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Addressing the risk of maladaptation to climate change

This paper reviews the current theoretical scholarship on maladaptation and provides some specific case studies – in the Maldives, Ethiopia, South Africa, and Bangladesh – to advance the field by offering an improved conceptual understanding and more practice-oriented insights.

Sukaina Bharwani, Gina Ziervogel, Lisa Schipper / Published on 23 May 2016

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Magnan, A.K., E.L.F. Schipper, M. Burkett, S. Bharwani, I. Burton, S. Eriksen, F. Gemenne, J. Schaar and G. Ziervogel (2016). Addressing the risk of maladaptation to climate change. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews (WIREs): Climate Change, early view, online 17 May 2016.

The authors highlight four main dimensions to assess the risk of maladaptation: process, multiple drivers, temporal scales and spatial scales. They also describe three examples of frameworks – the Pathways, Precautionary and Assessment frameworks – that can help capture the risk of maladaptation on the ground. Both these conceptual and practical developments support the need for putting the risk of maladaptation at the top of the planning agenda.

The paper argues that starting with the intention to avoid mistakes and not lock-in detrimental effects of adaptation-labeled initiatives is a first, key step to the wider process of adapting to climate variability and change. It thus advocates for the anticipation of the risk of maladaptation to become a priority for decision-makers and stakeholders at large, from the international to the local levels.

Such a nex ante approach, however, supposes to get a clearer understanding of what maladaptation is. Ultimately, the paper affirms that a challenge for future research consists in developing context-specific guidelines that will allow funding bodies to make the best decisions to support adaptation (i.e., by better capturing the risk of maladaptation) and practitioners to design adaptation initiatives with a low risk of maladaptation.

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SEI authors

Sukaina Bharwani

Senior Research Fellow and weADAPT Director

SEI Oxford

Lisa Schipper
Lisa Schipper

SEI Affiliated Researcher

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10.1002/wcc.409 Closed access
Topics and subtopics
Climate : Adaptation

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