International bureaucrats’ attitudes toward global climate adaptation


In this journal article, Prof. Lisa Dellmuth from Stockholm University examines how international bureaucrats view climate risks. The failure to integrate adaptation needs across issue areas has severely undermined climate adaptation governance.

More than forty central international organizations, with mandates in both climate and non-climate issue areas, have increasingly – yet varyingly – engaged with adaptation over the past two decades.

The article is published in npj Climate Action.

Flooding of a village. Photo: Tri Le / Pixabay.

Key messages

  • The 2015 Paris Agreement has fueled debates about how the international bureaucrats driving international organizations’ engagement with climate adaptation ought to address adaptation challenges.
  • While previous research has predominantly focused on the structural constraints in adaptation governance, this paper develops a distinct argument about the cognitive frames through which international bureaucrats view climate risks.
  • The evidence comes from a survey among bureaucrats in three organizations that have engaged with adaptation to different extents: United Nations Environment, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and the World Health Organization.


The results suggest that the majority of the surveyed bureaucrats view climate risks as a multidimensional problem. The evidence indicates that bureaucrats are more likely to view climate risks through multiple than through single issue frames, the more certain they perceive the knowledge about climate impacts in their issue area to be. By way of conclusion, the paper sketches broader implications for adaptation and international bureaucracy research.


Dellmuth, L. International bureaucrats’ attitudes toward global climate adaptation. npj Clim. Action 2, 40 (2023).

Authors of this publication

Lisa M. Dellmuth ,