Where next for adaptation to climate change?


Lars Otto Naess is a Research Fellow with the Resource Politics cluster at the Institute for Development Studies, Brighton, UK. He is a social scientist with over 20 years’ experience on climate change, development and agriculture. His current research interests centre on social, political and institutional dimensions of adaptation to climate change, policy processes on climate change and agriculture at national and sub-national levels, the role of local knowledge in adaptation to climate change, and adaptation in the context of international development.


Adaptation to climate change can mean different things to different people: On the one hand, it can mean targeted, technical interventions to tackle specific climate change impacts, typically in an incremental way. On the other – and increasingly – it means addressing, and transforming, deeper social, political and economic structures and processes that drive vulnerability to climate shocks and stressors. Whereas it is possible to argue that both approaches to adaptation (and indeed, many in between) are needed, the different framings also reveal more fundamental divergences and contradictions in the understanding of how to tackle the impacts of climate change. Aside from bringing confusion in what adaptation is about, such differences – and how they are used, by whom – matter because they drive adaptation priorities and funding. The seminar will discuss the emergence and usefulness of adaptation in the context of this (widening?) gap in the understanding of adaptation, amidst the rise of the related concepts of resilience and transformation. Particular focus will be on what has been called the recent ‘political turn’[i] on adaptation, with calls for increased attention to politics and power, and will be drawing on the author’s recent work in Africa and Asia.

[i] Tschakert, P., Das, P. J., Pradhan, N. S., Machado, M., Lamadrid, A., Buragohain, M., & Hazarika, M. A. (2016). Micropolitics in collective learning spaces for adaptive decision making. Global Environmental Change40, 182-194.