Which climate adaptation challenges are most pressing?

Challenge Prioritisation

Which climate adaptation challenges are most pressing?

We prioritised the many challenges for climate adaptation in Australia using an evidence-informed participatory process.

The need for prioritisation

Prioritisation is a necessary step when applying a behavioural approach to climate adaptation. The diverse challenges within climate adaptation have different impacts on lives and livelihoods, or differ in the feasibility of addressing them. The scope of the Mission also means that we have limited time and resources, so we need to choose challenges that fit with the Mission goal.

Effective prioritisation is a vital tool when working with complex or complicated problems. We use an evidence-informed approach to prioritisation for everything between selecting behaviours to target with a behaviour change intervention to where research funding can best be directed.

Prioritisation process

Our goal with the prioritisation process was to agree on 4-6 adaptation challenges we can take forward to the behaviour change intervention co-design phase.

We did this by creating a long list of possible challenges from diverse sources, identifying and then choosing prioritisation criteria relevant to the Mission goals, and then applying these criteria to the long list in order to generate a short list of priority challenges to address in the next phases of the Mission.

1) Creating a long list

In mid 2021, we conducted a survey of 37 stakeholders with experience or expertise in climate change adaptation, and a desktop review of 13 existing climate adaptation plans, strategies, and reports. These two sources identified over 750 challenges framed by the question:

WHO is experiencing WHAT challenge as a consequence of climate change?

Because of the diversity of the challenges, we constructed a coding framework to help classify the WHO (groups experiencing the challenge) and the WHAT (the challenge itself) so that they could be understood by people with expertise or experience in climate change adaptation.

This led to a long list of 34 climate adaptation challenges.

If you'd like to use the coding framework in your own work, please reach out to the Mission team (stefan.kaufman@monash.edu). 

2) Criteria for prioritisation

In mid-late 2021, we derived several criteria for choosing between the long list of climate adaptation challenges. Following feedback from people with expertise and experience in climate adaptation, expert input from our partners, and consideration of the mission goals, we resolved on five criteria for prioritising challenges:

  1. Collective benefit: Solving this problem for this group will "pay dividends" because it will help other groups solve other problems and it does not shove the problem into another group's lap.
  2. Chronic impacts: The group is experiencing a recurring, persistent and long- term problem that "adds up" over time.
  3. Scale of opportunity: The problem means that the group will "miss out" on a lot of future value and wellbeing, or will cause the group a lot of suffering and harm if not addressed.
  4. Transformational adaptation potential: The problem that the group is experiencing needs transformational adaptation, where the fundamental attributes, values or goals of the impacted system must change for the group to thrive in the face of climate change and variability.
  5. Incremental adaptation potential: The problem that the group is experiencing needs incremental adaptation, where an otherwise valued and functional impacted system needs "tuning up" to keep it working well for the group in the face of climate change and variability.

3) Creating a short list

In late 2021, we convened a prioritisation summit to determine which 4-6 climate change challenges should be part of the short list. We recruited people with expertise or experience in climate adaptation to prioritise and discuss a list of climate change challenges. 

Prioritisation outputs

The eight challenges in the table below received the highest overall score across the five prioritisation criteria by attendees at the Prioritisation Summit.

* NRM stands for Natural Resource Management, which is the management (such as through conservation, forestry, agriculture, mining, fishing, tourism) of the natural resources that make up natural systems, such as land, water, soil, plants and animals.

Because of the overlapping and interdependent nature of climate adaptation challenges, for brevity and ease of communication we have also framed the priority challenges as follows:

  • Challenges experienced by communities dependent on natural resource management and natural capital, such as changed economic activity or foundation; environmental degradation; and water and food insecurity
  • Challenges experienced by Traditional Owners, such as environmental degradation and loss of culturally important values, sites, or species
  • Injury, illness and death experienced by people with limited finances or assets; and people with increased personal sensitivity

Interested in getting involved?

Building adaptive capacity to respond to climate change means participating in the uneasy and sometimes fraught conversation between grappling with overwhelming complexity and attaching the necessary blinders to take concrete action.

If you're dealing with a climate adaptation challenge that requires prioritisation and decision-making, then our evidence-informed approach can help. If you want to apply our participatory, evidence-informed prioritisation process to climate adaptation or other environmental challenges you're facing, we can guide you through it.