Age of Awareness
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Age of Awareness

Using Layers of Maps to Organise Adaptation Roles & Responsibilities

Arguably the challenge of Adaptation is even more complex than Mitigation. This fractal approach of layered maps helps us get organised.

I’ve had one heck of a knot to unravel this past week, and to explain that I’m going to have to make a bit of a confession — I’m Australian.

I live in a country that is one of the worst performers on the global climate action stage. We’re laggards, fiddling while our land burns, our rivers dry up, our species disappear in a blink. We frolic on beaches (against our Covid-19 restrictions) while we continue to export vast amounts of fossil fuels to anyone with the cash. And if we don’t live up to our responsibilities those beaches will disappear by 2100.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

In Australia we’ve already hit 1.44C of warming since 1910. We live at the end of what our Defence chiefs call ‘Disaster Alley’.

Climate change is already upon us, and the need for aggressive climate adaptation policy is blindingly clear.

Our challenge is that we have multiple layers of governance — (some would say too many), which makes it tempting to kick the can down the road. From the top, each player pushes the burden of adaptation downwards, resulting in ‘individual climate action’ being the intentional narrative here.

It translates into nothing getting done, even as the thermostat rises. Individuals have no leverage on national or regional infrastructure planning or the allocation of capital, without which the most climate adapted home for example can still fail because it’s simply in the wrong place.

So my last week has been spent unpicking the adaptation policy knot we have to better understand how to turn words and policies into action.

To do this I’ve found it useful to think in maps.

Our maps describe boundaries — in place, governance, ownership, culture, even time. And what has me curious is to consider to what extent our maps can be used to also describe spheres of responsibility when it comes to climate adaptation.

I’ve unpacked my findings in this infographic and have learned a few things that might hold value for any level of governance.

This maps lens has shaken out a number of insights.

  • Climate adaptation can only be achieved when all actors are involved, at every level of governance. Everyone has a part to play.
  • When the mammoth task of national climate adaptation is broken down into the map layers, the task becomes much clearer, more manageable. And the benefits of adaptation become more obvious.
  • The interactions between the ‘maps’ require understanding. Climate adaptation relies on systems-thinking and systems design, so there is inherent overlap between the maps — who should take the lead?
  • The map layer of ‘Bioregional’ isn’t currently part of our adaptation agenda, which is fascinating give that so much of our way of life depends upon the health of our natural life support systems.
  • Some maps or fractals have much fuzzier edges than others. Local government has a clear boundary, whilst a community boundary is incredibly fuzzy and rich — is it the street? The post code? The online social network?
  • It is clear that our administrative maps often bear little or no relation to the physical maps that describe the realities of bioregions, soil types and agricultural potential, yet we typically write climate adaptation policy from an administrative lens.

Perhaps if we considered climate adaptation using the right map layers we might reach a more useful agreement on ‘who pays’ and ‘who does the work’.

I’m inclined to think that the City should take the lead (Local Government), although the question of who pays has not been answered.

More to come on this — it’s a thought in progress.




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Digby Hall

Digby Hall

Climate adaptation architect, striving to help tackle climate change through positive adaptation. Think. Move. Act.

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