This section presents and discusses the results of this study, structured according to the three phases of the research outlined above. First, we introduce the results of the SNM, describing the structure of the integrated network, the role and relevance of actors, and the most important links between them. Second, we present and discuss the insights gained from the analysis and discussion with stakeholders of the SNM results to identify a set of potential barriers to climate change adaptation. Finally, we evaluate the effect that these barriers may have upon the implementation of selected adaptation measures, and we elaborate on their implications for climate change adaptation within the irrigation sector of the Middle Guadiana basin.
Analysis of social networks
Figure 3 depicts the aggregated SNM, in which circles represent the different actors of the Middle Guadiana, and arrows depict the relationships among them in terms of flows of financing (blue), information (yellow) and implementation capacity (red). Bold arrows symbolise formal and strong flows, which represent relations based on official governmental initiatives, which are perceived as strong and stable along time. Dashed arrows represent informal flows or flows perceived as ‘weak’ or unstable, in which the initiative and role of the government and formal institutions is less prominent or is dependent on governmental initiatives perceived as less stable and weak. The colour and size of the circles demonstrate the number of ties for each actor, suggesting the most influential within the system. Larger and darker circles represent actors of greater influence.
Looking at the network cohesion, the structure of the network shows different subgroups easily identifiable. Firstly, there is a notable vertical axis, which is central to the network and corresponds to the different governmental levels, including the European Union (EU), the Ministry of Agriculture and Environment (national level), the River Basin Authority (RBA) (sub-national, basin revel), the Regional Department of Agriculture and Environment (sub-national, regional level) and the local authorities (municipalities). The scientific community and the environmental groups are on the right side of the network, connected to the administration and also to each other. The different users, on the left side of the network, are not tied to each other. The network shows domestic and industrial users as peripheral actors, linked to the administration at different levels. Finally, irrigation farmers form a subgroup with the irrigation communities and producer organisations, with links between themselves, with the governmental bodies at different levels and with the EU. The fact that industrial and domestic users are marginal actors is consistent with the fact that, in terms of water consumption, agriculture is the key actor. With 90% of total water withdrawals, the need for adaptation to future water scarcity is critical for the agricultural sector.
The network demonstrates the clear centrality of governmental bodies, within which the Regional Department of Agriculture and Environment and the Ministry of Agriculture and Environment are the most influential actors according to the high number of links with other actors. With slightly less relevance, the River Basin Authority (RBA) plays also an important role. The governmental administrations at different levels are the key actors transferring information, financing and capacity to water users. They act as a bridge between water users, the scientific community and environmental groups. These last two groups are important sources of information, but have little interaction with water users. The most relevant actors among the water users are farmers, which are primary receivers of flows of financing, information and capacity from different governmental bodies. Also, they receive information and capacities from the irrigation communities and agricultural producer organisations. The irrigation communities, which integrate farmers from the same irrigation district, are linked with administrative bodies at higher levels including both the Ministry of Agriculture and Environment and the EU which provide information, funding and different capacities. Irrigation communities also act as bridges between farmers and governments, providing support and offering a voice to small farmers whose views would otherwise rarely be considered in management and policy-making processes.
Looking at specific flows, financing flows considered here are those that fund any specific action that may facilitate adaptation, including funds from agricultural and water policies. Formal flows of financing correspond to stable funds from the budgets of certain policies specifically devoted to climate change adaptation (e.g. funds from rural development programmes) as well as other non-climate-specific funds such as those devoted to water supply system maintenance and fees paid by farmers to the irrigation communities for common investments, etc. Informal financing flows are those not stable in the medium- to long-term and are perceived as less reliable (the amounts fluctuate and can be removed under economic stress or as policy priorities change). The map shows numerous informal financing flows coming from the EU and the national and regional administrations directed towards agricultural water users (farmers and irrigation communities).
Information flows include knowledge and information that may support adaptation, mainly related to climate change impacts, available adaptation options, technical and agronomic recommendations, etc. Most of the formal information flows correspond to those that exist between the administrations and the water users. At the same time, there are a considerable number of informal/weak information flows, especially those linking scientists and environmental groups with other actors.
