Since entering the global agenda in the mid-1990s, adaptation to climate change has moved from being considered a largely technical and environmental issue to one rooted in more social and economic circumstances of vulnerable populations. However, research into adaptation has been scarce in terms of analysing power and the politics that in conjunction with socio-economic factors often determine how people in local communities in the Global South respond to climate change. In light of these considerations, the aim of this paper is to contribute to the wider effort to politicize adaptation to climate change research and, as a result, democratize adaptation policy and practice. It is argued that any kind of social vulnerability to climate change is, in essence, political. Once understood as a political process, adaptation should be studied critically by interrogating the local power structures and the resulting political inequalities that determine people’s ability to benefit from programmes and projects that aim to facilitate local adaptation. This is necessary if such interventions are to avoid benefitting some while leaving others, and particularly the poor and marginalized, behind. Democratization is seen as a process that must occur (1) between communities and interventions, and (2) within local communities, themselves. The paper concludes with reflections on how democratizing adaptation could function in theory and practice.
- climate change
- community-based adaptation