Responding to the declared climate emergency demands systemic and transformative change in policy and governance systems, and decisive adaptation action to be taken now. Yet, a long-standing ‘adaptation gap’ continues to prevail. This can be symptomatic of hidden path dependencies and self-reinforcing ‘lock-in’ dynamics that work to preserve current systems and make them highly resistant to change. Uncovering these hidden dynamics is therefore vital if we are to ‘unlock’ opportunities for change and accelerate adaptation action.
Focusing on England, we examined the political, institutional, behavioural and infrastructural forces that create and maintain lock-in dynamics in a number of problem areas – including coastal adaptation, water scarcity, biodiversity, forestry, heatwave adaptation and mental health under extreme events. Based on empirical research conducted within the Adapt Lock-in project, we present some of the key lock-in dynamics currently hindering adaptation in a selection of these problem areas. Visualised through causal loop diagrams, we illustrate how both distinct and overlapping lock-in dynamics operate within and between these problem areas. To conclude, we reflect on the implications for targeting interventions and designing unlocking strategies to help close the gap on adaptation.