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"Doing Adaptation": The Construction of Adaptive Capacity and its Function in the International Climate Negotiations

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Abstract:

Adaptation as an area of policy intervention has risen rapidly up the international agenda over the last decade and is now seen as a fundamental piece of any comprehensive response to climate change. Institutions are now beginning to mobilize funding for adaptation and to implement adaptation projects. However, the rapid development of adaptation policy means that disagreements remain over the correct framing of adaptation and the norms that should guide adaptation policy. This paper traces the framing of adaptation through the four Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports, particularly the construction of "adaptive capacity," which first appears in the Third Assessment Report. Situating adaptation in the wider climate negotiations reveals the concept of adaptive capacity being used in two competing adaptation discourses: The "adaptation as development" discourse is frequently articulated by development agencies and emphasizes the similarity of development and adaptation interventions, while the "adaptation as equity" discourse is more common in developing country submission to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and is closely related to rich nations' compensation of poorer nations for climate change impacts. The areas of conflict and consensus around adaptation policy in the international negotiations reflect the ways in which these two framings either support or contradict each other. As adaptation is formalized and institutionalized, the gaps between these two discourses will become increasingly apparent. Some compromise will need to be reached if there is to be consensus over what it means to "do adaptation."

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: February 1, 2010

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  • The St Antony's International Review (STAIR) is the only peer-reviewed journal of international affairs at the University of Oxford. Set up by graduate students of St Antony's College in 2005, the Review has carved out a distinctive niche as a cross-disciplinary outlet for research on the most pressing contemporary global issues, providing a forum in which emerging scholars can publish their work alongside established academics and policymakers. Past contributors include Robert O. Keohane, James N. Rosenau, and Alfred Stepan.
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