Adapting across boundaries: Climate change, social learning, and resilience in the U.S.-Mexico border region

Published in Annals of the Association of American Geographers (special issue on climate change), v. 100(4): 917-28

Wilder, M., Scott, C. A., Pineda Pablos, N., Varady, R. G., Garfin, G. M., & McEvoy, J.

Publication year 2009

Latin American Studies and Udall Center for Studies in Public Policy , University of Arizona

School of Geography and Development and Udall Center for Studies in Public Policy , University of Arizona

Public Policy Studies , El Colegio de Sonora

Udall Center for Studies in Public Policy , University of Arizona

Institute of the Environment and School of Natural Resources and Environment , University of Arizona

School of Geography and Development , University of Arizona.

IAI Program


IAI Project SGP-HD #005


The spatial and human dimensions of climate change are brought into relief at international borders where climate change poses particular challenges. This article explores &ldquodouble exposure&rdquo to climatic and globalization processes for the U.S.&ndashMexico border region, where rapid urbanization, industrialization, and agricultural intensification result in vulnerability to water scarcity as the primary climate change concern. For portions of the western border within the North American monsoon climate regime, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change projects temperature increases of 2 to 4°C by midcentury and up to 3 to 5°C by 2100, with possible decreases of 5 to 8 percent in precipitation. Like the climate and water drivers themselves, proposed societal responses can also be regionalized across borders. Nevertheless, binational responses are confronted by a complex institutional landscape. The coproduction of science and policy must be situated in the context of competing institutional jurisdictions and legitimacy claims. Adaptation to climate change is conventionally understood as more difficult at international borders, yet regionalizing adaptive responses could also potentially increase resilience. We assess three cases of transboundary collaboration in the Arizona&ndashSonora region based on specific indicators that contribute importantly to building adaptive capacity. We conclude that three key factors can increase resilience over the long term: shared social learning, the formation of binational &ldquocommunities of practice&rdquo among water managers or disaster-relief planners, and the coproduction of climate knowledge.