Limits to climate change adaptation: new evidence and insights

19:00 Tuesday 28 May




Johanna Nalau (Australia) 2; Walter Leal Filho (Germany) 1

1 - School of Science and the Environment, Manchester Metropolitan University; 2 - Griffith Climate Change Response Program and Griffith Institute for Tourism, School of Environment and Science, Griffith Sciences, Griffith University


The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has identified the urgent need to better understand the concept of adaptation limits in both its 5thAssessment report and the 1.5 Special Report. We know that such limits are emerging with global climate change, yet currently have poor understanding how such limits develop and emerge. This presentation summarizes the current understanding of adaptation limits based on the very first book on limits, Limits to Climate Change Adaptation. The presentation reviews the main insights and advances our understanding of limits by presenting new empirical evidence of the diverse factors, which together constitute adaptation limits.


The book Limits to Climate Change Adaptation contains 22 chapters on the concept of adaptation limits. These chapter contributions were sourced via an open global call to collect empirical evidence across Asia, Africa, Australia, Pacific Islands, Europe and North America specifically on adaptation limits. Each chapter was peer-reviewed, and an introductory and conclusions chapter situated these findings into the broader global context.


The findings across the chapters shed new light into how adaptation limits emerge and interact with each other. The findings reinforce the concept of compounding adaptation limits where several adaptation constraints and limits jointly produce an outcome where intolerable risks to livelihoods, well-being and identity abound. In many cases drastic slow onset environmental changes bring new limits to livelihoods that mark significant social and cultural changes in communities, including changes in responsibilities and gender roles. Many adaptation limits can emerge due to historical political promises and aspirations, such as land-use planning and practice in Johannesburg, South Africa. Community relocations in Fiji, Papua New-Guinea, and Marshall Islands all indicate the variety of contextual factors at play how adaptation limits are understood and acted upon.


This presentation presents new evidence on limits to climate change adaptation. Next steps are to refine the theoretical and empirical understanding of the concept of adaptation limits further to increase its relevance and potential to inform climate adaptation policy and decision-making processes.Future research should investigate how different adaptation limits and constraints interact and in what ways such concepts can inform climate adaptation policy and resource investments, such as those in ecosystem-based adaptation, that can lessen the emergence of limits and identify pre-limit points where changes can be made to still enable successful adaptation.