Adapting to climate change on tropical coasts


A group of social scientists from Australia, the USA, UK, and Chile, has developed a strategy to boost people’s ability to adapt to climate change.

The strategy, published in Nature Climate Change, was led by Professor Cinner from James Cook University’s ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies.

The team of scientists pooled their experience, and lessons from hundreds of research and development projects, to highlight five keys ways to build up the adaptive capacity of people living in the coastal tropics.

“Millions of coastal people in the tropics have been affected by the global coral bleaching event that unfolded over the previous two years. We need to find ways to help these people adapt to change,” said Professor Joshua Cinner from James Cook University’s ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies.

These include:

  1. Ensuring that people have the assets to draw upon in times of need. These assets can include household wealth or public goods such as health services, but they need to be developed in ways that don’t exacerbate existing inequalities.

  2. Providing the flexibility to change. “Having some flexibility can enable people to minimise losses or even take advantage of climate-related change” said Prof. Eddie Allison from the University of Washington, USA. “For example, fishers might need to change fishing grounds or target new species.”

  3. Learning about climate change and adaptation options. “People need to learn about new techniques and strategies that can help them cope with changing circumstances,” said Prof. Katrina Brown at the University of Exeter, UK.

  4. Investing in social relationships. “The formal and informal relationships that people have with each other and their communities can help them deal with change by providing social support and access to both knowledge and resources,” said Prof. Cinner.

  5. Empowering people to have a say in what happens to them. “We also need to ensure that people have the ability to determine what is right for them,” said Prof. Brown.

The paper "Building adaptive capacity to climate change in tropical coastal communities", will be published in the February 1 issue of Nature Climate Change.

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