Environmental Science & Policy

Adaptation is now firmly embedded in the societal discourse regarding the management of climate risk. In this discourse, adaptation planning and implementation at the local level are seen as particularly important for developing robust responses to climate change. However, it is not clear whether the mantra that adaptation is local holds true given the multi-level nature of climate risk governance. Using a multi-method approach, this paper examines the extent to which adaptation should be framed as a local issue and, specifically, the role of local government in adaptation relative to other actors. In so doing, the paper first explores the extent to which the local framing of adaptation is embedded in the international adaptation literature. This is followed by a specific case study from Southeast Queensland, Australia, which focuses on the critical examination of the processes of responsibility shifting and taking among actors involved in coastal adaptation planning. Results indicate the assumption that adaptation is local remains widely held in adaptation science, although counter arguments can be readily identified. Interviews with adaptation actors revealed unclear divisions of responsibility for climate change adaptation as a significant constraint on actors’ willingness to implement adaptation. Furthermore, attributing responsibility for adaptation to local actors might not necessarily be a robust strategy, due to the existence of particularly strong constraints and value conflicts at local levels of governance. Greater appreciation by researchers and practitioners for the interactions between local actors and those at higher levels of governance in shaping response capacity may contribute to more equitable and effective allocations of responsibilities for adaptation action.

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