Utrecht University: A reflection from the ongoing inter- and transdisciplinary research on climate adaptation: contribution from legal and governance perspectives

Researchers from the Utrecht Centre for Water, Oceans and Environmental Governance Group and Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development at Utrecht University have recently published an open-access article in Environmental Science & Policy on how to enrich the concept of ‘solution space’ for climate adaptation by integrating the legal and governance dimensions.

Reflections from the interdisciplinary research practice
The ideas of the authors have been inspired by the inter- and transdisciplinary work of researchers at the Water, Climate Future Deltas (WCFD) hub of Pathways to Sustainability at Utrecht University.

Development of decision-making tools in determining climate adaptation measures such as climate adaptation pathways and solution space is still dominated by quantitative approaches, while a thorough understanding of social, political, legal, and governance contexts via a qualitative approach is underdeveloped. Law and governance are context-specific and most of the time cannot be measured with numbers, and they are extremely important for the understanding of the appropriateness of adaptation measures. The idea of integration is not entirely new, as we are continuously developing ideas within our hub. This paper offers an explanatory basis for our collective work at the WCFD hub. – Haomiao Du and Annisa Triyanti

Four aspects to enrich the concept of solution space from the legal and governance perspectives
The researchers discovered four aspects to enrich the discussion on possible climate adaptation options.

First is to understand legal and governance systems in different context based on the location and social, economic and political characteristics- how to apply appropriate institutional tools to deal with the irreversible consequences of ‘one-shot operations’ in diverse legal and institutional contexts and how to involve legal and governing actors in the early stage of defining a problem.

Second, more attention should be given to the ever changing nature of legal and governing systems. The system is path dependent, meaning that they are inter-connected and influence each other. The system can be both influenced by stakeholders’ views and new knowledge about biophysical systems. It makes legal and governance processes inherently different from biophysical systems.

Third, the researchers argue that to come up with effective and feasible climate adaptation measures, inter-and transdisciplinary collaboration is needed. To realize this, it is important for researchers to be equipped with a diverse set of interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary methodologies, including longitudinal research, co-production of knowledge with stakeholders on the ground, and reflecting on their lived experiences.

Finally, researchers and decision-makers should consider the full range of relevant good governance principles. This includes the principles of legitimacy, transparency, accountability, equity, and distributive justice to ensure that certain (or combination of) climate adaptation measures would work, especially for the communities who are most affected by and vulnerable to climate change.

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