The 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris (COP21) highlighted the importance of cities to climate action, as well as the unjust burdens borne by the world's most disadvantaged peoples in addressing climate impacts. Few studies have documented the barriers to redressing the drivers of social vulnerability as part of urban local climate change adaptation efforts, or evaluated how emerging adaptation plans impact marginalized groups. Here, we present a roadmap to reorient research on the social dimensions of urban climate adaptation around four issues of equity and justice: (1) broadening participation in adaptation planning; (2) expanding adaptation to rapidly growing cities and those with low financial or institutional capacity; (3) adopting a multilevel and multi-scalar approach to adaptation planning; and (4) integrating justice into infrastructure and urban design processes. Responding to these empirical and theoretical research needs is the first step towards identifying pathways to more transformative adaptation policies.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution
Open Access articles citing this article.
Making embodied carbon mainstream: a framework for cities to leverage waste, equity, and preservation policy to reduce embodied emissions in buildings
Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences Open Access 03 May 2023
Translating and embedding equity-thinking into climate adaptation: an analysis of US cities
Regional Environmental Change Open Access 27 January 2023
US cities increasingly integrate justice into climate planning and create policy tools for climate justice
Nature Communications Open Access 30 September 2022
Subscribe to this journal
Receive 12 print issues and online access
$209.00 per year
only $17.42 per issue
Rent or buy this article
Get just this article for as long as you need it
Prices may be subject to local taxes which are calculated during checkout
Dodman, D. & Satterthwaite, D. Institutional capacity, climate change adaptation and the urban poor. IDS Bull. 39, 67–74 (2009).
Roberts, J. T. The international dimension of climate justice and the need for international adaptation funding. Environ. Justice 2, 185–190 (2009).
Anguelovski, I., Chu, E. & Carmin, J. Variations in approaches to urban climate adaptation: experiences and experimentation from the global South. Glob. Environ. Chang. 27, 156–167 (2014).
Carmin, J., Dodman, D. & Chu, E. Urban Climate Adaptation and Leadership: From Conceptual to Practical Understanding (OECD, 2013).
Chu, E., Anguelovski, I. & Carmin, J. Inclusive approaches to urban climate adaptation planning and implementation in the Global South. Clim. Policy 1–21 (2015).
Preston, B. L., Mustelin, J. & Maloney, M. C. Climate adaptation heuristics and the science/policy divide. Mitig. Adapt. Strateg. Glob. Chang. 20, 467–497 (2015).
Nalau, J., Preston, B. L. & Maloney, M. C. Is adaptation a local responsibility? Environ. Sci. Policy 48, 89–98 (2015).
Rawls, J. A Theory of Justice. (Harvard Univ. Press, 1971).
Walzer, M. Spheres of Justice: A Defense of Pluralism and Equality (Basic Books, 1983).
Young, I. M. Justice and the Politics of Difference. (Princeton Univ. Press, 1990).
Honneth, A. Integrity and disrespect: principles of a conception of morality based on the theory of recognition. Polit. Theory 20, 187–201 (1992).
Stone, D. Policy Paradox: The Art of Political Decision Making (W. W. Norton, 1997).
Freudenberg, N., Pastor, M. & Israel, B. Strengthening community capacity to participate in making decisions to reduce disproportionate environmental exposures. Am. J. Public Health 101, S123–S130 (2011).
Shrader-Frechette, K. Environmental Justice: Creating Equality, Reclaiming Democracy (Oxford Univ. Press, 2002).
Schlosberg, D. Defining Environmental Justice: Theories, Movement, and Nature (Oxford Univ. Press, 2007).
Sen, A. Development as Freedom. (Anchor, 1999).
Nussbaum, M. C. Creating Capabilities: The Human Development Approach (Belknap, 2011).
Soja, E. Seeking Spatial Justice (Univ. Minnesota Press, 2010).
Marcuse, P. et al. Searching for the Just City: Debates in Urban Theory and Practice (Routledge, 2009).
Gould, K. A., Pellow, D. N. & Schnaiberg, A. The Treadmill of Production: Injustice and Unsustainability in the Global Economy (Paradigm, 2008).
Lefebvre, H. The Production of Space (Wiley-Blackwell, 1991).
