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An actor-centered, risk-based approach to defining limits to social adaptation provides a useful analytic framing for identifying and anticipating these limits and informing debates over society's responses to climate change.
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opinion & comment
Limits to adaptation
Kirstin Dow, Frans Berkhout, Benjamin L. Preston, Richard J.T. Klein, Guy Midgley
and M. Rebecca Shaw
An actor-centered, risk-based approach to defining limits to social adaptation provides a useful analytic
framing for identifying and anticipating these limits and informing debates over society’s responses to
climate change.
An inadequate multilateral response
on reductions in global greenhouse-
gas emissions has resulted in
much greater emphasis on adaptation
to address the growing risks of climate
change. Natural and social systems oen
have signicant capacities to adapt,
including the potential in social systems
for transformative adaptation in response
to climate-related risks1. Global-scale
assessments of vulnerability to climate
change have identied ‘key vulnerabilities’2
and ‘tipping points’3 suggesting thresholds
in biophysical systems that, if exceeded,
would pose major threats to sustainability
and human welfare, and are thus ‘reasons
for concern’4. However, it is dicult to
establish how the rate and magnitude of
climate change and biophysical thresholds
might relate to the capacity to adapt in
social systems. Some adaptation limits
have been clearly identied, primarily for
ecological systems, exemplied by species
extinctions. But little is known about limits
in social systems — whether there are social
limits to adaptation5, what inuences their
likelihood, where these might lie, who they
would aect and what the consequences of
reaching such limits might be.
e existence of adaptation limits
has broad implications. If the capacity
to adapt is unlimited, a key rationale for
reducing emissions of greenhouse gases is
weakened and replaced by considerations of
adaptation costs and benets, and of equity
concerns. However, research suggests that
opportunities and resources to adapt may
be nite for many social actors, whether
these are individual households, businesses
or governments6. Breaching adaptation
limits will result in escalating losses or
require transformational change. Hence,
there is an urgent need to identify and
predict where limits are likely to occur in
order to assess and prepare for the potential
consequences. Here we propose a risk-based
approach to dening adaptation limits,
provide two examples, and raise some
implications and research needs highlighted
by this perspective.
e utility of the current literature on
adaptation limits is weakened by ambiguity.
Terms such as thresholds, limits, barriers
and constraints are used interchangeably,
yet their meanings dier. Although an
adaptation barrier or constraint represents
a stressor or an impediment to adaptation
that can in principle be overcome6, an
adaptation limit implies a level of adaptive
capacity, broadly dened, that cannot be
surpassed. Providing a sound conceptual
approach is a necessary rst step to enable
progress in building knowledge about limits.
We believe an actor-centred approach to
dening social adaptation limits will bring
clarity, and can inform practical action.
Adaptation is primarily intended to
reduce climate-related risks to things we
value7. e concept of risk includes extra
elements that are useful in developing
a clear denition of adaptation limits;
notably the consequences, likelihood and
uncertainty of climate-related hazards8.
Risk perceptions inuence a homeowner’s
desire to live in a particular place, a forestry
company’s management strategy in the face
of climate-related hazards or an insurance
company’s unwillingness to provide disaster
coverage. Adaptation processes can be
viewed as attempts to keep risks to valued
objectives — such as a home by the beach or
a protable forestry business — at a tolerable
level in the face of climate-related threats.
We recognize that actors, from individuals
to corporations and governments, may
dier in their perceptions, experiences and
evaluations of risks and in their willingness
to take actions to abate risks. For instance,
farmers in the same region may dier in their
perceptions of the magnitude, consequences
or uncertainty of climate-related risks, in their
tolerances of potential crop and related losses
and in their willingness to shi to new crops
or management practices. Governments may
dier in their approach to crop insurance.
To simplify this complexity, Klinke and
Renn have argued that actors will implicitly
or explicitly place risks to their valued
objectives into one of three categories
involving dierent types of response8,9:
acceptable risks are risks deemed so low that
further eorts in risk reduction (adaptation)
are not justied; tolerable risks relate to
situations where adaptive, risk-reduction
eorts are required for risks to be kept
within reasonable levels10; and intolerable
risks are those which fundamentally
threaten a private or social norm —
threatening, for instance, public safety,
continuity of traditions, a legal standard
or a social contract11 — despite adaptive
action having been taken. On reaching an
intolerable risk level, we normally expect a
discontinuity of behaviour in order to avoid
the risk, whether this is a homeowner’s
decision to move, or a forester selling o
land, as the alternative is increasing losses.
e question of what is acceptable, tolerable
or intolerable remains with the individual
actors, as they shape collective responses.
Figure1 depicts these risk types,
focusing on the relationship between
the frequency and intensity of adverse
impacts. According to this representation,
adaptation occurs within the zone dened
Many communities in highly-
vulnerable regions like the
Arctic are already facing limits
in their capacity to adapt.
A risk-based approach to
limits is scalable, broadly
applicable and readily intuitive
by a broad array of actors.
© 2013 Macmillan Publishers Limited. All rights reserved
opinion & comment
as representing a tolerable risk. For instance,
a farmer seeking to cultivate a specic crop
under increasingly stressed water resources
will invest in available adaptation options to
raise the eciency of water use, increasing
adaptive eort as access to water resources
becomes more constrained. At some point,
adaptation eort under the existing regime
will become disproportionate to the benets
and a new adaptation action, such as
irrigation, is needed to maintain a farming
livelihood. is new adaptation would
allow farming or other valued objectives
to continue. But, at some point, no new
adaptation options are available to respond
to growing risks, or the level of adaptive
eort required to maintain valued objectives
becomes infeasible. At this point the farmer
may, for example, choose to abandon
farming altogether.
e blurred boundaries between the
zones of risk seen as acceptable, tolerable
and intolerable signify the diversity among
actors and the potential for debate over the
level and distribution of risk. In the absence
of new adaptation options or resources, the
threshold for intolerable risks represents a
point at which an actor must either live with
the risk of escalating loss and damage12,
or transform behaviour to avoid the risk1.
Such a discontinuity in risk or behaviour
is symptomatic of an adaptation limit
being reached.
We therefore propose a denition of an
adaptation limit as a point at which an actor
can no longer secure valued objectives from
intolerable risk through adaptive action.
Two rather dierent examples illustrate the
denition. First, we take rice cultivation in
South Asia. Rice pollination and owering
has a threshold temperature of 26°C
(at night), with a 10% decline in yield for
every 1°C increase in temperature above
that13. In this example, the adaptation limit
is established by the inability to breed rice
varieties that pollinate with night-time
temperatures above the 32–35°C range14.
e valued objective is to produce rice as a
staple crop and for export. e intolerable
risk is a level of loss in rice production,
farmer livelihoods, income from exports
and food security. Rising temperatures
increase the future probability that rice
harvests may fail.
Such failures would probably impose
economic losses on farmers, as well as
generate broader economic and political
impacts. If no aordable alternative supplies
of rice can be found, it could entail excessive
costs to consumers and/or changing
dietary practices. e increasing threat
of these impacts could lead farmers and
policymakers to change long-established
practices of rice cultivation and pursue
security though alternative crops. For many
reasons, change in response to limits can be
a complex process. e tolerable degree of
risk diers among actors and debate could
slow collective adaptive action. e level
of disruption caused by escalating losses
and discontinuities at the limit boundary
could potentially be mediated by designing
eective adaptation processes for managing
change associated with the limit. Better
recognition of the limit could reduce losses
during such a transition, whereas failing
to address the risk as a limit is reached
could result in catastrophic economic and
social costs.
Our second example is at the societal
level, and concerns a risk to cultural
continuity7. In the mid- to late eenth
century, aer about 400years of settlement,
the complex and vibrant Norse Greenland
society came to an end. is is oen seen
as a failure to adapt to climatic changes in
the ‘Little Ice Age’. In fact, the story of this
collapse represents an example of limits to
adaptation. Norse Greenlanders adapted
in a variety of ways by shiing to new
ways of exploiting marine mammals as
harsh climatic conditions forced declines
in agriculture and domestic livestock
production15. But faced with growing
competition from Inuit hunters, declining
trade in ivory and fur with Norway, and a
worsening climate, these adaptations were
insucient to maintain risks to community
continuity at tolerable levels.
We believe an approach to dening
adaptation limits linked to the (in)
tolerability of risks is useful because it
engages with the social, institutional and
cultural contexts shaping adaptation and
risk. It also incorporates the role of social,
economic and cultural values in dening
adaptation limits5,7. By starting from the
perspective of social actors, this approach
recognizes that adaptation limits always
need to be dened from the perspective of
a specic actor facing the loss, be that an
individual, community or region. is also
applies to global-scale biophysical changes
articulated in the key vulnerabilities2
described by the Intergovernmental Panel
on Climate Change . Identifying ‘dangerous
climate change’ relies on understanding
which actors will be aected and whether
they are facing adaptation limits. As the rice
and Norse cases show, a risk-based approach
to limits is scalable, broadly applicable and
readily intuitive by a broad array of actors.
Focusing on the potential intersection
of intolerable risks and valued objectives
directs our attention beyond the biophysical
impacts to identifying the broader social
dimensions of potential losses. is will be
part of accounting for, debating over and
allocating resources at adaptation limits.
Given the diculties in determining
limits to adaptation, there is an urgent need
for research in key domains — including
agriculture, water resources management
and disease control — to determine
where limits may exist so that actors may
anticipate and plan to mediate the hardships
that cannot be avoided. e capacities
to provide early warnings and to operate
Very frequentVery rare
Frequency of adverse impact
Intolerable risks
Intensity of adverse impact Catastrophic Negligible
Acceptable risks
Tolerable risks
Figure 1 | Acceptable, tolerable and intolerable risks in relation to adaptation limits. Figure drawn by
Yuk a Es t ra d a, IP CC , ba s ed on re f . 8 .
© 2013 Macmillan Publishers Limited. All rights reserved
opinion & comment
across scales are two important features of
such eorts. Beyond these, a concern for
adaptation limits draws attention to the
design, capabilities and trust in institutions
needed to implement risk management
in extremis. Many communities in highly
vulnerable regions — such as the Arctic —
are already facing limits in their capacity
to adapt, and losses that are dicult
to compensate for. As climate change
accelerates, increasingly more communities,
regions and sectors will begin to approach
these limits. We need to be aware of this
gathering storm of crises, the potential
for changes in risk and behaviour at limits
and the likelihood that those changes will
generate challenging debates. Researchers
need to begin making progress in predicting
and anticipating adaptation limits, and
policymakers need to start making plans for
managing the consequences of exceeding
adaptation limits.
