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The political ecology of adaptation to climate change in South Korea


From 08/2009 to 07/2013

Principal Investigator: Detlef Müller-Mahn
Staff: Susann Trabert
Grant: IRTG 1565 WP IV TERRECO - Complex Terrain and Ecological Heterogeneity - Evaluating ecosystem services in production versus water yield and water quality in mountainous landscapes

Goal within the TERRECO Assessments:

  • Determine the alternative perspective to TERRECO WP 2-15 that may occur when viewing ecosystem services at regional scale and the viewpoint of resource managers
  • Develop social interpretations that allow predictions in decision making in the context of global change trade-offs


Abstract 2011: Farmers are increasingly confronted with extremely variable climate conditions, especially regarding precipitation and temperature, that affect agricultural production and their livelihood. The solution for dealing with a range of climate uncertainties, according to scientists and practitioners working in this field, is for the impacted social groups to adapt their behavior as quickly and effectively as possible. To assess whether and what forms of adaption may be occurring in behaviour of farmers, we examined adaptation to climate change in Inje County of Gangwon Province both from bottom-up (through a survey among farmers) as well as from top-down perspectives (reviewing programs implemented by the regional government). Our conclusion is that a critical attitude towards the concept of adaptive capacity is still needed in order to prevent the adoption of simplistic solutions.


Keywords: climate change, adaptation, farming, perception, adaptive capacity, Inje County


project description in detail from 2011 TERRECO Science Conference GAP



Abstract 2013: Internationally developed scientific concepts contribute strongly to environmental policy-making. A current example is the global climate change debate on issues related to mitigation and adaptation. This project considers climate change adaptation to be a global concept which is promoted by the South Korean government in various ways to confront expected climatic change impacts in diverse sectors, among them agriculture.

The purpose of this study was to examine compatability between the current climate adaptation policy of the South Korean government in the agricultural sector with the living conditions and decision-making of farmers in Inje County in Kangwon Province. The study focused on participating political institutions, their strategies for climate change adaptation, and implementation efforts. With regard to agriculture, the Korean Adaptation Center for Climate Change, the Rural Development Administration, and the Ministry of Environment have developed adaptation strategies that aim to stabilize and diversify sources of income, and to promote the use of new crops and cultivation methods. These goals are supposed to be achieved through training of farmers, provision of subsidies, and provision of insurance to cover losses in the case of an environmental catastrophe.

The concept of adaptation focuses on adjustments by farmers to climate change. At the political level, it has been developed as a strategy, yet the implementation of adaptation policy has been delayed. The current politics of governmental institutions stands in contrast to the livelihood of farmers in the rural areas of Kangwon Province. Farmers stated in the interviews that they perceive climate change (about 95%), but that these climatic changes do not have a major influence on their cultivation decisions. More important to them are economic factors, such as the price of crops in the market or potential investments that are required. In the environmental policy sphere, climate change is considered to be a major driver for decision-making in various sectors, but our study has shown that for farmers climate change is only of minor importance. The political actors argue that for agriculture, new crop types and technologies are needed in order to adapt to climate change, but the case in Inje County demonstrated how difficult it is for farmers to invest and to change their current farming practices. Underlying reasons for these difficulties are the demographic structure of Inje County and the uncertain future of farms due to the lack of farm successors. Another reason is the difference in the planning schedules that exist between political decision-makers versus farmers.

Key words: climate change, adaptation, political ecology


Poster January 2013

last modified 2013-03-05