Adaptation and Political Ecology

The discourse on environmental sustainability and political ecology raises several questions on material inequality, poverty, increasing population and disproportionate allocation of resources, but we often overlook the critical question of what we need to sustain and to what extent? The lack of financial resources and its constant interplay with the developmental goals of the states have created economic uncertainties and provided us with a solid rationale to not act on curtailing carbon emissions. However, the relevance of ecological sustainability compels us to move beyond the instrumental reasoning of materialistic economic goals and strengthen the discourse on prioritising the subsistence rights of poor and marginalised societies. There is no doubt that the unprecedented vulnerability and inadequate coping capacity of least developed nations cause massive damage and hinder the prospects for risk aversion strategies simply because they cannot bear the cost of implementing adaptation policies.

The availability of economic resources plays a significant role in strategising the policy discourse for pricing carbon to set the agenda for mitigating excessive emissions. However, the political and economic implication of complying with the international commitment to phase out the utility of non-renewable energy resources such as coal and fossil fuel can be extremely challenging in the global. The promotion and protection of the narrative of a sustainable and green environment often conflict with the developmental goals of the state to fasten the process of economic development in terms of increasing the GDP (gross domestic product) and per capita growth of the nation. The extreme liberalisation and privatisation of the market cause detrimental to the climate policy of the low developed countries. The mercantile logic failed to understand the intrinsic value of protecting the environment and how it would be absolutely incorrect to portray economic success as the only criteria to achieve the desired goal of inclusive development.

The acknowledgement that facilitating the access of poor and marginalised sections to clean water, air, housing, and health facilities is also part of developmental planning is crucial to raising consciousness about the meaning of sustainable development. However, the climate deniers base their assertion of not acting on climate policy because of the unavailability of monetary funds, particularly in least-developed countries, or even if one has the resources but not allocating funds for the climate change as it will decelerate the developmental process. Therefore, it is critical to understand the complex phenomenon of establishing a symbiotic relationship between the developmental goals of the state and the praxis of maintaining environmental sustainability.


 Adaptation Policy Discourse

The social strategy of adaptation has attracted widespread political support in the Paris Climate Agreement with the realisation of how distinctive it is to develop a cohesive and coherent approach illuminating the significance of emission reduction along with the building of institutional capabilities to either compensate or to take precautionary measures to resist the extent of climate variabilities and vulnerabilities. The theoretical account of adaptation is premised on the scientific analyses of the human ability to adapt to the physical and social changes in climatic conditions that often transform the behavioural pattern of society as a whole. However, the random transformation can further accentuate the probability of risks associated with environmental hazards. Consequently, attention must be paid to developing the strategical discourse on adaptation that involves the apparatus of planning, production and exchange of knowledge, technological innovation and capacity building to anticipate the upcoming climate challenges and monitor the growth for the timely execution of resistance and recovery policies. For example, an adequately adapted urban settlement develops strong resilience capability against the events of natural disasters such as tornadoes and will protect the community against severe physical, material and economic damages. In other words, adaptation policy discourse tries to reflect the vital interplay between scientific analyses of existential crisis, evaluating the epistemological and ontological narratives, and nurturing the pragmatic social and normative values to understand the nature of climate resilience and protection of human lives (Swart et al 2014).

Adaptation is a responsive approach to alleviating the social risks induced by the natural climate catastrophe. Implementing coping strategies for adaptation requires the prolonged intervention of government and social and political institutions. The preventive approach compels the government to consider that the environmental hazards caused in one sector can jeopardise the health of other associated industries. Therefore, the formulation of response policies should include the multilateral dynamics of safety measures such as the allocation of funds for the production and innovation of pharmaceutical drugs (Caney 2005) and vaccines to minimise the manoeuvring health vulnerabilities related to cholera, malaria and Covid-19, along with designing schemes that promote the accessibility to health facilities to the most deprived sections. There is no denial that adaptation could be challenging. The execution of adaptation policies is not only characterised by the impact of climate change on human security but equally influenced by several socio-economic and institutional factors that complicate the phenomena of universal moral claim to adaptation funding (Grasso 2010). The poor and marginalised living in the developing countries lack access to resources and relevant information to adjust the behavioural pattern to counter the harms induced by climate catastrophe. When it is coupled with institutional failure, the repercussions are always draconian.

