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Social Justice and Adaptation in the UK

Magnus Benzie, Stockholm Environment Institute


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Adaptation strategies and policies are normally based on climate impact assessments that fail to take account of the social nature and distribution of vulnerability to climate change. This is largely a product of the dominant assessment techniques that are used to inform such strategies and the limits of existing evidence. In this paper I contribute to filling gaps in the current adaptation literature by exploring the social nature of vulnerability and the potential for socially just adaptation. It does so by reviewing studies from the UK, in particular those under the Joseph Rowntree Foundationís Climate Change and Social Justice programme. It finds that vulnerability to high temperatures and fluvial and coastal flooding, in terms of sensitivity, exposure, and the capacity to anticipate, respond, and recover, is concentrated in certain disadvantaged and socially marginalized groups, including those on low incomes. It also finds that both autonomous and planned adaptation may fail to protect the most vulnerable individuals and groups, and may even reinforce existing patterns of vulnerability in some cases, i.e., mal-adaptation, especially where they rely on unmediated market forces or where they fail to explicitly recognize aspects of social vulnerability in their design and implementation. I argue that social justice should be an explicit objective of adaptation strategy.

Key words

adaptation; social justice; vulnerability

Copyright © 2014 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087