Tracing Back to Move Ahead: A Review of Development Pathways that Constrain Adaptation Futures

Sumetee Pahwa Gajjar, Chandni Singh, Tanvi Deshpande  | 12 March 2018 


Exponents of transformation in the context of climate change strongly articulate the challenges associated with switching from current, potentially maladaptive development trajectories, onto future pathways that are climate responsive. Although scholarship on maladaptation highlights the dangers of path dependency, the concept is under-applied for understanding the potential outcomes of development trajectories that result in what we call an adaptation-constrained space. By conducting case-study analysis based on a secondary review, we trace implications of particular development trajectories, in urban and rural India. The first case examines how urbanisation in Bangalore city has decreased the capacity to respond to concurrent risks of flooding and water scarcity while the second charts how agricultural policies in India have narrowed local capacity to deal with climatic and non-climatic uncertainties. Using a historical perspective, we identify triggers of change in local and regional development, which have led to an adaptation-constrained space. We find that both pathways display irreversible lock-ins and inherent trade-offs which entrench inequities (through differential capacity and agency to access resources and influence future development). We argue that such development pathways are potentially maladaptive. Whether they are expected to deal with climate impacts or to meet development goals, the fact that they constrain current and future adaptive capacity at multiple levels is why we consider them maladaptive. As India undertakes large investments in development and climate change adaptation, this paper adds to the relatively low policy debate on how development trajectories, physically and socially, limit the possibilities for future adaptation. We propose that policy-makers and planners first acknowledge how development trajectories acquire dominance, and then begin empowering normative alternatives that open future adaptation options.