The Past, Present and Futures of Adaptation

UEP doctoral candidate Janina Käyhkö presented her research at the 5th International Climate Change Adaptation Conference – The Adaptation Futures (AF18), 18th -21st June, in Cape Town, South Africa.

Cape Town (South Africa) was a topical place for the 5th International Climate Change Adaptation Conference – The Adaptation Futures (AF18), as the region was struggling to cope with its worst drought in 100 years. Since last autumn, the city had more than halved its water consumption in a situation where “trial and error approach was not possible” as the mayor De Lille in her opening speech put it. She praised the support of C40 and other networks in finding the right solutions on time. Close to a thousand international adaptation researchers and practitioners were therefore happily drinking desalinized seawater, learning to use hand sanitizer instead of tap water and sticking to one-minute–showers.

Same time, outside of the business center and the sparkling luxury condos with splashing pools and fountains, a large proportion of the city-dwellers were not all content with the arrangements. Large fines for over-consumption of water, expected violence related to water use and owner rights, distrust to the social equality of the water governance and the expected agricultural losses raised murmuring amongst the locals, and vivid table-discussions between the conference participants. The situation was fundamentally fruitful for the overarching approach of the AF18: opening up the multitude of viewpoints and realities related to adaptation for enabling dialogues for solutions.

The biannual conference was held for the first time on the African continent. Focus was accordingly on adaptation as a development challenge with unsolved resourcing issues. Financing was strongly present in the programme, and participant list included development bankers and other finance representatives. Stephane Hallegatte, lead economist of the World Bank and lead author of the ‘Building Back Better’-report, was granted this years’ Burtoni Award for “outstanding contribution to climate adaptation science”. In his work connecting humanities, economics and climate science, he has highlighted the ‘disproportionate vulnerability of the poor’ in the face of natural disasters. The keys for efficient adaptation, he says, lie currently in scaling up rather than in “sexy new solutions” and in breaking the division between the academia and the applied research to enable doing better with what we have.

The small-scale farmers from adaptation initiatives around South Africa too reminded the conference-goers about the importance of valuing what we already have - while it is still available. Traditional knowledge on ways to manage with and adapt to varying weather and new environmental conditions, especially in the rural regions of the world, is not just the past but the present and future of adaptation. Jerry Velasquez from the Green Climate Fund reminded that the very small adaptation projects including traditional and nature-based solutions can and should be recognized as opportunities for the finance sector as well for enabling their distribution and upscaling.

Janina’s presentation was part of a general session called ‘Co-creation and Collaboration in Agriculture’. The session was hosting inspiring presentations and lively discussions on how municipal initiatives, local practitioners, scientists and organizations have found ways to collaborate. Janina introduced her current study on risk perceptions and adaptation in Nordic agriculture to a room-full of participants keen on finding out how to enable transdisciplinary and participatory adaptation in agricultural systems. Janina’s argument for participatory adaptation policy development got first shot down as a top-down measure. However, it received approving nods when she managed to clarify the call to consider recognition of practitioners facing the climate risks at first hand as the main stakeholders.

So did the conference reach its aim of outlining dialogues for future adaptation solutions? In the final plenary of the conference, Erin Coughland de Perez presented the novel and hot topics of AF18 ranging from transformation, to urban issues, to decision-making options for managing risk, and to justice issues in privately funded adaptation. Some important topics, such as transport and biodiversity hotspots, and as Aromar Revi pointed out, maladaptation related to carbon-cut technologies, were however lacking. Overall, the need to raise adaptation to the side of mitigation with equal emphasis in order to answer to climate justice issues was one of the key-messages of AF18. For enabling this, the conference did indeed do its’ best in bringing together the traditional knowledge holders, municipal authorities, top of the transdisciplinary research and young scientists with passion for change.

The three plenaries of the conference and five short interviews are available at:

More information, all presentation slides and the abstract book are available at the conference web site: