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Adaptive Capacity – what do we know and where are the research frontiers?

New paper published in Nature Climate Change

Climate change is having serious impacts on many people around the globe, and particularly on the World’s poor. Although there is substantial global funding for climate adaptation, little is known about how people’s capacity to adapt can be bolstered.  Josh Cinner from Centre for Coral Reef Studies led an exciting collaboration with a wonderful international group of environmental social scientists about building people’s adaptive capacity to climate change, with a specific focus on tropical coastal communities. This resultant article, recently published in Nature Climate Change integrates lessons from development studies, geography, psychology, sociology, and a range of other fields to highlight how adaptive capacity can be built across five broad domains: Assets, Flexibility, Social organisation, Learning, and Agency.

We identifiy three frontiers for research on adaptive capacity. First is the need to understand trade-offs associated with Adaptive Capacity and especially between investing in different capacities. Current work identifies possible limited substitution between capacities; indicates there may be a ‘weakest link’ in terms of the limiting capacity; or that there may be crowding out between capacities. Second, there is an imperative to consider social justice implications of investments aiming to build Adaptive Capacity, following the principle of ‘leave no-one behind’. Third, further analysis of the linkages and feedbacks is required to fully understand the unintended consequences of building Adaptive Capacity – this is what our MAGIC project has been investigating in coastal regions in UK, France and South Africa.

Our focus on tropical coastal communities is underscored by the major climate-induced threats to coastal systems such as the global coral-reef bleaching event associated with the 2015–2016 El Niño. Many coastal communities around the world are now adapting to the aftermath of multiple interacting stresses on their coastal environments. The need to build adaptive capacity to help these communities anticipate and deal with these changes will only continue to escalate. To date, ad hoc and localized documentation and monitoring of efforts to build adaptive capacity has rendered it difficult to assess success. Yet parties to the 2015 Paris Agreement have emphasised that adaptation is no longer simply a local issue but “a global challenge faced by all”. Assessment of past and on-going efforts to build adaptive capacity across the five domains we identify in the paper will be critical to effective adaptation to this global challenge across multiple scales and places.

This is another output from our on-going and extremely fruitful collaboration with Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence in Coral Reef Studies, headquartered at James Cook University in Townsville.

The details of the paper are:

Building adaptive capacity to climate change in tropical coastal communities

Joshua E. Cinner, W. Neil Adger, Edward H. Allison, Michele L. Barnes, Katrina Brown, Philippa J. Cohen Stefan Gelcich, Christina C. Hicks, Terry P. Hughes, Jacqueline Lau, Nadine A. Marshall and Tiffany H. Morrison

Building adaptive capacity to climate change in tropical coastal communities

Nature Climate Change Vol 8 February 2018 pp117-123

Please find a link to a video of Josh summarising the paper here

And link to the article here

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