Skip to main content


Log in

The emergence of climate change adaptation as a policy field: the case of England

  • Original Article
  • Published:
Regional Environmental Change Aims and scope Submit manuscript


Attention toward climate adaptation has been growing among governments over the past decade. In the European Union (EU) alone, nine countries have national plans for adaptation (with more in preparation), there are some 30 sub-national plans, and every Member State has policies to address adaptation. Given the recent attention given toward this subject a question that arises is: can climate change adaptation be considered a policy field? As a unit of analysis, policy fields are widely studied in the social sciences. However, the definition of policy fields such as environmental policy or agricultural policy is taken for granted. Oddly for such a common concept, very little attention is paid to what policy fields are in and of themselves or how they can be identified. Given these shortcomings, this article first attempts to fill this gap by theoretically defining what a policy field is by identifying and assigning their characteristics and dynamics. Based upon a literature review, it shows that policy fields are three-dimensional entities comprised of substantive authority, institutional order, and substantive expertise. The second task of this article is to apply this definition to adaptation policy activity in England and determine whether adaptation can be considered a policy field there.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution to check access.

Access this article

Subscribe and save

Springer+ Basic
EUR 32.99 /Month
  • Get 10 units per month
  • Download Article/Chapter or Ebook
  • 1 Unit = 1 Article or 1 Chapter
  • Cancel anytime
Subscribe now

Buy Now

Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.

Instant access to the full article PDF.

Similar content being viewed by others


  1. This is not to suggest, however, that new instruments cannot emerge from existing policy fields.

  2. DEFRA’s Adapting to Climate Change Programme established in 2007 can be considered an office within the Ministry. The Ministry is no longer organized by directorates or offices but by “programmes”.

  3. Statutory undertakers are public and private entities that provide essential public services. for example, utility companies.


  • Adger WN, Arnell NW, Tompkins E (2005) Successful adaptation across scales. Glob Environ Change 15(2):77–86

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Arts B, Leroy P, van Tatenhove J (2006) Political modernisation and policy arrangements: a framework for understanding environmental policy change. Public Organ Rev 6(2):93–106. Springer, The Netherlands

    Google Scholar 

  • Asselt HV, Gupta J (2010) 7 Mainstreaming climate change in EU Member States’ development cooperation. Africa

  • Bauer A, Feichtinger J, Steurer R (2011) The governance of climate change adaptation in ten OECD countries: challenges and approaches. Discussion Paper 1-2011. InFER

  • Baumgartner R, Jones B (2009) Agendas and instability in American politics, second edition. The University of Chicago Press, Chicago

  • Berkhout F (2005). Rationales for adaptation in EU climate change policies. Clim Policy 5(3):377–391. Earthscan

    Google Scholar 

  • Berkhout F, Hertin J, Gann DM (2006) Learning to adapt: organisational adaptation to climate change impacts. Clim Change 78(1):135–156. Springer

    Google Scholar 

  • Biesbroek GR, Swart RJ, Carter TR, Cowan C, Henrichs T, Mela H, Morecroft MD et al. (2010) Europe adapts to climate change: comparing national adaptation strategies. Glob Environ Change 20(3):440–450. Elsevier

    Google Scholar 

  • Birkland TA (2005) An introduction to the policy process: theories, concepts, and models of public policy making. ME Sharpe Inc, New York

    Google Scholar 

  • Boyd E, Street R, Gawaith M, Lonsdale K, Newton L, Johnstone K, Metcalf G (2011) Leading the UK adaptation agenda: a landscape of stakeholders and networked organizations for adaptation to climate change. In: Ford JD, Berrang-Ford L (eds) Climate change adaptation in developed nations: from theory to practice. Springer, Dordrecht

    Google Scholar 

  • Brouwer R, Tesfaye A, Pauw P (2011) Meta-analysis of institutional-economic factors explaining the environmental performance of payments for watershed services. Environ Conserv 38(04):380–392

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Burstein P (1991). Policy domains: organization, culture, and policy outcomes. Annu Rev Sociol 17:327–350. JSTOR

    Google Scholar 

  • Burton I, Huq S, Lim B, Pilifosova O, Schipper EL (2002) From impacts assessment to adaptation priorities: the shaping of adaptation policy. Clim Policy 2(2):145–159

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Colebatch HK (2009) Policy, vol 3. Open University Press, Buckingham

  • DEFRA (2008) Adapting to climate change in England: a framework for action. Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

  • DEFRA (2010) News from DEFRA—Aug 2010.

  • DEFRA (2011) Adapting to climate change newsletter.

