Climate change is one of the most pressing threats to sustainable development, and the greatest impacts will be assumed by the most vulnerable populations. The world is becoming increasingly aware of the looming risks of climate-induced shocks and stresses. Despite the risks, there is widespread uncertainty pertaining to the socio-economic repercussions of climate change and how sustainable development outcomes can be enabled in this context.  

The challenges posed by climate change are unprecedented and must therefore elicit responses beyond what is considered business as usual. Current standards of practice that maintain institutional and policy separations between development, climate change adaptation, and disaster risk reduction (DRR) are inadequate (Diwakar, Lovell, Opitz-Stapleton, Shepherd, and Twigg, 2019). Worsening climate risks compound multifaceted vulnerabilities, which cannot be adequately addressed using traditional social or humanitarian policies.

This situation calls for the implementation of integrated approaches of climate-informed development that recognises the links between climate-induced shocks and stresses and sustainable development outcomes. Resilience building, which seeks to increase coping capacity among vulnerable populations, is essential to such approaches in order to minimise the risks of the impoverishment in favour of long-term wellbeing — understood as freedom from fear and want (Diwakar et al., 2019Ulirchs, Slater, and Costella, 2019). Adaptive Social Protection (ASP) — which seeks to reduce negative climate-related risks and hazards in the context of chronic poverty — is key to climate-informed development.


Climate change induced uncertainty and disruption 

Multiple, interconnected and severe climate-induced shocks and stresses are growing increasingly common on a global scale. Based on 2016 data, the World Bank predicts that without climate-informed development efforts, these trends will push an additional 100 million people into extreme poverty by 2030 (South-South Learning Forum, 2018, p.5).

From gradual environmental degradation to sudden, extreme weather events, the impacts of climate-change are diverse and vary regionally (EU-SPS, 2019). Occurrences such as drought and desertification, flooding, and heat waves, in addition to natural disasters such as tropical storms all disrupt the balance of various ecosystems that humans rely on (EU-SPS, 2019).

These environmental factors pose a risk to the wellbeing of people and their productive assets over both the short term (shocks), and long-term (stresses). Underlying vulnerabilities among certain populations make them particularly vulnerable to such negative impacts due to their increased exposure to climate-induced risks. 


Vulnerability and negative coping strategies

Populations who face the greatest barriers to achieving wellbeing in their everyday lives are also the most vulnerable to the risks of climate-induced shocks and stresses. These populations are comprised of groups who are subject to contextual marginalisation, broadly including women, children, older persons, persons with disabilities, minority ethnic and Indigenous groups, and LGBTQIA persons (Chaplin, Twigg and Lovell, 2019).

Marginalisation becomes entrenched over time through social relationships determined by intersecting factors (eg. ethnicity, age, gender, etc.), and situational variables (eg. heath, household composition, area where people live, etc.) which reinforce inequalities between these groups and among others in society (Chaplin et al., 2019; Diwakar et al., 2019).

The entrenchment of marginalisation coincides with a high incidence of poverty, exacerbating underlying vulnerabilities. Consequently, specific groups are subject to compound risks, increasing exposure to climate-induced shocks and stresses (Davies, Leavy, Mitchell, and Tanner, 2008, p. 4). In this light, climate-change necessarily poses a major human development challenge.

Vulnerable populations who have limited coping capacity may necessarily resort to negative coping strategies in response to climate-induced risks. This threatens undermining human development progress, thereby limiting sustainable achievements. While these groups face greater exposure to the risks of shocks and stresses, poverty limits the mechanisms at their disposal for coping with these risks (South-South Learning Forum, 2018; Diwakar et al., 2019).

For instance, poor households with a “lack of savings, [and] limited to no access to finance or insurance,” may favour coping strategies that protect their short-term interests at the expense of their long-term wellbeing (South-South Learning Forum, 2018). These negative coping strategies may include selling productive assets, removing children from school to work, or taking on high interest loans (South-South Learning Forum, 2018, p.7). In order to limit reliance on negative strategies in the context of climate change, it is necessary to foster resilience that supports human development that prioritises long-term wellbeing.


Adaptive Social Protection

Those who face the greatest risks require the greatest resilience. Resilience refers to “the ability to anticipate, avoid, plan for, cope with, recover from and adapt to (climate-related) shocks and stresses” (Ulirchs et al., 2019, p.371). Accordingly, resilience reduces vulnerability and enables positive coping strategies.

Social protection is an important tool for resilience building as its key functions are to reduce vulnerability, inequality, and poverty, in support of enhancing wellbeing (EU-SPS, 2019, p.3; Ulirchs et al., 2019). By protecting vulnerable groups from impoverishing risk, social protection mitigates chronic poverty and facilitate human development. ASP goes beyond traditional approaches by ensuring both that human capital investments among vulnerable groups are made and that these investments are not undermined. This builds resilience and helps to maintain positive outcomes. 

While ASP can be applied to address the impacts of all manner of shocks and stresses, it is particularly well suited to climate-change. Conceptually, ASP is focused on the integration of social protection and climate change adaption. Researchers at the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) first proposed ASP as a means of enhancing human resilience by harnessing synergies between social protection, disaster risk management, climate change adaptation, and food security (Lau Jorgensen and Siegel, 2019; Davies et al., 2008).

