The capability approach is increasingly presented as a promising approach to address questions of justice in local climate adaptation. In an attempt to integrate environmental protections into the capability approach, Breena Holland developed the meta-capability Sustainable Ecological Capacity to establish substantive ecological limits. This article, however, empirically demonstrates that defining ecosystem thresholds in co-evolving systems is subject to conflict and continuous negotiation. Taking the Haringvliet dam in the Dutch South-West Delta as an illustrative case, this paper shows how people uphold different views about the Haringvliet’s most desirable ecosystem state. Future shifts in the socio-ecological system, such as decreased fresh water availability and sea-level rise, are expected to uproot today’s compromise about chloride levels in the Haringvliet. This suggests that anticipatory water management should not only address climate impacts, but also prepare for re-negotiations of established ecological thresholds. The associated politics of climate adaptation deals with questions about which functions to protect, at what costs and for whom. Hence, it is critical to integrate procedural justice and attention to political inequalities in capabilities-based adaptation justice frameworks.
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