The policy discourse on adaptation is a moral right emphasising the ethical narrative of rights and responsibilities. The moral right of the poor entails the preposition of not to suffer the consequences of human-induced climate risks and the responsibility of the affluent to protect the interests of the most vulnerable sections of society. The philosophical underpinnings of a just society uphold the preliminary account of empowering the marginalised community with the ability of critical analyses to build the alternative discourse on transformational changes that entrust the responsibility to protect the rights of citizens on the shoulders of the rich and affluent (Pelling 2011). Therefore, it is crucial to associate adaptation with life-threatening issues of human security. Adaptation is equivalent to promoting human flourishing and societal well-being. The capability approach tries to achieve specific functioning and valuable doings such as reading or being nourished as an essential part of socio-economic development. The application of the capability approach to adaptation signifies how the improvement in social functioning can amplify the process of social change, furthering the opportunities for the least well-off to retaliate against the unequal socioecological structure to dismantle the hegemony of market-oriented laws (Kronlid 2014). In other words, the protection and promotion of subsistence rights subsequently flourished in the agenda of the universal capability model, emphasising the pragmatic and outcome-oriented policy discourse designed to evaluate the functioning and capability, in contrast to the traditional method of allocating resources and opportunity. The capability approach focuses on the ability of the person, that is, whether a person is able to do certain basic things or not. For example, the inspection of the ability whether the nutritional requirements are fulfilled? Elucidating the relevance of the capability approach, Sen argues that what is at issue is the interpretation of needs and interests and asserts the notion of “basic capability equality” that would provide the basis for an individual’s self-respect (Sen, 1997).

Consequently, the implementation of adaptation policies requires the cultivation of social learning among the marginalised and the integration of traditional wisdom with scientific analyses on environmental sustainability. The inclusive perspective can innovate substantive values and practices enabling the transformation from fragmentation to accelerating progress towards converting learning into functioning and functioning into resources (Kronlid 2014).



According to Chersich and Wright,


  •  Heat education campaigns can raise awareness of the health risks of heatwaves, and help prepare individuals and communities to self-manage their response to increased heat (Chersich and Wright 2019).


Nonetheless, the expansion of participatory democracy, good governance, the proliferation of educational and awareness camps to foster respect for human rights and the exchange of technology to strengthen institutional structure can stimulate climate resilience (Pelling 2011).

Furthermore, the creation of emergency and relief funds, ensuring proper rehabilitation during storm surges, expanding gender-equitable and sustainable development programmes, and just allocation of international adaptation financial resources that prioritise the interest of most affected countries from the impact of climate hazards are several policy options that need to be included in the realm of adaptative recourse to strengthen the rhetoric of resistance. Moreover, there is no denial that adaptation strategies hold prominent relevance in agriculture. The unpredictability of monsoon, fluctuation in climate pattern and the inherent weather shocks raise the vulnerabilities of people engaged in agricultural activities. The increased frequency of droughts or frequent occurrence of floods destroys the livelihood of rural people and often compels them to relocate in search of new economic activities (Frankhauser 2016). Climate-induced migration is a significant challenge. The process of relocation not only poses a financial burden but also raises the probability of an increased mortality rate. Therefore, it is essential to prioritise the issues related to relocation and agriculture crises via developing robust adaptation tools. The instrumental techniques of adaptation include;

