Letter | Published:

The environmental impact of climate change adaptation on land use and water quality

Nature Climate Change volume 5, pages 255260 (2015) | Download Citation

  • An Erratum to this article was published on 25 March 2015

This article has been updated


Encouraging adaptation is an essential aspect of the policy response to climate change1. Adaptation seeks to reduce the harmful consequences and harness any beneficial opportunities arising from the changing climate. However, given that human activities are the main cause of environmental transformations worldwide2, it follows that adaptation itself also has the potential to generate further pressures, creating new threats for both local and global ecosystems. From this perspective, policies designed to encourage adaptation may conflict with regulation aimed at preserving or enhancing environmental quality. This aspect of adaptation has received relatively little consideration in either policy design or academic debate. To highlight this issue, we analyse the trade-offs between two fundamental ecosystem services that will be impacted by climate change: provisioning services derived from agriculture and regulating services in the form of freshwater quality. Results indicate that climate adaptation in the farming sector will generate fundamental changes in river water quality. In some areas, policies that encourage adaptation are expected to be in conflict with existing regulations aimed at improving freshwater ecosystems. These findings illustrate the importance of anticipating the wider impacts of human adaptation to climate change when designing environmental policies.

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Change history

  • 24 February 2015

    In the version of this Letter originally published the title was incorrect. This error has been corrected in the online versions.


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This research was supported by the European Union Marie Curie International Outgoing Fellowship ‘Land Use Change, Environment and Society (LUCES)’ (Ref: FP7-PEOPLE-2011-IOF-302290), the SEER Project, funded by the ESRC (ref: RES-060-25-0063) and WEPGN, Brock University. We thank R. Carson, S. Ferrini and K. Schwabe for their helpful comments on a previous version of this paper, and A. De-Gol for his assistance with the UKCIP data.

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  1. Department of Economics, University of California, San Diego, 9500 Gilman Drive, La Jolla, California 92093-0508, USA

    • Carlo Fezzi
  2. CSERGE, School of Environmental Sciences, University of East Anglia, Norwich Research Park, Norwich NR4 7TJ, UK

    • Carlo Fezzi
    • , Amii R. Harwood
    • , Andrew A. Lovett
    •  & Ian J. Bateman


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The analysis was designed by C.F. with contributions from I.J.B. and all the authors, A.R.H. and A.A.L. undertook the data collection and the Geographical Information System analysis, C.F. undertook the econometric analysis of the land-use and the water-quality models, C.F. and I.J.B. wrote the paper with contributions from all the authors.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Correspondence to Carlo Fezzi.

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