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Maladaptation to Climate Change

A special issue of Sustainability (ISSN 2071-1050).

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (31 January 2021) | Viewed by 5677

Special Issue Editors

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Guest Editor
Department of Economics and Business, University of Sassari, 07100 Sassari, Italy
Interests: economic growth theory; environmental economics; evolutionary game theory; social capital; relational goods

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Guest Editor
1. European University Institute, Fiesole, Italy
2. Department of Political and International Sciences, University of Siena, Italy
Interests: emission trading systems; European climate policies; eco-innovation; evolutionary game theory; Environmental Kuznets Curve; globalization and sustainable development

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Guest Editor
Department of Political and International Sciences, University of Siena, 53100 Siena, Italy
Interests: economic dynamics; environmental economics; inequality–environment nexus; mining and sustainability

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Guest Editor
European University Institute, Fiesole, Italy
Interests: emission trading systems; environmental economics; narratives; environmental behavior; developing countries

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

In the face of the increasing damage caused by climate change to all human systems (e.g., IPCC 2018), the probability that we can stay below a 1.5 °C average increase in the global surface temperature keeps shrinking (Nordhaus, 2018; Rogelj et al., 2018). Existing mitigation policies are insufficient and require an unprecedented level of coordination, whereas coherence between mitigation and adaptation is crucial. In addition, inequalities and environmental changes tend to reinforce each other so that climate policies are doomed to be ineffective if strong inequalities persist (Rogelj et al., 2018). Mitigation and adaptation policies therefore need to be consistent not only among themselves but also with redistributional and equity principles.

Against this background, maladaptation represents one of the global emerging environmental challenges (UNEP, 2019). Maladaptation (IPCC, 2001 and 2018; Barnett and O’Neill, 2010; Antoci et al., 2019) denotes self-protective strategies (Shogren and Crocker, 1991; Antoci and Bartolini, 2004; Antoci and Borghesi, 2012) which exacerbate environmental problems or shift negative impacts, risks, and exposure to other population groups or countries (Antoci, 2009; Antoci and Borghesi, 2010; Antoci et al., 2005, 2008, 2015). As the latter are often the most vulnerable ones, maladaptation may also lead to regressive distributive consequences. Air conditioning is a paradigmatic example of maladaptation, but empirical literature has documented instances in other areas and sectors, such as the tourism sector, water management, geoengineering, infrastructural development, disaster relief and resettlement, agriculture practices, land use changes, migration choices, insurance schemes, and urban planning (Hamin and Gurran 2009; Barnett and O'Neill 2010; Pouliotte et al. 2009; McEvoy and Wilder 2012; Klein et al. 2014; Fezzi et al. 2015; Wagner and Weitzman, 2015; Weitzman, 2015; Magnan et al. 2016; UNEP 2019). However, UNEP (2019) also stresses that every adaptation strategy that increases the opportunity cost of moving to a more sustainable alternative is maladaptation, as it has detrimental effects on long-term sustainability. Maladaptation dynamics can be shaped by coordination, information and institutional failures, by asymmetric power and economic relations, or by mismatches between short-term benefits and long-run costs.

A better understanding of maladaptation dynamics is challenging as well as necessary to formulate effective and socially sustainable solutions to climate change and environmental problems. This Special Issue aims to collect research and case studies filling knowledge gaps in this field.

In this perspective, this Special Issue calls for theoretical, empirical, or conceptual papers, case studies and policy analyses that investigate the multifaceted aspects of maladaptation, with a special attention on papers focusing on:

  • Measurement and categorization of maladaptation;
  • Drivers and dynamics of maladaptive strategies;
  • Effects of maladaptation on economic growth, sustainability, inequality, and poverty;
  • Policy measures, guidelines and initiatives to reduce potential for maladaptation at the local, national, and international level.


Antoci, A., Gori, L., Sodini, M., & Ticci, E. (2019). Maladaptation and global indeterminacy. Environment and Development Economics, 24 (6), 643–659.