Mohai, P., Pellow, D. N. & Roberts, J. T. Environmental justice. Annu. Rev. Environ. Resour. 34, 405–430 (2009).
Watts, N. et al. Health and climate change: policy responses to protect public health. Lancet 386, 1861–1914 (2015).
Moser, C. & Satterthwaite, D. in Social Dimensions of Climate Change: Equity and Vulnerability in a Warming World (eds Mearns, R. & Norton, A.) 231–258 (World Bank, 2010).
IPCC Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability (eds Field, C. B. et al.) (Cambridge University Press, 2014).
Carmin, J. & Agyeman, J. Environmental Inequalities Beyond Borders: Local Perspectives on Global Injustices (MIT, 2011).
Pellow, D. N. D. N. Environmental inequality formation: toward a theory of environmental injustice. Am. Behav. Sci. 43, 581–601 (2000).
Reale, A. & Handmer, J. Land tenure, disasters and vulnerability. Disasters 35, 160–182 (2011).
Archer, D. et al. Moving towards inclusive urban adaptation: approaches to integrating community-based adaptation to climate change at city and national scale. Clim. Dev. 6, 345–356 (2014).
Bulkeley, H., Carmin, J., Castán Broto, V., Edwards, G. A. S. & Fuller, S. Climate justice and global cities: mapping the emerging discourses. Glob. Environ. Chang. 23, 914–925 (2013).
Dodman, D. & Mitlin, D. Challenges for community-based adaptation: discovering the potential for transformation. J. Int. Dev. 25, 640–659 (2011).
Ayers, J. & Forsyth, T. Community-based adaptation to climate change. Environ. Sci. Policy Sustain. Dev. 51, 22–31 (2009).
Nay, J. J., Abkowitz, M., Chu, E., Gallagher, D. & Wright, H. A review of decision-support models for adaptation to climate change in the context of development. Clim. Dev. 6, 357–367 (2014).
Tschakert, P. & Dietrich, K. A. Anticipatory learning for climate change adaptation and resilience. Ecol. Soc. 15, 11–34 (2010).
Few, R., Brown, K. & Tompkins, E. L. Public participation and climate change adaptation: avoiding the illusion of inclusion. Clim. Policy 7, 46–59 (2007).
Barnett, J. & O'Neill, S. Maladaptation. Glob. Environ. Chang. 20, 211–213 (2010).
Kates, R. W., Travis, W. R. & Wilbanks, T. J. Transformational adaptation when incremental adaptations to climate change are insufficient. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 109, 7156–7161 (2012).
Pelling, M., O'Brien, K. & Matyas, D. Adaptation and transformation. Clim. Change 133, 113–127 (2014).
Pelling, M. & Dill, K. Disaster politics: tipping points for change in the adaptation of sociopolitical regimes. Prog. Hum. Geogr. 34, 21–37 (2009).
Schlosberg, D. Climate justice and capabilities: a framework for adaptation policy. Ethics Int. Aff. 26, 445–461 (2012).
Klinsky, S. & Dowlatabadi, H. Conceptualizations of justice in climate policy. Clim. Policy 9, 88–108 (2009).
Wilkinson, C. Social-ecological resilience: insights and issues for planning theory. Plan. Theory 11, 148–169 (2011).
Brown, K. Global environmental change I: a social turn for resilience? Prog. Hum. Geogr. 38, 107–117 (2014).
Hughes, S. Justice in urban climate change adaptation: criteria and application to Delhi. Ecol. Soc. 18, 48 (2013).
Bulkeley, H., Edwards, G. A. S. & Fuller, S. Contesting climate justice in the city: examining politics and practice in urban climate change experiments. Glob. Environ. Chang. 25, 31–40 (2014).
Bulkeley, H. Cities and the governing of climate change. Annu. Rev. Environ. Resour. 35, 229–253 (2010).
Carmin, J., Anguelovski, I. & Roberts, D. Urban climate adaptation in the Global South: planning in an emerging policy domain. J. Plan. Educ. Res. 32, 18–32 (2012).
Aylett, A. Progress and Challenges in the Urban Governance of Climate Change: Results of a Global Survey (MIT, 2014).
Aylett, A. Institutionalizing the urban governance of climate change adaptation: Results of an international survey. Urban Clim. 14, 4–16 (2015).