  • Dunn WN (2004) Public policy analysis: an introduction. Pearson Prentice Hall, Harlow

    Google Scholar 

  • Dye TR (2010) Understanding public policy. Pearson Education, Limited, London

    Google Scholar 

  • Ford JD, Berrang-Ford L, Paterson J (2011) A systematic review of observed climate change adaptation in developed nations. Clim Change 1–10. Springer

  • Gusfield JR (1984) The culture of public problems: drinking-driving and the symbolic order. University of Chicago Press, Chicago

    Google Scholar 

  • Hall PA (1993) Policy paradigms, social learning, and the state the case of economic policymaking in Britain. Comp Politics 25(3):275–296

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hertin J, Berkhout F (2003) Analysing institutional strategies for environmental policy integration: the case of EU enterprise policy. J Environ Plan Policy Manage 5(1):39–56

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hogwood BW, Gunn LA (1984) Policy analysis for the real world. Oxford University Press, Oxford

    Google Scholar 

  • Howlett M, Ramesh M, Perl A (2009) Studying public policy: policy cycles & policy subsystems, vol 3. Oxford University Press, Toronto

  • Johnson H, Kovats RS, McGregor G, Stedman J, Gibbs M, Walton H, Cook L et al (2005) The impact of the 2003 heat wave on mortality and hospital admissions in England. Health Stat Q (25):6–11. Her Majesty’s Stationery Office (HMSO)

  • Jordan A, Wurzel RKW, Zito AR (2003) ’ New ‘ instruments of environmental governance: patterns and pathways of change. Environ Politics 12(1):1–24

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Juhola S (2010) Mainstreaming climate change adaptation: the case of multi-level governance in Finland. In: Keskitalo ECH (ed) Developing adaptation policy and practice in Europe: multi-level governance of climate change. Spinger, Dordrecht

    Google Scholar 

  • Keskitalo ECH (2010) Climate change adaptation in the United Kingdom: England and south-East England. In: Keskitalo ECH (ed) Developing adaptation policy and practice in Europe: multi-level governance of climate change. Spinger, Dordrecht

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  • Kingdon JW (1984) Agendas, alternatives, and public policies. Harper Collins, New York

    Google Scholar 

  • Knoke D, Laumann EO (1983) The social organization of national policy domains: an exploration of some structural hypotheses. In: Burt R, Minor M (eds) Applied network analysis: a methodological introduction. Sage Publications, Beverly Hills

    Google Scholar 

  • Lafferty W, Hovden E (2003) Environmental policy integration: towards an analytical framework. Environ Politics 12(3):1–22

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Laumann EO, Knoke D (1987) The organizational state. Social choice in national policy domains. Univ of Wisconsin Pr, London

    Google Scholar 

  • Lim B, Spanger-Siegfried E, Burton I, Malone EL, Huq S (2005) Adaptation policy frameworks for climate change: developing strategies, policies and measures. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge

    Google Scholar 

  • Local Government Association (2007) A climate of change: final report of the LGA climate commission

  • Local Government Association (2008) Cutting through the green tape: the powers councils have to tackle climate change

  • Local Government Association (2011) Winning solutions for adapting to severe weather

  • Local Government Association (2011) LGA responds to ASC report on adapting to climate change. LG Group media release—14 July 2011

  • Massey E, Bergsma E (2008) Assessing adaptation in 29 European countries. Instituut voor Milieuvraagstukken (IVM), Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam

  • May PJ, Sapotichne J, Workman S (2006) Policy coherence and policy domains. Policy Stud J 34(3):381–403. Wiley Online Library

    Google Scholar 

  • NERC (2007) The 2004–06 drought. National Environment Research Council

  • Nilsson M, Persson A (2003) Framework for analysing environmental policy integration. J Environ Plan Policy Manage 5(4):333–359

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Orlove B (2009) The past, the present and some possible futures of adaptation. In: Adger WN, Lorenzoni I, O’Brian K (eds) Adapting to climate change. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge

    Google Scholar 

  • Parsons W (1995) Public policy. Cheltenham, Northampton

  • Pitt M (2008) Learning lessons from the 2007 floods. Pitt Review

  • Rabin R (ed) (2003) Encyclopedia of public administration and public policy. Marcel Dekker Inc, New York

  • Rayner T, Jordan A (2009) Adaptation to climate change: an emerging EU policy. In: Amsterdam conference on the human dimensions of global environmental change, Earth system governance: people, places and the planet

  • Ribeiro M, Losenno C, Dworak T, Massey E, Swart R, Benzie M, Laaser C (2009) Design of guidelines for the elaboration of regional climate change adaptations strategies. Study for European Commission-DG Environment-Tender DG ENV. G.1/ETU/2008/0093r

  • Sabatier PA (2007) Theories of the policy process. Westview Press, Boulder

    Google Scholar 

  • Shafritz JM, Russell EW, Borick CP (2009) Introducing public administration. Pearson Longman, New York

    Google Scholar 

  • Stern NH (2007) The economics of climate change: the Stern review. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge

    Google Scholar 

  • Swart R (2009) Europe adapts to climate change: comparing national adaptation strategies. PEER, Helsinki

    Google Scholar 

  • Three regions climate change group (2005) Adapting to climate change: a checklist for development Greater London Authority; London Climate Change Partnership

  • Tompkins EL, Adger WN, Boyd E, Nicholson-Cole S, Weatherhead K, Arnell N (2010) Observed adaptation to climate change: UK evidence of transition to a well-adapting society. Glob Environ Change 20(4):627–635. Elsevier

    Google Scholar 

  • van Drunen M, Bouwer L, Dellink R, Gupta J, Massey E, Pauw P (2009) Financing adaptation in developing countries. Scientifc Assessment and Policy Analysis. Report, 500102, 25

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Eric Massey.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Massey, E., Huitema, D. The emergence of climate change adaptation as a policy field: the case of England. Reg Environ Change 13, 341–352 (2013).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: