Recent Publications

Indigenous knowledge on climate change adaptation: a global evidence map of academic literature

Petzold, J., Andrews, N., Ford, J.D., Hedemann, C. and Postigo, J.C. 2020. Indigenous knowledge on climate change adaptation: a global evidence map of academic literature. Environmental Research Letters, 15(11), article online.

There is emerging evidence of the important role of indigenous knowledge for climate change adaptation. The necessity to consider different knowledge systems in climate change research has been established in the fifth assessment report (AR5) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). However, gaps in author expertise and inconsistent assessment by the IPCC lead to a regionally heterogeneous and thematically generic coverage of the topic. We conducted a scoping review of peer-reviewed academic literature to support better integration of the existing and emerging research on indigenous knowledge in IPCC assessments. The research question underpinning this scoping review is: How is evidence of indigenous knowledge on climate change adaptation geographically and thematically distributed in the peer-reviewed academic literature? As the first systematic global evidence map of indigenous knowledge in the climate adaptation literature, the study provides an overview of the evidence of indigenous knowledge for adaptation across regions and categorises relevant concepts related to indigenous knowledge and their contexts in the climate change literature across disciplines. The results show knowledge clusters around tropical rural areas, subtropics, drylands, and adaptation through planning and practice and behavioural measures. Knowledge gaps include research in northern and central Africa, northern Asia, South America, Australia, urban areas, and adaptation through capacity building, as well as institutional and psychological adaptation. This review supports the assessment of indigenous knowledge in the IPCC AR6 and also provides a basis for follow-up research, e.g. bibliometric analysis, primary research of underrepresented regions, and review of grey literature.

Contributions of scale: What we stand to gain from Indigenous and local inclusion in climate-health monitoring and surveillance systems.

van Bavel, B., Berrang-Ford, L., Harper, S.L., Ford, J.D., Elsey, H., Lwasa, S. and King, R. Contributions of scale: what we stand to gain from Indigenous and local inclusion in climate-health monitoring and surveillance systems. Environmental Research Letters, article online. 

Understanding how climate change will affect global health is a defining challenge this century. This is predicated, however, on our ability to combine climate and health data to investigate the ways in which variations in climate, weather, and health outcomes interact. There is growing evidence to support the value of place- and community-based monitoring and surveillance efforts, which can contribute to improving both the quality and equity of data collection needed to investigate and understand the impacts of climate change on health. The inclusion of multiple and diverse knowledge systems in climate-health surveillance presents many benefits, as well as challenges. We conducted a systematic review, synthesis, and confidence assessment of the published literature on integrated monitoring and surveillance systems for climate change and public health. We examined the inclusion of diverse knowledge systems in climate-health literature, focusing on: 1) analytical framing of integrated monitoring and surveillance system processes 2) key contributions of Indigenous knowledge and local knowledge systems to integrated monitoring and surveillance systems processes; and 3) patterns of inclusion within these processes. In total, 24 studies met the inclusion criteria and were included for data extraction, appraisal, and analysis. Our findings indicate that the inclusion of diverse knowledge systems contributes to integrated climate-health monitoring and surveillance systems across multiple processes of detection, attribution, and action. These contributions include: the definition of meaningful problems; the collection of more responsive data; the reduction of selection and source biases; the processing and interpretation of more comprehensive datasets; the reduction of scale dependent biases; the development of multi-scale policy; long-term future planning; immediate decision making and prioritization of key issues; as well as creating effective knowledge-information-action pathways. The value of our findings and this review is to demonstrate how neither scientific, Indigenous, nor local knowledge systems alone will be able to contribute the breadth and depth of information necessary to detect, attribute, and inform action along these pathways of climate-health impact. Rather, it is the divergence or discordance between the methodologies and evidences of different knowledge systems that can contribute uniquely to this understanding. We critically discuss the possibility of what we, mainly local communities and experts, stand to lose if these processes of inclusion are not equitable. We explore how to shift the existing patterns of inclusion into balance by ensuring the equity of contributions and justice of inclusion in these integrated monitoring and surveillance system processes. 

Climate change and COVID-19: reinforcing Indigenous food systems

Zavaleta-Cortijo, C., Ford, J.D., Arotoma-Rojas, I., Lwasa, S., Lancha-Rucoba, G., García, P.J. et al. 2020. Climate change and COVID-19: reinforcing Indigenous food systems. The Lancet Planetary Health, article online.

Indigenous populations are at especially high risk from COVID-19 because of factors such discrimination, social exclusion, land dispossession, and a high prevalence of forms of malnutrition.1
 Climate change is compounding many of these causes of health inequities, undermining coping mechanisms that are traditionally used to manage extreme events such as pandemics, and disrupting food systems and local diets.2
 Addressing underlying structural inequities and strengthening Indigenous knowledge systems offer opportunities for building resilience to compound socioecological shocks, including climate effects and pandemics.