Implementation capacity flows refer to different actions, policies and institutional rules that provide all actors with capacity to adapt. In the Middle Guadiana network, formal capacity flows emanate firstly from the EU and are subsequently directed towards the National government, the RBA and the Regional government, and finally to users. The National Government provides capacity to all other governmental bodies, mostly through the adoption of plans and strategies and other institutional arrangements. The RBA and the Regional Government, through the elaboration of water management and adaptation plans, also provide farmers and other water users with the capacity to adapt, as these plans determine the rules for water use and create incentives for actions on adaptation.
Elicitation of barriers to adaptation
Based on the results of the SNM shown in the previous section, we analyse and discuss the network characteristics and their links to potential climate change adaption barriers in the Middle Guadiana. The properties of the network can have according to stakeholders and the literature (Berkes 2009; Bodin and Crona 2009; Stein et al. 2011; Bharwani et al. 2013; Lienert et al. 2013) relevant implications for elements such as policy coordination and consistency, level of knowledge and awareness, and policy acceptance (among others). These elements, identified by several authors (e.g. Moser and Ekstrom 2010; Measham et al. 2011) as potentially creating adaptation barriers, are discussed in the following sections.
Policy coordination, consistency and control
Among the most evident elements of the network is the centrality of the governmental bodies at different levels, and especially the Regional Department for Agriculture and Environment as the responsible body for adaptation policy. The network shows multiple formal links between the different administrations, indicating a well-established hierarchy. There is a clear top-down structure, but the relevance of lower administrative levels, such as the Regional Department of Agriculture and Environment, shows a level of decentralisation that may offer increased flexibility and response capacity resulting in improved implementation of adaptation processes (Pahl-Wostl and Knieper 2014).
However, this structure may entail as well coordination issues. The consulted stakeholders highlighted, in line with literature (Ivey et al. 2004; Engle 2011), how coordination and integration at different organisational and institutional levels are crucial to build adaptive capacity. For example, the network shows the RBA is a central actor with respect to information and implementation capacity, but not in terms of financing. This suggests the need for good coordination between the RBA and the Regional Government, so that the RBA’s capacity is effectively translated into actions that require public financing and the Regional Government’s actions are in line with the RBA’s water management priorities. A consistent policy framework and effective coordination between different administrative levels are crucial elements without which adaptation processes may be hindered (Moser and Ekstrom 2010; Measham et al. 2011; Mukheibir et al. 2013). Also, multi-level coordination is reported among the most relevant challenges for integrated water management (UNEP 2012).
Additional coordination issues where suggested by stakeholders that explained that regional policy on agriculture, environment and climate change are competence of the Regional Department of Agriculture and Environment but under different agencies. Participants explained that the development of adaptation plans for water and agriculture, undertaken by the Environment Agency, was not fully coordinated with the Agricultural Agency which can result in an inadequate planning and implementation, and lack of control of compliance with policy measures.
Knowledge, awareness, common understanding and stakeholder acceptance
A second important aspect emphasised by the participants is the lack of links between water users and the environmental groups and scientific community, which are both perceived as relevant information providers. This may indicate low levels of climate change awareness. According to stakeholders, development of further connections between water users and environmental groups may be prevented by their apparent antagonistic goals, which, together with the low awareness, may hinder the development of a common understanding among the different actors, reducing the likelihood of joint actions in the basin (Adger et al. 2009; Bodin and Crona 2009; Moser and Ekstrom 2010). In line with other studies (Albizua and Zografos 2014), experts and stakeholders interviewed stressed that scientists apparently do not have conflicting objectives with other actors in the system and could contribute to improved knowledge transfer, common understanding and raising awareness among users. However, the limited links between the scientific community and water users in the current system may minimise the impact of science on the whole system. In line with this, the EU Commission Report on the status of implementation of the WFD (EC 2012) highlights the need for improved communication from the scientific community to promote effective policy development and to increase legitimacy and stakeholder acceptance.
Instead, current information streams in the network are highly dependent on the different governmental bodies, which act, as mentioned above, as bridges between actors in the network. In this sense, stakeholders highlighted the importance of public participation in water management policy-making as a tool for both strengthening and formalising information flows. However, despite many policy-making processes demanding stakeholder involvement and public participation, some participants argued that such information and consultations do not always reach stakeholders effectively. At the same time, there are some informal flows of information, especially those linking scientists and environmental groups, with other actors. In this respect, consideration should be made of the discussion of Pelling et al. (2008) who argued that these informal interactions, or shadow systems, could be important contributors to social learning and enhance adaptive capacity. However, according to stakeholder opinions, many of these informal flows may be weak or ineffective due to low stability or continuity.