Kirsti n Dow 1*, Frans Berkhout2, Benjamin Preston3,
Richard Klein4,5, Guy Midgley6 and M. Rebecca Shaw 7,8
are in the 1Department of Geography, University of
South Carolina, Callcott Building 709 Bull Street,
Columbia, South Carolina 29208, USA, 2Institute
for Environmental Studies, VU University,
De Boelelaan 1085, Amsterdam, 1081HV,
Nether lands, 3Oak Ridge National Laboratory,
One Bethel Valley Road, PO Box2800, MS-6301,
Oak Ridge, Tennessee 37831-6301, USA, 4Stockholm
Environment Institute, Kräriket 2B, 106 91
Stockholm, Sweden, 5Centre for Climate Science
and Policy Research and Department of ematic
Studies, Linköping University, Sweden, 6South African
National Biodiversity Institute, Kirstenbosch, P/Bag x7,
Claremont 7735, Cape Town, South Africa, 7School
of Agricultural, Earth, and Environmental Sciences,
University of Kwazulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg,
P/Bag x101, Scottsville 3209, South Africa,
8Environmental Defense Fund, 123 Mission St,
28th Floor, San Francisco, California 94105, USA.
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e authors would like to thank Mozaharul Alam,
Habiba Gitay, Susanne Moser, James urlow, and
Koko Warner for their constructive comments.
© 2013 Macmillan Publishers Limited. All rights reserved
... The report on 160 atmospheric carbon dioxide was chaired by Roger Revelle [50]. The report states that 161 "through his worldwide industrial civilization, Man is unwittingly conducting a vast ge- 162 ophysical experiment" and recognizes that climatic changes "produced by increased CO2 163 content could be deleterious from the point of view of human beings". However, without 164 specifying why and how. ...
... An adaptation limit can be defined as "a point at which an actor can no longer secure 671 valued objectives from intolerable risk through adaptive action" [163]. The notion of limits 672 implies the absence of adaptation options over a given time horizon [164], including both 673 social systems and the inability of natural systems to adapt to climate change [165,166]. ...
... 674 Risks can be grouped as acceptable, tolerable, or intolerable risks. Intolerable risks are 675 related to threats to core social objectives, like public health and safety, welfare, continuity 676 of traditions, security, legal standards [163,164,167]. With escalating climate change risks, 677 the human and natural system capacities to effectively adapt through incremental adjust-678 ments are increasingly impaired. ...
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Global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions have continued to grow persistently since 1750. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) entered into force in 1994 to stabilize GHG emissions. Since then, the increasingly harmful impacts of global climate change and repeated scientific warnings about future risks have not been enough to change the emissions trend and enforce policy actions. This paper synthesizes the climate change challenges and the insofar insufficient mitigation responses via an integrated literature review. The fossil industry, mainstream economic thinking, national rather than international interests, and political strive for short-term interests present key barriers to climate mitigation. A continuation of such trends is reflected in the Dice model, leading to a 3.5 °C temperature increase by 2100. Despite receiving the Nobel Prize for integrating climate change into long-run macroeconomic analysis via the Dice model, increases in global mean temperatures overshooting the 1.5 °C to 2 °C Paris targets imply an intensified disruption in the human–climate system. Past and present policy delays and climate disruption pave the way for solar radiation management (SRM) geoengineering solutions with largely unknown and potentially dangerous side effects. This paper argues against SRM geoengineering and evaluates critical mitigation solutions leading to a decrease in global temperatures without overshooting the Paris targets. The essential drivers and barriers are discussed through a unified approach to tipping points in the human–climate system. The scientific literature presents many economically and technologically viable solutions and the policy and measures required to implement them. The present paper identifies the main barriers to integrating them in a globally cooperative way, presenting an efficient, long-term, and ethical policy approach to climate change.
... There are limits to adaptation, which include, for example, physical, ecological, technological, economic, political, institutional, psychological and/or socio-cultural aspects (medium evidence, high agreement) (Dow et al., 2013;Barnett et al., 2014;Klein et al., 2014). For example, the ability to adapt to sea level rise depends, in part, on the elevation of the low-lying islands and coasts in question, but also on the capacity to successfully negotiate protection or relocation measures socially and politically (Cross-Chapter Box 9, also see Section 6.4.3 for a wider overview). ...
... Limits to adaptation are reached when adaptation no longer allows an actor or ecosystem to secure valued objectives or key functions from intolerable risks (Section 4.4.2; Dow et al., 2013). Defining tolerable risks and key system functions is, therefore, of central importance for the assessment of limits to adaptation. ...
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Framing and Context of the Report Chapter 1 Executive Summary This special report assesses new knowledge since the IPCC 5th Assessment Report (AR5) and the Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5oC (SR15) on how the ocean and cryosphere have and are expected to change with ongoing global warming, the risks and opportunities these changes bring to ecosystems and people, and mitigation, adaptation and governance options for reducing future risks. Chapter 1 provides context on the importance of the ocean and cryosphere, and the framework for the assessments in subsequent chapters of the report. All people on Earth depend directly or indirectly on the ocean and cryosphere. The fundamental roles of the ocean and cryosphere in the Earth system include the uptake and redistribution of anthropogenic carbon dioxide and heat by the ocean, as well as their crucial involvement of in the hydrological cycle. The cryosphere also amplifies climate changes through snow, ice and permafrost feedbacks. Services provided to people by the ocean and/or cryosphere include food and freshwater, renewable energy, health and wellbeing, cultural values, trade and transport. {1.1, 1.2, 1.5} Sustainable development is at risk from emerging and intensifying ocean and cryosphere changes. Ocean and cryosphere changes interact with each of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Progress on climate action (SDG 13) would reduce risks to aspects of sustainable development that are fundamentally linked to the ocean and cryosphere and the services they provide (high confidence1). Progress on achieving the SDGs can contribute to reducing the exposure or vulnerabilities of people and communities to the risks of ocean and cryosphere change (medium confidence). {1.1} Communities living in close connection with polar, mountain, and coastal environments are particularly exposed to the current and future hazards of ocean and cryosphere change. Coasts are home to approximately 28% of the global population, including around 11% living on land less than 10 m above sea level. Almost 10% of the global population lives in the Arctic or high mountain regions. People in these regions face the greatest exposure to ocean and cryosphere change, and poor and marginalised people here are particularly vulnerable to climate-related hazards and risks (very high confidence). The adaptive capacity of people, communities and nations is shaped by social, political, cultural, economic, technological, institutional, geographical and demographic factors. {1.1, 1.5, 1.6, Cross-Chapter Box 2 in Chapter 1} Ocean and cryosphere changes are pervasive and observed from high mountains, to the polar regions, to coasts, and into the deep ocean. AR5 assessed that the ocean is warming (0 to 700 m: virtually certain2; 700 to 2,000 m: likely), sea level is rising (high confidence), and ocean acidity is increasing (high confidence). Most glaciers are shrinking (high confidence), the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets are losing mass (high confidence), sea ice extent in the Arctic is decreasing (very high confidence), Northern Hemisphere snow cover is decreasing (very high confidence), and permafrost temperatures are increasing (high confidence). Improvements since AR5 in observation systems, techniques, reconstructions and model developments, have advanced scientific characterisation and understanding of ocean and cryosphere change, including in previously identified areas of concern such as ice sheets and Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC). {1.1, 1.4, 1.8.1} Evidence and understanding of the human causes of climate warming, and of associated ocean and cryosphere changes, has increased over the past 30 years of IPCC assessments (very high confidence). Human activities are estimated to have caused approximately 1.0oC of global warming above pre-industrial levels (SR15). Areas of concern in earlier IPCC reports, such as the expected acceleration of sea level rise, are now observed (high confidence). Evidence for expected slow-down of AMOC is emerging in sustained observations and from long-term palaeoclimate reconstructions (medium confidence), and may be related with anthropogenic forcing according to model simulations, although this remains to be properly attributed. Significant sea level rise contributions from Antarctic ice sheet mass loss (very high confidence), which earlier reports did not expect to manifest this century, are already being observed. {1.1, 1.4} Ocean and cryosphere changes and risks by the end-of-century (2081–2100) will be larger under high greenhouse gas emission scenarios, compared with low emission scenarios (very high confidence). Projections and assessments of future climate, ocean and cryosphere changes in the Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate (SROCC) are commonly based on coordinated climate model experiments from the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase 5 (CMIP5) forced with Representative Concentration Pathways (RCPs) of future radiative forcing. Current emissions continue to grow at a rate consistent with a high emission future without effective climate change mitigation policies (referred to as RCP8.5). The SROCC assessment contrasts this high greenhouse gas emission future with a low greenhouse gas emission, high mitigation future (referred to as RCP2.6) that gives a two in three chance of limiting warming by the end of the century to less than 2oC above pre-industrial. {Cross-Chapter Box 1 in Chapter 1} 1 1 2 In this report, the following summary terms are used to describe the available evidence: limited, medium, or robust; and for the degree of agreement: low, medium or high. A level of confidence is expressed using five qualifiers: very low, low, medium, high and very high, and typeset in italics, for example, medium confidence. For a given evidence and agreement statement, different confidence levels can be assigned, but increasing levels of evidence and degrees of agreement are correlated with increasing confidence (see Section 1.9.2 and Figure 1.4 for more details). In this report, the following terms have been used to indicate the assessed likelihood of an outcome or a result: Virtually certain 99–100% probability, Very likely 90–100%, Likely 66–100%, About as likely as not 33–66%, Unlikely 0–33%, Very unlikely 0–10%, and Exceptionally unlikely 0–1%. Additional terms (Extremely likely: 95–100%, More likely than not >50–100%, and Extremely unlikely 0–5%) may also be used when appropriate. Assessed likelihood is typeset in italics, for example, very likely (see Section 1.9.2 and Figure 1.4 for more details). This Report also uses the term ‘likely range’ to indicate that the assessed likelihood of an outcome lies within the 17–83% probability range. 