SDEP Program on Climate and Society

The Program on Climate and Society houses three efforts:

Initiative for Climate Action Research and Understanding through the Social Sciences (ICARUS)

Directors: Jesse Ribot (UIUC), Maria-Carmen Lemos (University of Michigan), Arun Agrawal (University of Michigan), and Ben Orlove (Columbia University)

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), National Science Foundation (NSF) and Stern Reports call for greater social science engagement in discussions about climate change mitigation and adaptation. ICARUS responds to this call. Vulnerability and adaptation have emerged as key concepts in the social science literature on climate change. Both concepts have long, inter-linked histories. Scholars from various disciplines working on development, acute disasters, and slowly-unfolding crises like hunger, famine, and dislocation have contributed insights on the meanings and drivers of vulnerability. Meanwhile, scholars in diverse fields in social and ecological sciences are developing systematic ideas about adaptation. The applicability of these two bodies of work to climate-related stress and crisis remains a vigorous arena of discussion.

ICARUS seeks to develop vulnerability and adaptation theory in order to improve understanding of the inter-related concepts of vulnerability and adaptation. ICARUS is building and applying innovative frameworks and approaches to understanding social dimensions of climate phenomena. The Initiative conduct research in six areas: (i) frameworks for understanding vulnerability and adaptation; (ii) forms, drivers, and outcomes of vulnerability and adaptation; (iii) contextual conditions that affect vulnerability or the prospects for successful adaptation; (iv) configurations of public policies relevant to vulnerability and adaptation; (v) types of private and civic action that reduce vulnerability and support adaptation; and (vi) interactions between environmental, social, and individual-level factors that influence institutional structures and global climate change.

Since 2010, ICARUS hosts an annual ICARUS conference. These conferences contribute to international debates through publications and through engagement in forums such as the International Conference on Climate and Sustainable Development in Drylands (see below). The first conference, ICARUS I, on “Climate Vulnerability and Adaptation: Theory and Cases” was held at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in February 2010, hosted by SDEP and the Beckman Institute and the School of Earth Society and Environment.

ICARUS II, “Climate Vulnerability and Adaptation: Marginal Peoples and Environments,” was held at the University of Michigan in May 2010, hosted by the International Forestry Resources and Institutions (IFRI) Research Initiative and the School of Natural Resources and Environment (SNRE). Over two hundred researchers attended.

ICARUS III, "Scales, Frameworks and Metrics" was held at Columbia University in May 2012, hosted by the Department of Anthropology. With 14 panels and double panels, and a total of 81 presentations, participants considered ecological and social vulnerability and adaptation to climate change over multiple temporal, geographical, social, political and economic scales.

ICARUS IV, "Causes of Vulnerability & Livelihoods of the Poor" wasl be held at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign in May 2015.

ICARUS V, Focusing on the themes "Society and Diversity, Topographies of Governance, and Technology and Society", the ICARUS V Conference was successfully held at the Indian School of Business (Hyderabad) from 30 June to 2 July 2016.


  • SDEP at ICARUS III Conference Report - May 2012
  • ICARUS IV Conference Agenda

    Climate and Sustainable Development in Drylands Project.

    Principal Investigator: Tom Bassett

    Thirty-five percent of Earth’s people live in arid and semi-arid lands. These drylands cover forty-one percent of the planet and closely follow maps of world poverty. While already exposed to climate extremes, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), drylands are likely to be severely hit by climate change. However, the concerns of populations living on these lands remain underrepresented in climate-action and development discussions.

    SDEP, along with the Ministry of the Environment in Brazil, co-organized the Second International Conference on Climate, Sustainability and Development in Semi-arid Regions (ICID 2010). The ICID meeting was held on August 12-22, 2010, and brought together governments, civil society and experts to assess and articulate the needs and opportunities of the world’s semi-arid regions, around the following themes:

    • Identify and focus actions on challenges and opportunities for a better future in the world’s arid and semi-arid regions.
    • Update and share experience and knowledge on matters concerning semi-arid regions in the last 20 years, such as environmental and climate variability and change, vulnerabilities, impacts, and responses of adaptation and sustainable development;
    • Explore synergies among the conventions of the United Nations (UN) concerning the development of semi-arid regions;
    • Formulate recommendations to support national and global policy processes to inform civil society and development practitioners to achieve sustainable economic, environmental, and social development in the world’s semi-arid regions.

    ICID 2010 aimed to support the 2012 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (Rio+20). ICID 2010 generated, published, and presented recommendations to guide governments and other parties in order to reduce the vulnerability of people in drylands, and enhance social and ecological sustainability in arid and semi-arid lands.

    Project Status: Funded and in progress. The Climate and Sustainable Development in Drylands Project is building SDEP’s and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s contribution to the 2012 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development.

