Towards fair local outcomes in adaptation to sea-level rise

Abstract

Arguments that fairness should be a guiding principle of climate change adaptation have been primarily concerned with distributive and procedural aspects of fairness, with far less attention paid to the temporal, spatial and interactional dimensions of fairness. This paper presents the results of a study that sought to understand the multiple dimensions of fairness of adaptation strategies that exist or can be developed to deal with sea-level rise. The study focused on five small communities along the south-east coast of Australia—Lakes Entrance, Seaspray, Port Albert, McLoughlins Beach and Manns Beach. Interviews were conducted with residents of the local communities to examine perceptions of current adaptation policies and their social impacts. A questionnaire was used to develop a nuanced understanding of the types of people living in these communities and their everyday lives, practices, and relationships. This enabled us to identify a range of non-material social impacts that may occur as a result of sea-level rise. Finally, focus groups were used to obtain community perspectives on the fairness of a range of potential future adaptation strategies. Together, these methods revealed that adaptation to sea-level rise is likely to affect some groups in the community significantly more than others, and in ways that will fundamentally change the nature of living in these communities. Understanding nuances in the social values of communities reveals how policies can be adapted to provide fairer outcomes for all community members through processes that create the time and space required to establish long-term working relationships between communities and government.

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Fig. 1

Notes

  1. 1.

    We follow (Grasso 2007) definitions of fairness and justice. Justice principles are those that exist independently of any process of judgment. Fairness relates to individual’s perceptions arising from a judgment process. We are primarily concerned with residents’ perceptions and thus preferentially use the term ‘fairness’.

  2. 2.

    Mail surveys were deemed to be more appropriate in the smaller communities given the large number of second home owners who irregularly live in these communities, and the difficulty of obtaining publically available phone numbers for the households in these locations.

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Acknowledgments

This project has been funded by a Linkage Grant (LP100100586 ) from the Australian Research Council. Our research partners on the linkage grant are the East Gippsland Shire Council, Wellington Shire Council, the Gippsland Coastal Board, the Department of Sustainability and Environment and the Department of Planning and Community Development.We would like to acknowledge the support provided by these agencies. We would also like to thank all the people who participated in our research.

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Correspondence to Sonia Graham.

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This article is part of a special issue on “Multidisciplinary perspectives on climate ethics” with guest editors Marco Grasso and Ezra M. Markowitz.

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Graham, S., Barnett, J., Fincher, R. et al. Towards fair local outcomes in adaptation to sea-level rise. Climatic Change 130, 411–424 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10584-014-1171-7

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Keywords

  • Focus Group Participant
  • Adaptation Option
  • Environmental Justice
  • Climate Adaptation
  • Procedural Fairness