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

Bangladesh and Vietnam are two of the thirteen countries supported by the Regional Climate ChAdaptation Knowledge Platform. This publication highlights the insights gained from the implementation of activities in both countries, and compares the results in a synthesis study. These insights will catalyze further actions to deepen adaptive action in the region.
Multiple Authors
Photo Credit: Syeda Sajeda Haider
Photo Credit:Syeda Sajeda Haider


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?

ThisweADAPT article is an abridged version of the original text, which can be downloaded from the right-hand column.Please access the original text for more detail, research purposes, full references, or to quote text.

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.

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