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Adaptive capacity in urban areas of developing countries


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.

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Fig. 1


  1. Some authors refer to AC characterization determinants as endogenous variables of AC.

  2. Some authors refer to this as the exogenous variables of AC.

  3. The two languages spoken by the lead author.

  4. None of the articles in Spanish originally identified were retained for review.

  5. Country income levels were drawn from the UN World Economic Situation and Prospects 2017, based on the per capita Gross National Income (GNI) in September 2016.

  6. We assessed only the approach on the developing country information of the north–south studies.

  7. According to a Web of Science query for the 2000–2017 period using the following keywords: TOPIC: (urban OR cities OR metropolitan) AND TOPIC: (adaptation) AND TOPIC: (“climat* change” OR “global warming”).


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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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Correspondence to Camila Flórez Bossio.

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Flórez Bossio, C., Ford, J. & Labbé, D. Adaptive capacity in urban areas of developing countries. Climatic Change 157, 279–297 (2019).

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