Forsyth, T. Community-based adaptation: a review of past and future challenges. Wiley Interdiscip. Rev. Clim. Chang. 4, 439–446 (2013).
Carmin, J., Nadkarni, N. & Rhie, C. Progress and Challenges in Urban Climate Adaptation Planning: Results of a Global Survey (DUSP, MIT, 2012).
Jonsson, A. C. et al. Cities' capacity to manage climate vulnerability: experiences from participatory vulnerability assessments in the lower Göta Älv Catchment, Sweden. Local Environ. 17, 735–750 (2012).
Carmin, J. et al. in Climate Change and Society: Sociological Perspectives (eds Dunlap, R. E. & Brulle, R. J.) 164–198 (Oxford Univ. Press, 2015).
Morello-Frosch, R., Pastor, M., Sadd, J. & Shonkoff, S. The Climate Gap: Inequalities in How Climate Change Hurts Americans & How to Close the Gap (PERE, Univ. Southern California, 2009).
Westerhoff, L., Keskitalo, E. C. H. & Juhola, S. Capacities across scales: local to national adaptation policy in four European countries. Clim. Policy 11, 1071–1085 (2011).
Shi, L., Chu, E. & Debats, J. Explaining progress in climate adaptation planning across 156 U.S. municipalities. J. Am. Plan. Assoc. 81, 191–202 (2015).
Ciplet, D., Roberts, J. T. & Khan, M. The politics of international climate adaptation funding: justice and divisions in the greenhouse. Glob. Environ. Polit. 13, 49–68 (2013).
Bulkeley, H. et al. in Cities and Climate Change: Responding to an Urgent Agenda (eds Hoornweg, D. et al.) 125–159 (World Bank, 2011).
Fünfgeld, H. Facilitating local climate change adaptation through transnational municipal networks. Curr. Opin. Environ. Sustain. 12, 67–73 (2015).
Giest, S. & Howlett, M. Comparative climate change governance: lessons from European transnational municipal network management efforts. Environ. Policy Gov. 23, 341–353 (2013).
Kern, K. & Bulkeley, H. Cities, Europeanization and multi-level governance: governing climate change through transnational municipal networks. J. Common Mark. Stud. 47, 309–332 (2009).
Bulkeley, H. et al. Transnational Climate Change Governance. (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2014).
Lee, T. Global cities and transnational climate change networks. Glob. Environ. Polit. 13, 108–128 (2013).
Hamin, E. M., Gurran, N. & Emlinger, A. M. Barriers to municipal climate adaptation: examples from coastal massachusetts' smaller cities and towns. J. Am. Plan. Assoc. 80, 110–122 (2014).
Measham, T. G. et al. Adapting to climate change through local municipal planning: barriers and challenges. Mitig. Adapt. Strateg. Glob. Chang. 16, 889–909 (2011).
Bulkeley, H., Castán Broto, V. & Edwards, G. A. S. An Urban Politics of Climate Change: Experimentation and the Governing of Socio-Technical Transitions (Routledge, 2015).
Vogel, B. & Henstra, D. Studying local climate adaptation: a heuristic research framework for comparative policy analysis. Glob. Environ. Chang. 31, 110–120 (2015).
Mukheibir, P., Kuruppu, N., Gero, A. & Herriman, J. Overcoming cross-scale challenges to climate change adaptation for local government: a focus on Australia. Clim. Change 121, 271–283 (2013).
Bauer, A. & Steurer, R. Multi-level governance of climate change adaptation through regional partnerships in Canada and England. Geoforum 51, 121–29 (2014).
Hallegatte, S. & Corfee-Morlot, J. Understanding climate change impacts, vulnerability and adaptation at city scale: an introduction. Clim. Change 104, 1–12 (2010).
Reid, H. & Huq, S. Mainstreaming community-based adaptation into national and local planning. Clim. Dev. 6, 291–292 (2014).
Bulkeley, H. & Betsill, M. M. Revisiting the urban politics of climate change. Env. Polit. 22, 136–154 (2013).
Hodson, M. & Marvin, S. World Cities and Climate Change: Producing Urban Ecological Security (Open Univ. Press, 2010).
Corfee-Morlot, J., Cochran, I., Hallegatte, S. & Teasdale, P.-J. Multilevel risk governance and urban adaptation policy. Clim. Change 104, 169–197 (2010).
