Barriers and opportunities for climate change adaptation

Nature affected by climate change in Alaska; Harding Icefield and Exit glacier Alaska (Credit: Henk Monster, via Wikimedia Commons)
New research outlines barriers and opportunities to advance adaptation to climate change in the natural resource management and conservation sectors in different regions, including the Arctic.


New research outlines barriers and opportunities to advance adaptation to climate change in the natural resource management and conservation sectors in different regions, including the Arctic.

Many regions face complex challenges in their efforts to respond to climate change. New research has looked into the commonalities and differences between several North American regions – including Arctic Alaska – aiming to get an answer to the question:

Despite recognition that climate change poses serious threats to species, ecosystems, and human communities, why is implementation of adaptation measures not yet happening on a broad scale?

"Our study was designed to compare opinions on barriers and opportunities among similar types of natural resource managers and conservation scientists at four different landscapes to look for similarities and differences. These landscapes included four different North American regions: northern Ontario (Canada), the Adirondack State Park (US), Arctic Alaska (US), and the Transboundary Rocky Mountains (US and Canada)", says Whitney Lonsdale, Interim Director at the Montana Water Center and lead author on the paper.


Common barriers and opportunities

The research looked at challenges and opportunities to progress on climate change adaptation implementation across regions that represent diverse climate change trajectories, political contexts, and social and ecological systems.

"Some barriers to advancing adaptation in the natural resource management and conservation sectors were mentioned frequently and across multiple landscapes, while others appear to be more important at some landscapes than others", Lonsdale summarises.

Common barriers among regions relate to a lack of political support and financial resources, as well as challenges related to translating complex and interacting effects of climate change into management actions.

Opportunities shared among regions related to collaboration, funding, and the presence of strong leadership. "The commonalities indicate the importance of cross-site learning about ways to leverage opportunities and overcome adaptation barriers; however, regional variations also suggest that adaptation efforts will need to be tailored to fit specific ecological, political, social and economic contexts", says Lonsdale.


Arctic specifics

The need to fit adaptation implementation to site-specific needs is especially obvious when looking at the Arctic Alaska-specific features affecting climate change adaptation that the authors outline. Among these are:

The rate and immediacy of climate change in Alaska is especially severe. The average annual temperature has increased around 0.5 °C per decade since 1949. Future temperature increases are projected to be the most rapid and of the greatest magnitude, relative to the other landscapes that were studied.
- There are concerns about whether arctic species and ecosystems will find suitable refugia in the future, if conditions in current locations become unsuitable.
- The ecological integrity of the region is still highly intact with little development to date, although there are pressures from energy development.
- The political context is complex with a mix of federal lands, native owned lands, and state lands.

 

"These conditions likely affect climate change adaptation progress in Alaska", suggests Molly Cross, Director of Climate Change Adaptation, Americas Program at the Wildlife Conservation Society and one of the co-authors of the paper, "but because our study only surveyed a small number of managers and scientists from state and federal agencies and non-governmental organizations that work on conservation issues in Arctic Alaska and that were invited to a specific workshop in 2009, our data does not provide a comprehensive look at challenges to climate adaptation in the region".
Therefore, Cross encourages a close look at existing and ongoing work on this topic in the region to develop a comprehensive and up-to-date picture of barriers to overcome and opportunities to take advantage of in the Arctic.

 

Changing target

Some of the barriers that were mentioned more frequently also may have changed since the time the surveys were conducted. "For example, while a lack of financial resources is probably still a concern across all of the landscapes, challenges related to a lack of political will to recognize climate change as a problem may very well have changed at these landscapes over the past several years. So these barriers likely need to be assessed frequently to stay on top of what is currently driving adaptation opportunities or barriers", Cross explains.


Data sources

The data of the study derives from opinion surveys among natural resource managers and conservation scientists from the four landscapes in North America, largely from state, provincial and federal agencies and non-governmental conservation organizations; some responses were from First Nations in northern Ontario.



Whitney Lonsdale, Interim Director at the Montana Water Center. (Photo credit: Pascal Beauvais)
Whitney Lonsdale, Interim Director at the Montana Water Center. (Photo credit: Pascal Beauvais)

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