CityAdapt Blog – Is There a Recipe for Climate Adaptation?

As a graduate student in the Urban and Regional Planning Department at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), I have been advocating for a course specifically dedicated to climate change adaptation. The next generation of planners, after all, are entering a new era of city building – An era in which we must plan on a much greater time scale, all while taking into account deep uncertainties about what awaits us. Will we have one foot of sea level rise by 2100, or three? The difference, while seemingly slight, is potentially catastrophic.

The Urban Planning scholars at UCLA that I am working with to craft the course are receptive to the idea of an adaptation course, but they warned me, there are no recipes for the monumental challenge of climate change. This wasn’t exactly what I hoped to hear, but the splash of cold water on to the face was well needed. I realized that I had been approaching the challenge of climate change a bit too idealistically. While a “recipe” isn’t exactly what I had in mind, I was genuinely looking for solutions: strategies to hold rising tides back, technologies to procure more water resources, and landscaping measures to curtail heat waves. While there are certainly some promising practices out there, my collaborators wanted to make one point especially clear: there are no universal truths. Adaptation is a highly variable endeavor.

This conclusion has also been confirmed by the research that I have engaged with at the Center for Urban Resilience (CURes), where I am working to identify the specific risks posed by climate change to Mediterranean cities, as well as effective responses. As with any research project, it’s important to survey what’s already out there first; like the saying goes, there’s no need to reinvent the wheel, or in this case, rewrite the IPCC report. After diving into the literature, I came across countless scientific papers on the impact of climate change on Mediterranean ecosystems, and a long list of municipal adaptation plans, but nothing that specifically aggregated all of this information into a unified resource for all five Mediterranean regions.[1]

My impulse was to write the manual that I had hoped to find, but given the nuances of local planning, I wondered about its ultimate utility. While the five Mediterranean regions certainly share similar climates, differences in governance, land use, and culture, for example, would require any useful policy guide to be so heavily footnoted that it would start to resemble a tome of national plans, many of which already appear to be written. So rather than try and write a recipe for five different kitchens, all stocked with different ingredients and cookware, I gravitated towards the concept of a potluck instead. The idea is simple: convene planners from across all five Mediterranean regions, encourage them to share innovative projects, and establish pathways to stay connect.

The Mediterranean City Climate Change Consortium (MC-4), housed at CURes, is the venue designed for that exact exchange. Through a combination of in-person conferences, meetings and phone calls, MC-4 members are provided an opportunity to share best practices and talk through logistical challenges. In a live setting, differences amongst cities become a jumping off point for further conversation. What previously seemed impossible in one part of the world, suddenly seems less daunting when a real person is able to tell the tale of successful implementation.

The MC-4 model also provides some fruitful lessons on how to potentially structure a class on climate change adaptation at UCLA. Since there appears to be no authoritative textbook with which to anchor the course, the curriculum will need to be largely driven by case studies, guest speakers, and site visits. The context in which various adaptation strategies arise will also need to be as closely studied as the strategies themselves. The proliferation of low-impact design across southeast Australia, for example, reveals as much about the region’s valuation of ecosystem services as it does the region’s need to capture stormwater, since there are more conventional ways to do so. One of the best ways to learn more about these contextual drivers is simply to ask. So, in an ideal world, my hypothetical class on climate change adaptation would be taught at multiple universities at once, allowing students from across the globe the chance to present their work to one another. And a conventional potluck, the kind with actual food, is always welcome.

About the Author: Jason Karpman is a Graduate Research Fellow with The Mediterranean City Climate Change Consortium (MC-4).  He holds a bachelor’s degree in Political Economy from UC Berkeley and is currently completing his master’s degree in Urban and Regional Planning at UCLA, where he was awarded the Dean’s Innovation Fellowship. His research interests include urban sustainability, climate change adaptation and carbon sequestration. Prior to joining CURes, Jason worked at the architecture firm HUSOS in Madrid, where he researched the carbon footprint of different building materials. In addition to his background in the design world, Jason also completed a public policy fellowship with the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC). While at the SFPUC, Jason consulted in the development of water conservation policy, including the San Francisco Water Efficient Irrigation Ordinance and the Laundry-to-Landscape Graywater Program. Along with environmental sustainability, Jason has worked extensively on the issue of criminal justice, and provided technical assistance to state governments in developing public safety legislation.


Hallegatte, Stéphane, Raphaë Billé, Alexandre Magnan, Benjamin Garnaud; François Gemenne. The Future of the Mediterranean: From Impacts of Climate Change to Adaptation Issues. Paris, France: Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations, 2009.

Travers, Ailbhe, Carmen Elrick, Robert Kay. Climate Change in Coastal Zones of the Mediterranean. Spilt, Croatia: Priority Actions Programme/Regional Activity Centre, United Nations Environment Programme, 2010.

Otero, María del Mar, Joaquim Garrabou, Manuel Vargas. Mediterranean Marine Protected Areas And Climate Change: A Guide To Regional Monitoring And Adaptation Opportunities. Gland, Switzerland: International Union for Conservation of Nature, 2013.

Osberghaus, Daniel, Claudio Bacciant. Adaptation to Climate Change in the Southern Mediterranean: A Theoretical Framework, a Foresight Analysis and Three Case Studies. Brussels, Belgium: Mediterranean Prospects, Centre for European Policy Studies, 2013.

[1] The Mediterranean Basin, in contrast, has been the subject of a handful of international reports, including: The Future of the Mediterranean (2009), Climate Change in Coastal Zones of the Mediterranean (2010), Mediterranean Marine Protected Areas And Climate Change (2013), and Adaptation to Climate Change in the Southern Mediterranean (2013).