Mainstreaming of climate change adaptation

Oslo, Drammen, Bærum, Skedsmo and Ræling

The Problem

The climate in the case area is continental with warm summers and cold winters. The annual temperature is expected to increase by 1,2-2,6 C⁰ during this century. Before 2100 the annual precipitation might increase by 5-30%. The sea-level rise in Oslo-fjord is expected to rise by 40 cm by 2100. Combined with the increase in extreme precipitation, this can potentially materialise as challenge for build environment and for vital infrastructure like roads and water and sewage (Hanssen-Bauer, I., ed., 2009).

Thus the combination of two challenges, climate change and a considerable population growth, will pose to a dual challenge for the region: adapting to climatic changes and accommodating the expected population growth. This growth may affect adaptation to climate change since, municipalities may (1) be tempted to build on areas that have so far been avoided due to flood exposure and (2) be incited to build more densely, although this could entail increasing surface water management problems.

Even if Norway has comparatively high adaptive capacity, there is a lack of adaptation focus in the local institutional setting and in Norwegian insurance schemes. Addressing climate change adaptation is a voluntary task in Norwegian municipalities. However due to local climate change variations the adaptation work should be done at the local level and mainstreaming processes needs to occur locally.

Type(s) of the problem: 
Built infrastructure
Water management

The Solution

The case study is describes the importance of applying mainstreaming of the climate change adaptation into existing municipal policies. It is argued that the main advantages of the mainstreaming approach are “increased coherence among policies, reduced chance of duplication and policies that contradict each other. Mainstreaming approaches are furthermore expected to deal more easily with trade-offs between adaptation and other concerns and take better advantage of synergies” (Rauken, 2015). The authors operationalize comprehensiveness, aggregation and consistency in order to measure and compare the approach. They argue that municipalities differ along those three aspects (arguments are summarized in the table 1).

In terms of comprehensiveness, the study shows that the level of awareness varies between the municipalities. Climate change adaptation in Skedsmo and Rælingen is considered as less important than other policy goals. However, even if the awareness in the other three communities (Oslo, Bærum and Dramen) was higher; none of them perceived themselves as especially exposed to climate change impacts (all municipalities experienced flooding, but not sea-level rise).

Climate change topics should be included in the General Municipal Plan and in their vulnerability assessment (RVA) in order ensure sectors’ awareness of the climate change impact. RVA applies to all sectors and ensures mainstreaming of climate change adaptation. However those two policy instruments (General Municipal Plan and RVA) are top –down and are mainstreamed by a vertical approach without any horizontal cross-sectorial communication.

Oslo and Drammen went beyond General Municipal Plan and RVA and established a cross-sectorial adaptation group with representatives from all relevant sectors. Authors of the case argue that success of the group depends on group members, their position and how much information they bring back to their department. If a member of the group has a central position in one department it usually has a positive effect on adaptation measures and spreading the message to the rest of the department members.

As a paradox, even if comprehensiveness in Bærum was low the municipality has operative adaptation measures for energy supply and sea-level rise. The use of climate change scenarios has resulted in establishing of safety zones in predicted flood prone areas. The requirement for annual report on adaptation measures is stated in the action plan for 2011-2014. In all municipalities the adaptation awareness was divided among spatial planning and water management. More adaptation measures are taking place in water sector than in the planning sector

Aggregation is achieved as adaptation is assessed from a joint perspective. Examples from the cross-sectorial adaptation group illustrates that the exchange of ideas between sectors has a positive impact. In Oslo the cross-sectorial adaptation group found joint solutions “through a common understanding of problems….the transport sector was…forced to see that excess surface water also pose health problems that had to be dealt with in deciding how to design new runoff infrastructure” (Rauken, ibid.). Similarly, the Water and Sewage Department in Drammen municipality involved other municipal departments in a pilot project on runoff water in a designated development area.
In contrast to Oslo and Drammen, where climate change adaptation had more of a political focus, the lack of cooperation in Bærum that may be explained by a lack of interest from the top level and the absence of the demand from municipal sectors. Thus the horizontal mainstreaming requires support from the top-leaders.

Consistency is achieved when the issue on climate change adaptation is in harmony with other policies when all concerned sectors try to solve the problem together (Underdal 1980).

Almost for all case municipalities but Rælingen there is a conflict between climate change adaptation and population growth. Population growth forces municipalities to build along the shorelines and river banks even it will cause problems according to future climate scenarios. Another issue, is the high cost of adaptation-friendly solutions (ensure proper drainage, raising new buildings to avoid flooded basements). As a result, developers in Bærum protested against costly regulations that make areas less exposed to climate change impacts. However the regulations were implemented. Solving such issues can be achieved through the use of Vulnerability Assessments (RVAs). Such mechanisms ensure that climate change considerations are included in all building projects and guarantees the introduction of policy goals.

The following variables may explain differences in approaches for climate change adaptation among the municipalities:

  • Municipality Size. The larger municipalities have more human and financial resources. The more resources allocated to the issue, the more attention and thus a higher score earned on the comprehensive aspects. (See also Dannevig et al 2012)
  • Political attention. The aggregation and consistency aspects of mainstreaming are better maintained when adaptation receives political attention. Oslo and Drammen had applied a cross-sectorial approach to ensure climate change adaptation.
  • Extreme events. Even if Amundsen et al (2010) indicate that extreme weather events increase climate change awareness, this was not the case in chosen municipalities. Rælingen and Skedsmo experienced severe weather events in the 90s, but they were probably not linked to climate change.

A main challenge for adaptation, then, is that “...the feeling of complacency could affect attention given to adaptation because if it is not seen as a pressing issue different sectors would not bring it up. Thus it affects the comprehensiveness aspect of mainstreaming in that few sectors have it on agenda. And when this is the case adaptation will neither be discussed across sectors (aggregation) nor tested against other policy aims (consistency)” (Rauken, ibid.).

Type(s) of the solution: 
Market/Management-based solution

The Lessons

The case fits best in the category people-based adaptation. Local government has a central role in decision-making processes on climate change adaptation. However, Norwegian municipalities are not obliged to address climate change adaptation to any great extent; it is largely a voluntary matter. Thus adaptation strategies differ across the municipalities. This case shows that the mainstreaming of adaptation varies between the municipalities. The size of the community, and access to the resources, are key factors in the mainstreaming process. Three main conclusions can be drawn:

  • Even if the vertical aspects of the mainstreaming might be effective in the early stage it might be insufficient in the long-run since climate change adaptation is not acknowledged as a legitimate goal in all sectors. The potential of finding holistic solutions to crosscutting issues is possible with horizontal, cross-sectorial mainstreaming approach of adaptation. 
  • Vertical approach in the short-run, the horizontal approach is efficient for a long-run. Comprehensive cross-sector involvement may give input legitimacy to decision-making process.
  • A stronger central- level involvement and focus on adaptation. A one-size-fits-all approach for adaptation does not fit to all municipalities due to demographic, climatic and geographical differences, but at the same time just assuming that local decision-makers take the necessary precautions in adaptations can prove costly in the future.

In other words, acknowledgement of climate change as a legitinate goal via cross-sectorial cooperation will ensure that mainstreaming happens. 


Nordland Research Institute