The research has focused on links and tensions between ecological sustainability and other societal goals at the municipal arena and in regional growth processes. The ecological dimension appears negotiable in relation to strong economic interests and the constant trade-offs between different objectives, visions and issues are prominent. The difficulty of bringing about change is a key. The ability to effectively combine different sustainability perspectives is often taken for granted at a rhetorical level while empirical experience shows practical problems where it is obvious that the different actors involved holds very different ideas of what sustainability means in practice. Conditions for working with environmental sustainability runs like a red thread through the studies as well as the need to increase our understanding of how different perspectives, beliefs, roles and interactions in policy and planning influence the ability to handle the environmental problems of contemporary society.
Planning and implementing climate adaptation
I have worked with studies of how, when, why and under what circumstances climate adaptation takes place as well as what factors drive or restricts adaptation since 2004. Early studies showed challenges concerning ability (will, commitment, mandate, expertise) to put climate adaptation at the local agenda, that adaptation was characterized by technical fix rather than the precautionary principle, the difficulty of settling reasonable and robust safety margins, the adaptation was event-driven with limited long-term continuity, lack of coordination vertically (national-regional-local) and horizontally (between sectors), where sectoral cultures, interest claims and internal turf battles proved challenging. Similarly, the studies showed how tensions and conflicts between e.g. waterfront development interests, conservation interests and adaptation needs created problems for practical climate adaptation.
When it comes to spatial planning as an arena for climate adaptation my research show that in local development planning decisions are often made on a case-by-case basis where positions on climate risks depend less on actual climate risks than on how politically and economically attractive an area is. Further, weak intersectoral interplay in the planning sector, where strategic comprehensive planning, local development planning and the granting of building-permits was handled by different political committees in a way that creates unfortunate glitches, lack of visibility and increasing the risk of poor decisions. Although the municipalities on the one hand call for strategic guidelines to allow more strategic considerations of climate risks – for example in attractive waterfront locations – it is also clear from the studies it also becomes clear that settling guidelines is but the start and their practical effectiveness fall back to how they are actually implemented in daily planning. As future protective measures are needed to secure existing urban areas at risk of flooding and erosion, planners see no use in preventing further waterfront development. Problems with enacting guidelines also relate to challenges of accessibility and esthetics where the new waterfront limits meets older city structures. This influences the practical negotiability of guidelines.