University of Glasgow sustainability experts join global call for coordinated action on climate change adaptation

Academics at the University of Glasgow’s School of Social & Environmental Sustainability have contributed to the world’s first mapping of climate change adaptation, which finds that systematic networking has been insufficient.

Academics at the University of Glasgow’s School of Social & Environmental Sustainability have contributed to the world’s first mapping of peer-reviewed literature on climate change adaptation, which finds that systematic networking has been insufficient.

The Global Adaptation Mapping Initiative (GAMI), led by a consortium of 29 universities, reported that affected individuals and households have had to carry the principal burden of adaptation.

The University of Glasgow was the only UK university to participate in this study. Dr Jiren Xu and Dr Emilie Cremin, of the School of Social & Environmental Sustainability, were part of an international team led by scientists from LMU Munich and the University of Hamburg that assessed more than 1,400 scientific studies on the subject of climate change adaptation.

The results show that there are many gaps in distribution of roles and responsibilities for adaptation across the globe.

Above all, there is a lack of adaptation that profoundly transforms societies, infrastructure, and risk management in response to the massive impacts of climate change. There is also limited evidence of collaborations happening between various state and non-state actors.

Dr Jiren Xu said: "This research highlights a key point: individual and household efforts in adapting to climate challenges, while commendable, form just a piece of a larger puzzle that requires coordinated action from government and institutional players. This perspective aligns closely with one of the missions of the School of Social & Environmental Sustainability at the University of Glasgow, where we are diligently working to connect grassroots resilience with policy-driven climate action.

"The findings are particularly relevant to Scotland, showcasing the immediate reality and demands of climate change we face.

"As we move forward, this research acts as both a confirmation and a motivator for us to develop a comprehensive climate action plan in Scotland, based on shared responsibilities, collective efforts, and a steadfast dedication to sustainability and resilience. The journey towards a climate-resilient Scotland is not a lone venture, but a collective one, and this research notably enhances our comprehension and urgency for multi-level collaboration in tackling the climate challenges ahead."

Dr Emilie Cremin said: "This important and timely study indicates a clear distribution of roles and responsibilities between the different groups of actors. Thus, adaptation to climate change would benefit from better consultation, participation and coordination of all stakeholders to develop and implement sustainable solutions in urban and rural areas. Co-production of knowledge and co-management involving local communities in planning and managing the impacts of climate change remain to be implemented."

To date, the ’heavy lifting’ of implementing actual adaptation has been left to affected individuals and households. This is particularly the case in the Global South. By contrast, these groups are hardly involved at all in the design and implementation of institutional changes.

However, this situation differs in urban and non-urban areas. Whereas in rural areas, individual households are the prime actors and there is little in the way of coordination, state actors tend to organise adaptation much more frequently in cities. According to the study, the private sector has engaged in comparatively little adaptation to date and is scarcely involved in joint measures with other actors.

Jan Petzold, geographer at LMU and lead author of the study, said: "When it’s primarily individual persons like farmers big and small who are engaging in this work worldwide, this is a sign that collaborations between various actor groups are lacking. For sustainable adaptation projects, however, this would be a necessary condition. Many interventions such as the climate-adapted restructuring of forests, the conversion of farmland into uncultivated floodplains, the adjustment of urban infrastructure, or even resettlement from coastal areas urgently require coordinated concepts."

Professor Matthias Garschagen, who holds the Chair of Human Geography and heads the Teaching and Research Unit for Human Environment Relations at LMU, and helped coordinate the study, said: "The results reveal that we need a more intensive and explicit debate on the question as to who should take on which tasks in adapting to the consequences of climate change. It’s not only since the massive forest fires, heatwaves, and flood events of the past few months that we’ve known how serious the effects of climate change are. Our study shows how we’ve to date struggled to do this globally, and it points out where the gaps are greatest. This knowledge is vitally important to support actors on the road to more effective and more coordinated adaptation."