Antoci, A., Borghesi, S., Russu, P., & Ticci, E. (2015). Foreign direct investments, environmental externalities and capital segmentation in a rural economy. Ecological Economics, 116, 341–353.

Antoci, A., & Borghesi, S. (2012). Preserving or escaping? On the welfare effects of environmental self-protective choices. The Journal of Socio-Economics, 41 (2), 248–254.

Antoci, A., & Borghesi, S. (2010). Environmental degradation, self-protection choices and coordination failures in a North-South evolutionary model. Journal of Economic Interaction and Coordination, 5 (1), 89–107.

Antoci, A. (2009). Environmental degradation as engine of undesirable economic growth via self-protection consumption choices. Ecological Economics, 68, 1385–1397.

Antoci, A., Borghesi, S., & Galeotti, M. (2008). Should we replace the environment? Limits of economic growth in the presence of self-protective choices. International Journal of Social Economics, 35 (4), 283–297.

Antoci, A., Borghesi, S., & Russu, P. (2005). Environmental defensive expenditures, expectations and growth. Population and Environment, 27, 227–244.

Antoci, A., & Bartolini, S. (2004). Negative externalities, defensive expenditures and labour supply in an evolutionary context. Environment and Development Economics, 9 (5), 591–612.

Barnett, J., & O’Neill, S. (2010). Maladaptation. Global Environmental Change, 2 (20), 211–213.

Fezzi, C., Harwood, A. R., Lovett, A. A., & Bateman, I. J. (2017). The environmental impact of climate change adaptation on land use and water quality. In Ninan, K. N., & Inoue, M. (eds.) Building a Climate Resilient Economy and Society. Edward Elgar Publishing: Northampton, MA, USA.

Hamin, E. M., & Gurran, N. (2009). Urban form and climate change: Balancing adaptation and mitigation in the US and Australia. Habitat international, 33 (3), 238–245.

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. (2018). Global Warming of 1.5 °C: An IPCC Special Report on the Impacts of Global Warming of 1.5 °C Above Pre-Industrial Levels and Related Global Greenhouse Gas Emission Pathways, in the Context of Strengthening the Global Response to the Threat of Climate Change, Sustainable Development, and Efforts to Eradicate Poverty. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. (2007). Climate change 2007: synthesis report. Contribution of working groups I, II and III to the fourth assessment report of the intergovernmental panel on climate change, 95–212.

Klein, R., Midgley, G., Preston, B., Alam, M., Berkhout, F., Dow, K., Shaw, M., Botzen, W., Buhaug, H., Butzer, K., Keskitalo, E., Li, Y., Mateescu, E., Muir-Wood, R., Mustelin, J., Reid, H., Rickards, L., Scorgie, S., Smith, T., Thomas, A., Watkiss, P., & Wolf, J. (2014). Adaptation opportunities, constraints and limits. Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. In Field, C. B., Barros, V. R., Dokken, D. J., Mach, K. J., Mastrandrea, M. D., Bilir, T. E., Chatterjee, M., Ebi, K. L., Estrada, Y. O., Genova, R. C., Girma, B., Kissel, E. S., Levy, A. N., MacCracken, S., Mastrandrea, P. R., & White, L. L. (eds.) Climate Change 2014 Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability Part A: Global and Sectoral Aspects. Contribution of Working Group II to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Cambridge University Press: New York City, NY, USA.

Gemenne, F., Schaar, J., Ziervogel, G. (2016). Addressing the risk of maladaptation to climate change. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change, 7 (5), 646–665.

Mc Evoy, J., & Wilder, M. (2012). Discourse and desalination: Potential impacts of proposed climate change adaptation interventions in the Arizona–Sonora border region. Global Environmental Change, 22 (2), 353–363.

United Nations Environment Programme. 2019. Frontiers 2018/19: Emerging Issues of Environmental Concern. Available online: (accessed on 14 February 2020).

