Climate adaptation, vulnerability and rights-based litigation: broadening the scope of climate litigation using political ecology
Birsha Ohdedar*School of Law and Human Rights Centre, University of Essex (UK), and SOAS, University of London (UK)

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This article examines the nexus between climate vulnerability, rights and litigation with a focus on the Global South. Reducing vulnerability is inherent to climate adaptation and the protection and realization of human rights. However, despite these linkages, vulnerability has been given scant attention in climate law literature. Through a more detailed understanding of vulnerability, we can identify a wider variety of cases that are relevant to why people are climate vulnerable and the potential for strategic interventions. Accordingly, using an interdisciplinary framework drawing upon political ecology, the article outlines two broad approaches to vulnerability: the hazards approach, based upon protecting people from the physical impacts of climate change; and the social vulnerability approach, which foregrounds the socio-political factors that underpin why particular groups of people are more vulnerable than others. India is then used as a case study to illustrate three types of litigation relevant from a vulnerability perspective: litigation on droughts, land conflicts and agrarian debt. These cases, though not traditionally defined as ‘climate litigation’, fundamentally concern issues of climate vulnerability, adaptation and rights. The cases demonstrate how different framings of climate vulnerability are embedded within the arguments and directions of the courts. Ultimately, the article argues that through a closer understanding of climate vulnerability, litigation can be a vehicle for adaptation by identifying and tackling the structural causes of vulnerability and rights issues.


The author is most grateful to Annalisa Savaresi, Stephen Turner, Emily Jones, Lovleen Bhullar, Emanuele Sommario, Margaretha Werewinke-Singh, three anonymous reviewers, and participants at the Workshop on Climate Litigation and Human Rights Arguments at Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna, Pisa, for comments and discussion on previous drafts of this paper. All errors remain those of the author.

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