Key Theme—

Bringing missing actors to the table

Climate change response has tended to focus on some actors and sectors to the relative exclusion of others. 

At the international scale, much work has been undertaken by nation states working within the convention framework of the United Nations (e.g. Kyoto Protocol). In Australia, the Commonwealth Government response has been patchy. Gains made under one political administration have been eroded or reversed by another. At the State Government level similar trends are evident; some states have made considerable progress (e.g. the Australian Capital Territory) whereas others lost ground after earlier advances. Many different state government agencies have been advancing action – albeit disjointedly or incrementally. At the local government scale, there has been substantial action mainly among better resourced municipalities, at times also politically contested. Local government is however, limited by its legislative frameworks – which tend to focus on service delivery (e.g. waste management) and regulation (e.g. parking enforcement). Some actors with a potential role in climate change adaptation have thus far been on the margins.

How can we bring these missing actors to the table? Key questions include ‘what roles are other sectors playing (e.g. private sector, non-government organisations) and how can we activate missing actors?’. There is considerable potential for involving trade unions, local residents, religious organisations, not for profit organisations, professional organisations and the private sector (business and industry – including peak bodies). But action is required to activate their involvement. Key here is the idea of ‘enabling’ innovation. Innovation might be conceptualised as occurring across three domains – behaviour change (e.g. self-care during heatwaves), institutional change (developing capacity for new partnerships both horizontally between the same level of government and vertically across different levels of government) and built form change (e.g. tree planting, lighter coloured roads and roofs, heatwave shelters, stormwater harvesting).

According to Brooks (2014), enablers of innovation comprise three types (i.e. policies, institutions and technologies). Hudon et al. (2011) suggest enablement is a “process” referring to empowerment that derives from capacity building. Similarly, Frost et al. (2017) assert enablement relates to developing understanding, acquiring the ability to cope, and becoming self-sustaining. Elements of enablement include: (i) leadership, (ii) relationship building (e.g. trust, commitment, open communication, collaboration and information exchange), (iii) skills development and competence building (e.g. problem identification, developing solutions), (iv) decision-making support (e.g. financial or human resourcing, delegating power to act) and (v) response-ability (i.e. to external disruptors e.g. storm events or financial shocks, risk management, entrepreneurial readiness, experimentation).

Stories that map onto these five dimensions of enablement illustrate how each dimension offers a different way to bring missing actors to the table. For instance, developing political agreement upon the broad principles of a local government strategy but putting the detail in supporting documents can bring politicians to the table to build effective leadership without engendering partisanship. Fostering community development practices (e.g. via multicultural networking days that increase social inclusion) can build capacity for adapting to climate impacts and increase resident involvement (e.g. neighbours checking on each other during extreme weather events) thus building response-ability. And new ways of bringing diverse actors together (e.g. trade unions, religious organisations and businesses) – such as practices of stewardship – can break through previous barriers to action.


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