75 1 Characteristics of ocean and cryosphere change include thresholds of abrupt change, long-term changes that cannot be avoided, and irreversibility (high confidence). Ocean warming, acidification and deoxygenation, ice sheet and glacier mass loss, and permafrost degradation are expected to be irreversible on time scales relevant to human societies and ecosystems. Long response times of decades to millennia mean that the ocean and cryosphere are committed to long-term change even after atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations and radiative forcing stabilise (high confidence). Ice-melt or the thawing of permafrost involve thresholds (state changes) that allow for abrupt, nonlinear responses to ongoing climate warming (high confidence). These characteristics of ocean and cryosphere change pose risks and challenges to adaptation. {1.1, Box 1.1, 1.3} Societies will be exposed, and challenged to adapt, to changes in the ocean and cryosphere even if current and future efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions keep global warming well below 2oC (very high confidence). Ocean and cryosphere-related mitigation and adaptation measures include options that address the causes of climate change, support biological and ecological adaptation, or enhance societal adaptation. Most ocean-based local mitigation and adaptation measures have limited effectiveness to mitigate climate change and reduce its consequences at the global scale, but are useful to implement because they address local risks, often have co-benefits such as biodiversity conservation, and have few adverse side effects. Effective mitigation at a global scale will reduce the need and cost of adaptation, and reduce the risks of surpassing limits to adaptation. Ocean-based carbon dioxide removal at the global scale has potentially large negative ecosystem consequences. {1.6.1, 1.6.2, Cross-Chapter Box 2 in Chapter 1} The scale and cross-boundary dimensions of changes in the ocean and cryosphere challenge the ability of communities, cultures and nations to respond effectively within existing governance frameworks (high confidence). Profound economic and institutional transformations are needed if climate-resilient development is to be achieved (high confidence). Changes in the ocean and cryosphere, the ecosystem services that they provide, the drivers of those changes, and the risks to marine, coastal, polar and mountain ecosystems, occur on spatial and temporal scales that may not align within existing governance structures and practices (medium confidence). This report highlights the requirements for transformative governance, international and transboundary cooperation, and greater empowerment of local communities in the governance of the ocean, coasts, and cryosphere in a changing climate. {1.5, 1.7, Cross-Chapter Box 2 in Chapter 1, Cross-Chapter Box 3 in Chapter 1} Robust assessments of ocean and cryosphere change, and the development of context-specific governance and response options, depend on utilising and strengthening all available knowledge systems (high confidence). Scientific knowledge from observations, models and syntheses provides global to local scale understandings of climate change (very high confidence). Indigenous knowledge (IK) and local knowledge (LK) provide context-specific and socio-culturally relevant understandings for effective responses and policies (medium confidence). Education and climate literacy enable climate action and adaptation (high confidence). {1.8, Cross-Chapter Box 4 in Chapter 1} Long-term sustained observations and continued modelling are critical for detecting, understanding and predicting ocean and cryosphere change, providing the knowledge to inform risk assessments and adaptation planning (high confidence). Knowledge gaps exist in scientific knowledge for important regions, parameters and processes of ocean and cryosphere change, including for physically plausible, high impact changes like high end sea level rise scenarios that would be costly if realised without effective adaptation planning and even then may exceed limits to adaptation. Means such as expert judgement, scenario building, and invoking multiple lines of evidence enable comprehensive risk assessments even in cases of uncertain future ocean and cryosphere changes. {1.8.1, 1.9.2; Cross-Chapter Box 5 in Chapter 1}
... An adaptation limit can be defined as "a point at which an actor can no longer secure valued objectives from intolerable risk through adaptive action" [166]. The notion of limits implies the absence of adaptation options over a given time horizon [167], including both social systems and the inability of natural systems to adapt to climate change [165,168]. ...
... Risks can be grouped as acceptable, tolerable, or intolerable risks. Intolerable risks are related to threats to core social objectives, such as public health and safety, welfare, continuity of traditions, security, and legal standards [166,167,169]. With escalating climate change risks, the human and natural system capacities to effectively adapt through incremental adjustments are increasingly impaired. ...
... Adaptation as an incremental process, separate from transformation. For conservation goals aiming at preserving system structure and functions, as in Caring for Nature, adaptation options are framed as responses to maintain current prevailing societal objectives through reducing climate-related risks (Dow et al. 2013). Adaptation is mainly through coping actions and incremental short-term responses (Adger et al. 2009) through active (e.g. ...
... climate refugia; Morelli et al. 2020). If ecological change is not prevented, then 'limits to adaptation' have been reached (Dow et al. 2013;Barnett et al. 2015) and transformation is necessary. ...
