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Mapping the evolution and current trends in climate change adaptation science

  • Johanna Nalau
  • Brodie Verrall
  • Summary

Research on climate change adaptation has increased in number and significance since the 1970s. Yet, the volume of information on adaptation is now difficult to manage given its vast scope and spread across journals, institutions, disciplines and themes. While an increasing number of researchers have used systematic literature reviews to analyse particular themes within this rapidly growing field of research, there is still missing an overall analysis of the current state of climate change adaptation science literature and its evolution. This paper fills this gap by providing a multifaceted bibliometric review of climate change adaptation science literature that is focused on the human dimensions and how it has been constructed across time, disciplines, social relationships and geographies. Our novel review, spanning from 1978 to mid-2020, identifies the underpinning foundations of climate change adaptation literature, leading authors, countries and organisations as well as dominant research themes and priorities and explores how these have changed over time. Our results show an annual average increase of 28.5% in climate change adaptation publications, with over 26,000 authors publishing on this topic, and increasing diversity in publishing sources. Priority research topics and themes have been dynamic over time, while some core concepts (vulnerability, resilience, adaptive capacity) and sectors (water, agriculture) have remained relatively stable. The key challenge going forward is how to consolidate this vast research endeavour into a more coherent adaptation theory that in turn can better guide science of adaptation and support adaptation policy and practice (science for adaptation).