Daniel Ryan, Buenos Aires Institute of Technology – ITBA, Argentina, and Eduardo Bustos, Global Change Center, Pontifical Catholic University of Chile, ask: what is holding back adaptation policies and the implementation of NDCs in Latin American countries? 

What are the main knowledge deficits facing policy-makers in charge of climate adaptation in Latin American countries? Which are the most important barriers affecting the use of scientific knowledge for climate adaptation policy? These are just examples of the questions addressed by a research study that aims to identify and analyse knowledge gaps affecting the development of climate adaptation policies, including the implementation of the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), in Latin America.

Following the UNEP Adaptation Gap report (2014), by “knowledge gaps”, we refer not only to the lack of specific pieces of information, but also to problems in the integration of different knowledge systems. We also refer to the appropriation and use of knowledge for policy making purposes, including policy monitoring and evaluation.

The study is based mainly on a comparative analysis of online survey results conducted among government officials working on climate adaptation issues in six countries of the region: Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, Paraguay and Uruguay, from March – June 2018. In total, 277 government officials participated in the study, answering the survey in full. Furthermore, the study is also based on national reports on knowledge gaps and climate adaptation policy, produced by a local research team in each of the six countries covered by the project. The national reports are available online here (in Spanish).

In this brief article, we highlight four main, preliminary findings from the study:

Strong knowledge deficits

First, government agencies face strong knowledge deficits on issues related to the design, implementation and evaluation of adaptation policy. These are issues directly related to the field of policy studies and analysis such as effectiveness indicators of adaptation measures, mechanisms to track adaptation progress, costs and benefits analysis of different adaptation alternatives, etc. These are clear examples of these types of knowledge deficits facing government officials across the six Latin American countries covered in the study.

Lack of sustained science-policy relationships

Second, collaborative modes of knowledge production between scientist and policy actors do not tend to sustain over time. Co-production processes on climate adaptation issues tend to be project based, linked to specific initiatives rather than to institutionalised long-term policy-making or planning processes. Arguably, this speaks of the low level of institutionalisation suffered by knowledge co-production processes in the field of climate adaptation in many Latin American countries.

This lack of continuity of knowledge co-creation processes through time also affects the possibility of generating and sustaining long-term relationships between research and policy communities working on climate adaptation issues. Issues of trust, legitimacy, better communication and mutual understanding of the needs and contexts in which each actor operates, depend in part on the development of shared venues between academic and policy actors and long-term collaborative processes. In this regard, many of the national reports strongly emphasised this need to generate (and sustain) mechanisms and venues for dialogue on climate change adaptation between researchers, governmental actors and relevant stakeholders from the social and private sectors.

Fragmented, poorly integrated information 

Third, the knowledge available on climate adaptation is heavily fragmented and poorly integrated. Moreover, there is a strong, shared perception among the public officials surveyed from the six countries that this fragmentation and lack of integration of the available knowledge deeply affect its usability in policy process. Clearly, this highlights the role and need, for boundary institutions, mechanisms and actors that can act as translators and integrators of the different types of knowledge available in order to strengthen adaptation policy and decision-making and management.

Weak state capabilities

Finally, weak state capabilities emerge as a main factor affecting the science-policy interface in the countries encompassed by the study. The lack of sufficient and skilled human and technical resources by government agencies is a critical factor: it seriously affects the state’s capacity to manage and use knowledge for climate adaptation policy.

Problems of coordination and articulation between different levels and areas of government add an even greater dose of complexity to the processes of co-production and use of knowledge in adaptation policy-making. Furthermore, these types of state capacity problems tend to be even more pronounced in the case of subnational governments, particularly at the municipal or local level. This is a critical aspect given that adaptation policies generally have clear territorial anchors. Many key issues of the adaptation agenda usually fall within subnational and local governments’ competence; such as land use planning, urban infrastructure development, water management, etc. In sum, weak state capabilities to co-produce, manage and use knowledge in the policy process constitute a main barrier affecting the development of climate adaptation policy in countries of the region.

What’s next?

As part of their contributions to the Paris Agreement on climate change, all of the countries studied are in different stages of formulating or updating their adaptation plans and policies, either nationally or sectorally as part of their Nationally Determined Contributions. In this context, the findings and lessons learned from this study underline the need to address these knowledge gaps in the formulation of these plans.

Likewise, the common patterns and problems identified through the analysis highlight also the possibilities for collaboration and learning among the countries of the region in order the strength the interface between knowledge and policy in climate change adaptation.

(*) This article is part of the LatinoAdapta project: “Strengthening links between science and governments for the development of public policies in Latin America”. The project is implemented by the Regional Network on Climate Change and Decision Making – UNITWIN UNESCO Programme, it is coordinated by the AVINA Foundation and funded by the International Development Research Center (IDRC), Canada.

Image: courtesy CIAT