Full-text available
The term 'adaptation' is commonplace in conservation research and practice, but often without a reflection on the assumptions, expectations, or frames of reference used to define goals and actions. Communities of practice (e.g. conservation researchers, protected areas managers) have different interpretations of climate change impacts on biodiversity and different ways of defining, operationalizing and implementing adaptation. Their cognitive and motivational expectations for the future are associated with different paths to reach such desired futures. To understand how adaptation is framed in conservation, we undertook a systematic review with a thematic synthesis of the definitions of the term as used in the academic conservation literature. From a sample of 150 articles, only 36 provided a definition of adaptation. We critically appraised the explicit definitions to identify emergent themes that represent particular adaptation approaches. Themes were then grouped, and each group was assigned to a scholarly tradition, onto-epistemological approach and theoretical perspective. Based on theoretical perspectives on social change, we propose a framework (including individual cognitive basis, social interactions, and openness to alternatives) to analyse how change is framed in the definitions and how the framings influence adaptation options. The grouped themes represent passive, active, or indirect adaptation approaches. We used these themes to generate a conceptual model to guide conservation researchers and practitioners engaged in climate adaptation research, policy and management to aid reflection and understanding of the options available to design adaptation agendas and allow negotiation of diverse interests, views and expectations about the future. ARTICLE HISTORY
... Over the past century, the earth's climate has undergone significant changes characterized by global warming, which has had a significant impact on global ecosystems and their important services [9]. Studies have shown that climate change has a negative impact on 59% of ecosystem services [25] and this impact is expected to increase rapidly around the world in the future [26][27][28][29]. Climate change may profoundly affect the behavior patterns and sensitivities of biotic/abiotic organisms, thereby promoting regulation, support, and cultural services [29] or modifying the relationships and benefits related to ecosystem services [30]. ...
... The northern grasslands are relatively drier and water is a more important limiting factor, which may override the influence of temperature, since the effects of temperature and water on vegetation growth in nature may be interactive or fluctuating [59]. Meanwhile, given that the data used were only 20 years old, climate change may influence grassland ESV in the future, as projected by some studies [12,[26][27][28][29]33]. ...
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The assessment of ecosystem services provides an intuitive source of information on the benefits humans derive from ecosystems. The equivalent factor method was applied to calculate the ecosystem service value (ESV) in combination with net primary productivity (NPP) calculated by the process-based Carnegie–Ames–Stanford approach (CASA) model. This study evaluated grassland ESV and its spatial evolution characteristics in China from 2001 to 2020 and revealed the impact of climate factors. For 2001–2020, the annual grassland ESV ranged from 1.17 × 1012 to 1.51 × 1012 yuan (renminbi, China yuan—the same below; $0.15 × 1012–$0.20 × 1012, US dollar), with an average of 1.37 × 1012 yuan ($0.18 × 1012). The spatial pattern of ESV per unit area of grassland was notably characterized by an increase from northwest to southeast. However, the value of grassland ecosystem services was relatively large (exceeding 10 × 106 yuan; $1.30 × 106) in northern and western provinces and was the lowest (less than 0.2 × 106 yuan; $0.03 × 106) in eastern and southern provinces. In the last 20 years, grassland ESV has increased in most areas of China and has decreased only in some western and northern areas. Compared with the first 10 years, the average ESV of grassland in most areas increased in the last 10 years, usually by less than 20%. However, it decreased in the western and northern parts of China, mainly concentrated in the alpine meadow and alpine grassland of the Qinghai–Tibet Plateau and the grassland around the Yili region of Xinjiang. Precipitation was the main regulating factor of grassland ESV and had a positive impact in 79% grassland areas, especially in northern China. Evapotranspiration and sunshine hours exhibited a marginal impact on ESV, but temperature and relative humidity had no significant effect. Overall, this study contributes to exploring the spatiotemporal patterns of grassland ecosystem service value and the impact of climate factors in China, thereby providing reliable guidance for grassland ecosystem management.
... The range of adaptations open to individuals and by extension collectives will be limited in many ways (e.g. Dow and Berkhout et al, 2013). One important limiting dynamic is associated with capacity to learn, and the depth or superficiality of any learning (Sharpe, 2016). ...
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Taking the first steps towards learning to cope with both the threat and the actuality of disasters is a great challenge. Resilience and adaptation to climate change indicate processes of flexibility and adjustment. The range of adaptations open to individuals and by extension collectives will be limited in many ways. One important limiting dynamic is associated with capacity to learn, and the depth or superficiality of any learning. This includes the relative capacity individuals hold to deal with the challenges to normality that disasters bring. Central to the argument of experience of learning as influencing learning outcomes is the degree to which learning opens space for reflection. Having the time, space and opportunity for reflection is more likely to allow the learner to undergo deeper shifts in values and associated behaviour - so called transformational learning and that this opens important space for learning to live with disaster risk and loss. This provides a framework with which to identify and assess TL and its drivers, rather than explain how it might be carried out. Study populations were identified to represent a specific social context for learning: 1. The Community Emergency Response Team (CERT). This group provides formal training courses for local actors at risk to become community emergency response teams. 2. Listos. A less formal learning programme aimed at Spanish speakers in Santa Barbara, centred on personal and family preparedness. 3. UK based humanitarian NGO practitioners whose responsibility lies with enacting policy change within their organisations through monitoring and evaluation and learning roles. This thesis explores these different learning contexts, testing the hypothesis that learning outcomes expressed through value and behavioural change are linked to the experience of learning - who learning is shared with, what is being learned and how this is reinforced.
... Managers must be sensitive to feedback signals from the systems in which they are embedded and take action to avoid adverse outcomes at the firm, industry or social-ecological system level (Williams et al., 2021). However, sudden changes to internal processes or external shocks and disturbances can cause critical adaptation limits to be exceeded (i.e., an organisation or system cannot adapt fast enough to continue with business-as-usual), forcing organisations and broader systems to either decline or transform (Dow et al., 2013). For instance, a forestry company may cease operations when the land on which it operates can no longer sustain a healthy forest, or it can transform (e.g., into a livestock agribusiness) and continue operating. ...
