Humanitarian crises appear dramatic, overwhelming and sudden, with aid required immediately to save lives. Whereas climate change is about changing hazard patterns and crises are in reality rarely unexpected, with academic researchers and humanitarian and development organisations warning about possible risks for months before they take place. While humanitarian organisations deal directly with vulnerable populations, interventions are part of global politics and development pathways that are simultaneously generating climate change, inequities and vulnerability. So what is the level of convergence between humanitarian interventions and efforts to support adaptation to climate change, and what lessons can be drawn from current experience on the prospects for reducing the risk of climate change causing increased burdens on humanitarian interventions in the future?
This IDS Bulletin is a call for increasing engagement between humanitarian aid and adaptation interventions to support deliberate transformation of development pathways. Based on studies from the ‘Courting Catastrophe’ project, contributors argue that humanitarian interventions offer opportunities for a common agenda to drive transformational adaptation. Changes in political and financial frameworks are needed to facilitate longer-term actions where demands move from delivering expert advice and solutions to vulnerable populations to taking up multiple vulnerability knowledges and making space for contestation of current development thinking. Yet while the humanitarian system could drive transformative adaptation, it should not bear responsibility alone. In this issue, alternative pathways and practical ways to support local alternatives and critical debates around these are illustrated, to demonstrate where humanitarian actions can most usefully contribute to transformation.