27 - Limits to adaptation: analysing institutional constraints  pp. 433-447

Limits to adaptation: analysing institutional constraints

By Tor Håkon Inderberg and Per Ove Eikeland

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The academic literature has been biased towards depicting adaptation to climate change as a rational decision-making process, with constraints being mainly available resources and technologies. An ideal rational adaptation process would start by evaluating the problem of climate change (assessing exposure), mapping possible solutions (possible adaptive measures), and, through a cost–benefit approach, the best and most feasible adaptation measure(s) would be decided and simply implemented. Should organisational structure not favour the implementation of measures directed at the goals set, it would be accordingly altered.

Recent studies have focused on institutional barriers and limits to adaptation, however (for example Adger et al., 2007). We share their concern that neglecting institutional constraints may conceal true human limits to adaptation and also narrowly frame the scope of measures that could be taken in order to increase adaptive capacity. Society consists of formal and informal social structures (regulatory factors, values, norms and cognitive limits) influencing choice and behaviour. These factors have still not received the deserved attention in the adaptation literature. After all, resources and technology are of little use if such institutional factors hinder implementation of proper adaptive measures.

In this chapter, we develop an institutional approach and seek to apply it to analyse constraints to adaptive capacity in the national energy system, chosen due to its vital role as a hub linking together other societal systems and functions. Human life, welfare and security in modern societies are highly dependent on stable supply of energy.

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