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Many initiatives focus on adaptation to climate change through actions by government or businesses but fewer at the level of individual citizens. Empowering citizens to develop adaptation strategies gives them personal agency to protect themselves and their communities, representing an essential route to reducing climate change impacts on health and prosperity. It increases the salience of climate change risks and may also prompt a more active role in citizenship, cascading upwards to catalyse stronger institutional adaptation. Despite this, current advice on adaptation to climate change for local communities is sparse, and rarely involves participatory approaches with citizens co-producing their own adaptation plans.

We will undertake three case studies (in the UK, in India, and in Ghana) each built around two main elements; one is participatory systems mapping to identify the diverse context-dependent threat vectors for climate change impacts on communities; the second is identifying effective interventions to protect citizens, their families and communities from the consequences of climate change. The three case study regions differ markedly in both the type and severity of threat vectors and the options for different interventions (based on differences in resource constraints, community structure etc).

  • The UK case study will be based in Reading and townships in South Oxfordshire/Berkshire, a relatively affluent temperate area with key threats including flooding, heat stress and food insecurity
  • The India case study will look at Sundarban District South Paragana, Gosaba Block, an area with an economy based on agriculture, fishing, aquaculture and some tourism, with direct threats including cyclones, saltwater intrusion and flooding
  • The Ghana case study will focus on the Lower Volta region, dominated by farming and fishing and susceptible to drought, saltwater intrusion and flooding

Our international team will build upon protocols from a previous project that appraised systemic risks threatening national recovery from Covid-19. We will combine environmental science with systems analysis of social, political, economic, legal and technological factors using participatory systems mapping, including both the direct and indirect impacts of climate change. Adaptation options to protect the health and livelihoods of local communities will be appraised from different perspectives in terms of effectiveness, multifunctionality and complementarity across interventions.

The project will deliver a new protocol to develop tailored adaptation plans for citizens and their communities helping them to respond to multiple, context-dependent threat vectors of climate change, with due regard to the equity, effectiveness and multifunctionality of their climate change adaptation actions. We will identify context dependency in adaptation options that can be facilitated through better governance, and empower citizens to advocate for and catalyse institutional change. The impact of our project will be on improving the safety of communities and developing new protocols for urgently needed bottom-up climate change adaptation approaches.

Through EMPOWER we will identify practical pathways for on-the-ground climate change adaptation.

This project will identify the most effective adaptation solutions to protect communities from climate change impacts. Engaging communities across three case studies, our objectives are to:

  • Pilot a novel participatory approach to co-develop adaptation strategies with citizens and local communities, empowering them to protect themselves from direct and indirect effects of climate change;
  • Draw on multiple perspectives to analyse climate change adaptation options in light of their feasibility, along with complementarity across interventions, ethical considerations, and who to engage with and when;
  • Reconcile adaptation options with multiple desired outcomes over the longer term (e.g. biodiversity protection, livelihoods and community development, air quality, public health, recreation and cultural values etc.);
  • Draw lessons from the protocol development carried out in different regional contexts to improve the safety of communities and help set direction for the broader uptake of citizen and community adaptation planning.

EMPOWER is a research project led by the University of Reading, in collaboration with the University of Surrey, the Indian Institute of Management in Nagpur and the Water Research Institute in Ghana. It is funded by the Natural Environment Research Council under the “COP26 Adaptation and Resilience” call.