  • The proper management of the river basins ensures effective distribution of irrigation services to avoid waterlogging and erosion that leaches the necessary nutrients from the soil, making it difficult for farmers to cultivate the crops.
  • The government must ensure that farmers will have access to extensive use of technologies for water harvesting and conservation of soil moisture as it will remunerate a positive impact on growing the agricultural revenue (Tubiello 2008).
  • Creating opportunities to build infrastructural and institutional capacity for integrating coping strategies in planning, agenda setting, conflicts management, and land water zoning for water management institutions.
  • The dissemination of relevant information related to the adaptation process and climate vulnerabilities to the poor village community enhances their awareness and empowers them against climatic disasters.
  • Development of flood shelter and establishment of information and grievances redressal centres to assist the locals with enhanced recurrent floods in significant floodplains.
  • The provision of government welfare schemes and social insurance to restore the financial balance lost in the wake of extreme climatic disasters.
  • Promotion of research on drought, flood and saline tolerant varieties of crops to facilitate adaptation in future (National Adaptation Programme of Action 2005).
  • Development of robust health infrastructure to manage climate-related health emergencies.


The substantial advantage of investing in adaptation strategies is that it can rapidly transform the gradual and sluggish emission reduction process into an expeditious relief mechanism whose effects could immediately be realised to reshape the future of the most vulnerable communities that succumb to the impact of natural catastrophe. Secondly, for William D. Nordhaus, the relevance of the adaptation process is politically feasible for efficient implementation. The cost-effective nature and economic affordability do not demand massive budgetary allocation but hold the ability to minimise the extent of structural inequality. Therefore, he proposes the “DICE Model”, which combines the essential elements of the biophysical and economic system to understand the interplay between monetary assertion and climate change, and argued that, based on the analyses of cost and benefit, developed nations should pursue adaptation than abatement (Gardiner 2004). A similar approach is also entailed by Lomborg, who contends that,


Economic analyses clearly show that it will be far more expensive to cut carbon-dioxide emission radically than to pay the cost of adaptation to the increased temperature. (Gardiner 2004: 568)


 Nonetheless, the narrow argumentation to follow the adaptation strategies to avoid the burden of earmarking financial resources for emission reduction discredit the value of ecological health and socio-economic development of the marginalised. The approach is another neo-liberal tactic favouring the dominant discourse of putting the capitalist interest of economic growth ahead of the social and ecological well-being. Broome criticises the Nordhaus model and argues that the social analyses of the cost and benefit of climate change are impossible to comprehend. Societies are not static but transform unpredictably, and one cannot estimate the range of future emission costs (Gardiner 2004). We need to strategise what we are trying to adapt with adaptation policies. There might be a possibility that we have to bear both increased costs of mitigation and increased financial support for adaptation in the future.

Moreover, the implementation of adaptation in low-income countries is profoundly challenging. The lack of information about the entitlements and the opportunity structure often exacerbates the process of social barriers to adaptation. For example, the participation of Dalits in the decision-making process has always remained marginal due to their constrained social mobility. Many Dalits lived on the outskirts in the flood-prone areas, but they were also the last to procure emergency relief. The volunteers working for the evacuation programme did not consider the plights of Dalits living outside the village simply because the dominant groups seized the control of resource distribution in their hands and prioritised the welfare of upper caste communities. A survey conducted by a Dalit organisation in 51 villages on 8-9 August 2007 exposed the casteist nature of Indian society. It made the revelation that 60% of deaths that occurred during the natural disaster belonged to Dalit households, yet none of the Dalit colonies were paid visits by the government relief officials (Baird 2008). Similarly, in Nepal, Brahmins who were found to have a close affiliation with the political leaders, police and other government officials reaped the benefits of the emergency relief fund, and Dalits faced exclusion from the realm of public policy. They were compelled to seek dependence on the Chhetri community to provide them with food and other basic amenities (Jones and Boyd 2011).

The discriminatory execution of the adaptation strategy is not restricted to the social structure of the caste. It has found a profound reflection in the patriarchal and misogynistic system of gender differentiation. According to Terry Geraldine, women are the worst affected social group by climate variability. However, the women’s stake culminating in the policy discourse remains primarily indiscernible. The fourth IPCC report recognises the need to manifest the susceptibilities experienced by the women carrying the unequal burden of family responsibilities. The report contends that “we need to highlight the vulnerabilities of rural women in developing countries, who are often dependent on natural resources for their livelihoods, do most of the agriculture work and bear responsibility for collecting water and fuels” (Geralddine 2009: 7). Due to the change in rainfall patterns, agriculture failed to enumerate surplus value.

