Improving the representation of adaptation in climate change impact models

Ian P. Holman*, Calum Brown, Timothy R. Carter, Paula A. Harrison, Mark Rounsevell

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Climate change adaptation is a complex human process, framed by uncertainties and constraints, which is difficult to capture in existing assessment models. Attempts to improve model representations are hampered by a shortage of systematic descriptions of adaptation processes and their relevance to models. This paper reviews the scientific literature to investigate conceptualisations and models of climate change adaptation, and the ways in which representation of adaptation in models can be improved. The review shows that real-world adaptive responses can be differentiated along a number of dimensions including intent or purpose, timescale, spatial scale, beneficiaries and providers, type of action, and sector. However, models of climate change consequences for land use and water management currently provide poor coverage of these dimensions, instead modelling adaptation in an artificial and subjective manner. While different modelling approaches do capture distinct aspects of the adaptive process, they have done so in relative isolation, without producing improved unified representations. Furthermore, adaptation is often assumed to be objective, effective and consistent through time, with only a minority of models taking account of the human decisions underpinning the choice of adaptation measures (14%), the triggers that motivate actions (38%) or the time-lags and constraints that may limit their uptake and effectiveness (14%). No models included adaptation to take advantage of beneficial opportunities of climate change. Based on these insights, transferable recommendations are made on directions for future model development that may enhance realism within models, while also advancing our understanding of the processes and effectiveness of adaptation to a changing climate.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)711-721
Number of pages11
JournalRegional Environmental Change
Volume19
Issue number3
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2019

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • Adaptive capacity
  • Decision making
  • Integrated assessment
  • Land
  • Limits
  • Water

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