Financial and technological resources, and additional considerations
The Middle Guadiana SNM shows that there are a considerable number of financial flows reaching agricultural water users. However, farmers interviewed argued that the lack of financial resources may limit the access to new technologies in the farms, being both the access to financing and to technology adaptation barriers frequently mentioned in the literature (Moser and Ekstrom 2010). Also, some of the experts interviewed stressed that a high dependency on financial support from the administration may make farmers less proactive and may reduce their incentives to adapt, therefore making them more vulnerable. This may suggest an additional constraint to adaptation, if financial flows are discontinued due to economic recession or if there are changes to the policies that provide such funds.
Finally, stakeholders mentioned the difficulties in the identification of appropriate thresholds as a barrier for the implementation of certain measures. The already-explained effect of limited connections between the scientific community and water users on knowledge transfer and common understanding may in turn trigger difficulties in the identification of appropriate thresholds for the implementation of certain measures. Specifically, farmers explained that some policy measures, such as the use of water tariffs for cost recovery and the maintenance of environmental flows in rivers, are difficult to apply. Identifying the appropriate price of water or the appropriate minimum river flow (thresholds) requires not only very specific knowledge but also a common understanding of the costs of water that should be recovered, and the minimum standards for aquatic ecosystems that should be maintained.
Summary of barriers
To summarise, analysis of the network permitted the identification of a set of potential barriers that may affect implementation of selected adaptation measures within the basin. They are summarised as follows:
Lack of coordination
Lack of appropriate policy framework or conflicting policy framework
Lack of appropriate control of policy implementation
Lack of sufficient knowledge
Lack of a common understanding
Lack of acceptance
Lack of financial resources
Lack of access to appropriate technology
Difficulty for threshold identification
Analysis of the impact of barriers on climate change adaptation measures
This section elaborates the impact of the identified barriers on the implementation of specific adaptation measures, based on stakeholder rating of the barriers’ strength across measures. Then, based on the analysis above, we reflect on potential avenues to support the implementation of these measures through a more enabling socio-institutional context.
The adaptation measures considered, intended to reduce the vulnerability of irrigation farmers and of aquatic ecosystems, were selected from the basin’s climate adaptation policy (Regional Climate Change Adaptation Plan for Water Resources) and have been underlined by different authors (Esteve et al. 2015; Varela-Ortega et al. 2016) as promising options for adaptation in the basin. They include (i) water pricing for cost recovery, as a measure that incentivises water use efficiency; (ii) limiting irrigated water consumption, through exhaustive controls of compliance with water allotments and eventual reductions; (iii) modernisation of water conveyance and irrigation systems (substitution of traditional gravity-based irrigation methods by pressurised systems, especially drip irrigation); (iv) establishment of environmental flows to protect aquatic ecosystems; and (v) adaptation of cropping patterns towards better adapted crops or varieties.
Figure 4, divided in six panels, summarises the results. Panel “a” shows the ranking of barriers to adaptation according to their average impact on the implementation of adaptation measures (average value across measures). The impact of each barrier is expressed from 0 to 5, representing the range between the lowest and the highest impact that each barrier could have on the implementation of each selected adaptation measure. The remaining panels (b to f) show the rating of the barriers for each measure considering the opinions of all stakeholder groups involved in this research. Results of the rating of barriers for each measure and by stakeholder group are shown in Online Resource 2.
