Unlocking climate adaptation by integrating art and science

Caption: Left: public space intervention in Barcelona aiming to increase environmental quality, resource efficiency and people’s well-being (Photograph: Marta Olazabal). Right: Adaptation to climate change requires collective discussions to identify urban futures that work for everyone (@ All rights reserved. Author: Josune Urrutia)

17th of April, 2024, Bilbao.Recent research published in Nature Communications demonstrates the power of combining art and science to ground adaptation efforts in the realities of local communities. This study is the first to engage urban adaptation practitioners and experts from around the globe to explain what urban climate change adaptation is through art.

Impacts of climate change are occurring and measures to adapt to them need to be implemented. However, climate change adaptation isn’t just about adaptation science; it’s about understanding local needs, cultures, and worldviews so that communities are better prepared for climate impacts. Traditional adaptation strategies often fail to resonate with local communities. They are too technical and too detached from local contexts, leaving vulnerable populations behind.

In an effort to bridge this gap, BC3 researchers Marta Olazabal, Maria Loroño-Leturiondo, Ana Terra Amorim-Maia, and William Lewis have integrated art into the climate adaptation conversation by co-producing 31 visuals representing context-specific adaptation futures with local actors during six months, as part of the project IMAGINE Adaptation. Through this series of illustrations, 100 participants from more than 60 cities worldwide were invited to imagine their cities adapting to climate change. These images, meticulously crafted in collaboration with the professional illustrator Josune Urrutia Asua, translated abstract adaptation concepts into vivid images that speak directly to local experiences. These visuals serve as a universal language, transcending cultural barriers and empowering communities to envision their climate-resilient futures.

“Visual representations can evoke emotions and understanding in ways that words alone cannot. Our research proves that working with adaptation visuals not only plays an important role in science communication but also during the research itself and for the integration of different types of knowledge”, highlights lead author Marta Olazabal and coordinator of the IMAGINE Adaptation project.

The study offers a visual guide for unlocking local ways of doing and solutions to global challenges. By harnessing the power of art and science, abstract concepts can be transformed into tangible actions, empowering communities to build a more resilient future. However, “working with images presents its own set of challenges, from ensuring cultural relevance to balancing simplicity and detail,” explains climate justice researcher Ana Terra Amorim-Maia. “Despite these challenges, art-based approaches hold immense potential to foster meaningful dialogue and action for climate adaptation” she argues. 

IMAGINE Adaptation proves that art-science collaborations are not just about disseminating scientific findings but also about co-creating solutions with communities. As we face increasingly complex climate, societal and ecological crises, accounting for diverse perspectives and approaches from everyone involved is imperative. And art is an excellent way to embark on this mission.

Paper details:

For more information on the study and its findings, please refer to the full article published in Nature Communications: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-024-47400-7 

Olazabal, M., Loroño-Leturiondo, M., Amorim-Maia, A. T., Lewis, W., & Urrutia, J. (2024). Integrating science and the arts to deglobalise climate change adaptation. Nature Communications, 15(1), 2971. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-024-47400-7

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