Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

  • Article
  • Published:

A local coastal adaptation pathway


Local governments are not adapting to sea-level rise because it is difficult to build consensus on the need for change and the best way to implement it. In theory, adaptation pathways can resolve this impasse. Adaptation pathways are a sequence of linked strategies that are triggered by a change in environmental conditions, and in which initial decisions can have low regrets and preserve options for future generations. We report on a project that sought to empirically test the relevance and feasibility of a local pathway for adapting to sea-level rise. We find that triggers of change that have social impacts are salient to local people, and developing a local adaptation pathway helps build consensus among diverse constituencies. Our results show that adaptation pathways are feasible at the local scale, offering a low-risk, low-cost way to begin the long process of adaptation to sea-level rise.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Access options

Buy this article

Prices may be subject to local taxes which are calculated during checkout

Figure 1: Key features of the proposed local adaptation pathway for Lakes Entrance, showing the sequence of triggers, the areas they are likely to effect, and the policy steps they activate.
Figure 2: The attributes of Lakes Entrance that are most important to the local community, and which they wish to preserve through adaptation, as revealed through a phone survey of 199 residents.

Similar content being viewed by others


  1. Stafford-Smith, M. et al. Rethinking adaptation for a 4 °C world’. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. A 369, 196–216 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Hurlimann, A. et al. Urban planning and sustainable adaptation to sea-level rise. Landscape Urban Plan. 126, 84–93 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. O’Riordan, T., Nicholson-Cole, S. & Milligan, J. Designing sustainable coastal futures. Twenty-first Century Soc. 3, 145–157 (2008).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Moser, S. C., Williams, S. J. & Boesch, D. F. Wicked challenges at Land’s End: Managing coastal vulnerability under climate change. Annu. Rev. Environ. Res. 37, 51–78 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Berke, P. & Lyles, W. Public risks and the challenges of climate change adaptation: A proposed framework for planning in the age of uncertainty. Cityscape 15, 181–208 (2013).

    Google Scholar 

  6. Cheong, S-M. et al. Coastal adaptation with ecological engineering. Nature Clim. Change 3, 787–791 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Parson, E. A. & Karwat, D. Sequential climate change policy. WIRES Clim. Change 2, 744–756 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Abunnasr, Y., Hamin, E. & Brabec, E. Windows of opportunity: Addressing climate uncertainty through adaptation plan implementation. J. Environ. Plan. Manage. (2013).

  9. Hallegatte, S. Strategies to adapt to an uncertain climate. Glob. Environ. Change 19, 240–247 (2009).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Levin, K. et al. Overcoming the tragedy of super wicked problems: Constraining our future selves to ameliorate global climate change. Policy Sci. 45, 123–152 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Wilby, R. & Dessai, S. Robust adaptation to climate change. Weather 56, 180–185 (2010).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Wilson, C. & McDaniels, T. Structured decision-making to link climate change and sustainable development. Clim. Policy 7, 353–370 (2007).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Downing, T. Views from the frontiers in climate adaptation economics. WIRES Clim. Change 3, 161–170 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Haasnoot, M. et al. Dynamic adaptive policy pathways: A method for crafting robust decisions for a deeply uncertain world. Glob. Environ. Change 23, 485–498 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Kwadijk, J. C. J. et al. Using adaptation tipping points to prepare for climate change and sea level rise: A case study in the Netherlands. WIRES Clim. Change 1, 729–740 (2010).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Wise, R. et al. Reconceptualising adaptation to climate change as part of pathways of change and responses. Glob. Environ. Change (in the press).

