In this paper, we use an inductive approach and longitudinal analysis to explore political influences on the emergence and evolution of climate change adaptation policy and planning at national level, as well as the institutions within which it is embedded, for three countries in sub-Saharan Africa (Malawi, Tanzania and Zambia). Data collection involved quantitative and qualitative methods applied over a 6-year period from 2012 to 2017. This included a survey of 103 government staff (20 in Malawi, 29 in Tanzania and 54 in Zambia) and 242 interviews (106 in Malawi, 86 in Tanzania and 50 in Zambia) with a wide range of stakeholders, many of whom were interviewed multiple times over the study period, together with content analysis of relevant policy and programme documents.
Whilst the climate adaptation agenda emerged in all three countries around 2007–2009, associated with multilateral funding initiatives, the rate and nature of progress has varied—until roughly 2015 when, for different reasons, momentum slowed. We find differences between the countries in terms of specifics of how they operated, but roles of two factors in common emerge in the evolution of the climate change adaptation agendas: national leadership and allied political priorities, and the role of additional funding provided by donors. These influences lead to changes in the policy and institutional frameworks for addressing climate change, as well as in the emphasis placed on climate change adaptation.
By examining the different ways through which ideas, power and resources converge and by learning from the specific configurations in the country examples, we identify opportunities to address existing barriers to action and thus present implications that enable more effective adaptation planning in other countries. We show that more socially just and inclusive national climate adaptation planning requires a critical approach to understanding these configurations of power and politics.