The ASP framework is comprised of two interrelated focus areas that merge climate-change adaptation and DRR with socioeconomic development policy and programmes by:

  1. Building resilience among those households most vulnerable to shocks and stresses so that they are better able to respond after the fact; and
  2. Increasing the responsiveness of social protection programmes while increasing their integration with the overall national shock response apparatus to alleviate the impacts of shocks and stresses after they materialise. (South-South Learning Forum, 2018

ASP is unique from traditional forms of social protection due to its reliance on a framework that acknowledges evolving risk profiles, and informs measures to support resilience to - and recovery from -  unprecedented shocks and stresses (Davies et al., 2008; Rutkowski, 2018). As such, ASP supports long-term wellbeing amid uncertainty and disruption.     


Implementing targeted adaptive social protection

Effectively implementing ASP requires leveraging the synergies between climate-change adaptation, DRR, and socioeconomic development policy and programmes to facilitate transformative adaptation that can withstand the impacts of unknown shocks and stresses.

The assumption that social protection must be explicitly designed to target climate-induced risks to increase resilience is false (Ulirchs et al., 2019). Well implemented and stable social protection systems are fundamental to the achievement of effective climate-change adaptation, reducing the risk of impoverishment or re-impoverishment in the wake of disaster (Diwakar et al., 2019).

As such, sustainable resilience-building efforts must address the root causes of vulnerability prior to the corresponding symptoms. This entails addressing the causes of vulnerability as opposed to the vulnerability itself (Chaplin et al., 2019; Ulirchs et al., 2019; UNDP, Accessed 2019). A core strength of ASP as a climate-informed development tool is that it does just that.

By integrating climate adaptation and DRR with socioeconomic development, ASP is capable of addressing the underlying determinates of vulnerability, while simultaneously building resilience to climate-induced shocks and stresses (Diwakar et al., 2019; Chaplin et al., 2019). Consequently, by targeting the vulnerabilities, ASP approaches create stronger links between climate-induced risks and development, contributing to sustainable outcomes (Davies et al., 2008; Diwakar et al., 2019). 


Conclusion: A necessary adaptation

Climate-informed development, which aspires to long-term, sustainable results, must be premised on an understanding that those with the greatest exposure to risk are also those who are most vulnerable and have the least capacity to cope. Climate-change induced uncertainty and disruption, and the corresponding socioeconomic impacts are changing the face of development (Lau Jorgensen and Siegel, 2019). We must therefore embrace tools such as ASP, and move beyond business as usual to meet new challenges.  



Chaplin, D., Twigg, J. and Lovell, E. (2019, April). Intersectional approaches to vulnerability reduction and resilience-building, Resilience Intel, 12, London: Overseas Development Institute. Accessible: 

Davies, M., Leavy, J., Mitchell, T. and Tanner, T. (2008, January 31). Social Protection and Climate Change Adaptation, Briefing Note for Expert Group to the Commission on Climate Change and Development, Ministry for Foreign Affairs Sweden, United Kingdom: Institute of Development Studies. Retrieved from 

Diwakar, V., Lovell, E., Opitz-Stapleton, S., Shepherd, A. and Twigg, J. (2019, March). Child poverty, disasters and climate change: Investigating relationships and implications over the life course of children, London: Overseas Development Institute. Accessible:

EU Social Protection Systems Programme (EU-SPS) (2019). Social protection for climate change adaptation and a carbon neutral transition by 2050. Accessible:

Lau Jorgensen, S. and Siegel, P.B. (2019). Social Protection in an Era of Increasing Uncertainty and Disruption: Social Risk Management 2.0, Social Protection and Jobs Discussion Paper No. 2013-032), World Bank Group. Accessible: 

Rutkowski, M. (2018, February 18). Using adaptive social protection to cope with crisis and build resilience [web log], World Bank Blogs: Voices. Accessible:

South-South Learning Forum 2018 (2018). Summary Report: Building Resilience through Adaptive Social Protection, World Bank Group’s Social Protection and Jobs Global Practice. Accessible:

Ulirchs, M., Slater, R. and Costella, C. (2019, April). “Building Resilience to climate risks through social protection: from individualised models to systemic transformation”, Disasters, 43(3), Overseas Development Institute, P. S368-S387. Accessible:

United Nations Development Program. Climate Resilient Social Protection (Accessed July 2019). Accessible:

World Bank (2018). Adaptive Social Protection for Effective Disaster Risk Management (English), Washington D.C.: World Bank Group. Accessible:


Photo credit: Building resilience for smallholder farmers in marginal drylands – Tunisia, CGIAR Research Program, 2013, Flickr 

Social Protection Programmes: 
  • All programmes - General
  • Social assistance
Social Protection Topics: 
  • Programme design and implementation
  • Social protection systems
  • Targeting
Cross-Cutting Areas: 
  • Disasters and crisis
    • Humanitarian crisis
  • Environment and climate change
  • Poverty
  • Resilience
  • Risk and vulnerability
  • Global
  • Global
The views presented here are the author's and not's