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Building adaptive capacity to climate change in tropical coastal communities

Nature Climate Changevolume 8pages117123 (2018) | Download Citation


To minimize the impacts of climate change on human wellbeing, governments, development agencies, and civil society organizations have made substantial investments in improving people’s capacity to adapt to change. Yet to date, these investments have tended to focus on a very narrow understanding of adaptive capacity. Here, we propose an approach to build adaptive capacity across five domains: the assets that people can draw upon in times of need; the flexibility to change strategies; the ability to organize and act collectively; learning to recognize and respond to change; and the agency to determine whether to change or not.

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Thanks to T. McClanahan for input on an early iteration of this concept. S.G. thanks Conicyt Basal 002 and NC120086. Funding was provided by the Australian Research Council’s Centre for Excellence Program (CE140100020), an Australian Research Fellowship to J.C., a Future Fellowship to J.C., an Australian Laureate Fellowship to T.H., Pew Fellowships in Marine Conservation to J.C. and S.G., and an NSF Fellowship to M.B. (#1513354). This work contributes to the CGIAR Research Program on Fish Agrifood Systems (FISH).

Author information


  1. Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, James Cook University, Townsville, Queensland, Australia

    • Joshua E. Cinner
    • , Michele L. Barnes
    • , Philippa J. Cohen
    • , Terry P. Hughes
    • , Jacqueline Lau
    •  & Tiffany H. Morrison
  2. Geography, College of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of Exeter, Exeter, UK

    • W. Neil Adger
    •  & Katrina Brown
  3. School of Marine and Environmental Affairs, University of Washington, Seattle, WA, USA

    • Edward H. Allison
  4. Botany Department, University of Hawaii at Manoa, Honolulu, HI, USA

    • Michele L. Barnes
  5. WorldFish, Penang, Malaysia

    • Philippa J. Cohen
  6. Center of Applied Ecology and Sustainability (CAPES), Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Chile, Santiago, Chile

    • Stefan Gelcich
  7. Center for the Study of Multiple-Drivers on Marine Socio-Ecological Systems, Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Chile, Santiago, Chile

    • Stefan Gelcich
  8. Lancaster Environment Centre, Lancaster University, Lancaster, UK

    • Christina C. Hicks
  9. Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, James Cook University, Townsville, Queensland, Australia

    • Nadine A. Marshall


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J.E.C. conceived of the concept and led the writing. W.A., E.A., M.B., K.B., P.C., S.G., C.H., T.H., J.L., N.M., and T.M. substantively contributed ideas and writing.

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Correspondence to Joshua E. Cinner.

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