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Locating ‘livelihood resilience’ in climate adaptation discourse

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(This article has been originally published here)

This blog is inspired by research which I undertook for my PhD, which aimed at refocusing livelihoods research and analyses in the context of contemporary vulnerability dynamics, patterns and trends using the resilience perspective. Climate change is one of the major drivers of contemporary vulnerability dynamics, patterns and trends around the world and therefore this brief discussion aims at bringing to the forefront the importance of locating livelihood resilience in climate change response options, particularly within the adaptation discourse.

It is known that climate change destabilizes livelihood systems especially among the poorest and most vulnerable. Thus, there is a human imperative to frame research and practices particularly on climate change adaptation, around livelihoods (Tanner et al, 2015). The concept of livelihoods comprises of the capabilities, assets and activities required for a means of living (Carney, 1998). On the other hand, resilience is a measure of the ability of a system to anticipate, absorb and recover from change and hazardous events.

Livelihood resilience therefore draws attention to the factors and processes that keep livelihoods functioning despite change and adverse conditions. This may include one’s ability to positively transform in a dynamic perspective, which is critical to channel focus towards issues of (differentiated) access to resources, institutional and power relations, and issues of inequality. This positive transformation and channeled focus thereby helps to flag the distributional and political dimensions of adaptation options available to different people.

It is therefore, clear that including a livelihood resilience perspective is critical in the conceptualization of climate change adaptation. Not only does this actively emphasize the important role of human agency and people’s individual and collective capacities in responding to climate change and related stressors, but it also highlights the activities and institutions that characterize the political economy of climate change responses.


Carney D (ed), 1998, Sustainable rural livelihoods: What contribution can we make? DFID

Tanner T, Lewis D, Wrathall D, Bronen R, Cradock-Henry N et al, 2015, Livelihood resilience in the face of climate change, Nature Climate Change, Vol 1 

Written by: Dr Admire Nyamwanza, Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the African Climate and Development Initiative


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