Adaptation pathways for climate-resilient development

09:00 Thursday 30 May


Room S5


Saskia Werners (Netherlands) 1; Edmond Totin (Benin) 2; James Butler (Australia) 3; Russell Wise (Australia) 3; Sharlene Gomes (Netherlands) 4; Leon Hermans (Netherlands) 4

1 - Wageningen University & Research; 2 - Université Nationale d'Agriculture; 3 - CSIRO Land & Water; 4 - Delft University of Technology

Climate change is one of the major challenges for achieving sustainable development. In order for development to be climate resilient, it needs to include choices and actions that reduce climate change impacts and sustain development efforts over time. This shows how the global commitments set out in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the Paris Agreement on climate change, and the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction are closely linked. Integration of the three agendas offers opportunities as well as huge challenges, and calls for new approaches that take into account both short and long-term time horizons in the frame of so-called ‘climate resilient development pathways’.

In the context of adaptation to climate change, adaptation pathways have been proposed as a promising decision-focused approach for planning under uncertainty. Pathways help decision-makers to sequence measures for flexible implementation with limited undesirable and mal-adaptive consequences. In addition, participatory development of pathways potentially ‘primes’ stakeholders’ capacity for change, and facilitates transformations. Researchers and practitioners are becoming responsive to these potentials, and are experimenting with the application of pathways in different policy situations, including development, disaster risk and adaptation planning.

With this session, we want to discuss how adaptation pathways can make development climate-resilient. We will present cases of pathway development, which range (i) in methodological approach from community-based to expert-driven, (ii) in goal from adaptation policy to capacity building, and (iii) in focus from incremental to transformational change. Based on the cases, we propose guiding principles for pathway formulation. In addition, we will discuss how co-creation of pathways can give actors agency to plan and implement activities following an integral vision of sustainable development, disaster risk reduction and climate change resilience.

Our session brings together a dedicated team of researchers and strategic partners from four consortia supported by the Collaborative Adaptation Research Initiative in Africa and Asia (CARIAA) Programme (, together with CSIRO, and Delft University of Technology. Together we pitch and discuss examples of pathway development from semi-arid and coastal regions of West Africa, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Papua New Guinea.

Target audience

Academia, policy-makers, development practitioners are the target audience. This session aims to offer the opportunity to learn across different cases and to derive guiding principles for pathway formulation in different socio-cultural contexts, and in a dynamic environment with multiple stakeholders, contested values and ambiguous goals. We invite session participants to our Community of Practice.

Proposed format for the session

Summary: Introductory framing presentations. Case presentations. Round tables. Guided discussion / evaluation with audience.

Program (approximate times indicated. details below):

  • Introduction of pathways concept and guiding principles for pathways development (10 min)
  • Case presentations illustrating guiding principles for pathways development (max 30min)
  • Discussants (max 15min)
  • Guided discussion with audience on guiding principles with special attention to lessons for climate-resilient development (40 min).
  • Wrap-up and concluding reflections from science and practice to lastingly attain the SDGs and make development climate resilient (10min)

Contributing Authors abstracts

1. Saskia Werners, Wageningen University & Research, the Netherlands – Framing adaptation pathway development and guiding principles

The concept of ‘adaptation pathways’ has achieved traction as a planning response to a changing world. This paper reviews examples of pathways development, and discusses guiding principles for pathway development. It opens the discussion on how adaptation pathways can make development climate-resilient.

2. James Butler and Russell Wise, CSIRO Land & Water, Australia – Adaptation pathways for seascapes: integrating politics, decision-making and capacity-building in Papua New Guinea

We re-focus adaptation pathways towards addressing the systemic issues of politics in decision-making. We use the example of the Bismarck Sea in Papua New Guinea, a priority ‘seascape’ under the Coral Triangle Initiative. We established a multi-stakeholder learning process around development proposals to assess their implications for the seascape’s trajectory and the Sustainable Development Goals. Adaptation pathways were established at two levels: learning cycles around successive and linked development proposals, and resulting sequenced actions to redress the systemic determinants of poor decision-making.

3. Edmond Totin, Université Nationale d’Agriculture-Benin – Potential of scenario planning to support adaptation pathways in rural Mali

This study examines to what extent transformative scenario planning (TSP) can generate evidence-based adaptation pathways to support the development of sustainable futures and enable effective adaptive capacity of local community under uncertainty and complex socio-biophysical arenas. The case-study is implemented in the dryland of Mali (Koutiala District), where farmers are exposed to serious climate challenges.

4. Sharlene Gomes and Leon Hermans, Delft University of Technology, the Netherlands – Development of adaptation pathways for peri-urban areas in India

Water access in peri-urban areas is under threat from rapid urbanization. An adaptive approach to water resource management has the potential to better manage the dynamic needs given the uncertainty of urban growth and expansion. This study presents a conceptual framework to examine the adaptive capacity of peri-urban areas in India with regards to water access. It focuses on the role of information in institutional change, as a way for peri-urban stakeholders to cope with vulnerability and resilience. This serves as the start point for design of adaptive pathways for sustainable water resource management in peri-urban areas.


Blane Harvey, McGill Institute for the Study of International Development, ODI, IISD; Jesse DeMaria-Kinney, PlanAdapt; Lucia Scodanibbio, University of Cape Town