Adaptation or Development? Exploring the distinctions (or lack thereof) through case studies in Bangladesh and Vietnam

Submitted by Pin Pravalprukskul | published 12th Feb 2013 | last updated 1st Feb 2021
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Using Bangladesh and Vietnam as ‘adaptation project-dense’ contexts, we sought to explore how adaptation is understood, mainly by practitioners in development projects, but also by government staff, donors, researchers and others who are involved in implementing projects. Key questions asked were: Do projects use the concept of ‘adaptation’ too easily, perhaps for greater ease in access to funding sources, or due to a lack of understanding of what adaptation means? If so, what are the implications of the overuseof the term? What may be the consequences of understanding, defining and using the concepts of ‘climate change adaptation’ and ‘development’ differently? And what would a methodological approach for assessing whether projects really contribute to adaptation look like?

Key Messages

1. Differentiating between adaptation and development may be an artificial exercise. In theory, there is a difference between adaptation and development. In project implementation, that difference is mostly considered insignificant. In practice, the actions taken to achieve adaptation can hardly be distinguished from those required to achieve sustainable development.
2. Development is considered a ‘safer’ objective than adaptation, due to the lack of tools to assess success in achieving adaptation through projects.
3. The lack of a widely accepted framework for adaptation encourages its conscious use in varied and broad ways in project descriptions. Project managers report that it is easy to relabel or refocus development projects to qualify for adaptation finance, though the two country studies found no evidence of mislabelling.


Adaptation Knowledge Platform (2013) Adaptation or Development? Exploring the distinctions (or lack thereof) through case studies in Bangladesh and Vietnam, Stockholm Environment Institute and Regional Climate Change Adaptation Knowledge Platform, Bangkok.