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The circular economy is argued to be a way of organizing industrial systems that support resilience through decoupling economic growth from material consumption. Yet, extant research exploring the impacts of circular economy business practices on resilience is nascent, with few studies detailing if and how these practices enable firms, industries, and social-ecological systems to adapt and transform in the face of shocks and disturbances. In this article, we seek to advance research on the circular economy by proposing a research agenda that connects the circular economy to resilience at multiple levels. Based on insights from resilience theory and findings from the limited literature on the circular economy that has considered resilience to date, our research agenda focuses scholarly attention on key areas of congruence and contestation. We posit that pursuit of answers in these areas has the potential for advancing circular economy business practices capable of supporting resilience at multiple levels.
While emphasizing on the essentiality of tackling adverse impacts of the ongoing process of climate change, the chapter specifically focuses on the pros and cons of mitigation and adaptation measures along with exploring the scope of geoengineering for dealing with climate change. Taking note of the growing emphasis on nature-based solutions, adoption of ecosystem-based adaptation approach is suggested to cope with the problem of climate change as a viable and feasible solution.
Climate change puts at risk what people value in their everyday lives, with evidence of harm and suffering already taking place across all regions of the world. As societies slowly come to grips with the possibility of not being able to save everything that is valued, there is an urgent need to identify what is most important for individuals and groups, to prioritise action and prevent or minimise intolerable losses. Yet, people’s priorities vary greatly; individual choices are contingent on what people hold dear in the places they inhabit, which in turn is shaped by their positioning in society and everyday experiences with harm and loss. In this article, we draw on recent epistemological and ontological engagements with climate adaptation and loss from the social sciences to examine how individuals consider their options to protect what they value most in the face of climatic impacts. Drawing on 80+ interviews with residents along an urban-rural transect in Western Australia, we first demonstrate the complex and dynamic nature of individual decision-making ‘worlds’. We do this by using an innovative methodology that allows participants to visualise their value trade-offs, in the present and the future. We then examine similarities and differences between these worlds to show where priorities converge and diverge. We argue that attention to intersecting, conflicting, and potentially uncomfortable processes of prioritisation, and the losses and omissions they (re)produce, provide crucial entry points to negotiate adaptation and navigate risks within and across communities in ways that are inclusive, fair, and sustainable.
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Adaptation to climate change, in terms of both academic and policy debates, has been treated predominantly as a local issue. This scalar focus points towards local agency as well as the contested responsibilisation of local actors and potential disconnects with higher-level dynamics. While there are growing calls for individuals to take charge of their own lives against mounting climatic forces, little is known about the day-to-day actions people take, the many hurdles, barriers, and limits they encounter in their adaptation choices, and the trade-offs they consider envisaging the future. To address this gap, this article draws on 80+ interviews with urban and rural residents in Western Australia to offer a nuanced analysis of everyday climate adaptation and its limits. Our findings demonstrate that participants are facing significant adaptation barriers and that, for many, these barriers already constitute limits to what they can do to protect what they value most. They also make visible how gender, age, and socioeconomic status shape individual preferences, choices, and impediments, revealing compounding layers of disadvantage and differential vulnerability. We argue that slow and reflexive research is needed to understand what adaptation limits matter and to whom and identify opportunities to harness and support local action. Only then will we be able to surmount preconceived neoliberal ideals of the self-sufficient, resilient subject, engage meaningfully with ontological pluralism, and contribute to the re-politicisation of adaptation decision making.
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The end of Norse Greenland sometime in the mid to late fifteenth century AD is an iconic example of settlement desertion commonly attributed to the climate changes of the ‘Little Ice Age’ combined with a generalized failure to adapt (for example, Diamond, 2005). The idea of chronic Norse adaptive failure has been widely accepted, in part because other peoples in Greenland (the Thule Inuit) survived through the period of Norse extinction. Human settlement of Greenland was definitely possible through the climate fluctuations of the thirteenth to seventeenth centuries AD, despite increasingly well-documented changes in temperature, probable growing season, sea ice, storminess and sea level. The Inuit achieved sustainability during this period of instability and change, but the Norse did not. It is assumed there must have been some degree of Norse maladaptation or more constrained limits to their adaptations than those of the Inuit, and the Norse are seen to have ‘chosen extinction’. We suggest that the picture emerging from recent and current research is far more complex, and propose that the Norse had achieved a locally successful adaptation to new Greenlandic resources but that their very success may have reduced the long-term resilience of the small community when confronted by a conjuncture of culture contact, climate change and new patterns of international trade. The reasons for the final collapse of Norse Greenland are still incompletely understood, but new data from Greenland and across the North Atlantic, combined with changing ideas and developing cognitive frameworks, are refining and deepening our understanding on both adaptation and its limits (Dugmore et al., 2007a; McGovern et al., 2007).
