Temporal Evolution of Barriers to Adaptation and their Relevance for Climate Related Loss and Damage

Project Period
November 2017 – October 2021

Climate Analytics
IRI THESys Institute at Humboldt University Berlin

Friederike Otto, Environmental Change Institute at the University of Oxford
Dim Coumou, Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research
Raya Muttarak, Jesus Crespo Cuaresma, International Institute for Advanced System Analysis


The EmBARK-project will investigate time scales and possible trajectories of socio-economic transformation processes and analyse their relevance as potential barriers to adaptation to climate change. An improved understanding of the temporal dynamics of such barriers is key in developing a more realistic understanding of future climate impacts and for scientifically robust assessment of future climate related loss and damage.

Homes lay in ruin in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria ©Kris Grogan, U.S. Department for Defense

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Projections of climate hazards alone are insufficient to assess future impacts of climate change. Such an assessment has to fully account for vulnerability and exposure of human and ecosystems. In addition, impact assessments need to include possible adaptation strategies to avoid the impacts of climate change as far as possible.


While there are physical limits to reducing impacts through adaptation measures, the prospects for the implementation of adaptation measures in the near term for many societies globally will be determined by a wide range of socio-economic barriers and constraints to adaptation. These barriers and constraints include for example poverty, inequality, a lack of capacity, weak governance or knowledge and information gaps, many of which can be overcome over time. While the concept of time scales of adaptation are well established for ecosystems, questions of temporal dynamics of overcoming adaptation barriers in human systems have received much less attention. To assess future risks by climate change, however, an understanding of how the time scales of overcoming such barriers compare with the continuing emergence of climate hazards due to anthropogenic climate change is essential.

The EmBARK project will combine data-driven approaches of societal change with regional assessments of barriers to adaptation and attribution of climate signals to future emission pathways in order to further the understanding of climate and societal trajectories over the 21st century. By combining regional assessments of barriers to adaptation with studies on the attribution of climate signals and the development of science-based climate policy approaches, the EmBARK project will establish an interdisciplinary research framework for assessing climate-change related loss and damage.

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