EGU General Assembly 2023
© Author(s) 2023. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Limits of adaptation to climate-related risks in the Peruvian Andes: A case study in the Río Santa and Salkantay catchments

Isabel Hagen1, Sanne Schnyder1, Inés Yanac León2, Sirkku Juhola3, Veruska Muccione1, and Christian Huggel1
Isabel Hagen et al.
  • 1Department of Geography, University of Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland (
  • 2Universidad Nacional de Educación Enrique Guzmán y Valle, Lurigancho-Chosica, Peru
  • 3Ecosystems and Environment Research Programme, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland

The highly populated Peruvian Andes is impacted by a multitude of climate-related risks. Comprehensive climate risk management and adaptation measures can bring risks down to an acceptable level, as determined by the local population. However, increased magnitude and frequency of risks, together with the possibility of reaching adaptation limits, are hindering risk reduction. Adaptation limits are reached due to a complex interplay between socio-economic, cultural, political, institutional, technical and bio-physical factors. Whilst there is an emerging conceptual understanding of adaptation limits, there is little empirical research investigating limits in real-world settings.

The aim of this study is to identify and define the limits of adaptation on a local scale, which limits are approaching and which have already been reached. We investigate the limits of adaptation in two catchments in the Peruvian Andes. The most prevalent climate-related risks in these two regions are from glacial lake outburst floods, landslides, shifts in precipitation patterns, and glacier retreat. We use a conceptual framework developed by Juhola et al. (unpublished), and determine adaptation limits and the intolerable risks space through investigating human wellbeing, governance systems, ecosystem functions and climate hazards in the two localities. The data was collected through a thorough literature review, together with 50 semi-structured interviews conducted in May-July 2022; 28 with local residents in the Río Santa and Salkantay catchments, and 22 interviews with experts from 14 different local and national institutions and NGOs. The interviews were analysed in Atlas.ti using a content analysis approach. We emphasize the focus on basic needs and wellbeing, to encompass not only what are obvious losses from climate impacts, such as loss of life or livelihood, but also more intangible losses, such as limited mobility, loss of a social network, or loss of local knowledge. The conclusions of this study can help decision makers and practitioners improve the positive impact of future risk management and adaptation projects in the two regions.

How to cite: Hagen, I., Schnyder, S., Yanac León, I., Juhola, S., Muccione, V., and Huggel, C.: Limits of adaptation to climate-related risks in the Peruvian Andes: A case study in the Río Santa and Salkantay catchments, EGU General Assembly 2023, Vienna, Austria, 24–28 Apr 2023, EGU23-16481,, 2023.