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Risks from extreme weather events are mediated through state, civil society and individual action. We propose evolving social contracts as a primary mechanism by which adaptation to climate change proceeds. We use a natural experiment of policy and social contexts of the UK and Ireland affected by the same meteorological event and resultant flooding in November 2009. We analyse data from policy documents and from household surveys of 356 residents in western Ireland and northwest England. We find significant differences between perceptions of individual responsibility for protection across the jurisdictions and between perceptions of future risk from populations directly affected by flooding events. These explain differences in stated willingness to take individual adaptive actions when state support retrenches. We therefore show that expectations for state protection are critical in mediating impacts and promoting longer-term adaptation. We argue that making social contracts explicit may smooth pathways to effective and legitimate adaptation.
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Society's response to every dimension of global climate change is mediated by culture. We analyse new research across the social sciences to show that climate change threatens cultural dimensions of lives and livelihoods that include the material and lived aspects of culture, identity, community cohesion and sense of place. We find, furthermore, that there are important cultural dimensions to how societies respond and adapt to climate-related risks. We demonstrate how culture mediates changes in the environment and changes in societies, and we elucidate shortcomings in contemporary adaptation policy.
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While there is a recognised need to adapt to changing climatic conditions, there is an emerging discourse of limits to such adaptation. Limits are traditionally analysed as a set of immutable thresholds in biological, economic or technological parameters. This paper contends that limits to adaptation are endogenous to society and hence contingent on ethics, knowledge, attitudes to risk and culture. We review insights from history, sociology and psychology of risk, economics and political science to develop four propositions concerning limits to adaptation. First, any limits to adaptation depend on the ultimate goals of adaptation underpinned by diverse values. Second, adaptation need not be limited by uncertainty around future foresight of risk. Third, social and individual factors limit adaptation action. Fourth, systematic undervaluation of loss of places and culture disguises real, experienced but subjective limits to adaptation. We conclude that these issues of values and ethics, risk, knowledge and culture construct societal limits to adaptation, but that these limits are mutable.
'Risk Governance is a tour de force. Every risk manager, every risk analyst, every risk researcher must read this book - it is the demarcation point for all further advances in risk policy and risk research. Renn provides authoritative guidance on how to manage risks based on a definitive synthesis of the research literature. The skill with which he builds practical recommendations from solid science is unprecedented.' Thomas Dietz, Director, Environmental Science and Policy Program, Michigan State University, USA "A masterpiece of new knowledge and wisdom with illustrative examples of tested applications to realworld cases. The book is recommendable also to interested students in different disciplines as a timely textbook on 'risk beyond risk'." Norio Okada, Full Professor and Director at the Disaster Prevention Research Institute (DPRI), Kyoto University, Japan 'There are classic environmental works such as The Tragedy of the Commons by Hardin, Risk Society by Beck, The Theory of Communicative Action by Habermas, and the seminal volumes by Ostrom on governing the commons. Renn's book fits right into this series of important milestones of environmental studies.' Jochen Jaeger, Professor at Concordia University, Montreal, Canada 'Risk Governance provides a valuable survey of the whole field of risk and demonstrates how scientific, economic, political and civil society actors can participate in inclusive risk governance.' Jobst Conrad, Senior Scientist, Social Science Research Center Berlin, Germany 'Renn offers a remarkably fair-minded and systematic approach to bringing together the diverse fields that have something to say about 'risk'. Risk Governance moves us along the path from the noisy, formative stage of thinking about risk to one with a stronger empirical, theoretical, and analytical foundation.' Baruch Fischhoff, PhD, Howard Heinz University Professor, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, USA 'I cannot describe how impressed I am at the breadth and coherence of Renn's career's work! Written with remarkable clarity and minimal technical jargon… [this] should be required reading in risk courses!' John Graham, former director of the Harvard Risk Center and former deputy director of the Office of Budget and Management of the Unites States Administration This book, for the first time, brings together and updates the groundbreaking work of renowned risk theorist and researcher Ortwin Renn, integrating the major disciplinary concepts of risk in the social, engineering and natural sciences. The book opens with the context of risk handling before flowing through the core topics of assessment, evaluation, perception, management and communication, culminating in a look at the transition from risk management to risk governance and a glimpse at a new understanding of risk in (post)modern societies.
Decision-makers need to be able to respond to the question 'how much adaptation is enough?' even though there is seldom a simple answer.
All human-environment systems adapt to climate and its natural variation. Adaptation to human-induced change in climate has largely been envisioned as increments of these adaptations intended to avoid disruptions of systems at their current locations. In some places, for some systems, however, vulnerabilities and risks may be so sizeable that they require transformational rather than incremental adaptations. Three classes of transformational adaptations are those that are adopted at a much larger scale, that are truly new to a particular region or resource system, and that transform places and shift locations. We illustrate these with examples drawn from Africa, Europe, and North America. Two conditions set the stage for transformational adaptation to climate change: large vulnerability in certain regions, populations, or resource systems; and severe climate change that overwhelms even robust human use systems. However, anticipatory transformational adaptation may be difficult to implement because of uncertainties about climate change risks and adaptation benefits, the high costs of transformational actions, and institutional and behavioral actions that tend to maintain existing resource systems and policies. Implementing transformational adaptation requires effort to initiate it and then to sustain the effort over time. In initiating transformational adaptation focusing events and multiple stresses are important, combined with local leadership. In sustaining transformational adaptation, it seems likely that supportive social contexts and the availability of acceptable options and resources for actions are key enabling factors. Early steps would include incorporating transformation adaptation into risk management and initiating research to expand the menu of innovative transformational adaptations.