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Institutional inertia in a changing climate: Climate adaptation planning in Cape Town, South Africa

Anna Taylor (Environmental and Geographical Science Department, African Centre for Cities, University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa)

International Journal of Climate Change Strategies and Management

ISSN: 1756-8692

Article publication date: 21 March 2016




This paper aims to present an investigation of the climate adaptation planning and implementation process undertaken by the municipal government of Cape Town, South Africa, situating the findings within the broader literature on governance-related barriers to adaptation.


By developing an in-depth case study using methods of organizational ethnography, the research traces phases of climate adaptation planning and implementation in Cape Town. Applied thematic analysis surfaces issues of coordination, decision-making, resource constraints and tracking progress as key constraints to urban climate adaptation.


While considerable progress has been made on developing a citywide climate adaptation plan for Cape Town, implementation is constrained by poor monitoring and feedback within and between departments and a lack of oversight and impetus from central authorities within the government hierarchy.

Research limitations/implications

Further research is needed on the interface between technical and political decision-making, governance arrangements that facilitate coordination and iterative adjustment and the organizational uptake of externally commissioned work on climate adaptation.

Practical implications

The paper points to the need for a climate adaptation coordination function situated higher up in the municipal government structure than the environment department to implement, monitor, evaluate and revise measures to reduce climate risks and vulnerabilities citywide.


The paper is of value to those seeking to understand local government decision-making, as it pertains to climate adaptation and those looking for means to address climate risks and vulnerabilities in cities, especially in South Africa.



This work was supported by Mistra Urban Futures, a global research and knowledge center in sustainable urban development, funded by the Swedish International Development Agenday (SIDA) and the Mistra Foundation for Strategic Development. The author specially thanks colleagues at the City of Cape Town, who shared generously of their time and knowledge, and also to the journal editors and three anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments.


Taylor, A. (2016), "Institutional inertia in a changing climate: Climate adaptation planning in Cape Town, South Africa", International Journal of Climate Change Strategies and Management, Vol. 8 No. 2, pp. 194-211.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2016, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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