Adaptive capacity in urban areas of developing countries

  • Camila Flórez BossioEmail author
  • James Ford
  • Danielle Labbé


Urban areas of developing countries face increasing risks due to climate change. This paper systematically identifies and examines research published between 2000 and 2017 that assesses urban adaptive capacity to climate change in developing countries. To critically examine this literature, we developed a conceptual framework of urban adaptive capacity. The framework focuses on key components of urban adaptive capacity in three dimensions: the characterization of adaptive capacity, the external factors mediating adaptive capacity, and the dynamics of adaptive capacity. The study sheds light on the spatial and scalar interactions of individuals, communities, and authorities’ adaptive capacities within urban areas and highlights the importance of governance and social institutions in shaping urban adaptive capacity. The work also finds shortcomings in the current assessment of urban adaptive capacity, with key gaps including a narrow focus on the range and types of adaptive capacity; limited assessment of the multilevel determinants, place-based processes, and urban determinants that shape adaptive capacity; and a lack of consideration of adaptive capacity interactions between social entities and with regard to climate sensitivity and exposure of a given area, including the potential for maladaptation. Addressing these research gaps would contribute to generate knowledge that can adequately support adaptation planning of urban areas in developing countries.



This work was supported by the Fonds de Recherche du Québec - Société et Culture (FRQSC), the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. We also acknowledge the feedback from Oliver Coomes and Sarah Moser (McGill University).

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© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of GeographyMcGill UniversityMontrealCanada
  2. 2.Priestley International Centre for ClimateUniversity of LeedsLeedsUK
  3. 3.School of Urban Planning and Landscape ArchitectureUniversity of MontrealMontrealCanada

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