Adaptation planning and the use of climate change projections in Local Government in England and Germany

Produced as part of the Managing climate risks and uncertainties and strengthening climate services CCCEP research programme theme

An updated version of this paper is now available:

Lorenz, S., Dessai, S., Forster, P.M., Paavola, J. (2016) Reg Environ Change. doi:10.1007/s10113-016-1030-3

Planning for adaptation to climate change is often regarded to be a local imperative and considered to be more effective if grounded on a solid evidence base and recognisant of relevant climate projections. Research has already documented some of the challenges of making climate information usable in decision-making but has not yet sufficiently reflected on the role of the wider institutional and regulatory context. This paper examines the impact of the external institutional context on the use and usability of climate projections in local government through an analysis of 44 planning and climate change (adaptation) documents and 54 semi-structured interviews with planners in England and Germany conducted between July 2013 and May 2014. We show that there is little demand for climate projections in local adaptation planning in either country due to existing policy, legal and regulatory frameworks.

Local government in England has not only experienced a decline in use of climate projections, but also the waning of the climate change adaptation agenda more widely, amidst changes in the planning and regulatory framework and severe budget cuts. In Germany, spatial planning makes substantial use of past and present climate data but the strictly regulated nature of planning prevents the use of climate projections, due to their inherent uncertainties. Findings from the two countries highlight that if we are to better understand the usability of climate projections, we need to be more aware of the external institutional context within which planning decisions are made. Otherwise we run the risk of continuing to provide tools and information that are of little use within their intended context.