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Habitability of low-lying socio-ecological systems under a changing climate

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jats:titleAbstract</jats:title>jats:pClimate change will push the planet worryingly close to its boundaries, across all latitudes and levels of development. One question therefore is the extent to which climate change does (and will) severely affect societies’ livelihoods, health, well-being, and cultures. This paper discusses the “severe climate risks” concept developed under Working Group II’s contribution to the Fifth and Sixth Assessment Reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC, AR5, and AR6). Focusing on low-lying coastal socio-ecological systems (LCS) and acknowledging that attempts to define “severe” climate risk have been problematic at the level of global syntheses, we argue for a more place- and people-based framing relating to “habitability under a changing climate.” We summarize habitability in terms of five habitability pillars: land, freshwater, food, settlement and infrastructure, and economic and subsistence activities; we acknowledge social and cultural factors (including perceptions, values, governance arrangements, human agency, power structures) as critical underlying factors rather than as separate pillars. We further develop the habitability framing and examine climate risk to future human health and habitability for three climate “hotspot” archetypes (arctic coasts, atoll islands, densely populated urban areas). Building on the IPCC AR6 framing of severe climate risks, we discuss three key parameters describing severe climate risks in LCS: the point of jats:italicirreversibility</jats:italic> of changes, physical and socio-ecological jats:italicthresholds</jats:italic>, and jats:italiccascading effects</jats:italic> across various habitability dimensions. We also highlight the variability of severe risk conditions both between coastal archetypes and within each of them. Further work should consist of refining the case study framing to find the right balance between capturing context-specificities through real-world local case studies and commonalities derived from more generic archetypes. In addition, there is a need to identify appropriate methods to assess jats:italicirreversibility</jats:italic>, jats:italicthresholds</jats:italic>, and jats:italiccascading effects</jats:italic>, and thus severe climate risks to habitability.</jats:p>


Funder: Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation; doi:

Funder: International Atomic Energy Agency; doi:

Funder: Institut de Recherche pour le Développement; doi:


4101 Climate Change Impacts and Adaptation, 41 Environmental Sciences, 44 Human Society, 13 Climate Action

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Climatic Change

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Springer Science and Business Media LLC
Natural Environment Research Council (NE/N015878/1)