BORIS Theses

BORIS Theses
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Adaptation to climate change in practice: Overcoming the adaptation implementation gap in Switzerland

Braunschweiger, Dominik (2022). Adaptation to climate change in practice: Overcoming the adaptation implementation gap in Switzerland. (Thesis). Universität Bern, Bern

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Climate change is one of the gravest problems society faces today and addressing it has proven to be challenging. After decades of national and international climate change mitigation policies that failed to produce consistently successful outcomes, climate change impacts now pose serious risks to human and environmental systems around the world. Although climate change mitigation efforts are ongoing, even the most optimistic scenarios project that climate change impacts and the risks associated with them will worsen in the decades to come. This situation is further aggravated by the delayed impact of successful climate change mitigation measures. More specifically, the impact of current mitigation efforts will not be realised for decades, so climate change developments over the next 20 to 30 years will primarily be determined by the lacklustre mitigation efforts of the recent past. Over the past 25 years, climate change adaptation has become an important secondary facet of climate policy for managing and minimising the damage caused by the now unavoidable impacts of climate change. Climate change adaptation efforts aim to reduce vulnerability to climate change impacts, manage the risks posed by climate change impacts and enable people to take advantage of opportunities provided by climate change. The importance of climate change adaptation is reflected in important international treaties on climate change, such as the Paris Agreement, which obligates signees to formulate and implement adaptation strategies. However, recent scientific assessments have identified a significant gap between the degree of adaptation needed to cope with current and projected climate change impacts and the adaptation measures that have been realised so far. While this gap between the degree of adaptation needed and the degree in place is most notable in developing countries, it persists even in some of the wealthiest countries of the world. The adaptation gap in developed countries seems primarily rooted in a deficit in climate change adaptation policies and measures implemented. To fulfil the adaptation mandate accepted by signing the Paris Agreement, most Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) member states have formulated national adaptation strategies. These strategies commonly aim to reach adaptation goals by integrating them into various sectoral policies, assigning ownership of adaptation to the agencies responsible for the policy sectors that are most affected by climate change impacts. However, while adaptation goals have been integrated into various sectoral policies in this way, this integration has barely led to a correspondent shift in the working processes of the relevant sectoral agencies and not enough concrete adaptation measures have been realised. This dissertation is intended to contribute to the search for solutions to this adaptation implementation gap. To that end, the dissertation presents an analysis of the current practice of climate change adaptation in Switzerland. The Alpine space is highly affected by climate change, with average temperature increases almost twice as high as they are globally and many aggravating natural hazards as climate change impacts lead to more frequent and more intense extreme weather events and melt permafrost and glaciers. Switzerland as a very wealthy country with a long democratic tradition and ample access to well-educated professionals and innovative technology should be well-equipped to handle this challenge. Nevertheless, the signs pointing to an adaptation implementation gap in Switzerland are clear. No explicit legal mandate for climate change adaptation exists and the topic has barely entered local policy agendas, leaving adaptation measures rare and sporadic. Based on an analytic framework that combines multi-level governance understanding of policy implementation with mainstreaming climate change adaptation, this dissertation investigates the processes by which climate change adaptation policies and measures are being implemented in Switzerland, identifying the actors that play key roles in these processes, the most important barriers and success factors relative to these processes and factors that may explain the participation of some scattered municipalities in adaptation measures. Based on these findings, I identified the most significant reasons for the Swiss adaptation implementation gap and provide recommendations on how to overcome or at least lessen that gap. My findings show that, in the absence of the hard political power provided by clear legal mandates or responsibility for shared budgets, the coordinating environmental agencies at both the federal and cantonal level have relied on cooperative strategies to mainstream climate change adaptation into multiple sectors. This approach has enabled these agencies to implement win-win measures by piggybacking adaptation objectives onto ongoing processes with coherent goals and has also enabled them to garner funding for pilot projects that can serve as good practice examples going forward. However, due to a lack of sustained political commitment to promote and finance climate change adaptation, adaptation objectives are only integrated into institutionalised procedures where they align with existing sectoral goals. Conflicts of interest between existing sectoral goals and adaptation goals are either not addressed or are not resolved in favour of climate change adaptation. Additionally, the focus on promoting the horizontal mainstreaming of adaptation prevalent at the federal and cantonal level has resulted in a lack of top-down pressure to engage in adaptation, leaving local adaptation largely dependent upon local motivation and initiative and sporadic pilot projects. Indeed, my findings show that local climate change adaptation engagement primarily depends on perceived personal exposure. As such, I propose three primary approaches that can be employed concurrently to close the adaptation implementation gap in Switzerland: (1) formulate a clear regulatory mandate at the cantonal or federal level directing municipalities to take adaptation measures, (2) dedicate cantonal or federal level adaptation funding for interested municipalities and (3) conduct awareness raising measures on current climate change impacts and risks to increase perceived exposure among the Swiss populace.

Item Type: Thesis
Dissertation Type: Cumulative
Date of Defense: 15 December 2022
Subjects: 300 Social sciences, sociology & anthropology > 320 Political science
Institute / Center: 03 Faculty of Business, Economics and Social Sciences > Social Sciences > Institute of Political Science
Depositing User: Hammer Igor
Date Deposited: 12 Dec 2023 13:47
Last Modified: 15 Dec 2023 23:25

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