Journal Article

IDS Bulletin Vol. 39 Nos. 4

A Right to Adaptation: Securing the Participation of Marginalised Groups

Published on 1 September 2008

While climate change does not discriminate among lines of class, caste, age, sex, physical abilities or financial insecurity, it is exacerbating existing inequalities and driving those with poor adaptive capacity into deeper conditions of vulnerability to shocks and stresses.

Understanding how climate change impacts intersect with people’s marginalisation remains limited, as vulnerability assessments have been largely concerned with fragile ecosystems and considered along sectoral lines. Whilst common but differentiated responsibilities between nations is a founding principle of the UN Climate Change Convention, differentiated human dimensions of climate change are only now starting to assume centre stage, buoyed by the launch of the Global Alliance for Climate Justice of the Global Humanitarian Forum (2008), through which Kofi Annan and several hundred participants ‘agreed to support efforts to establish climate justice as the guiding principle for a post-Kyoto global climate agreement’.

This late recognition of climate change as a set of social justice issues indicates a failure of the international climate regime to adequately realise these perspectives, and deliver adequate adaptation assistance to those who are being affected the most and have least responsibility for global climate change. These failures are being reflected in the increasing application of international human rights frameworks to politicise the poverty and inequality dimensions of tackling climate change and provide channels for challenging the power relations that have created conditions of severe inequality. Human rights and development professionals are developing minimum standards and thresholds for determining rights and responsibilities. These are taking debates beyond the international (developed vs. developing) to the national and sub-national level and therefore potentially to the level of groups and individuals (ICHRP 2008; Baer et al. 2007).

Women, children, pastoralists, disabled people or indigenous peoples are often said to be the poorest of the poor and therefore the most vulnerable (IPCC 2007; ADB et al. 2003), but strategies for addressing climate risks and vulnerabilities of certain poor and marginalised groups are under-researched. If policy responses are to be sensitive to the experiences of the groups and not exacerbate conditions of inequality this gap must be addressed.

This article looks at this process of differentiation, and the use of a human rights lens by organisations supporting, promoting or advocating the rights of certain groups identified as the ‘most vulnerable to climate change’. This article takes the first step towards seeing how principles of procedural justice, recognition and inclusion and individual and group rights frameworks might lead to policymaking, policy outcomes and programming that offer pathways out of poverty, and seize another policy-space that is in theory dedicated to overcoming unequal power relations.

Related Content

This article comes from the IDS Bulletin 39.4 (2008) A Right to Adaptation: Securing the Participation of Marginalised Groups

Cite this publication

Polack, E. (2008) A Right to Adaptation: Securing the Participation of Marginalised Groups. IDS Bulletin 39(4): 16-23

Publication details

published by
Institute of Development Studies
Polack, Emily


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