When Climate Adaptation Backfires – Discover

The River Thames Flood Barrier (by Andrew Price CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 via
The River Thames Flood Barrier (by Andrew Price CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 via

In the scramble to combat climate change, so-called solutions can cause more harm. An IPCC 2022 report warns of these maladaptations.

Around the world, people are building levees, shoring up dams, digging canals and constructing infrastructure to confront the impacts of climate change. Most of these investments will likely save countless lives and protect property, but some will inadvertently add to the problems they are trying to address.

Experts call this phenomenon maladaptation. It generally refers to a protection effort against the impacts of climate change that backfires and increases vulnerabilities. For years, maladaptation was given short shrift as research and policy prioritized mitigating climate change by reducing greenhouse-gas emissions. Now, with the world lagging utterly behind that effort — in the U.S. alone, reports in 2022 showed that global warming could cost $2 trillion by 2100 — adaptation and its hazards are getting a hard look. This past spring, the proposed U.S. federal budget for 2023 earmarked $18 billion to make communities more resilient to climate change.

“Given the increasing impacts of climate change, adaptation is a must. At the same time, global warming is a very real limit to adaptation strategies,” says Lisa Schipper, a climate researcher at the University of Oxford…


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