Consequently, male members of the family had no alternative left than to migrate to the urban spaces and load the women in the house to bear the surplus accountability of child-rearing, housekeeping, and managing the agricultural activities. The exposure of women to unequal power-sharing compounded in an even worse form when the social mobility of women was restricted through social and cultural prejudices. The cyclone that hit coastal Bangladesh killed many more women than men due to women’s low resistance capacity and fragile socio-economic status (Geralddine 2009). Indeed, in developing the adaptation policy agenda, the government institutions need to prioritise the issues faced by women and socially excluded groups through the construction of gender-equitable and sustainable development programmes to ensure social development against economic growth, subverting the instrumental temptation to invest in adaptation for being comparatively cost-effective. Furthermore, the pricing of social and ecological development eliminates the value of the intrinsic significance of ecologism that strives to build the nexus between spiritual growth and ethical responsibility to counterbalance the binaries of supremacism.

The National Adaptation Programmes of Action (NAPA) necessitates the principles of equity and justice in constructing the adaptation policies to vocalise the voices of marginalised and vulnerable sections to the impact of climate change, including women and religious and cultural minorities. The framework of NAPA was designed under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), following the provision of the Kyoto Protocol. By September 2007, 20 countries had submitted their plans to the secretariats of the UNFCCC. In building the policy structure of adaptation, governments are supposed to consult with the local level authorities and social communities about the phenomena of changes in climatic conditions of the earth, how it is affecting their lives, and what adaptation process they believe to be significant in coping with the harsh effects of climate change. NAPA has facilitated the operation of “national communication” every few years to gather information about traditional wisdom, as of what communities are doing to minimise the extent of natural catastrophe and what they are doing to enact the provisions of the NAPA convention. Apart from governmental efforts to include the minorities within the ambit of the decision-making process, international and domestic non-governmental organisations (NGOs) were also directed to spread the awareness among the socially excluded segments of the society, pressurising political parties to enact the convention and mobilising support for the adaptation activities (Baird 2008).

For instance, the NAPA plan in Bangladesh was advanced by the Ministry of Environment and Forest (MOEF) to develop the discourse on sustainable and equitable account for climate justice, with the participation of multiple stakeholders such as policymakers of government, local government representatives, the scientific community, academicians, doctors, agriculturists, ethnic groups, indigenous women, NGOs and media houses. It was agreed that shared knowledge and traditional wisdom would widen the understanding of adaptation strategies. The government of Bangladesh also launched the project on reducing the vulnerability to climate change in partnership with local and international NGOs through coastal afforestation and community participation and a green belt project to gather knowledge about community-level coping strategies. The primary objective was to identify how the local-level communities will respond to new technological innovations to lower the numbers of deaths during a natural calamity (National Adaptation Programme of Action 2005).


Similarly, the policy discourse for climate change in India highlights the assertion of considering the environment as an integral part of human life. The domestic climate change policy discourse in India faces a dual conundrum. On the one hand, the socio-economic inequality and structural barriers in actualising the basic entitlements to subsistence compartmentalise India within the blocs of poor and developing countries with a low level of carbon emission. On the other hand, the growing per capita emission provides the international community with a viable reason to obtrude restrictions on emitting greenhouse gases above the specified quota (Dubash 2013).


 In 2007, Greenpeace India published a report reflecting the disparity between the emission rate of elites and the poor in India and how the Indian elites hide behind the back of poor people to escape the moral responsibility of taking a lead role in combating the per capita emission rate (Dubash 2013). Others have even suggested the way Indian rich people hide behind poor people; likewise, developed nations are hiding behind India’s rich people to pressure the international community to enact provisions that will share the equal distribution of mitigation emission rate, despite the developing nature of the country. To resolve the puzzling dilemma, Navruz K. Dubash proposed three fundamental narratives: pursuing a more realist path of prioritising growth, implementing the sustainable development agenda to realise the co-benefits approach and the enactment of sustainable development internationalist stance, illuminating the need for an international approach to co-benefits in the realm of the global climate regime (Dubash 2013).


