Evolving local climate adaptation strategies: incorporating influences of socio–economic stress

  • Mattias Hjerpe
  • Erik Glaas
Original Article


Socio-economic and climatic stresses affect local communities’ vulnerability to flooding. Better incorporation of socio-economic stress in local vulnerability assessments is important when planning for climate adaptation. This is rarely done due to insufficient understanding of their interaction, in both theory and practice. The omission leads to critical weaknesses in local adaptation strategies. This study analyses how socio-economic stress interact with climatic stress and shape local vulnerability to flooding, and how such stress can be more efficiently managed within local government organisations. A framework containing potential stresses was developed and applied to investigate how socio-economic stress affected exposure, sensitivity, and adaptive capacity in two case studies, using interview and group exercise transcripts. Cases consisted of major development projects in two Swedish municipalities, Gothenburg and Lilla Edet. The cases were similarly exposed to climatic stress but differed in socio-economic context, and previous professional climate change experience. Fierce foreign competition and market structure were seen as the two most significant socio-economic stresses influencing local vulnerability to flooding through shaping the ‘local’ worldview. In falling order sensitivity, exposure, and adaptive capacity were seen to be influenced by the socio-economic stresses. Two approaches to efficiently incorporate climatic and socio-economic stress in local management are proposed: shifting the focus of vulnerability assessments towards future sensitivity of people and settlements, rather than on the current infrastructure’s sensitivity, would facilitate their use in planning and by ‘mainstreaming’ adaptation into long-term strategic planning vulnerability would be more dynamically addressed and periodically revised.


Adaptation strategies Climate vulnerability Flooding Local government Multiple stresses Socio-economic stress 



This study was funded by the Swedish Research Council for Environment, Agricultural Sciences and Spatial Planning (Formas), Grant 250-2006-2234, ‘Enhancing municipalities’ capacity to manage climate change’ and the project ‘Baltic Challenges and Chances for local and regional development generated by Climate Change - BalticClimate’ funded by the European Regional Development Fund of the Baltic Sea Region Programme. We are also grateful to K. André for carrying out the pilot interviews, to A. Jonsson, Y. Andersson-Sköld, and L. Simonsson for participating in the project, and to the two anonymous reviewers and S. Storbjörk for their valuable comments and Proper English for their careful editing and linguistic help.


