Defining response capacity to enhance climate change policy

This paper, published in Environmental Science & Policy, highlights the lack of consistency between who makes climate change adaptation and mitigation decisions and who implements them.  The authors believe that it is necessary to understand societal responses before a meaningful national climate policy can be implemented.

"First we frame the set of responses at the national policy level as a trade-off between investment in the development and diffusion of new technology, and investment in encouraging and enabling society to change its behavior and or adopt the new technology. We argue that these are the pertinent trade-offs, rather than those usually posited between climate change mitigation and adaptation. We argue that the ability to respond to climate change is both enabled and constrained by social and technological conditions. The ability of society to respond to climate change and the need for technological change for both de-carbonisation and for dealing with surprise in general, are central to concepts of sustainable development." (Tompkins, 2005)

This document provides a framework for evaluating both adaptation and mitigation challenges and relates these programs and outcomes to prioritization and the policy process.


  • Defining the response set
  • The response space
  • Attitudes to risk
  • The role of institutions
  • Elements of response capacity: technology and society
  • Institutions, agents and decisions
  • Learning to respond


Tompkins, E. (2005). Defining response capacity to enhance climate change policy. Environmental Science & Policy, 8(6), 562-571. Retrieved from

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