Tanner, T., Mitchell, T., Polack, E. & Guenther, B. Urban Governance for Adaptation: Assessing Climate Change Resilience in Ten Asian Cities Working Paper (Institute of Development Studies, 2009).
Padt, F., Opdam, P., Polman, N. & Termeer, C. Scale-sensitive Governance of the Environment. (Wiley-Blackwell, 2014).
Termeer, C. et al. The regional governance of climate adaptation: a framework for developing legitimate, effective, and resilient governance arrangements. Clim. Law 2, 159–179 (2011).
Wilbanks, T. J. & Kates, R. W. Beyond adapting to climate change: embedding adaptation in responses to multiple threats and stresses. Ann. Assoc. Am. Geogr. 100, 719–728 (2010).
Harvey, D. Justice, Nature and the Geography of Difference (Blackwell, 1996).
Birkmann, J., Garschagen, M., Kraas, F. & Quang, N. Adaptive urban governance: new challenges for the second generation of urban adaptation strategies to climate change. Sustain. Sci. 5, 185–206 (2010).
Garschagen, M. & Kraas, F. in Resilient Cities: Cities and Adaptation to Climate Change Proceedings of the Global Forum 2010 (ed. Otto-Zimmermann, K.) 131–139 (Springer, 2011).
City Resilience Framework: City Resilience Index (ARUP, 2014).
Tyler, S. & Moench, M. A framework for urban climate resilience. Clim. Dev. 4, 311–326 (2012).
Altshuler, A. & Luberhoff, D. Mega-projects: The Changing Politics of Urban Public Investment. (Brookings Institution, 2003).
Flyvberg, B., Bruzelius, N. & Rothengatter, W. Megaprojects and Risk: An Anatomy of Ambition. (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2003).
Harman, B. P., Taylor, B. M. & Lane, M. B. Urban partnerships and climate adaptation: challenges and opportunities. Curr. Opin. Environ. Sustain. 12, 74–79 (2015).
Graham, S. & Marvin, S. Splintering Urbanism: Networked Infrastructures, Technological Mobilities and the Urban Condition (Routledge, 2001).
Pickett, S. T. A., Cadenasso, M. L. & McGrath, B. Resilience in Ecology and Urban Design Linking Theory and Practice for Sustainable Cities (Springer, 2013).
Steiner, F. Landscape ecological urbanism: origins and trajectories. Landsc. Urban Plan. 100, 333–337 (2011).
Bélanger, P. Landscape as infrastructure. Landsc. J. 28, 79–95 (2009).
Parks, B. C. & Roberts, J. T. Globalization, vulnerability to climate change, and perceived injustice. Soc. Nat. Resour. 19, 337–355 (2006).
Matyas, D. & Pelling, M. Positioning resilience for 2015: the role of resistance, incremental adjustment and transformation in disaster risk management policy. Disasters 39, s1–s18 (2015).
Barrett, S. The necessity of a multiscalar analysis of climate justice. Prog. Hum. Geogr. 37, 215–233 (2012).
This paper is dedicated to JoAnn Carmin (1957–2014), Associate Professor of Environmental Policy and Planning at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). We are grateful to the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning for hosting the Carmin Memorial Symposium on Urban Climate Adaptation (December 2014), and to the many scholars, practitioners and students who participated in the symposium and contributed their insights. This work is contributing to the ICTA ‘Unit of Excellence’ (MINECO, MDM 2015-0552).
The authors declare no competing financial interests.
Rights and permissions
About this article
Cite this article
Shi, L., Chu, E., Anguelovski, I. et al. Roadmap towards justice in urban climate adaptation research. Nature Clim Change 6, 131–137 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2841
This article is cited by
Leveraging critical race theory to produce equitable climate change adaptation
Nature Climate Change (2023)
Global mapping of urban nature-based solutions for climate change adaptation
Nature Sustainability (2023)
Democracy underwater: public participation, technical expertise, and climate infrastructure planning in New York City
Theory and Society (2023)
Translating and embedding equity-thinking into climate adaptation: an analysis of US cities
Regional Environmental Change (2023)
Monetary evaluation of co-benefits of nature-based flood risk reduction infrastructure to promote climate justice
Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies for Global Change (2023)