The Polycentricity of Climate Adaptation: Translations between International Conferences and Local Development Projects

In the past few years, adaptation to climate change has emerged as a dominant new theme in development politics, to an extent that it can almost be considered as a new development paradigm. Yet, this new paradigm and its effects are not unproblematic, as the empirical research in several East African countries presented in this panel indicates. The papers argue that the current transformation of environmental governance reflects not only climate change as such, but also – and perhaps even more so – the discourse of a changing climate and its effect on development politics. Development agencies are mainstreaming adaptation into their project designs, which is often done by simply re-labeling the already existing portfolio of activities as “adaptation”. The empirical evidence shows that African farmers, politicians and government officials often respond to the new ‘adaptation paradigm’ more readily than to directly felt phenomena caused by a changing climate. We therefore argue that the concept of adaptation to climate change needs to be readjusted. Adaptation is not simply a ‘response to climatic stimuli’, but a complicated process of negotiations and translations between different actors or ‘translators’ between global and local levels. Our concern is to trace the discourse of adaptation to climate change across multiple sites. The papers will explore how it ‘travels’ between global epistemic communities and adaptation projects in developing countries, i.e., between the Conferences of Parties (COP), national adaptation papers, and particular projects in Ethiopia, Uganda, and Tanzania. The panel aims at providing an alternative view of adaptation to climate change by highlighting the contested and multi-sited narratives and practices that bring adaptation into being. In addition, the contested global ‘adaptation paradigm’ will be related to more localized concepts of knowledge and social learning in order to discuss how global ideas are locally appropriated and modified.