Climate change adaptation in the world's best places: A wicked problem in need of immediate attention

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Natural World Heritage (WH) sites are globally recognized as having universal value, providing society with critical ecosystem services like biodiversity, clean water, and recreational opportunity. Every natural WH site is at risk from climate change, but the scope and nature of that risk varies widely. Climate change adaptation is a wicked problem; that is, there are no clear-cut solutions and stakeholders at each site disagree on values, norms and first steps, making adaptation difficult. Yet, delaying action poses more risks than taking action under uncertainty. I synthesize the refereed literature relevant to climate adaptation for natural WH sites. I argue that adaptation should be ecosystem based. It should begin by understanding linkages among site attributes and the surrounding landscape, and asking how off-site and on-site practices might reduce risk of negative effects of climate change on those attributes. Adaptation responses are tiered. Fine-scale, on-site responses are less expensive and easier but will have less impact than coarse-scale responses involving the surrounding community. We cannot precisely predict future conditions so we must act adaptively, designing responses, acting, evaluating results, re-designing and trying again. Action is constrained by institutional mandates focused on preserving existing conditions rather than recognizing a dynamic future. Climate change adaptation at natural WH sites should be Adaptive, Participatory and Transformative, deployed through clumsy solutions. Such solutions will require strong leadership and excellent communication, drawing together widely disparate views and iterative practices focusing on resilience. That requirement establishes the need for capacity development for climate change adaptation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-11
Number of pages11
JournalLandscape and Urban Planning
StatePublished - Jan 1 2015

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2014 Elsevier B.V.


  • APT (Adaptive
  • Climate change adaptation
  • Clumsy solutions
  • Natural World Heritage
  • Participative
  • Protected areas
  • Transdisciplinary)
  • Wicked problems


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