On May 25th 2022, Adapt Lock-in project researchers Meghan Alexander and Tim Rayner (University of East Anglia) gave a presentation ‘Explaining the adaptation gap in the UK – the hidden story of policy lock-ins’, under the auspices of the UK Climate Resilience Programme Webinar Series 2021-2022,
Noting how the continuing and commonly observed ‘adaptation gap’ may be symptomatic of hidden path dependencies and self-reinforcing ‘lock-in’ dynamics that work to preserve current systems, the presentation sought to show how uncovering of these hidden dynamics is vital to the ‘unlocking’ of opportunities for change that can accelerate adaptation action.
Focusing on England, the presentation examined the often interacting political, institutional, behavioral and infrastructural forces that create and maintain lock-in dynamics in a number of ‘problem domains’ – including coastal adaptation, water scarcity, biodiversity, forestry, heatwave adaptation and mental health under extreme events. Based on the project’s empirical research, some key lock-in dynamics currently hindering adaptation were described. The presentation demonstrated how, with the help of causal loop diagrams, distinct and overlapping lock-in dynamics operating within and between these problem areas can be visualised. In conclusion, reflections were offered on the implications for targeting interventions and designing ‘unlocking strategies’ to help close the adaptation gap.
A response was provided by Tom Handysides, at the time the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) government official leading on climate change adaptation and resilience policy development.
Variations on this presentation were subsequently given to DEFRA in September, and to the Independent group of the Local Government Association in October 2022