Social capital, trust, and adaptation to climate change: Evidence from rural Ethiopia

Christopher J. Paul, Erika S. Weinthal, Marc F. Bellemare, Marc A. Jeuland

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

92 Scopus citations


Climate change is expected to have particularly severe effects on poor agrarian populations. Rural households in developing countries adapt to the risks and impacts of climate change both individually and collectively. Empirical research has shown that access to capital-financial, human, physical, and social-is critical for building resilience and fostering adaptation to environmental stresses. Little attention, however, has been paid to how social capital generally might facilitate adaptation through trust and cooperation, particularly among rural households and communities. This paper addresses the question of how social capital affects adaptation to climate change by rural households by focusing on the relationship of household and collective adaptation behaviors. A mixed-methods approach allows us to better account for the complexity of social institutions-at the household, community, and government levels-which drive climate adaptation outcomes. We use data from interviews, household surveys, and field experiments conducted in 20 communities with 400 households in the Rift Valley of Ethiopia. Our results suggest that qualitative measures of trust predict contributions to public goods, a result that is consistent with the theorized role of social capital in collective action. Yet qualitative trust is negatively related to private household-level adaptation behaviors, which raises the possibility that social capital may, paradoxically, be detrimental to private adaptation. Policymakers should account for the potential difference in public and private adaptation behaviors in relation to trust and social capital when designing interventions for climate adaptation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)124-138
Number of pages15
JournalGlobal Environmental Change
StatePublished - Jan 1 2016

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This paper was completed with support from a USAID Conflict Management and Mitigation grant (# AID-OAA-A-12-00068 ), the Duke University Global Health Institute, and the Nicholas School of the Environment. Courtney Harrison, Tewodros Rango, Eshetu Lemma, and all our colleagues in Ethiopia were essential for this project. This study is made possible by the support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The opinions expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015 Elsevier Ltd.


  • Adaptation
  • Climate change
  • Ethiopia
  • Social capital
  • Trust


Dive into the research topics of 'Social capital, trust, and adaptation to climate change: Evidence from rural Ethiopia'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this