Skip navigation
Journal article

A rights-based perspective on adaptive capacity

This article considers how a rights-based approach broadens understanding of adaptive capacity while directing attention towards causes of exclusion and marginalization.

Jon Ensor / Published on 12 January 2015

Read the paper  Closed access


Ensor, J.E., Park, S.E., Hoddy, E.T. and B.D. Ratner (2015). A rights-based perspective on adaptive capacity. Global Environmental Change, 31, 38–49.

While it is increasingly recognized that socio-political contexts shape climate change adaptation decisions and actions at all scales, current modes of development typically fail to recognize or adequately challenge these contexts where they constrain capacity to adapt.

To address this failing, the authors draw on human rights principles and lessons from rights-based practice to develop a novel analytical tool for use with communities that considers adaptive capacity through examination of equality, transparency, accountability and empowerment. They apply this to the illustrative case of aquatic agricultural systems in Timor-Leste.

This approach yields a qualitative analysis that unpacks the formal and informal institutions and actors that structure opportunities and barriers to adaptive actions. The rights framing exposes the processes of marginalization and exclusion that lead to differentiation in adaptive capacity, but at the same time helps identify concrete actions that can be taken as part of a rights-based approach to development support for adaptive capacity.

The tool and empirical illustration support an emerging body of thought that adaptive capacity requires development actors to engage not only with the technical challenges of responding to climate change, but also with the social and political context that determines the distribution of costs and benefits.

Read the article (external link to journal)

Read the paper

Closed access

SEI author

Profile picture of Jon Ensor
Jon Ensor


SEI York

Read the paper
doi:10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2014.12.005 Closed access
Topics and subtopics
Climate : Adaptation
Related centres
SEI York

Design and development by Soapbox.