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An Action Theory of Adaptation to Climate Change

Eisenack, Klaus, Rebecca Stecker. 2011. An Action Theory of Adaptation to Climate Change. Earth System Governance Working Paper, No.13.


A revised version of this working paper has been published as:

Eisenack, Klaus and Rebecca Stecker. 2011. A Framework for Analyzing Climate Change Adaptations as Actions. Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies to Global Change.

Many observers currently agree that substantial barriers inhibit measures to cope with the impacts of climate change. However, the incoherent use of terms like planned adaptation or adaptive capacity seems to be of little help in analyzing the nature of these barriers or suggesting ways to overcome them. The paper thus presents a novel theory to analyze adaptation to climate change in a systematic way. It rigorously clarifies the notion of adaptation in specific research contexts. The theory’s potential is demonstrated by a systematic deduction of crucial barriers to adaptation and by the elucidation of some prominent concepts in adaptation research. It combines established analyses of (social) action with terminology from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in an innovative way that is open to perspectives from different scientific disciplines. The theory puts emphasis on the purpose of adaptations, and on the implications of the fact that exposure units, operators and receptors of adaptation are frequently not identical: adaptations tend to connect up in means-end chains. We argue that it is crucial to focus on these issues for a better understanding of the governance of adaptation.

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