The Resilience of Indigenous Peoples to Environmental Change

Ford, J.D., King, N., Galappaththi, E.K., Pearce, T., McDowell, G., and Harper, S.L. 2020. The Resilience of Indigenous Peoples to Environmental Change. One Earth, 2(6), pp. 532-543.

Indigenous peoples globally have high exposure to environmental change and are often considered an “at-risk” population, although there is growing evidence of their resilience. In this Perspective, we examine the common factors affecting this resilience by illustrating how the interconnected roles of place, agency, institutions, collective action, Indigenous knowledge, and learning help Indigenous peoples to cope and adapt to environmental change. Relationships with place are particularly important in that they provide a foundation for belief systems, identity, knowledge, and livelihood practices that underlie mechanisms through which environmental change is experienced, understood, resisted, and responded to. Many Indigenous peoples also face significant vulnerabilities, whereby place dislocation due to land dispossession, resettlement, and landscape fragmentation has challenged the persistence of Indigenous knowledge systems and undermined Indigenous institutions, compounded by the speed of environmental change. These vulnerabilities are closely linked to colonization, globalization, and development patterns, underlying the importance of tackling these pervasive structural challenges.

Climatic Changes, Water Systems, and Adaptation Challenges in Shawi Communities in the Peruvian Amazon

Torres-Slimming, P.A., Wright, C.J., Lancha, G., Carcamo, C.P., Garcia, P.J., Ford, J.D., IHACC Research Team and Harper, S.L. 2020. Climatic Changes, Water Systems, and Adaptation Challenges in Shawi Communities in the Peruvian Amazon. Sustainability, 12(8), article online.

Climate change impacts on water systems have consequences for Indigenous communities. We documented climatic changes on water systems observed by Indigenous Shawi and resultant impacts on health and livelihoods, and explored adaptation options and challenges in partnership with two Indigenous Shawi communities in the Peruvian Amazon. Qualitative data were collected via PhotoVoice, interviews, focus group discussions, and transect walks, and analyzed using a constant comparative method and thematic analysis. Quantitative data were collected via a household survey and analyzed descriptively. Households observed seasonal weather changes over time (n = 50; 78%), which had already impacted their family and community (n = 43; 86%), such as more intense rainfall resulting in flooding (n = 29; 58%). Interviewees also described deforestation impacts on the nearby river, which were exacerbated by climate-related changes, including increased water temperatures (warmer weather, exacerbated by fewer trees for shading) and increased erosion and turbidity (increased rainfall, exacerbated by riverbank instability due to deforestation). No households reported community-level response plans for extreme weather events, and most did not expect government assistance when such events occurred. This study documents how Indigenous peoples are experiencing climatic impacts on water systems, and highlights how non-climatic drivers, such as deforestation, exacerbate climate change impacts on water systems and community livelihoods in the Peruvian Amazon.

Conceptualizing Climate Vulnerability in Complex Adaptive Systems

Naylor, A., Ford, J., Pearce, T. and Van Alstine, J. 2020. Conceptualizing Climate Vulnerability in Complex Adaptive Systems. One Earth, 2(5), pp. 444-454.

This Perspective develops a novel approach for assessing the vulnerability of complex adaptive systems to climate change. Our characterization focuses on the dynamic nature of vulnerability and its role in developing differential risk across multi-dimensional systems, communities, or societies. We expand on past conceptualizations that have examined vulnerability as processual rather than a static or binary state and note the necessary role of complexity and complex adaptive systems theory as a basis for effective vulnerability assessment. In illustrating our approach, we demonstrate the importance of factors such as modulation (connectedness), feedback mechanisms, redundancy, and the susceptibility of individual components within a system to change. Understanding the complexity of potentially vulnerable systems in this manner can help unravel the causes of vulnerability, facilitate the identification and characterization of potential adaptive deficits within specific dimensions of complex adaptive systems, and direct opportunities for adaptation.

Climate change adaptation in aquaculture

Galappaththi, E., Ichien, S.T., Hyman, A.A., Aubrac, C.J. and Ford, J.D. Climate change adaptation in aquaculture. Reviews in Aquaculture, article online.

