantly reduced understandings of “what” adaptation is for, and “who” is included. Maladaptation, therefore, is not simply unjust implementations of an essentially fair model of adaptation, but also the allocation of exclusionary visions of what and for whom adaptation is for. Debates about transformative climate justice therefore need to understand how their critiques of classical liberal justice generate exclusions of their own, and to engage vulnerable people in reframing, rather than just receiving, circumstances of justice. There is also a need to examine how these circumstances remain unchallenged within environmental science and policy.

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... The theoretical foundation of this research is the concept of social justice. Forsyth and McDermott (2022) identified the effects of alienation and deep co-production in transformative environmental science and policy, through which they described the signs of a violation of climate justice and justified ways to restore it. Zeng et al. (2022) showed a strong relationship between environmental justice and health risks (using the example of Shanghai, China). ...
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Adapting to climate change is necessary to ensure that the impacts will not overwhelm societies and ecosystems around the world. But planning adaptation is an exercise in uncertainty, and built on imperfect information, many adaptation strategies fail. Some go even further, creating conditions that actually worsen the situation; this is called maladaptation. Aside from wasting time and money, maladaptation is a process through which people become even more vulnerable to climate change. Poor planning is the primary cause of maladaptation, yet the diverse manifestations are complex, and identifying maladaptation in advance with certainty is difficult. Nevertheless, there is now sufficient experience to give an indication of how maladaptation can take place, the contexts that may be more prone to such an outcome, and the design flaws in strategies that need to be avoided. Until adaptation projects directly address the drivers of vulnerability, however, maladaptation will continue to be a risk.
Article
The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) has been mandated to assess transformative change in order to identify pathways for achieving the 2050 Vision for Biodiversity. Yet, the topic of transformative change raises significant new challenges for biodiversity assessments because it combines scientifically plausible projections about the drivers and trends of biodiversity loss with normative and collective visions of a sustainable world for nature and people. In this commentary, we argue that assessments of visions of a sustainable world should also ask ‘whose values and visions count?’ because different values and visions influence which voices and perspectives are considered relevant for generating scientific knowledge for transformative change. In particular, we argue that this situation requires rethinking modes of participation and co-production in assessments of transformative change: from consulting different groups as potential ‘users’ of assessments to seeing how visions of a sustainable world are represented through the selection of evidence and actors. In other words, assessments need to be less concerned about the inclusion and exclusion of actors, and more concerned about how these actors bring the perspectives of others with them.
Article
In the island states of Oceania, colonial power dynamics profoundly shape climate vulnerability and response. Largely as a result of their colonial history, island nations are dependent on outside funders to adapt to climate change, reproducing colonial subordination by depriving island states of sovereignty over their adaptation strategies. We empirically demonstrate the sovereignty-depriving effects of the current adaptation process through a case study from the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI). Recent scholarship suggests that, without swift and large-scale adaptation, RMI will be uninhabitable by mid-century, threatening a population-scale forced migration. Our research indicates that Marshallese leaders are committed to adapting in place in order to preserve national identity and sovereignty, but they view reliance on external funding as a major barrier to implementing the measures that could enable RMI to survive in the face of climate change. Marshallese decision-makers in this study perceive that aid institutions discount the existential implications of failing to pursue aggressive adaptation, assuming instead that migration is inevitable, economically rational, and even desirable. Such a proposal is particularly painful given the history of forced migration in RMI caused by U.S. nuclear weapons testing there. These neocolonial dynamics not only deprive island states of sovereignty over their adaptation strategies but also threaten permanent abrogation of national sovereignty and selfdetermination through loss of a habitable territory. To uphold global commitments to decolonization and human rights, our research indicates the need to return sovereignty over climate adaptation decision-making to affected states.
Article
Resilience has surged to the forefront of conversations in the increasingly intertwined development and adaptation communities of practice. However, their use of this concept lacks an implementable vision of the connection between resilience and the sorts of transformations that are central to their goals. Instead, these communities implicitly privilege stability and persistence, a framing that neither represents the current state of resilience thinking in the literature, nor addresses the substantial body of critique concerned with the lack of attention to agency, power, and difference in resilient systems. In this paper, I argue that this state of affairs is a symptom of an approach to transformation in practice that lacks an explicit theorization of agency, power, and difference in socio-ecological resilience. To address this issue, I offer one such theorization, framing resilience as the outcome of context-specific socio-ecological projects manifest in livelihoods and aimed at achieving safety and stability for the widest number of people. By employing the Livelihoods as Intimate Government approach, which makes power relations, social difference, and agency central to explanations of observed livelihoods decisions and outcomes, this theorization identifies dynamics of socio-ecological resilience distinct from those of purely ecological resilience. I illustrate these distinctions through various cases in the literature, including studies of development projects, agrarian livelihoods, and socio-ecological system dynamics, and from these illustrations suggest larger lessons about socio-ecological resilience. Among these lessons is a clear message for the development and adaptation communities of practice: the path to the transformative goals of these communities lies in a focus on alleviating shocks and stresses on socio-ecological projects, as opposed to merely addressing their material outcomes.
