Global climate change is a significant challenge to structures of governance at all temporal and spatial scales, particularly in the area of managing natural resources. Advances in understanding of the nature of observed and future climate change has led to a realization that significant future impacts are inevitable and increased efforts towards understanding the process of adaptation to the threatened impacts are required. This paper examines the issue of scale of governance relevant for adaptation. The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change is the primary mechanism for co-ordinating international action on the threat of global climate change. The Convention process perceives adaptation as a further rationale for international transfers, in this case to compensate for and prepare for potential or realised impacts. This approach can be justified by recourse to the idea that enhancing sustainable development will enhance adaptive capacity and that planned activities are a key part of overall adaptation. But many adaptations to climate change will be spontaneous actions to perceived and actual risks in the environment. Thus institutional and economic parameters determine the underlying vulnerability and adaptive capacity of societies. I therefore argue that an understanding of adaptation processes allows interventions and planned adaptations at the most appropriate scales. I illustrate these arguments with reference to adaptation in agriculture and outline the insights from interdisciplinary development studies that can inform the climate change debates. Copyright © 2001 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
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