This study conducts the first systematic literature review of climate change adaptation in aquaculture. We address three specific questions: (i) What is aquaculture adapting to? (ii) How is aquaculture adapting? and (iii) What research gaps need to be addressed? We identify, characterise and examine case studies published between 1990 and 2018 that lie at the intersection of the domains of climate change, adaptation and aquaculture. The main areas of documented climate change impacts relate to extreme events and the general impacts of climate change on the aquaculture sector. Three categories of adaptation to climate change are identified: coping mechanisms at the local level (e.g. water quality management techniques), multilevel adaptive strategies (e.g. changing culture practices) and management approaches (e.g. adaptation planning, community‐based adaptation). We identify four potential areas for future research: research on inland aquaculture adaptation; studies at the household level; whether different groups of aquaculture farmers (e.g. indigenous people) face and adapt differently to climate change; and the use of GIS and remote sensing as cost‐effective tools for developing adaptation strategies and responses. The study brings essential practical and theoretical insights to the aquaculture industry as well as to climate change adaptation research across the globe.

“Even if it doesn’t come, you should be prepared”: Natural hazard perception, remoteness, and implications for disaster risk reduction in rural Fiji


Pearce, T., Currenti, R., Doran, B., Sidle, R., Ford, J. and Leon, J. 2020. “Even if it doesn’t come, you should be prepared”: Natural hazard perception, remoteness, and implications for disaster risk reduction in rural Fiji. International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction, 48, article number 1010591.

  • Preparation is the key to surviving a disaster and minimising harm
  • Local perceptions of risk, worldviews and beliefs influence disaster preparedness
  • Past experience with less-severe events can contribute to complacency
  • Climate-proofing homes should include new and traditional construction techniques

How do community-level climate change vulnerability assessments treat future vulnerability and integrate diverse datasets? A review of the literature. (Windfeld, E.J., Ford, J.D., Berrang-Ford, L. and McDowell, G. 2019. Environmental Reviews).

Windfeld, E.J., Ford, J.D., Berrang-Ford, L. and McDowell, G. 2019. How do community-level vulnerability assessments treat future vulnerability and integrate diverse datasets? A review of the literature. Environmental Reviews, 27(4), pp. 427-434.

Community-level vulnerability assessments (VAs) are important for understanding how populations experience vulnerabilities to climate change in different ways given local socioeconomic and environmental factors. Despite recent expansion in the literature that evaluates vulnerability at the local level, approaches to understanding future scenarios and to integrating climatic and nonclimatic factors are inconsistent and often lack clear methodological information. This study utilized systematic review methods to characterize and compare future scenarios and the integration of climatic and nonclimatic stimuli in community-focused VAs published over the last five years. Five common methods for assessing future dimensions of vulnerability were characterized. Key challenges regarding sources and scales of information were highlighted alongside methods to integrate data spanning climatic and nonclimatic information at scales ranging from local to global. The majority of VAs considered current and past vulnerability; few VAs incorporated future scenarios and these studies focused on future climatic conditions while largely overlooking changes in nonclimatic drivers of vulnerability. Approaches to evaluate future dimensions of vulnerability included climate model projections, socioeconomic model projections, temporal analogue approaches, longitudinal approaches, and local perceptions. These methods often failed to capture the dynamic interactions between variables through time, as future impacts are unlikely to follow previous patterns of change. To combine datasets of different scales, VAs created vulnerability indices, overlaid spatial datasets, or used expert judgement. These approaches tended to aggregate local characteristics to the regional level at the expense of community specificity. There is a need for methodological advances to assess future scenarios and to combine datasets in the field of community-level climate change VAs to make these studies more responsive to local realities and relevant to the development of climate change adaptation strategies.

A policy mixes approach to conceptualizing and measuring climate change adaptation policy. (Lesnikowski, A., Ford, J.D., Biesbroek, R. and Berrang-Ford, L. 2019. Climatic Change).

Lesnikowski, A., Ford, J.D., Biesbroek, R. and Berrang-Ford, L. (2019). A policy mixes approach to conceptualizing and measuring climate change adaptation policy. Climatic Change156(4), article online.

Comparative research on climate change adaptation policy struggles with robust conceptualization and measurement of adaptation policy. Using a policy mixes approach to address this challenge, we characterize adaptation policy based on a general model of how governments govern issues of societal interest. We argue that this approach allows for context-sensitive measurement of adaptation policy, while being both comparable and parsimonious. This approach is tested in a study of adaptation policies adopted by 125 local governments located in Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands, and the UK. Using a systematic data collection protocol, a total of 3328 adaptation policies were identified from local council archives between the periods of January 2010 and May 2017. Results of this analysis suggest that there is structured variation emerging in how local governments govern climate change adaptation, which justifies calls for comparative adaptation research to use measurements that capture the totality of adaptation policies being adopted by governments rather than focusing on specific types of adaptation policy. We conclude with a discussion of key issues for further developing of this approach.