Article
Over the last several decades, new forms of targeted market development have been embraced as solutions to uneven development and market failures. The popular model of inclusive ‘value chain development’ aims to harness markets to address broader development agendas by means of pro-active, micro-market engineering by development experts. This paper examines how inclusive market-making interventions touch down in an agrarian district in Nepal. It focuses on the role of ‘development brokers’ who are enrolled as market engineers and charged with mediating the tensions between profit-oriented market logics and pro-poor goals. The paper argues that even as value chain development aims to depoliticise market failures, the new forms of state–market–society encounters entailed in market-making can also work to bring markets into view as objects of political practice.
Article
Climate change and sea level rise (SLR) poses serious risks to coastal communities around the world requiring nations to apply adaptation laws and policies. Climate change will exacerbate the existing threats to vulnerable communities, such as the poor, and threaten the food security of populations in coastal areas through the effects of flooding due to coastal inundation. Indonesia is an Archipelagic State of over 17,000 islands and is vulnerable to climate change impacts in its coastal areas and especially in its highly populated low lying delta areas, such as Jakarta and Semarang, where vulnerability to sea level rise is evident. The adequacy of the legal adaptation framework in Indonesia to respond to this climate vulnerability is assessed and it is found to have limited consideration of the community burden arising from these climate and SLR uncertainties. A more inclusive social justice approach could assist government to respond to the impacts from these issues and to their implications for vulnerable groups. The nation can improve adaptive legal measures to address climate change impacts and increase the involvement of local people in climate change adaptation decision making. Funding is required to assist policy makers to further incorporate adaptation into decision making, and this could improve social justice outcomes for vulnerable Indonesian coastal communities.
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Reflexivity requires the capacity to reconsider core values: notably justice, which many people think is the most important societal value. Injustice looms large in an unstable Earth system, as pre-existing injustices are intensified and new ones emerge. Against those who think that the Anthropocene overrides or ignores justice by invoking ideas of emergency or by blaming humans as a whole for our predicament, this chapter shows how justice itself can be productively reimagined for the Anthropocene. The resultant planetary justice can incorporate traditional concerns about distribution of resources across rich and poor groups, recognition of the standing of historically marginalized groups, and the need to alleviate poverty. But planetary justice is much more imaginative in how it integrates justice toward future generations, non-humans, and the Earth system itself. The continuing vitality of core social values such as justice depends on their ability to co-evolve with a changing Earth system.
Article
Clearly, Nepalis have to adapt to climate change. It is less clear what precisely the challenges are and who is best positioned to lead the response.
Article
Co-production is one of the most important ideas in the theory and practice of knowledge and governance for global sustainability, including ecology and biodiversity conservation. A core challenge confronting the application of co-production has been confusion over differences in definition and practice across several disciplinary traditions, including sustainability science, public administration, and science and technology studies. In this paper, we review the theoretical foundations of these disciplinary traditions and how each has applied co-production. We suggest, at the theoretical level, the differences across disciplines are, in fact, more apparent than real. We identify several theoretical convergences that allow us to synthesize a strong conceptual foundation for those seeking to design and implement co-production work in programs of global sustainability research and policy.
Article
A key criterion of successful adaptation to climate change is that it avoids potential inequalities arising from climate impacts or from adaptation strategies themselves. Recent research on adaptation in developing and developed countries argues that the measures of such fairness cannot be captured by standard metrics of vulnerability and should be situated in the milieu of people's daily lives and temporalities. Yet there is little empirical evidence to support this theoretical argument. This paper describes a method, and presents findings from research that aimed to understand and classify the lived values of four marginal rural communities at risk of sea-level rise in Australia to inform adaptation planning and implementation. Our research finds that there are at least five types of primary residents and second home-owners attached to these four low-lying coastal communities. Some of these residents are more likely to be amenable to relocation if their needs for affordable living and belonging are met. For others, there may be little that can be done to compensate for the loss of place attachment, and implementing a measured approach that provides them time to adapt to the idea of change and form connections to new places is the best that could be achieved. We discuss the implications of place-specific and people-centric values for achieving fair adaptation.
Article
The article explores the moments wherein participatory approaches in climate change adaptation (CCA) policies contribute to reinforcing, rather than transforming, the underlying causes of vulnerability. Using the case of food insecure households in the district of Humla in northwestern Nepal, the study demonstrates that the same social and power relations that are driving local vulnerability dynamics, such as caste, gender, and access to social and political networks, also play important roles in shaping the impact of CCA policies. By tracing Nepal’s CCA programs, starting with the local level, through district to international-national level dynamics, the study adds insights into the barriers to exclusion that embed power relations all the way through the chain of policy development. The purpose is to better understand how CCA can perpetuate rather than alleviate the conditions that create differential vulnerability patterns at village level. It raises questions about how whether CCA programs are an adequate response to increasing vulnerability for some of the world’s most marginalized people.
