Global Network Takes Stock of Human Adaptation to Climate Change

Nov. 9, 2021

As society experiences increasingly frequent and severe natural hazard events and environmental stressors—while making little progress at reducing carbon emissions—the need to adapt to the changing climate has become starkly clear. But what actions are we taking to adapt to climate change around the world—and how successful are our efforts? A global network of 126 researchers, including SW CASC USGS Deputy Director Carolyn Enquist, sought to answer those questions, producing the most systematic and comprehensive assessment of implemented human adaptation to climate change to date.

The study, published online Oct. 28 in the journal Nature Climate Change, found that adaptation, as documented in the scientific literature, is mostly fragmented and incremental, undertaken primarily by individuals and households, rather than comprehensive and coherent efforts by communities and institutions. The researchers arrived at their findings by employing a sophisticated methodological approach to take stock of climate change adaptation efforts as documented in the scientific literature from 2013-2020—screening more than 48,000 research articles in the process. They then used systematic literature review methods to synthesize the resulting set of 1,682 articles to identify who, where, and how people are engaging in adaptation.

Lead study author Lea Berrang Ford, Professor and Priestley Research Chair in Climate and Health at University of Leeds’ Priestley International Centre for Climate said "Our results provide a warning call: we found very little evidence of widespread and rapid preparedness at a scale that we think is likely to be adequate to avoid severe climate impacts."

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