Nordhaus, W. (2018). Projections and uncertainties about climate change in an era of minimal climate policies. American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, 10 (3), 333–360.

Pouliotte, J., Smit, B., & Westerhoff, L. (2009). Adaptation and development: Livelihoods and climate change in Subarnabad, Bangladesh. Climate and development, 1 (1), 31–46.

Rogelj, J., Popp, A., Calvin, K. V., Luderer, G., Emmerling, J., Gernaat, D., Fujimori, S., Strefler, J., Hasegawa, T., Marangoni, G., Krey V., Kriegler, E., Riahi, K., Van Vuuren, DP, Doelman, J., Drouet, L., Edmonds, J., Fricko, O., Harmsen, M., Havlìk, P., Humpenoeder, F., Stehfest, E., & Tavoni, M. (2018). Scenarios towards limiting global mean temperature increase below 1.5 °C. Nature Climate Change, 8 (4), 325.

Shogren, J. F., & Crocker, T. D. (1991). Risk, self-protection, and ex ante economic value. Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, 20 (1), 1–15.

Wagner, G., & Weitzman, M. L. (2015). Climate shock: the economic consequences of a hotter planet. Princeton University Press, Princeton.

Weitzman, M. L. (2015). A voting architecture for the governance of free‐driver externalities, with application to geoengineering. The Scandinavian Journal of Economics, 117(4), 1049–1068.

Prof. Angelo Antoci
Prof. Simone Borghesi
Dr. Elisa Ticci
Dr. Giulio Galdi
Guest Editors

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  • Maladaptation
  • Climate change
  • Negative externalities
  • Inequality
  • Social and economic sustainability

Published Papers (1 paper)

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22 pages, 5885 KiB  
Role of Spatial Analysis in Avoiding Climate Change Maladaptation: A Systematic Review
by Chia-Fa Chi, Shiau-Yun Lu, Willow Hallgren, Daniel Ware and Rodger Tomlinson
Sustainability 2021, 13(6), 3450; - 20 Mar 2021
Cited by 6 | Viewed by 4493
With the rapid development of climate change adaptation over recent decades, a considerable amount of evidence has been collected on maladaptation associated with climate change adaptation initiatives, particularly in terms of risk transfer and risk substitution. Increasing our understanding of maladaptation is important [...] Read more.
With the rapid development of climate change adaptation over recent decades, a considerable amount of evidence has been collected on maladaptation associated with climate change adaptation initiatives, particularly in terms of risk transfer and risk substitution. Increasing our understanding of maladaptation is important for avoiding negative outcomes of adaptation project implementation. However, maladaptation has received limited research attention. Previous research has focused on frameworks that can assist in defining and avoiding maladaptive risk and be applied to adaptation initiative planning processes. Adaptation may cause more significant influences on spatial land change than the direct effect of climate change does. Identifying the adaptation consequences that are likely to result in maladaptation is crucial. A combination of spatial land analysis and climate change analysis can be used for the aforementioned identification. However, empirical case studies on methods that can assess and evaluate the risk of maladaptation by integrating spatial and temporal aspects in a land spatial modeling tool have not been conducted. The present study aimed to fill this research gap by exploring the existing knowledge on maladaptation to climate change. We examined the interaction among spatial analysis, evaluated maladaptation frameworks, and project design to extend our conceptual understanding on maladaptation to climate change. We adopted a systematic review method that involved considering several questions including the following: (a) What are the definitions and categories of maladaptation? (b) What methods and theoretical frameworks exist for the assessment and evaluation of maladaptive risk? (c) How have climate-related research communities considered issues of maladaptation? (d) What are the experimental studies on land use change that can be referred to for minimizing maladaptive risks in future adaptation planning? In conclusion, further research on maladaptation should integrate spatial land analysis methods to facilitate the identification and avoidance of maladaptive risk in the initial stage of adaptation planning. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Maladaptation to Climate Change)
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