Understanding “Maladaptation” in National Adaptation Policy: A Key to Successful Climate Change Response

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In an insightful article titled “Maladaptation as a Concept and a Metric in National Adaptation Policy- Should We, Would We, Could We?” by Juhola and Käyhkö, published in PLOS Climate, the authors delve into the intricate world of national adaptation policy in the context of climate change. This article is a must-read for anyone interested in understanding the challenges and nuances of adaptation strategies at the national level.

The Core Issue: Defining and Measuring Maladaptation

The term ‘maladaptation’ refers to adaptation actions that inadvertently increase vulnerability to climate change. The concept is critical in shaping national adaptation plans, yet it remains vaguely defined and poorly measured. This ambiguity hinders our understanding of adaptation success or failure, which is crucial for formulating effective strategies.

The Challenge of Operationalizing Maladaptation

One key question Juhola and Käyhkö raised is whether ‘maladaptation’ should be operationalized as a distinct concept in national adaptation policies. The article explores various frameworks for understanding maladaptation and discusses the potential implications of integrating this concept into national policies.

1. Should We?

Many national adaptation plans, such as those of Finland, Sweden, the UK, and Canada, already mention maladaptation. However, they lack a clear definition or a detailed approach to avoid it. The challenge lies in explicitly defining what constitutes maladaptation within these national policies.

2. Would We?

The article delves into whether maladaptation should be a metric in monitoring and evaluating national adaptation policies. It highlights the need for both ex-ante (before the fact) and ex-post (after the fact) assessments. The frameworks for assessing maladaptation range from focusing on vulnerability impacts to considering the entire adaptation process, including political and power dynamics.

3. Could We?

Finally, the feasibility of integrating maladaptation into national policy assessments is examined. While theoretically appealing, the practical challenges of implementing comprehensive monitoring and evaluation systems are significant, especially in capturing the dynamic and complex nature of adaptation and maladaptation.

Public Health Implications

Understanding and addressing maladaptation is crucial for public health. Poorly designed adaptation policies can exacerbate health inequalities, expose vulnerable communities to greater risks, and undermine long-term health outcomes. By focusing on avoiding maladaptation, policies can be more equitable and effective in protecting public health in the face of climate change.

Conclusion: A Path Forward

The article by Juhola and Käyhkö underscores the importance of clearly defining and measuring maladaptation in national adaptation policies. This approach is essential for crafting effective strategies that not only respond to climate change but also safeguard public health and well-being. It’s a call to action for policymakers to critically assess and refine adaptation strategies, ensuring they are beneficial and do not inadvertently cause harm.

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