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Adapting Cities : Ecosystem-based approaches and citizen engagement in municipal climate adaptation in Scania, Sweden

Klimatanpassning av städer : Ekosystembaserade metoder och medborgarengagemang i kommuners klimatanpassning i Skåne, Sverige


Summary, in English

Even if current attempts to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions would succeed, society-wide adjustment to the harmful effects of climate change is urgently needed. This process is known as climate adaptation. Cities face particular risks from climate change, and there is increasing evidence that traditional approaches, which have often relied on technical solutions and top-down management structures, will not be enough. However, little is known about how new approaches and emerging actors are integrated into and exert influence in urban adaptation governance. In particular, there is a lack of research on citizens’ role in adaptation in the Global North.

This thesis investigates the role and potential of two approaches – ecosystem-based adaptation (EbA) and citizen engagement in adaptation – in reducing risk from adverse climate events at the local level. I do this by using an interdisciplinary and mixed methods approach, which entails reviewing scientific evidence from urban case studies worldwide, and empirically examining adaptation processes in south-Swedish municipalities. In particular, I examine how and on what basis EbA is applied in cities; how and for what reasons Swedish citizens engage in adaptation; and the implications of, and synergies between, the two approaches in local adaptation governance.

The results show that although, in the main, EbA and citizen engagement have not occurred in explicit and deliberate ways, they can support municipal adaptation and address underlying risk drivers. On one hand, there are growing experiences with urban EbA in both the global and Swedish contexts. These are implemented under a variety of terms (e.g., ecosystem services, green infrastructure) and often lack a strategic, long-term climate risk perspective, such as assessment of current and projected future risks and vulnerabilities. On the other hand, citizens’ engagement in adaptation – alone, together, and in interaction with municipalities – has had significant outcomes for local adaptation, but their efforts are poorly supported and/or channelled by municipalities. Citizens’ personal experience of hazards is a strong driver of action; however, factors such as ecological values and identification with place also play a role. At the municipal level, the identified modes of citizen engagement are diverse, comprising collaboration (two-way dialogue), contestation (challenge and confrontation), compliance (enforcing mandatory citizen action) and choice (stimulating voluntary citizen action) – all of which were found to shape local adaptation. In addition, I reveal how responsibility for adaptation is shifting to citizens without any change in laws or policy, which risks hitting hardest against those most at risk. Finally, I also identify synergies between the two approaches, and suggest that EbA may serve as a better entry point for citizen engagement in adaptation than technical measures.
Beyond the empirical insights about municipal adaptation processes in Sweden, this thesis makes three essential contributions: (1) it synthesises and assesses the field of urban EbA and identifies key research gaps; (2) it furthers theory on citizen engagement in local adaptation and presents an analytical framework for citizen–municipality ‘adaptation interactions’; and (3) it contributes to the academic discussion on how transformational, rather than incremental, climate adaptation may look in practice.

Publishing year




Document type



Lund University


  • Social Sciences Interdisciplinary


  • Climate change adaptation
  • disaster risk reduction
  • ecosystem-based adaptation
  • ecosystem services
  • citizen engagement
  • participation
  • transformation
  • Sustainability Science
  • hållbarhetsvetenskap
  • klimatanpassning
  • katastrofriskreducering
  • ekosystembaserad klimatanpassning
  • ekosystemtjänster
  • medborgarengagemang
  • deltagande
  • transformation
  • kommunal planering




  • ISBN: 978-91-984630-2-6
  • ISBN: 978-91-984630-1-9

Defence date

7 June 2018

Defence time


Defence place

Ostrom, Biskopsgatan 5 (Josephson), Lund


  • Peter Driessen (Professor)