Following the trajectory of the co-benefits approach, the implementation of the National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC) stipulates a transitional strategy to establish an equilibrium between the stratagem of mitigation and adaptation, with an objective to constitute a sustainable account of the development, following the narrative of business as usual (BAU) and planned adjustment (Bidwai 2012). In conclusion, NAPCC accentuates the fundamental values of an inclusive and coherent strategy and an economically efficient and cost-effective approach for longitudinal environmental benefits. It includes the tactics of demand-side management, expansion of appropriate technologies, production of the innovative market system, regulatory and voluntary mechanisms, robust association with civil society and public-private partnership and international collaboration for research and development and technology transfer (Ahmad & Choi 2010).



The practical implementation of any beneficiary scheme necessitates the collision of ethics and politics, emphasising the crucial value of doing the right thing, where moral reasoning and moral motivation will act as a discursive force to compel the political regime to address the distributional gap evolving an inclusive social compact sidelining their selfish interests. The philosophy of virtue ethics claims that morality is an essential part of the natural development of human beings and the development of virtue builds the characteristics traits of justice (Hursthouse 2001). Since the theoretical injunction of justice holds the dominant position in debates of political philosophy for settling the quarrel of what is wrong or what is right, the criteria must find adequate space for assessing or rectifying the implementation process of social policies. Therefore, the morality of ecological strategy investigates the process to find the answer of what should be the adequate criteria to allocate burdens and benefits among different social and economic groups and how it can prioritise the interests of disadvantaged groups.

Moral theories are not abstract and isolated from the strategical discourse. Contradictorily, moral theories try to balance the act of conflicting moral claims to resolve tragic dilemmas. For instance, following the interpretive approach of interest utilitarianism, which determines the morality of the action on the consequences they produce, Peter Singer argues for maximising the interest of those who are worst affected during the outbreak of natural calamity. Peter Singer has formulated the principles to highlight the moral responsibility of affluent communities based on his analyses of how lack of food and medical care can have significant repercussions and can be life-threatening. Therefore, he argues,  


“If it is in our power to prevent something very bad from happening, without thereby sacrificing anything morally significant, we ought morally do it (Singer , 1972).”


On the other hand, Rawlsian philosophical assertion tries to reinstate the morality of an act if it equalises the background conditions and prioritises the interest of the most disadvantaged sections of society (Rawls, 1971), advocating a humanistic approach advancing the elements of moral concerns along with legal ideas of equal rights and wellbeing of others (Zhukova, Platash, & Tymchuk, 2022). Moreover, the protection and promotion of subsistence rights also fail the charges of relativism. The development of virtues such as charity and social justice is universally relevant and strengthens mutual cooperation among individuals. The distributing criteria that cherish the intrinsic value of deep ecology open the door for deliberation on relevant questions such as is it just to let the vulnerable sections die due to starvation? Is it just to let the Dalits face the unequal burden of climate change?

 Furthermore, the task of immersion of moral ideas with public policy formulation can be very complex, facing several challenges associated with pragmatism and implementation. However, we must acknowledge that public policies are employed to resolve the challenges that society faces. The phenomenon of social actions could never work in abstraction with no sense of social justice. Therefore, Bidyut Chakrabarty and Prakash Chand contended that public policy should be the conducive mixture of head and heart, where the head denotes the practical analyses of implementing a policy raising significant questions such as to what extent a policy could benefit the society at large or what would be the cost of implementation and what could be achieved. On the contrary, the heart refers to the ideological influence or distribution of values or the distribution of resources to ensure the fulfilment of specific social and economic rights associated with liberal and left-oriented ideological spheres. He argues the “conceptualisation of public policy should be done in such a manner that it will capture the multi-dimensional character which is both context-governed and ideologically charged (Charkrabarty & Chand 2016).” Therefore, it is crucial that we move beyond the dichotomous realm of mitigation and adaptation to nurture a political system with a coherent, inclusive and participatory strategy of initiating positive reforms toward social change. 


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