  17. Ranger, N., Reeder, T. & Lowe, J. Addressing ‘deep’ uncertainty over long-term climate in major infrastructure projects: Four innovations of the Thames Estuary 2100 Project. EURO J. Decis. Process. 1, 233–262 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Walker, W. E., Haasnoot, M. & Kwakkel, J. H. Adapt or perish: A review of planning approaches for adaptation under deep uncertainty. Sustainability 5, 955–979 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Waters, E., Barnett, J. & Puleston, A. Contrasting perspectives on barriers to adaptation in Australian climate change policy. Climatic Change 124, 691–702 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Measham, T. G. et al. Adapting to climate change through local municipal planning: Barriers and challenges. Mitig. Adapt. Strateg. Glob. Change 16, 889–909 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Flugman, E., Mozumder, P. & Randhir, T. Facilitating adaptation to global climate change: Perspectives from experts and decision makers serving the Florida Keys. Climatic Change 112, 1015–1035 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Moser, S. C. in Successful Adaptation to Climate Change: Linking Science and Policy in a Rapidly Changing World (eds Moser, S. C. & Boykoff, M. T.) 289–305 (Routledge, 2013).

    Book  Google Scholar 

  23. Burch, S. et al. in Successful Adaptation to Climate Change: Linking Science and Policy in a Rapidly Changing World (eds Moser, S. C. & Boykoff, M. T.) 270–286 (Routledge, 2013).

    Google Scholar 

  24. Fincher, R. et al. Time stories: Making sense of futures in anticipation of sea-level rise. Geoforum 56, 201–210 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Brace, C. & Geoghegan, H. Human geographies of climate change: Landscape, temporality, and lay knowledges. Prog. Hum. Geogr. 35, 284–302 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Baker, I. et al. Local government response to the impacts of climate change: An evaluation of local climate adaptation plans. Landscape Urban Plan. 107, 127–136 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Bedsworth, L. & Hanak, E. Adaptation to climate change: A review of challenges and tradeoffs in six areas. J. Am. Plan. Assoc. 76, 477–495 (2010).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Macintosh, A. Coastal climate hazards and urban planning: How planning responses can lead to maladaptation. Mitig. Adapt. Strateg. Glob. Change 18, 1035–1055 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. McSweeney, K. & Coomes, O. Climate-related disaster opens a window of opportunity for rural poor in northeastern Honduras. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 108, 5203–5208 (2011).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  30. Spence, A. et al. Perceptions of climate change and willingness to act sustainably influenced by flood experiences. Nature Clim. Change 1, 46–49 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  31. Hall, J. et al. Proportionate adaptation. Nature Clim. Change 2, 833–834 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. Graham, S. et al. Local values for fairer adaptation to sea-level rise: A typology of residents and their lived values in Lakes Entrance, Australia. Glob. Environ. Change 29, 41–52 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  33. Barnett, J. et al. Equitable Local Outcomes in Adaptation to Sea-Level Rise. (Univ. Melbourne, 2014);

  34. McInnes, K., Macadam, I. & Hubbert, G. Climate change in Eastern Victoria – Stage 3 Report: The effect of climate change on extreme sea levels in Corner Inlet and the Gippsland Lakes (CSIRO, 2006).

    Google Scholar 

  35. Sjerp, E. & Charteris, A. Discussion Paper – Sea Level Change and Costal Subsidence: Implications for Geomorphological Aspects and Associated Physical and Natural Assets of the Gippsland Coast (Gippsland Coastal Board, 2007).

    Google Scholar 

  36. Grayson, R. et al. Gippsland Lakes Flood Level Monitoring Project: Final Report (Centre for Environmental Applied Hydrology, Univ. Melbourne, 2004).

    Google Scholar 

Download references


Thanks to our partners in the East Gippsland Shire Council and The Victorian Government for their support of and participation in this research, and to the residents of Lakes Entrance who participated in this study. This research was funded by the Australian Research Council project LP100100586.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations



All authors participated in the design of the study and in writing the paper. J.B., S.G., C.M. and E.W. conducted the workshop with local decision-makers. J.B., R.F., S.G. and C.M. conducted the focus groups, and analysed the data.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to J. Barnett.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Barnett, J., Graham, S., Mortreux, C. et al. A local coastal adaptation pathway. Nature Clim Change 4, 1103–1108 (2014).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:

This article is cited by


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing