Multinational and large national corporations and climate adaptation: are we asking the right questions? A review of current knowledge and a new research perspective

Adapting to climate change requires the engagement of all actors in society. Until recently, the predominant research focus has been on governments, communities, and the third sector as key actors in the adaptation process. Yet, there is a growing emphasis internationally on understanding the role of and the need to engage businesses in adaptation given their potential to finance projects, develop technologies and innovative solutions, and enhance the scale and cost‐effectiveness of certain adaptation measures. Large national and multinational corporations are among the key actors in this respect. Already, many of these corporations are purportedly taking steps to adapt their operations to climate change. Some stated reasons for their engagement include minimizing potential impacts on value chains, improving resource efficiency, enhancing production of sustainable raw materials, and supporting customers’, suppliers’, and communities’ climate change adaptation efforts. However, there is a paucity of work analysing adaptation actions by these corporations, their motivations and contribution to broader adaptation and climate‐resilient development efforts, as well as possible instances of maladaptation. We apply a three‐tier framework on drivers, responses, and outcomes to examine the state of knowledge according to recent literature on private sector and corporate adaptation to climate change. Our review highlights that the literature on the impact and outcomes of corporate adaptation actions is sparse and we consider the implications for future research. Our analysis concludes with a reflection on the relevance of corporate‐led adaptation—for the companies themselves, policymakers at all scales, as well as society at large.

WIREs Clim Change, May 2016.