The climate adaptation frontier

The study defines the ‘adaptation frontier’ as ‘a socio-ecological system’s transitional adaptive operating space between safe and unsafe domains’. Several factors determine how sustainable a system is, relative to this fontier: path dependence, adaptation/development deficits, values conflicts and discounting of future loss and damage.

The interplay of these factors is unclear, but the scientists note that many systems already exist on or near this frontier, so it is not unreasonable to believe that the limits of adaptation may in some cases be exceeded. The options, once there, are two: anticipate and modify our objectives, or expect loss and damage. There are, obviously, different ethical considerations, either way. Successfully navigating the transformations wrought when a system exceeds adaptation limits means we need to think about risk governance in new ways, and start seriously re-evaluating societal values that encourage – or prevent – sustainability.