The governance of climate adaptation and natural hazards in Alpine countries: lessons learnt on multi-level governance and mainstreaming

14:00 Wednesday 29 May


Room S8


Wolfgang Lexer (Austria) 1; Marco Pütz (Switzerland) 2; Dominik Braunschweiger (Switzerland) 2; Andreas Vetter (Germany) 3; Marco Pregnolato (Italy) 5; Arthur Schindelegger (Austria) 4

1 - Environment Agency Austria (EAA); 2 - Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research WSL; 3 - German Environment Agency, Section KomPass - Climate Impacts and Adaptation; 4 - Technical University Vienna, Dep. Spatial Planning; 5 - Lombardy Foundation for the Environment (FLA)

National climate adaptation strategies, often complemented by national action plans, are by now in place in all seven countries of the Alpine region, and there has been considerable progress in proliferation of sub-national adaptation strategies (e.g., states, regions, cantons). Substantial progress has also been made in terms of knowledge generation, capacity-building, and experimenting with governance innovations, such as pilot or model region funding programmes. At the same time, however, all countries are struggling with multiple barriers to the implementation of their adaptation strategies across sectors and levels: adaptation strategies are limited in their function as coordination hubs, progress in sub-national policy making is still patchy, adaptation has hardly entered local agendas, and mainstreaming of adaptation is limited on all levels. Many difficulties in implementing adaptation are connected to the sphere of governance, i.e. the mechanisms, modes, formats and related capacities, or the lack thereof, via which different levels and sectors interact with each other.

In order to learn from shared strengths and weaknesses and from the diversity of governance approaches taken in different countries, the network of national adaptation policy makers in the Alpine countries has jointly implemented the transnational project ‘GoApply – Multidimensional governance of climate adaptation in policy making and practice’, co-funded by the Alpine Space Programme. The main objectives were to improve the understanding of adaptation governance systems in the Alpine countries and to support both vertical coordination of adaptation policies and their horizontal integration into sector policies. Partners have comprehensively mapped, analysed and visualized their national adaptation governance landscapes (policies, measures, actors, knowledge, interactions), conducted in-depth case studies, and identified good practice approaches. The empirical case studies on multi-level governance and mainstreaming proved particularly suitable for the identification of barriers, success factors, and lessons learnt.

Cross-case comparison and blending of the case study results with insights gained from the mapping of the country-wide governance systems allowed deriving enhancement options for each country. Based on transnational comparison, the project has provided a portfolio of feasible governance options to improve the governance of adaptation across sectors and levels. In our session, we will present the main findings for four countries (Austria, Germany, Italy, Switzerland) and a transnational synthesis of lessons learnt with joint policy recommendations.

Building a bridge from climate adaptation to disaster risk reduction, an additional talk will present key results of a comparative study on natural hazards risk governance in the EUSALP macro-region. Target audience The session is designed as a science-practice session addressing equally researchers (policy and governance researchers; adaptation experts working in ‘boundary’, knowledge brokerage and training institutions), public administration and practitioners (including adaptation coordinators, policy advisors and sectoral decision-makers from authorities, agencies, interest groups, and NGOs on national, regional and local levels) that are active and/or interested in the governance of climate adaptation. Proposed format for the session We propose a science-practice session involving six speakers from four different countries, who are either coordinators of national adaptation strategies or policy researchers. The duration of each talk will be limited to 15 minutes, with about 10 minutes for each presentation and 5 minutes for answering questions from the audience. The remaining 15 minutes shall be dedicated to plenary discussion.

Following a brief introduction by the session chair, the first four speakers will present the main findings from national climate adaptation governance studies in their respective countries, i.e. Switzerland, Germany, Italy, and Austria. The fifth speaker will present major lessons learnt, conclusions and policy recommendations that emerged from the transnational comparison, including also the three countries Slovenia, France and Liechtenstein. Intending to build the bridge from climate adaptation to risk management, the last speaker will complement the findings on the governance of adaptation with results of a comparative study on risk governance in the field of weather- and climate-driven natural hazards in the countries of the EUSALP macro-region.

Contributing Authors abstracts

Marco Pütz, Dominik Braunschweiger(WSL): Implementing strategies to adapt to climate change within multilevel governance frameworks: the case of Switzerland

Implementing climate adaptation strategies into practice usually refers to (i) implementing action plans and pilot activities, (ii) implementing national strategies into subnational activities, and (iii) integrating adaptation into other policy fields (mainstreaming). Taking a multilevel governance perspective and focusing on Switzerland, we first identified the federal adaptation action plan and pilot program as core elements to implement and mainstream the adaptation strategy at the federal level and into subnational levels. Second, we added in-depth case studies in the Canton of Grisons, including three pilot projects, and in the cities of Zurich, Biel and Sion to address adaptation to climate change at the subnational levels of canton (state) and municipality. Third, in order to better understand how adaptation strategies are implemented into practice we identified success factors and barriers of implementation at different administrative levels and in different adaptation projects. The findings show that main drivers to implement adaptation strategies include the capacities to deal with administrative fragmentation, motivation to take climate action, subsidiarity, as well as overcoming lacks of personnel and financial resources.

Andreas Vetter, Andrej Lange, Sebastian Ebert(UBA-KomPass): How are municipalities in Germany progressing in climate change adaptation, and how can federal and state administration support their efforts?