    Water in a Changing Climate: Access and Security in Indian Cities

    Principal Investigator: Malini Ranganathan

    Water comprises a core area for SDEP researchers and cuts across both key thematic areas. Recently completed research has studied urban water politics in South Asia and, in particular, the challenges facing expanding metropolitan regions such as Bangalore. Current research is investigating the political economy of water access under scenarios of utility restructuring, the historical geography of water infrastructure, transnational water governance, collective action around water, and sustainable water management. In addition, research is connecting water access issues to concerns over climate change vulnerability and adaptation by examining the relationship between groundwater withdrawal, land subsidence, and flood vulnerability in Manila and Bangalore.

    Project Status: Core SDEP activity and seeking additional funding.

    Recent SDEP Climate and Society Publications


    • Ribot, J. (Forthcoming, 2016). “Vulnerability does not Fall from the Sky: Addressing a Risk Conundrum,” in R. Kasperson, K. Dow, and N. Pidgeon (eds.), Risk Conundrums: Solving Unsolvable Problems. London: Earthscan.


    • Wisner, Ben, Mark Pelling, Adolfo Mascarenhas, Ailsa Holloway, Babacar Ndong, Papa Faye, J. Ribot and David Simon. 2015. “Small Cities and Towns in Africa: The Challenge and Opportunity of Climate Change” Ch. 5 in Pauleit, S., Jorgensen, G., Kabisch, S., Gasparini, P., Fohlmeister, S., Simonis, I.,Yeshitela, K., Coly, A., Lindley, S., Kombe, W.J. (Eds.) Urban Vulnerability and Climate Change in Africa. New York: Springer.


    • Brooks, J.S., Oxley, D., Vedlitz, A., Zahran, S. and C. Lindsay. (2014). Abnormal daily temperature and concern about climate change across the United States. Review of Policy Research, 31(3), 199-217.
    • Ribot, J. 2014. "Politics of Misrecognition - Framing out Liability under a Changing Sky." Response to B. Orlove, H. Lazrus, G. K. Hovelsrud, and A. Giannini. 2014. "Recognitions and Responsibilities: On the Origins and Consequences of the Uneven Attention to Climate Change around the World." Current Anthropology, 55(3), 249-275.
    • Ribot, J. 2014. "Cause and Response: Vulnerability and Climate in the Anthropocene." Journal of Peasant Studies, Special Issue 41(5), 667-705.
    • Van Ruijven, B.J., M. Levy, A. Agrawal, F. Biermann, J. Birkmann, T. R. Carter, K. L. Ebi, M. Garschagen, B. Jones,R. Jones, E. Kemp-Benedict, M. Kok, K. Kok, M. C. Lemos, P. L. Lucas, B. Orlove, S. Pachauri, T. Parris, A. Patwardhan, A. Petersen, B. L. Preston, J. Ribot, D. S. Rothman, and V. J. Schweizer. Forthcoming. "Enhancing the relevance of new scenarios for climate change impacts, adaptation and vulnerability research." Submitted to Climate Change, Accepted 26 August 2013.
    • Zellner, M. Watkins, C., Massey, D., Westphal, L., Brooks, J.S., K. Ross. (2014). Advancing collective decision making theory with integrated agent-based modeling and ethnographic data analysis: an example in ecological restoration. Journal of Artificial Societies and Social Simulation, 17(4).  


    • Ribot, J. 2013. "Vulnerability does not just fall from the Sky: Toward Multi-scale Pro-poor Climate Policy." In: M.R. Redclift and M. Grasso, (eds.). Handbook on Climate Change and Human Security. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar. With preface titled "Cause and Blame in the Anthropocene - Vulnerability still does not just fall from the sky" [Reprint of Ribot 2010 with new forward and minor updates.] Pp. 164-199.
    • Watkins, C., Massey, D. Brooks, J.S., Ross, K., and M. Zellner. (2013). Understanding the mechanisms of collective decision-making in ecological restoration: an agent-based model of actors and organizations. Ecology and Society, 18(2), 32. [online].
    • Brooks, J.S., Waylen, K., and M. Borgerhoff Mulder. (2013). Assessing community-based conservation projects: a systematic review and multilevel analysis of attitudinal, behavioral, ecological, and economic outcomes. Environmental Evidence, 2.  doi: 10.1186/2047-2382-2-2.


