Journal Article

IDS Bulletin Vol. 39 Nos. 4

Introduction: Building the Case for Pro-Poor Adaptation

Published on 1 September 2008

Climate change is receiving significant levels of attention across the world. The findings of the world’s top scientists under the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) are informing calls for radical limits to atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations responsible for human-induced climate change (IPCC 2007).

Achieving an international agreement, particularly under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), on emissions targets, burden sharing, trading mechanisms and technological and financial assistance remains a high priority concern for the ‘mitigation’ of climate change.

At the same time, there is a growing acknowledgement of the need to enable human and natural systems to adjust to actual or expected climate stimuli or their effects – a process known as ‘adaptation’ (McCarthy et al. 2001). After playing an initially secondary role, adaptation has now become a central strand of national and international climate policy (UNFCCC 2007a). In part, this is due to improved understanding of climate change impacts and the acknowledgement of lags in the climate system; as while the amount of adaptation required will depend on our successes in mitigation, these lags commit us to some future warming over the medium term due to historic greenhouse gas emissions.

The rise of the adaptation issue can also be accredited to the increasing engagement of the development community, particularly through emphasising the differentiated nature of impacts across the world and within societies. Poorer countries and poor people living within them tend to be more seriously affected, yet have reduced assets and capacities with which to cope with and adapt to impacts (AfDB et al. 2003; Kates 2000; Stern 2007; Tanner and Mitchell, this IDS Bulletin). This has prompted a flurry of activities to integrate adaptation within development and poverty reduction programmes, often linking to communities of practice in disaster risk reduction, sustainable livelihood approaches and vulnerability assessment (Yamin et al. 2005).

These activities can usefully be viewed as a development and adaptation continuum (see Figure 1). Activities therefore range from reducing vulnerability to a broader range of shocks and stresses, through activities to improve response capacity for both climate and non-climate development processes, the incorporation of climate information to manage current and future risks, and through to actions to confront the specific challenges of climate change (McGray et al. 2007). This continuum ranges between a focus on vulnerability to a focus on impacts, from climate variability to specific climate change, with international financial flows predominantly from Official Development Assistance (ODA) on the one hand and from UNFCCC sources on the other. The spectrum also helps to frame risk, uncertainty and precaution, in which knowledge of climate change outcomes and likelihoods are characterised by ignorance, ambiguity, uncertainty and risk (Stirling 2003).

The rise of adaptation as a development issue has been influenced both by instrumental concerns around minimising threats to progress on poverty reduction (notably in the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)), and also by the injustice of impacts that are felt hardest by those who have done least to contribute to the problem, framing adaptation as an equity and rights issue (Tanner and Mitchell, this IDS Bulletin).

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This article comes from the IDS Bulletin 39.4 (2008) Introduction: Building the Case for Pro‐Poor Adaptation

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Tanner, T. and Mitchell, T. (2008) Introduction: Building the Case for Pro-Poor Adaptation. IDS Bulletin 39(4): 1-5

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Thomas Tanner

Tom Mitchell

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published by
Institute of Development Studies