The results demonstrate that stakeholders’ lack of acceptance for certain measures and the lack of a common understanding among the actors of the basin are perceived as the strongest barriers to implementation of climate change adaptation measures in the Middle Guadiana (both above 3). The low awareness of stakeholders about climate change adaptation needs emerges also as a moderate-to-strong barrier (2.75). In the moderate range (between 2.5 and 1.5), we find lack of financial resources, lack of institutional coordination, lack of an adequate regulatory framework, difficulty for establishing appropriate thresholds for the different measures and lack of control of policy implementation. All of these moderate and strong barriers were similarly considered as barriers to adaptation in the Middle Guadiana by Krysanova et al. (2010), except for the difficulty for threshold identification. The fact that lack of coordination is ranked in the fifth position as a moderate barrier may be surprising, considering the prominence of this issue in the water governance field (Krysanova et al. 2010; UNEP 2012), and for stakeholders during interviews. This may be explained by the fact that stakeholders were asked to evaluate the impact of each barrier on the implementation of specific measures. However, the coordination between administrations may more specifically contribute to the creation of an enabling environment for the implementation of adaptation processes, rather than it being an element directly necessary for the implementation of the adaptation measures considered.
Finally, stakeholders and experts perceived the lack of both adequate technologies and knowledge for implementing adaptation measures in the Middle Guadiana as not very relevant, with these elements found at the bottom of the rank (below 1.5).
Looking at the impact of the barriers on specific adaptation measures, Fig. 4 shows that the relevance of the barriers varies widely depending on the adaptation measure considered (see Fig. 4b–f). According to stakeholders and experts, the measures that on average may face the greatest obstacles in their implementation are the use of water pricing for cost recovery (b), maintaining environmental flows (e) and limiting irrigated water consumption (c). The most relevant barriers for the implementation of those measures are a lack of a common understanding, low awareness and lack of acceptance by the affected stakeholders. Lack of control from the authorities is particularly relevant for limiting irrigated water consumption (c) and also for water pricing (b) as it relies on the measurement of water use. The fact that these measures face the strongest barriers may constitute an important concern for water managers, as these are measures consistently promoted by water management regulations. Previous studies (Esteve et al. 2015; Varela-Ortega et al. 2016) emphasised the potential of these instruments in reducing the gap between water supply and demand under climate change, through the promotion of more efficient management of water by farmers. However, the present research highlights potential opposition from stakeholders, in line with other studies (e.g. Albiac et al. 2008; Blanco-Gutiérrez et al. 2011) and emphasises the relevance of actors’ cooperation, acceptance and policy control for the success of these measures. Moreover, according to the analysis in the previous section, promoting and enhancing relations between water users, the scientific community and environmental groups could contribute to partially overcome the obstacles in the implementation of such measures. Scientists can provide knowledge and information that improve awareness, and given their perceived neutrality they can contribute to create a shared understanding that facilitates the implementation of the mentioned adaptation measures.
Adaptation of cropping patterns (Fig. 4f) and modernisation of water conveyance and irrigation systems (Fig. 4d) would not however be so severely affected by the barriers considered as the previous three. This is consistent with the results of Varela-Ortega et al. (2016), which highlighted these two measures as highly adequate options that besides reducing the vulnerability of farmers and ecosystems show a high financial and political feasibility. Iglesias and Garrote (2015) showed that changing crops and cropping patterns would present a good benefit-to-effort ratio as an adaptation practice for agricultural water management in Europe. Our results suggest that changing cropping patterns would be an easily implementable adaptation measure. This measure could suffer from farmers’ lack of awareness about adaptation needs, suggesting that more information and knowledge obtained through interactions with administrations at different levels and from scientists coupled with appropriate incentives could be needed. However, it should also be noted that according to stakeholders, in some areas, there are few alternative options available due to soil quality constraints (e.g. land devoted to rice cultivation).
The case of irrigation modernisation may have particular implications. It has been argued that modernisation could result in unwanted increase of water consumption or energy use (López-Gunn et al. 2012). However, several authors (Scott et al. 2014; Berbel et al. 2017) explain that some of these unintended consequences could be avoided by controlling and limiting water use and establishing adequate water pricing. At the same time, Berbel et al. (2007) and Esteve et al. (2015) explain that irrigation modernisation can cushion the negative economic impacts of water pricing and of reduced water allotments through increased water-saving potential, which evidences clear synergies of the joint implementation of these measures. According to our analysis, these synergies are further aided by the fact that irrigation modernisation does not face significant barriers and by reducing the negative impact of measures that constrain the use of water, it could contribute to farmers’ acceptance, reducing the obstacles for implementation of such economically unfavourable measures. However, the lack of financial resources could be an obstacle in making the necessary investments for modernisation (Fig. 4d).