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Changing social contracts in climate-change adaptation

Abstract

Risks from extreme weather events are mediated through state, civil society and individual action1,2. We propose evolving social contracts as a primary mechanism by which adaptation to climate change proceeds. We use a natural experiment of policy and social contexts of the UK and Ireland affected by the same meteorological event and resultant flooding in November 2009. We analyse data from policy documents and from household surveys of 356 residents in western Ireland and northwest England. We find significant differences between perceptions of individual responsibility for protection across the jurisdictions and between perceptions of future risk from populations directly affected by flooding events. These explain differences in stated willingness to take individual adaptive actions when state support retrenches. We therefore show that expectations for state protection are critical in mediating impacts and promoting longer-term adaptation. We argue that making social contracts explicit may smooth pathways to effective and legitimate adaptation.

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Figure 1: Impact of flood experience across Galway (Ireland) and Cumbria (England) on perceptions of responsibility, risk and motivations for adaptation.

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Acknowledgements

We thank S. Harrigan and S. Keogh for research assistance; the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research for financial support; and S. O’Neill, P. Devine-Wright, M. Boyle and R. Kitchin for constructive comments. This version remains our own responsibility.

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W.N.A. and I.L. conceived the study. W.N.A., I.L., T.Q. C.M. and J.S. designed the study. C.M. and T.Q. implemented the survey. All authors contributed to writing the paper.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to W. Neil Adger.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Adger, W., Quinn, T., Lorenzoni, I. et al. Changing social contracts in climate-change adaptation. Nature Clim Change 3, 330–333 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate1751

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