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The recent publication of IPCC’s fifth assessment report reaffirms that even drastic reductions of global greenhouse gas emissions will be insufficient to avoid some impacts of climate change. It is becoming increasingly clear that the temperature increase by the end of the century is likely to exceed the official target of +2 °C. Urgent efforts are thus more than ever needed to support socio-ecological systems threatened by climate change, but how to make coping and adaptation happen on the ground remains vague. There is a risk that climate funding may support initiatives that are actually harmful for the socio-ecological systems i.e. that foster adaptation in the short-term but insidiously affect systems’ long-term vulnerability and/or adaptive capacity to climate change. Focusing on a rural area in Zimbabwe, and using the qualitative research paradigm with the aim of providing insights to help avoiding maladaptation to climate change, this paper addresses the environmental, socio-cultural, institutions and policies that influence access to adaptations as well as economic dimensions of adaptation initiatives (policies, plans, projects). The options available to socio-ecological systems facing natural or anthropogenic disturbances depend on human characteristics, specifically those related to the environment (beliefs, risk perceptions, traditional uses of natural resources, etc.). Adaptation initiatives must therefore be consistent with the social characteristics and cultural values of the community concerned, and based on local capacities and knowledge in the field of environment and natural hazards. This means avoiding upsetting the socio-cultural equilibrium by developing skills at the community level and, at the same time, generating or maintaining collective responses. Communities feel the consequences of climate change hence adaptation is a prerequisite although a one size fits all approach may not help in the adaptation process. People’s behaviour, inertia, values and aims influence their adaptation/maladaptation. Adaptation is absolutely necessary and resonates with sustainable development although barriers to adaptation exist where individuals lack access to assets.
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