Reimagining climate change research and policy from the Australian adaptation impasse

Elissa Waters, Sophie Webber, Svenja Keele, Natalie Osborne, Lauren Rickards, Tayanah O'Donnell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review


Despite two decades of investment in climate change adaptation knowledge, planning and policy, the Australian policy and scientific community is now at an adaptation impasse, with effective, equitable and timely adaptation rare and negative impacts proliferating as a result. Drawing on Australia as an illustrative and globally relevant case study, we describe and diagnose the adaptation impasse using a novel four-part heuristic – Adaptation as Spectre, Signal, Social and Systems – to characterise adaptation knowledge and action and their evolution over time. We examine the relationship between these adaptation types and argue that an underlying political economy at odds with the demands of adapting to climate change is generating the adaptation impasse. We suggest that to overcome the impasse we need to transform adaptation into a science and practice that is imaginative, pluralist, and caring.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)144-152
Number of pages9
JournalEnvironmental Science and Policy
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2023


  • Adaptation policy
  • Change Agenda
  • Climate Capitalism
  • Climate Justice
  • Political Economy

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