How can behaviour change support climate adaptation?

Background & scope

How can behaviour change support climate adaptation?

To protect Australian communities in the face of climate change, we need to build adaptive capacity: the ability to respond successfully to climate variability and change, which includes adjustments in behaviour and in resources and technologies.

What's the problem?

Climate change poses an increasing threat that impacts the lives of all Australians. Current research emphasises that Australia is amongst the most exposed countries to climate change impacts, with a range of climate change changes already observed in the last 20 years. These impacts disproportionately threaten the lives and livelihoods of our most vulnerable and disadvantaged communities. If globally agreed emission reduction targets are not achieved, increasingly catastrophic and even existential threats can be expected, making adaptation increasingly difficult, or impossible. 

To protect valued aspects of life, we need to prevent harm through building adaptive capacity:

Adaptive capacity is "the ability or potential of a system to respond successfully to climate variability and change, which includes adjustments in both behaviour and in resources and technologies" 

Changing human behaviour and decision making is a key element of adaptive capacity, but it's not all of the solution, and our work links behaviour change to other perspectives and interventions.

What do we mean by climate adaptation?

Climate adaptation ensures the flourishing of humanity despite climate change and variability through adjustments to systems of behaviours, resources, and technology.

Climate change stressors (e.g. heat waves, floods) and impacts (e.g. loss of habitat, human ill-health) are affecting Australia right now and will get worse.

Much attention is currently given to reducing individual harm during emergencies (e.g. evacuation from bushfires). Thus, BWA and its partners identified an area of need to build adaptive capacity for cumulative and slower impacts from chronic climate change stressors.

Changing behaviours for individuals and groups is our core contribution, but how behaviours co-evolve with policy, and social, economic, and biophysical systems are in scope.

Goal of the climate adaptation mission

The goal of the BehaviourWorks Australia Climate Adaptation Mission is:

Increase the adaptive capacity of communities most at risk of climate change impacts by 2030

By adaptive capacity we mean "changes in behaviour, technology, and resources needed to thrive in the face of climate change and variability".

This goal was identified through scoping work conducted for the Mission in 2021 and endorsed by all partners of the Mission.

How does the Mission work?

Mission-oriented research and innovation is "big science deployed to meet big problems" (Mazzucato, 2018).

The framework for a Mission involves four elements, including:

  • A grand challenge, such as Climate Action (UN Sustainable Development Goal #13). 
  • A ambitious and achievable mission goal is derived from that challenge. These two elements are "top down", set by funders, commissioners, or governance structures such as our Board.
  • Sectors and areas of interest are identified through scoping work for the Mission and others emerge through prioritisation, design, and testing phases.
  • Behavioural research and innovation projects are the core activities and outputs that the Mission produces, and are created through collaboration between the partners and others with expertise and experience in climate change adaptation over the course of the Mission. Concretely, this includes behaviour change interventions that are designed and tested to help address the Mission goal.
The framework for the Climate Adaptation Mission

Interested in getting involved?

Whether you're an academic with research that aligns with our Missions, a leader looking to spearhead a transformative initiative, or someone with unique insights and experiences in the field of climate change adaptation, your contributions could play a critical role in addressing one of the biggest challenges our world is facing today.

Your expertise and perspective could be crucial to building needed adaptive capacity in Australia. If you're ready to lead, participate, or contribute to our future work, we invite you to contact us:

Contact us to get involved

Project team

Dr Alexander Saeri, Mission Co-lead

Alexander works to increase the reach and impact of behavioural science for the world's most pressing problems. He hopes the Mission will demonstrate a workable model for effectively reducing suffering from the unavoidable impacts of climate change, including catastrophic or existential risks.

Dr Stefan Kaufman, Mission Co-lead

Stefan applies a behavioural lens to the theory and practice of intentionally steering the co-evolution of people and environments towards better futures. He hopes the Mission helps communities protect and enhance what they value under conditions of climate variability and change.

Dr Kien Nguyen-Trung, Climate adaptation expert

Kien brings his expertise in climate adaptation, community development, and knowledge co-production to design and conduct research activities that meaningfully involve the people, organisations and communities that most need to build adaptive capacity and address impacts of climate change. He hopes that the Mission can demonstrate best practices in knowledge co-production for complex societal challenges.

Emily Grundy, Prioritisation lead

Emily has expertise in prioritisation methodology. She is excited to apply her knowledge to determine the pressing challenges that communities face in climate change adaptation.

Dr Celine Klemm, Team member

Celine has expertise in evidence synthesis, climate change and risk communication and behaviour science methods. She hopes to use her skills to help develop evidence-based solutions that can help communities, especially those most vulnerable, to adapt to our changing climate and protect our natural environment.