Link Pack #12: Three papers on barriers to adaptation

I recently came across three papers on adaptation barriers which are a back and forth between some authors in the Canadian Journal of Forest Research. Although focussed on adaptation barriers in the forestry sector, the points they make are quite interesting for climate change researchers in general.

Williamson and Nelson 2017: Talk of 3 types of barriers – harmoninsation barriers, enabling barriers, and implementation barriers in the context of the forestry sector. The paper’s acknowledgement of the intersecting, subjective, and dynamic nature of barriers is particularly welcome and something I’ve been trying to articulate in the context of adaptation in Indian agriculture

Harmonization barriers pertain to differences between adaptation and mitigation in pre-existing frames and beliefs. Enabling barriers are psychological and institutional in nature. Implementation barriers include capacity deficits (e.g., funding limits, science and knowledge deficits regarding benefits, trade-offs, and synergies between adaptation and mitigation) and governance issues. Barriers are interrelated, dynamic, and subjective.

Williamson and Nelson 2017:1568

Wellstead et al. 2018: Sharply critique Williamson and Nelson (2017) and call for examining the underlying causal mechanisms when studying barriers to open up a discussion on internal processes and dynamics that cause/perpetuate barriers instead of treating barriers in a system as a linear input-output model (i.e. if you remove barriers, desirable outcomes will be achieved). They particularly critique Williamson and Nelson’s ‘ functionalist approach’, the act of explaining early events by another event later in time. This style of reasoning, Wellstead et al.  argue masks the process of decision-making and does little to inform adaptation implementation. They say it assumes that ‘socio-political systems will automatically adjust to changes provided that barriers are removed’ (p.2). 

Williamson and Nelson 2018 reply back, saying the ‘barriers approach’ (listing out barriers to a desirable outcome) is important and a common practice in adaptation research (I agree) but acknowledge that using social science methodologies that focus on process and context are a useful addition.

Of course, the back and forth in the papers isn’t as friendly as I make them out to be but the arguments raised are interesting and important. They highlight a fundamental difference in how different disciplinary stances and starting points can frame the issue of adaptation barriers.   

Read previous link packs here.

Published by Chandni

Environmental social scientist @iihsin Research climate change adaptation, livelihoods, development. Book hoarder, plant lover, doggo devotee.

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