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Adaptation to climate change in coastal communities: findings from seven sites on four continents

A Correction to this article was published on 20 December 2019

This article has been updated

Abstract

Climate change is causing wide-ranging effects on ecosystem services critical to coastal communities and livelihoods, creating an urgent need to adapt. Most studies of climate change adaptation consist of narrative descriptions of individual cases or global synthesis, making it difficult to formulate and test locally rooted but generalizable hypotheses about adaptation processes. In contrast, researchers in this study analyzed key points in climate change adaptation derived from coordinated fieldwork in seven coastal communities around the world, including Arctic, temperate, and tropical areas on four continents. Study communities faced multiple challenges from sea level rise and warmer ocean temperatures, including coastal erosion, increasing salinity, and ecological changes. We analyzed how the communities adapted to climate effects and other co-occurring forces for change, focusing on most important changes to local livelihoods and societies, and barriers to and enablers of adaptation. Although many factors contributed to adaptation, communities with strong self-organized local institutions appeared better able to adapt without substantial loss of well-being than communities where these institutions were weak or absent. Key features of these institutions included setting and enforcing rules locally and communication across scales. Self-governing local institutions have been associated with sustainable management of natural resources. In our study communities, analogous institutions played a similar role to moderate adverse effects from climate-driven environmental change. The findings suggest that policies to strengthen, recognize, and accommodate local institutions could improve adaptation outcomes.

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  • 20 December 2019

    The original article has been updated. The article was published with a typo in one of the author names. This has been corrected.

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Funding

This research received financial support from the Belmont Forum International Opportunities Fund, with contributions from Agence Nationale de la Recherche, France; National Science Foundation, USA; Ministry of Earth Science, India; Russian Foundation for Basic Research, Russia; and Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada, Canada.

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Correspondence to Matthew Berman.

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The original article has been updated. The article was published with a typo in one of the author names. This has been corrected.

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Berman, M., Baztan, J., Kofinas, G. et al. Adaptation to climate change in coastal communities: findings from seven sites on four continents. Climatic Change 159, 1–16 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10584-019-02571-x

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Keywords

  • Coastal communities
  • Climate change
  • Local institutions
  • Coastal livelihoods
  • Common-pool resources