THESys Talk with Frans Berkhout
Limits to climate change adaptation: potential new research directions
When? Wednesday, 02 March 2022, 14:15-15:45
Climate change imposes new risks on societies and ecosystems since it changes average conditions, alters climate variability, and stretches climate extremes. An important substantive and policy question is whether there are limits to the capacity to adapt to human-induced climatic change by people and societies(and ecosystems). If there are no limits, then it should be possible to continue to adapt to changing climate change impacts, however rapid or extreme. Intuitively this seems unlikely. The framing of ‘dangerous’ climate change in the UN Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) implies that there will be a level of climate change impacts which, despite efforts to adapt, will impose risks to people or nature that are unsustainable or intolerable.
Establishing a conceptually robust and useful definition of limits to adaptation therefore has strong relevance for climate policy and action. One contribution was a series of papers flowing from work in the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report (Dow, Berkhout, and Preston 2013; Dow, K et al. 2013; Klein, R J T et al. 2015). These set out a risk-based, actor-centred conceptual framework for understanding limits to adaptation. The framework has attracted attention in the literature (Barnett et al. 2015; Mach and Siders 2021; Mechler et al. 2020; Thomas et al. 2021), but there continues to be a lack of momentum of research in the field. A recent systematic review of adaptation literature also identifies ‘limits to adaptation’ as a field in need of further attention (Berrang-Ford et al. 2021).
In this talk, Frans Berkhout will argue that there is considerable potential for development of a risk-based limits to adaptationframework, including work on its formalisation, on specifying the key dimensions of limits to adaptation and their interplay, developing a better understanding of the spatial, social and temporal dynamics of limits to adaptation, and in working through the equity and justice dimensions. This represents a significant research programme, which could provide useful contributions to public policy, private action and public debate.
Frans Berkhout is Professor of Environment, Society and Climate in the Department of Geography at King’s College London. From 2015 until 2021 he was Executive Dean of the Faculty of Social Science & Public Policy at King’s. He has previously held academic and leadership positions at Princeton University (US), the University of Sussex (UK) and the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (NL). He holds a Geography BSc from the University of Leeds and a DPhil in Science & Technology Policy Studies from the University of Sussex.
Among other advisory roles, Professor Berkhout was a lead author in two Assessment Reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC AR4, 2007 and AR5, 2014) and a member of the 2014 Research Excellence Framework (REF) of the UK Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE). He is current chair of UK Future Earth, a joint committee of four UK scientific academies which supports integrated research and action on global sustainability.