    • Agrawal, A., M. C. Lemos, B. Orlove, and J. Ribot. 2012. “Cool Heads for a Hot World: Social Sciences under a Changing Sky.” Pre-copy Edit Version. Global Environmental Change 22(2).
    • Marino, Elizabeth and J. Ribot (eds). 2012. Special issue on Adding Insult to Injury: Climate Change, Social Stratification, and the Inequities of Intervention. Global Environmental Change, 22(2).
    • Bassett, T., and M. Kone. 2012. “Integrating ecology into political ecology: Biomass burning and greenhouse gas emissions in northern Cote d'Ivoire.” In: D. Gautier and T. Benjaminsin (eds.). L'approche Political Ecology. Pouvoir, Savoir, Environnement. Paris: Quae.
    • Beymer-Farris, B. A., T. Bassett, and I. Bryceson. 2012. "Promises and pitfalls of adaptive management in resilience thinking: the lens of political ecology." In: T. Plieninger and C. Bieling (eds.). Resilience and the Cultural Landscape. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
    • Beymer-Farris, B., and T. Bassett. 2012. “The REDD Menace: Resurgent protectionism in Tanzania's Mangrove Forests.” Geoforum 22: 332-341.
    • Brooks, J.S., Waylen, K., and M. Borgerhoff Mulder. (2012). How national context, project design, and local community characteristics influence success in community-based conservation projects. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 109(52), 21265-21270.
    • Pollini, J. 2012. Understanding agricultural intensification on a forest frontier in Madagascar: elements for a Malthusian/Boserupian synthesis. In: J. Sumberg and J. Thompson (eds). Contested agronomy: The politics of agricultural research in a changing world. Earthscan: Oxford.
    • Ranganathan, M. 2012. “Reengineering Citizenship: Municipal Reforms and the Politics of 'e-Grievance Redressal' in Karnataka's Cities.” In: R. Desai and R. Sanyal (eds.). Urbanizing Citizenship: Contested Spaces in Indian Cities. Sage, New Delhi.
    • 2011

    • Agrawal, A., and A. Chhatre. 2011. “Strengthening Causal Inference through Qualitative Analysis of Regression Residuals: Explaining Forest Governance in the Indian Himalaya.” Environment and Planning A 43(2):328-346.
    • Agrawal, A., and A. Chhatre. 2011. “Against Mono-Consequentialism: Multiple Outcomes and Their Drivers in Social-Ecological Systems.” Global Environmental Change 21(1):1-3.
    • Bassett, T. 2011. “The monetization of land transfers in northern Cote d'Ivoire.” In: E. Jul-Larsen, P.-J. Laurent, P.-Y. Le Meur, and E. Leonard (eds.). Une anthropologie entre pouvoirs et histoire. Conversations autour de l'oeuvre de Jean-Pierre Chauveau. Paris: Karthala-IRD-APAD.
    • Bohr, J., and B. Dill. 2011. “Who Benefits from Market-Based Carbon Mitigation?” Perspectives on Global Development and Technology 10(3/4):406-428.
    • Persha, L., A. Agrawal, and A. Chhatre. 2011. “Social and Ecological Synergy: Local Rulemaking, Forest Livelihoods, and Biodiversity Conservation.” Science 331:1606-1608.
    • Ranganathan, M. 2011. “The Embeddedness of Cost Recovery: Water Reforms and Associationism at Bangalore’s Fringes.” In: C. McFarlane and J. Anjaria (eds.). Urban Navigations: Politics, Space, and the City in South Asia. New Delhi: Routledge.
    • Ribot, J. 2011. “Vulnerability before Adaptation: Toward Transformative Climate Action” Global Environmental Change 21(4):1160-1162.
    • Ribot, J. 2011. “Seeing REDD for Local Democracy: A Call for Democracy Standards” Common Voices 3:14-16.
    • 2010

    • Bassett, T. 2010. “Reducing Hunger Vulnerability through Sustainable Development.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 107(13):5697-5698.
    • Bassett, T., and A. Winter-Nelson. 2010. The Atlas of World Hunger. Chicago: University Of Chicago Press.
    • Sikor, T., J. Stahl, T. Enters, J. Ribot, N. Singh, W. D. Sunderlin, and L. Wollenberg. 2010. “REDD-plus, Forest People’s Rights and Nested Climate Governance.” Global Environmental Change 20(3):423-425.
    • 2009

    • Chhatre, A., and A. Agrawal. 2009. “Synergies and Trade-offs between Carbon Storage and Livelihood Benefits from Forest Commons.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 106:17667-17670.
    • Ranganathan, M., L. Kamath, and V. Baindur. 2009. “Piped Water Supply to Greater Bangalore: Putting the Cart Before the Horse?” Economic and Political Weekly (44)33:53-62.
    • Ribot, J. 2009. “Vulnerability Does Not Just Come from the Sky: Framing Grounded Pro-Poor Cross-Scale Climate Policy.” In: R. Mearns and A. Norton (eds.). Social Dimensions of Climate Change: Equity and Vulnerability in a Warming World. Washington, DC: The World Bank.
    • Ribot, J., A. Najam, and G. Watson. 2009. “Climate Variation, Vulnerability and Sustainable Development in the Semi-Arid Tropics.” In: E. Lisa, F. Schipper, and I. Burton (eds.). The Earthscan Reader on Adaptation to Climate Change. London: Earthscan.
    • Suarez, P., J. Ribot, and A. G. Patt. 2009. “Climate Information, Equity and Vulnerability Reduction.” In: M. Ruth and M. E. Ibarraran (eds.). The Distributional Effects of Climate Change: Social and Economic Implications. Submitted to: Edward Elgar Publishing.