Learning to adapt: organisational adaptation to climate change impacts

Annotation for Learning to adapt: organisational adaptation to climate change impacts

Berkhout F., Hertin J., Gann. D.M. 2006. Learning to adapt: organisational adaptation to climate change impacts. Climatic Change.


Presenting an analytical framework for organisational adaptation to the direct and indirect impacts of climate change

Geographic Focus: 


Key Findings: 

Organisations respond to recognised situations in fairly predictable ways. Established routines are applied to deal with repetitive tasks or, when novel situations arise, routines are modified through planned processes to adapt to the new circumstances. While organisations tend to adapt to climate change pressures in a manner similar to market, technological or regulatory adaptation, there are also differences. Climate change signals are often ambiguous to organisations, and tend not to be experienced directly. This generally weakens trial and error or experimental approaches, given that climate change stimuli or feedback does not register with sufficient strength to inform the modification of routines. This may be different for more climate sensitive sectors. Given ambiguous or weak signals, organisational performance or effectiveness is difficult to evaluate. Currently, information for evaluation is often generated through hypothetical scenarios, through risk assessments for example, rather than actual performance. The generally long time-scales associated with climate change drivers are also quite different from conventional drivers such as market or competitive pressure. Adaptation processes are, nonetheless, likely to be strongly influenced by the inter-relationships between organizations and other actors.


The findings in this article may have significant implications for adaptive learning. Adaptive learning, through iterative and reflexive processes, requires feedback or signals to inform further cycles of action. Where those signals are weak or absent, it becomes difficult to evaluate organisational performance. However, as stated in this article, this will be heavily reliant on the context and operating environment of the particular organisation. Although at times still prone to some ambiguity, broader sustainability signals can be relatively robust in comparison to those related to climate change. Given that many of the issues associated with sustainability and climate change have considerable overlap, it could be argued that this provides an opportunity for direct evaluation of organisational performance. The benefits flowing from sustainability initiatives (both internal and external to the organisation) have also been demonstrated tangibly, again with significant overlap with climate change issues. Good risk management, though in a sense hypothetical to climate change impacts, may also be viewed as quite tangible to organisational performance. The broader issue for adaptive learning may be the motivations and values of the individuals and the organisational entity itself rather than the weakness of climate change signals.