  1. Adger N (2006) Vulnerability. Glob Environ Chang 16:268–281CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Adger N, Vincent K (2005) Uncertainty in adaptive capacity. Comptes Rendus Geosci 337:399–410CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Adger N, Arnell N, Tompkins E (2005) Successful adaptation to climate change across scales. Glob Environ Chang 15:77–86CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Adger N, Agrawala S, Mirza M et al (2007) Assessment of adaptation practices, options, constraints and capacity. In: Parry M, Canziani O, Palutikof J et al (eds) Climate change 2007: impacts, adaptation and vulnerability, contribution of WG II to the fourth assessment report of the intergovernmental panel on climate change. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp 717–743Google Scholar
  5. Ahmad I (2009) Climate policy integration: towards operationalization, DESA working paper No. 73. United Nations, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  6. Andersson-Sköld Y, Fallsvik J, Hultén C et al (2008) Climate change in Sweden – geotechnical and contaminated land consequences. In: De Santis A et al (eds) Conference proceedings, WSEAS international conference on environmental and geological science, 11–13 September 2008. WSEAS Press, Malta, pp 52–57Google Scholar
  7. Belliveau S, Smit B, Bradshaw B (2006) Multiple exposures and dynamic vulnerability: evidence from the grape industry in the Okanagan Valley, Canada. Glob Environ Chang 16:364–378CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Biesbroek R, Swart R, Carter T et al (2010) Europe adapts to climate change: comparing national adaptation strategies. Glob Environ Chang 20:440–450CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Bouwer L, Bubeck P, Aerts J (2010) Changes in future flood risk due to climate and development in a Dutch polder area. Glob Environ Chang 20:463–471CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Eakin H (2005) Institutional change, climate risk, and rural vulnerability: cases from Central Mexico. World Dev 33:1923–1938CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Eakin H, Winkels A, Sendzimir J (2009) Nested vulnerability: exploring cross–scale linkages and vulnerability teleconnections in Mexican and Vietnamese coffee systems. Environ Sci Policy 12:398–412CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Füssel H-M, Klein R (2006) Climate change vulnerability assessments: an evolution of conceptual thinking. Clim Chang 75:301–329CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Gallopin G (2006) Linkages between vulnerability, resilience, and adaptive capacity. Glob Environ Chang 16:293–303CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Glaas E, Jonsson A, Hjerpe M et al (2010) Managing climate change vulnerabilities: formal institutions and knowledge use as determinants of adaptive capacity at the local level in Sweden. Local Environ 15:525–539CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Gothenburg municipality (2006) Extreme weather events – how robust is Gothenburg. Göteborg stadskansli, GothenburgGoogle Scholar
  16. Gothenburg municipality (2009) Extreme weather events phase 2. Göteborg stadskansli, GothenburgGoogle Scholar
  17. Holmberg S, Weibull L (eds) (2007) Svenska trender 1986–2006. Gothenburg University, SOM InstituteGoogle Scholar
  18. Huq S, Reid H (2004) Mainstreaming adaptation in development. IDS Bull 35:15–21CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Johansson A, Svedung I, Andersson R (2006) Management of risks in societal planning–an analysis of scope and variety of health, safety and security issues in municipality plan documents. Saf Sci 44:657–688CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Keskitalo C (2008a) Vulnerability and adaptive capacity in forestry in northern Europe: the case of Sweden. Clim Chang 87:219–234CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Keskitalo C (2008b) Climate change and globalization in the arctic: an integrated approach to vulnerability assessment. Earthscan, LondonGoogle Scholar
  22. Leichenko R, O’Brien K (2002) The dynamics of rural vulnerability to global change: the case of southern Africa. Mitig Adapt Strateg Glob Chang 7:1–18CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Leichenko R, O’Brien K (2008) Environmental change and globalization: double exposures. Oxford University Press, OxfordCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Næss L-O, Bang G, Eriksen S et al (2005) Institutional adaptation to climate change: flood responses at the municipal level in Norway. Glob Environ Chang 15:125–138CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. O’Brien K, Hochachka G (2010) Integral adaptation to climate change. J Integral Theory Pract 5:89–102Google Scholar
  26. O’Brien K, Leichenko R (2000) Double exposure: assessing the impacts of climate change within the context of economic globalization. Glob Environ Chang 10:221–232CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. O’Brien K, Leichenko R (2003) Winners and losers in the context of climate change. Ann Assoc Am Geogr 93:89–103CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. O’Brien K, Leichenko R, Kelkar U et al (2004) Mapping vulnerability to multiple stressors: climate change and globalization in India. Glob Environ Chang 14:303–313CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Preston B, Westaway R, Yuen E (2010) Climate adaptation planning in practice: an evaluation of adaptation plans from three developed nations. Mitig Adapt Strateg Glob Chang 16:407–438CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Statistics Sweden (2010) Tabeller över Sveriges befolkning. Statistics Sweden, StockholmGoogle Scholar
  31. Storbjörk S (2007) Governing climate adaptation in the local arena: challenges of risk management and planning in Sweden. Local Environ 12:457–469CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Storbjörk S (2010) It takes more to get a ship to change course: barriers for organizational learning and local climate adaptation in Sweden. J Environ Policy Plan 12:235–254CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Swedish Government Official Reports (SOU) (2007) Sweden facing climate change: threats and opportunities, SOU 2007:60. Ministry of the Environment/Commission on Climate and Vulnerability, StockholmGoogle Scholar
  34. Tompkins E, Few R, Brown K (2008) Scenario–based stakeholder engagement: incorporating stakeholders preferences into costal planning for climate change. J Environ Manag 88:1580–1592CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Urwin K, Jordan A (2007) Does public policy support or undermine climate change adaptation? Exploring policy interplay across different scales of governance. Glob Environ Chang 18:180–191CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. von Borgstede C, Lundqvist L (2006) Organizational culture, professional role conceptions and local Swedish decision-makers’ views on climate policy instruments. J Environ Policy Plan 8:279–292CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre for Climate Science and Policy Research and Water and Environmental Studies - Department for Thematic StudiesLinköping UniversityNorrköpingSweden

Personalised recommendations