Ethics & International Affairs

Special Section: Safeguarding Fairness in Global Climate Governance

Climate Justice and Capabilities: A Framework for Adaptation Policy

David Schlosberg


This article lays out a capabilities and justice-based approach to the development of adaptation policy. While many theories of climate justice remain focused on ideal theories for global mitigation, the argument here is for a turn to just adaptation, using a capabilities framework to encompass vulnerability, social recognition, and public participation in policy responses. This article argues for a broadly defined capabilities approach to climate justice, combining a recognition of the vulnerability of basic needs with a process for public involvement. Such an approach can be used to engage stakeholders with varied perceptions of what is at risk, and to develop priorities for adaptation policy. It addresses both individual and community-level vulnerabilities, and acknowledges that the conditions of justice depend on a functioning, even if shifting, environment.

David Schlosberg is Professor of Environmental Politics in the Department of Government and International Relations at the University of Sydney and Director of the Sydney Network on Climate Change and Society. His work focuses primarily on environmental political thought, environmental justice, climate change and adaptation, and the theory and practice of environmental movements. Professor Schlosberg is a coeditor of The Oxford Handbook of Climate Change and Society (2011), the author of Defining Environmental Justice (2007), and the coauthor of the forthcoming The Climate-Challenged Society.


*   I would like to thank the many colleagues who have commented on previous versions of this argument, in particular Breena Holland, Paul Baer, Simon Caney, Jonathan Pickering, Steve Vanderheiden, and the reviewers for EIA. Financial support was provided by the Australian Research Council for Discovery Project, “Rethinking Climate Justice in an Age of Adaptation.”