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					Toward climate resilient coastal social-ecological systems governance in Ireland: A
  futures-based approach to ‘shooting the rapids’ to Adaptive Co-management

            Stefan Gray, Maria Falaleeva, Cathal O’Mahony, Valerie Cummins

The social-ecological systems of Ireland’s coast are vulnerable to a range of climate change
impacts, including sea level rise, coastal inundation, erosion and increased storm damage.
These vulnerabilities have been compounded in recent years as options for both pre-
emptive climate adaptation and disaster response and recovery have been diminished by a
loss of socioeconomic adaptive capacity, with public sector spending falling and
unemployment rising in the wake of the economic crisis of 2007. Fostering social-
ecological system resilience to climate change will therefore require a transformative
approach to coastal zone management, characterised by flexibility, frugality and
pragmatism, yet responsive to the need for ecosystem–based management and
appropriate stakeholder participation. With faith in Integrated Coastal Zone Management
(ICZM) as a tractable means of enhancing resilience in coastal systems beginning to wane,
the establishment of Adaptive Co-management (ACM) as a viable natural resource
management approach offers a timely alternative.
However, navigating a transition to ACM is a complex and challenging undertaking,
particularly given the diffuse resources, multiple competing interests and often poorly
defined stakeholder rights and obligations which typify Irish coastal social-ecological
systems. We propose that such a transition might nevertheless be successfully negotiated
via a futures-based approach to coastal governance capacity building. This approach
employs conventional scenario analyses (i.e. predictive, exploratory and normative
methodologies) alongside techniques from the emerging field of ‘transition scenarios’ to
facilitate what Olsson and colleagues (2006) describe as the initial, foundational phase of
transition to adaptive governance of social-ecological systems. During this phase,
knowledge of the system must be built, networks must form, and ideally, leadership
emerge in preparation for the future exploitation of a suitable window of opportunity to
effect transition. With reference to five coastal case study sites in Ireland, we demonstrate
the design of a coastal futures network facilitating:
• The integration of coastal social-ecological system knowledge, and the processes of
climate change impact and adaptation, at local, regional and national scale
• The formation of networks at the local scale among stakeholders in coastal climate
adaptation, with further horizontal and vertical linkages between the sites under study
and regional/national stakeholders
• The participatory deliberation and building of trust among coastal stakeholders,
potentially creating/enhancing the capacity of potential leaders at the local scale
A preliminary analysis of the coastal futures network confirms the potential of a futures-
based approach to laying the foundations for transition. Key strengths of the approach are
the building, integration and re-framing of social-ecological system knowledge, and the
formation of formal and shadow networks spanning local, regional and national scales
(analysis of the optimality of linkages within these networks for innovation/diffusion is
ongoing). However, no firm conclusion may yet be reached regarding the emergence of
leadership through futures-based capacity building, as the timescale over which such
leadership might prove effective extends beyond the current period of research.

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