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Limits to adaptation

This article presents an actor-centred, risk-based approach to defining adaptation limits. It argues that an inadequate multilateral response on reductions in global greenhouse gas emissions has resulted in greater emphasis on climate change adaptation. Natural and social systems often have significant capacities to adapt, but it is difficult to establish how they compare to the rate and magnitude of climate change. Moreover, although some adaptation limits have been clearly identified, little is known about limits in social systems. This has broad implications. If the capacity to adapt is unlimited, a key rationale for reducing GHG emissions is weakened and replaced by considerations of adaptation costs and benefits, and of equity concerns. However, research suggests that opportunities and resources to adapt may be finite for many social actors. Hence, there is an urgent need to identify and predict where limits are likely to occur in order to assess and prepare for the consequences.