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The Wilton Park agenda on adapting to transboundary climate risk

Briefing/policy papers

Written by Katy Harris, Rebecca Nadin, Erin Roberts, Sarah Opitz-Stapleton

Hero image description: Container ship on Southampton Water Image credit:Amanda Cumming Image license:CC-BY-NC-ND

On 13–15 March 2019, the Overseas Development Institute (ODI), the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) and the Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations (IDDRI), in association with Wilton Park and the Global Center on Adaptation, convened 40 stakeholders from 19 countries to discuss the emerging topic of transboundary climate risk. 


Climate risks cross national borders and affect all countries, irrespective of their location or level of development. Transboundary climate risk comprises two aspects: the transboundary effects of climate change impacts, which are increasingly recognised in current evidence and discourse, and the transboundary effects of climate change adaptation, which are rarely discussed and therefore almost always ignored. The transboundary effects of climate change impacts and adaptation flow between places along climate risk pathways, for example via shared ecosystems, global supply chains, transnational finance flows and the migration and displacement of people. Risk pathways operate over multiple scales: regional (across shared national borders); teleconnected (between countries that do not share borders); and systemic (where a complex system, such as a commodity market, is at risk from a combination of climate-related stresses). 


Climate risks at the regional scale are often easier to comprehend and receive more attention from scientists, policy makers and adaptation practitioners. For example, existing institutions have begun to assess, monitor and in some cases jointly manage climate risks in regional river basins. However, there is less evidence of cooperative adaptation across regional forests, drylands, fisheries and oceans, while teleconnected and systemic risks are even less well understood: they are abstract, difficult to assess and imply a need for coordinated management by multiple countries in order to build climate resilience.

Container ship on Southampton Water
Magnus Benzie, Katy Harris, Kevin M. Adams, Richard J.T. Klein, Rebecca Nadin, Erin Roberts, Sarah Opitz-Stapleton, Lola Vallejo, Alexandre K. Magnan