EJ Series, part 6: considerations of procedural justice in national adaptation plans

14 December 2017
This article is based on a paper presented by Abbie White at the Environmental Justice 2017: Looking Back, Looking Forward Conference, University of Sydney, 6-8 November 2017 and is a part of Abbie’s broader PhD research.

By Abbie White, PhD Candidate, School of Social Sciences, UNSW Sydney

Adaptation to climate change is essential, and adaptation planning must take issues of justice into account, to ensure that the most vulnerable aren’t further disadvantaged by adaptation measures. Adaptation to climate change has the potential to be transformative (Pelling, O’Brien, & Matyas, 2015), to address issues of climate justice, and to disrupt unequal burdens of those most affected by climate change. Conversely, adaptation activities and governance can also be a catalyst for further injustices, while reinforcing existing inequalities and power structures.

Climate justice is broadly centered on the fact that those who contributed the least to climate change will be the worst affected by its impacts (Füssel, 2010). In order to curtail injustices resulting from adaptation, it is essential to consider how adaptation activities and funding are distributed, and who is involved in the decision-making processes.  Climate justice can be conceptualised in relation to issues of distributive justice or procedural justice (Paavola & Adger, 2006). Distributive justice dimensions of adaptation relate to the fair allocation of adaptation funding and efforts. Fair allocation should be based on vulnerability, both physical and social, and adaptive capacity. Considerations of distributive justice are present at the international level, between regions within countries, and between different groups within countries.

Procedural justice dimensions of adaptation include ensuring the decision-making process is undertaken in a fair, inclusive and transparent manner and recognition, which is essential for meaningful participation, and also is replicated at the international and domestic levels. Five key components of procedural justice have been identified: decision-making, fair process, participation, recognition and underlying dynamics of power.  Participation has to be inclusive, involving those who will be affected, and especially voices of the most vulnerable.  Recognition is a key component of procedural justice and is essential in ensuring genuine participation, inclusion and fair decision-making. Recognition and respect for local knowledge is also crucial, and is particularly important in adaptation. This is because adaptation projects take place at local scale, where local and traditional knowledge is invaluable. In addition, local people will be living with adaptation projects and measures, so involvement in their planning can contribute to a sense of ownership, ongoing utilization and success.  Without effective inclusion, existing power structures can reinforce the status quo and exacerbate vulnerability and disadvantage throughout the adaptation process.

Procedural justice concerns have been incorporated into National Adaptation Programmes of Action (NAPAs). NAPAs were established at the 2001 Marrakesh UNFCCC Conference of the Parties in recognition of the unique circumstances and low adaptive capacity of least developed countries (LDCs) (UNFCCC 2002, p. 7). NAPAs are an avenue for LDCs to identify, communicate and prioritise their urgent adaptation needs. Financial and technical support was made available for the preparation of the plans and a funding avenue for adaptation activities was established (though the distribution of funding has been limited so far) (UNFCCC 2015). The initiative has been successful in its uptake, with all eligible LDCs having submitted a NAPA (51 submitted in total) (UNFCCC 2014). NAPAs procedural aspects of justice are centred on the inclusion of a participatory multidisciplinary approach, including voices from the bottom-up, synergies with existing plans, policies and strategies, gender equity, country-driven, simple and flexible to national context (Least Developed Countries Expert Group, 2002, pp. 2-3).

An examination of NAPAs devised for eleven LDCs who are also Small Island Developing States (SIDS) reveals varying concerns with procedural justice.  These inscriptions of justice are not usually obvious, and can be found in absence of formal considerations of justice. Preliminary results reveal issues of procedural justice relating to consultation, gender, and traditional practices. The form and reporting of consultation varied widely.  Descriptions varied from listing each person involved in the consultation process (Cape Verde and Timor Leste) to vague indications that some type of consultation occurred. The number of people consulted also varied greatly, with some not being quantified at all, to 56 at the lower end of the spectrum (Cape Verde) and into the thousands e.g. the Solomon Islands with 1000-3000 listed.

References to gender was also not uniform. Almost half of the reports made no mention of gender, women or men, despite issues of gender equality being discussed in the NAPA guidelines, where the knowledge of women and the importance of consulting women is highlighted.  Traditional knowledge was referenced in all of the NAPAs examined to varying degrees.  Nevertheless, tensions can arise at the nexus of traditional practices, consultation and gender equity.  There can be issues of injustice relating to fair consultation and gender equity, as patriarchal cultures and some traditional methods of decision-making exclude women from active participation (Timor Leste, Tuvalu). Some of the NAPAs recognised this tension and modified traditions so that women’s perspectives could be included (Tuvalu). This highlights the complexities and intersections between issues of procedural justice.

Adaptation to climate change is an urgent necessity. Governance mechanisms such as NAPAs have both the potential to promote or undermine climate justice. In order to improve the plight of the most vulnerable, issues of procedural justice need to be incorporated into all stages of adaptation planning and implementation.

  • Füssel, H.-M. (2010). How inequitable is the global distribution of responsibility, capability, and vulnerability to climate change: A comprehensive indicator-based assessment. Global Environmental Change, 20(4), 597-611. doi:
  • Least Developed Countries Expert Group. (2002). Annotated guidelines for the preparation of national adaptation programmes of action. Retrieved from
  • Paavola, J., & Adger, W. N. (2006). Fair adaptation to climate change. Ecological Economics, 56(4), 594-609. doi:10.1016/j.ecolecon.2005.03.015
  • Pelling, M., O’Brien, K., & Matyas, D. (2015). Adaptation and transformation. Climatic Change, 133(1), 113-127. doi:10.1007/s10584-014-1303-0
  • United Nations Framework Convention of Climate Change. (2015). Report on the 28th meeting of the Least Developed Countries Expert Group. Retrieved from – beg
  • United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. (2002). Report of the Conference of the Parties on its Seventh Session, held at Marrakesh from 29 October to 10 November 2001. Retrieved from
  • United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. (2014). NAPAs recieved by the secretariat.   Retrieved from

Abbie White is a PhD candidate in the School of Social Sciences at UNSW Sydney.  She is researching issues of climate justice and National Adaptation Programmes of Action.  Abbie completed her undergraduate studies at UNSW Sydney, receiving a Bachelor of Science with First Class Honours, majoring in human and physical geography.  She is passionate about problems of social justice and global inequality, with a focus on their intersection with sustainability and environmental issues.

Header image: by Chester Ho via Unsplash.