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Is adaptation reducing vulnerability or redistributing it?

As globalization and other pressures intensify the economic, social and biophysical connections between people and places, it seems likely that adaptation responses intended to ameliorate the impacts of climate change might end up shifting risks and vulnerability between people and places.

Aaron Atteridge, Elise Remling / Published on 30 October 2017

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Aaron Atteridge and Elise Remling (2017). Is adaptation reducing vulnerability or redistributing it? Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change.

Building on earlier conceptual work in maladaptation and other literature, this article explores the extent to which concerns about vulnerability redistribution have influenced different realms of adaptation practice.

The review leads the authors to conclude that the potential for adaptation to redistribute risk or vulnerability is being given only sparse – and typically superficial – attention by practitioners. Concerns about “maladaptation”, and occasionally vulnerability redistribution specifically, are mentioned on the margins but do not significantly influence the way adaptation choices are made or evaluated by policy-makers, project planners or international funds.

The authors suggest that, in research, the conceptual work on maladaptation is yet to translate into a significant body of empirical literature on the distributional impacts of real-world adaptation activities, and argue that this calls into question the current knowledge base about adaptation. They also suggest that these gaps are troubling, because a process of cascading adaptation endeavors globally seems likely to eventually re-distribute risks or vulnerabilities to communities that are already marginalized and vulnerable.

The article concludes with a discussion of the implications that the potential for vulnerability redistribution might have for the governance of adaptation, and offer some reflections on how research might contribute to addressing gaps in knowledge and in practice.

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10.1002/wcc.500 Closed access
Topics and subtopics
Climate : Adaptation

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