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The Climate Adaptation Frontier

Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Environmental Sciences Division and Climate Change Science Institute, PO Box 2008, MS-6301, Oak Ridge, TN 37831, USA
Department of Geography, University of South Carolina, Callcott Building, 709 Bull Street, Columbia, SC 29208, USA
Institute for Environmental Studies, VU University, De Boelelaan 1085, Amsterdam, 1081HV, The Netherlands
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Sustainability 2013, 5(3), 1011-1035;
Received: 5 November 2012 / Revised: 7 January 2013 / Accepted: 6 February 2013 / Published: 6 March 2013
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Adaptation or Extinction)
Climate adaptation has emerged as a mainstream risk management strategy for assisting in maintaining socio-ecological systems within the boundaries of a safe operating space. Yet, there are limits to the ability of systems to adapt. Here, we introduce the concept of an “adaptation frontier”, which is defined as a socio-ecological system’s transitional adaptive operating space between safe and unsafe domains. A number of driving forces are responsible for determining the sustainability of systems on the frontier. These include path dependence, adaptation/development deficits, values conflicts and discounting of future loss and damage. The cumulative implications of these driving forces are highly uncertain. Nevertheless, the fact that a broad range of systems already persist at the edge of their frontiers suggests a high likelihood that some limits will eventually be exceeded. The resulting system transformation is likely to manifest as anticipatory modification of management objectives or loss and damage. These outcomes vary significantly with respect to their ethical implications. Successful navigation of the adaptation frontier will necessitate new paradigms of risk governance to elicit knowledge that encourages reflexive reevaluation of societal values that enable or constrain sustainability. View Full-Text
Keywords: climate change; adaptation; limits; sustainability; adaptive capacity; resilience climate change; adaptation; limits; sustainability; adaptive capacity; resilience
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MDPI and ACS Style

Preston, B.L.; Dow, K.; Berkhout, F. The Climate Adaptation Frontier. Sustainability 2013, 5, 1011-1035.

AMA Style

Preston BL, Dow K, Berkhout F. The Climate Adaptation Frontier. Sustainability. 2013; 5(3):1011-1035.

Chicago/Turabian Style

Preston, Benjamin L., Kirstin Dow, and Frans Berkhout. 2013. "The Climate Adaptation Frontier" Sustainability 5, no. 3: 1011-1035.

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