Adaptation to the impacts of climate change in small island communities: an analysis of Scottish case studies

TitleAdaptation to the impacts of climate change in small island communities: an analysis of Scottish case studies
Publication TypeThesis
Year of Publication2019
AuthorsCunningham, F
Academic DepartmentGeography & Sustainable Development
DegreePhD Doctor of Philosophy
Number of Pages256
Date Published06/2019
UniversityUniversity of St Andrews
CitySt Andrews, Scotland

The IPCC have identified small islands as high-risk settings facing adverse impacts of climate change, particularly flooding and storm surge, with potentially detrimental consequences for human wellbeing and livelihoods. The Scottish Islands are peripheral locations that are physically exposed to storms and coastal flooding; the frequency and magnitude of which are likely to be exacerbated under changing climatic conditions. Key questions remain about the issues, capacity and priorities of small island communities for adapting to climate change impacts. The research seeks to review and develop theory on the scale of adaptation measures and considers: the appropriateness of top-down versus bottom-up approaches within small island contexts; the role of participatory processes and utility of scenario-based tools in island adaptation; and the effectiveness of ‘one-size-fits-all’ adaptation planning where local priorities differ significantly. Communities in South Uist (Outer Hebrides), Westray (Orkney) and Unst (Shetland) formed a multiple case study approach. Policy mapping, documentary analysis and deliberative workshops were employed to develop initial background understandings of each case study. Empirical evidence was drawn from focus groups (N=9) which explored local perspectives on issues and priorities for adaptation in the case study communities. The findings highlight that place-based issues and priorities exist within the case studies, with significant variation across all cases despite the communities being of similar population, demographic profile and island context. The research contributes to debate on one-size-fits-all adaptation planning and supports the argument that national adaptation strategies can only be effective in small islands if local issues are understood. The findings support the integration of top-down-and-bottom-up approaches as a pathway for effective adaptation in small island settings. Deeper knowledge of the interface between community-based action and strategic policy in cross-scale climate change governance processes is developed and there is scope to apply a similar approach to understand adaptation planning priorities in other small island locations.