Article
Smallholder farmers in the Loess Plateau Region of China are highly vulnerable to climate change. Effective adaptation governance requires in-depth, situated understanding of how adaptation is embedded in particular environmental, social, political, economic, and institutional contexts. Drawing on 93 qualitative interviews with smallholder households in five counties across three provinces on the Loess Plateau, we use a multi-scalar pathways approach to analyze two particular adaptations (planting maize and adopting drip irrigation). Our results show (1) how historical and ongoing multi-scalar, social-ecological processes interact to shape smallholder adaptation decision-making, leading to synergies, tensions, and contradictions across risk management domains and social institutions; (2) whether an adaptation strategy persists over time is in part determined by the extent to which the strategy allows smallholder households to manage various forms of risk and uncertainty in both the present and future; and (3) how past and ongoing multi-scalar adaptation pathways determine not only smallholder exposure to current stressors but also possible choices for future adaptation. Specifically, we find some smallholder adaptive strategies, such as planting maize, stabilize over time because they enable smallholders to manage market risk, climatic risk, and water pollution challenges, allow them to take advantage of opportunities to diversify their livelihoods through local wage work and labor migration, and, at the same time, fit the local social institutions that guide their agricultural management decisions. We also find some adaptive strategies promoted by non-local actors, such as drip irrigation, are abandoned because they create tensions with the ways smallholders construct their livelihoods to manage various forms of uncertainty and risk, and contradict the local social relations and cultural values embedded in their day-to-day lives. Together, these results provide insight into why particular smallholder adaptation pathways become stabilized and reproduced over time, and the cross-scalar environmental, social, political, economic, and institutional processes that underpin them.
Article
Notions of ‘co-production’ are growing in popularity in social science and humanities research on climate change, although there is some ambiguity about the meanings of the term and how it is being used. It is time to critically and reflexively take stock of this expanding area of scholarship. A comprehensive review of over 130 scientific publications first mapped the scholars using co-production, relative to characteristics like their discipline, nationality, and research themes. Second, it looked at how this diversity of scientific perspectives has opened up a multiplicity of meanings of co-production. While most discussions of co-production stop at a basic distinction between descriptive and normative uses of the term, this review unpacked eight conceptual lenses on co-production, each discernible by its particular emphases, academic traditions, logic, and criteria of success. There are two important implications of this work. On one hand, it urges self-reflexive transparency when using co-production concepts. The multiple meanings attached to co-production add richness to the concept and open it up to different uses. However, it is important that scholars clearly communicate how they use the term and are mindful of what they ‘buy into’ by using the concept in certain ways. On the other hand, there are tensions between the different perspectives as well as opportunities for combining them into a compound concept of co-production. In this way, co-production is reconceptualized as a prism, where each aspect allows different but complimentary insights on the relationship between science, society, and nature.
Article
This review consists of a systematic assessment of climate change adaptation literature to elicit major trends, discourses, and patterns in how local knowledge is conceived. We report on conceptual and geographic trends within the literature, including the practice of assessing local knowledge against scientific benchmarks, and present results of a textual network analysis that illustrates overlap and co‐occurrence among different characterizations of local knowledge. In critically assessing the dominant trends we draw special attention to problems associated with the extraction of local knowledge without due consideration of how this process is embedded and inextricable from local contexts and sociotechnical orders. Drawing on theories of science and technology that examine the ontological politics of research practices, we propose a co‐productive path forward for local knowledge mobilization to inform adaptation decision‐making, which we argue facilitates the transformation of the institutional and governance arrangement of climate adaptation to provide greater flexibility and experimentalism in research and decision‐making. WIREs Clim Change 2017, 8:e475. doi: 10.1002/wcc.475 This article is categorized under: • Social Status of Climate Change Knowledge > Knowledge and Practice
Article
The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is seeking to prepare for losses arising from climate change. This is an emerging issue that challenges climate science and policy to engage more deeply with values, places, and people’s experiences. We first provide insight into the UNFCCC framing of loss and damage and current approaches to valuation. We then draw on the growing literature on value- and place-based approaches to adaptation, including limits to adaptation, which examines loss as nuanced and sensitive to the nature of people’s lives. Complementary perspectives from human geography, psychology, philosophy, economics, and ecology underscore the importance of understanding what matters to people and what they may likely consider to constitute loss. A significant body of knowledge illustrates that loss is often given meaning through lived, embodied, and place-based experi- ences, and so is more felt than tangible. We end with insights into recent scholar- ship that addresses how people make trade-offs between different value priorities. This emerging literature offers an opening in the academic debate to further advance a relational framing of loss in which trade-offs between lived values are seen as dynamic elements in a prospective loss space.
Article
Climate adaptation politics presents both obstacles and opportunities for correcting inequities that leave some communities especially vulnerable to climate-related environmental harms. By revealing these obstacles and opportunities, theories of procedural justice can help to identify procedural reforms and political strategies that advance the interests of vulnerable populations. An account of procedural justice is proposed that foregrounds the capability for political control over one’s environment, defined as having the political power to influence adaptation decisions. While the variables shaping this capability in the politics of environmental injustice often interact in ways that reproduce environmental inequities, adaptation politics has the potential to produce more transformational outcomes. To illustrate this potential, differences between the politics of environmental injustice and the politics of climate adaptation are drawn on to sketch the basic features of a typology of vulnerable populations’ political capabilities in the politics of climate adaptation, before highlighting the potential points for intervention.