Informed adaptation: Ethical considerations for adaptation researchers and decision-makers

Justine Lacey*, S. Mark Howden, Christopher Cvitanovic, Anne Maree Dowd

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    53 Citations (Scopus)


    Given the significant and irreversible impacts of climate change on communities and the environment, there is increasing focus on how to best support decision-makers to adapt to climate change. Generally, the research on this tends to focus on assessing how decision-makers navigate elements of risk and uncertainty in deciding to what extent they should adapt their practice if at all, however, scientific researchers also have a key role to play in supporting these adaptation decisions. Given the applied nature of adaptation research, we argue that an examination of the roles and responsibilities of researchers is critical to understanding the ethical aspects of professional research practice in the adaptation context. This includes identifying how researchers can best support adaptation, and exploring the responsibilities that researchers have, not only to decision-makers but also to the broader membership of the adaptation community. In this paper we examine the ethical responsibility of researchers in supporting decision-makers to adapt to climate change, using agricultural producers as a case-study and focal group. Specifically, in undertaking this examination of risk and responsibility in adaptation research and decision-making, we use the lens of professional ethics to outline how research might better contribute to informed adaptation. We argue that clarifying the distinction between the research and operational aspects of agricultural adaptation, and how the interface between the two is disclosed, is critical. We also describe and explore the ethical considerations of researchers associated with stakeholder engagement in relation to adaptation science, and identify the need for institutional innovation for more effective engagement. In doing so, we seek to demonstrate how ethical research practice can support greater alignment of science and public values in agricultural adaptation, thus increasing the likely success of decisions.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)200-210
    Number of pages11
    JournalGlobal Environmental Change
    Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2015


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