The presentation focuses on three research activities: firstly, on findings from a nation-wide online survey in German municipalities. 250 municipalities were surveyed with three objectives: (i) to receive an up-to-date overview on how far municipalities have developed adaptation strategies and actions, (ii) to gain insights into the impact of the German adaptation strategy on adaptation in municipalities, and (iii) to learn more about the local needs for support by the federal states or the federal government to address climate change adequately. Secondly, results from two case studies within the GoApply project will be presented. Based on a literature analysis and interviews, both case studies reflect local adaptation from a multi-level perspective. The city of Kempten (case study 1) in the Allgäu region (Bavaria) seeks to develop adaptation activities strategically. Case study 2 examines the cooperation and coordination of climate change adaptation between federal and state level. Hindering and supporting factors for adaptation as well as lessons learnt from both cases will be presented. Thirdly, we share experiences from two stakeholder participation formats that were conducted in the city of Kempten.

Marco Pregnolato, Luca Cetara, Antonio Ballarin-Denti(FLA): Non-formalized approaches to adaptation governance in the experience of Italian cases

The survey on adaptation governance in Italy mapped a constellation of initiatives that originated in the absence of an established framework on the national level. The NAP (including a comprehensive climate analysis at country level) has only recently been developed and is not yet formally consolidated. Therefore, we analyzed the adaptation policy outputs on the national level and selected instruments that have been developed at the local level in parallel to and independently from the national input. We investigated the adaptation process of Lombardia, which as a regional administration has developed an own Adaptation Strategy (2014) and Action Document (2016), but did not make them legally binding. A further case study investigated interesting local governance schemes (e.g. River Contracts, Local Territorial Plans), which generated impacts beneficial to climate adaptation, although not or loosely on the base of the regional adaptation policy framework. The results led us to conclusions about strengths and weaknesses of processes that develop in a non-formalized setting, either because of the absence of a consolidated upper rank framework or in order to work around the inertia of the political system.

Wolfgang Lexer, Daniel Buschmann(EAA): Governance of climate adaptation in a federal state system: what lessons can other countries learn from experiences in Austria?

To get a clear picture about the state of adaptation governance in Austria, we first mapped relevant climate adaptation-related policies, measures, knowledge, actors, and interactions across all Austria. To deepen the insights, we then performed a comparative analysis of two case studies:

  1. The federal state of Styria, which has a multi-sectorial, ‘stand-alone’ adaptation strategy in place and has increasing experiences with coordinating adaptation on the regional and municipal level.
  2. The ‘Working Group Self-Responsible Risk Precaution’, an innovative, non-formalized body of governance between the Austrian federal states and the national government, which has integrated administrative sector experts from disaster risk management and climate adaptation to develop a climate and natural hazard risk audit tool for municipalities.

Both cases allowed identifying barriers, success factors and lessons learnt regarding multilevel governance and mainstreaming of adaptation. Main findings relate to the vital importance of informal governance, teaching us that neither formal institutions nor problem pressure are sufficient to use ‘policy windows’. Key actors from different sectors and levels need to interact outside the political/public spotlight and pre-align proposals. This process needs to be voluntary to create creative leeway and requires leadership by committed actors, a concrete project context, and a visible product.

Dominik Braunschweiger, Marco Pütz(WSL): Good governance of climate change adaptation: Insights and lessons from a transnational comparison of the Alpine Space

In order to strengthen capacities for multilevel climate adaptation governance in the Alpine region, project partners from Austria, Italy, Germany and Switzerland mapped and analysed the national governance systems in place for implementing adaptation strategies across levels. They identified strengths and weaknesses, success factors and barriers and compiled good practice examples. They also explored and developed enhancement options and promising innovations.

We compared the findings from all four countries to highlight transferable success stories, and identified joint critical challenges, enhancement opportunities and governance needs. Our analysis showed that key issues mostly revolved around two questions: How to best organize vertical and horizontal cooperation, and how to handle the omnipresent scarcity of personnel and monetary resources. Several promising strategies to handle these issues have emerged. Prominent examples are the collaborative, participatory development of strategic frameworks in order to avoid traditional conflicts between sectors and to build foundations for informal and formal cooperation. Methods of soft pressure or coercion in order to enforce the fulfilment of collaboratively decided responsibilities as well as the use of projects as an implementation tool designed to foster horizontal cooperation have both proven successful, because they allow room for creativity and enable optimal use of synergies.

Arthur Schindelegger, Arthur Kanonier(TU Vienna): Natural hazard risk governance – A comparative mapping in the EUSALP macro-region

The fairly young macro-regional EU strategy for the Alpine region (EUSALP) started in 2016, supported with co-funding by the Interreg Alpine Space Programme, to work in its action groups on thematic policy areas as well as on the cross-cutting policy area of governance and institutional capacity. A focus of Action Group 8 was on the mapping of risk governance mechanisms, qualities and capacities for the management of natural hazards within the EUSALP region. With scientific support, the group developed specific governance profiles for different natural hazards and evaluated the implementation of the risk concept in the national natural hazard management systems. Results show, on a general basis, that the risk concept is increasingly included in decision making processes to take especially residual risk and limitations in prevention into account. Furthermore, the governance concept is still difficult to grasp for public authorities, while a set of analysed good practice examples showed that multi-level governance is already widely in place in all EUSALP countries and regions. The talk will give an overview on recent developments in fostering risk governance and present key results of a status quo report on the mapping of risk governance related to natural hazards within the EUSALP framework.