Contested Transformations: Sustainable Economic Development and Capacity for Adapting to Climate Change

Alex Y. Lo, Shuwen Liu, Lewis T.O. Cheung, Faith K.S. Chan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Citations (Scopus)


Sustainable economic development could reduce vulnerability and enhance capacity to adapt to climate change. Paradigm-shifting developments, however, can be highly contested and produce diverse outcomes. New insights are needed as to how tensions and uncertainties emerging from these developments shape adaptive capacity. This article investigates the extent to which a sustainable pathway for economic development offers a systemic fix for increasing this capacity through overcoming general vulnerability. It presents an analytical framework based on a multistage project that involved a transforming fishing town in South China being turned into a popular tourist destination. We argue that a given package of prodevelopment policies and strategies might result in multiple forms of adjustments and transformations, each reflecting a different facet of the nexus between economic development and adaptation. This study shows a mixed picture. Adaptive capacity is increasing, due to the decreasing resource dependency and new hazard management initiatives, yet local economies and demographic regimes are experiencing substantial restructuring. These transformations threaten to increase the opportunity cost of climate-resilient land uses and destabilize some of the social conditions underlying existing adaptive capacities. Heightened tensions concerning what to sustain and what is vulnerable marginalize long-term considerations. This article concludes that although development is directed toward a sustainable path, the politicized and side-tracking process of transformation could reinforce vulnerability. Key Words: climate change adaptation, economic transition, social capital, sustainable development, tourism, vulnerability.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)223-241
Number of pages19
JournalAnnals of the American Association of Geographers
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2 Jan 2020


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