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Who is responsible for climate adaptations?

There is growing realisation in society that coping with climate change requires different types of adaptations and measures. What is lacking is a deeper discussion about how the responsibility for climate adaptation should be shared. An ongoing project at Lund University and RISE is investigating the fair division of responsibilities and how it can be achieved.

All measures for climate adaptation require some form of division of responsibility and, in order to do so sustainably and fairly, an ethical and political discussion is necessary.

The purpose of an ongoing project at Lund University and RISE under the name Sustainable division of responsibilities for climate adaptation measures is to help municipalities and county administrative boards make informed decisions about climate adaptation based on what both residents and public sector officials perceive to be a fair division of responsibilities.

“There is a need for a dialogue in society about how we want to divide the responsibility,” says Kerstin Eriksson, researcher at RISE and one of the people behind the project. “It is ultimately an ethical and political discussion, but it needs to be expanded. Residents or individual municipalities cannot shoulder all the responsibility.”

Many questions

Many questions must be answered. Should each individual only be responsible for their own situation, or should we have a shared social responsibility? Who will provide the funding? How can the responsibilities of the various authorities involved be made clearer? And what would actually be a fair division?

“The latter question has not been discussed much at the local level yet, only more globally,” says Eriksson. “For example, how the burden of responsibility for carbon dioxide emissions should be shared between industrialised countries and developing countries.

“Based on the principles for division of responsibilities discussed at the international level, we have investigated how applicable these principles are at the local level. The results show that a division of responsibilities based on ability, self-help, or a limited responsibility for those who are most disadvantaged or worst affected is directly applicable at the local level. In contrast, the principles of equal division, basing responsibilities on climate debt or imposing higher payments on those who have benefited most from the emissions behind climate change are difficult to employ at the local level.”

There is a need for a dialogue in society about how we want to divide the responsibility

Creates conflicts

It is obvious that different climate measures will lead to conflicts, both between residents and municipalities and within municipalities, but also between municipalities.

“Municipalities are clearly struggling with the issue,” says Eriksson. “With our study, we want to define the challenges and present potential approaches. By increasing awareness of the attitudes of officials and residents, we can ensure a better understanding of the conflicts that exist and establish systematic knowledge of how they can be handled.”

The interviews with officials have already highlighted various conflicts that may arise. Above all, it involves shortcomings or ambiguity in legislation, for example, regarding the division of responsibilities between property owners and authorities in the implementation of climate measures, such as bunding and so on.

Affects other municipal objectives

Other conflicts within a municipality relate to objectives.

“One such conflicting objective concerns accessibility: should accessibility for the disabled, for example, be allowed to diminish when a city is climate-adapted?” says Eriksson. “Another conflict concerns housing construction; in many municipalities development is an important goal. In this, climate adaptation, which often requires physical space, can be an obstacle.”

Eriksson emphasises the importance of discussing division of responsibilities now already, so that future climate adaptation decisions will be perceived as legitimate by residents, and says in conclusion:

“RISE tests different methods for climate adaptation in practice. But we can also connect the practical with the more ethical and philosophical issues and help promote the issue of a fair division of responsibilities.”

Published: 2021-09-13

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Kerstin Eriksson


+46 10 516 52 46

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