Multinational 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, 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 and deploy technologies and innovative solutions, and enhance the scale and cost-effectiveness of certain adaptation measures. Already, many multinational corporations (MNCs) are purportedly beginning to take steps to adapt their operations to climate change. Some stated reasons for their engagement include minimising potential impacts on their supply chains, improving resource efficiency, enhancing the production and use of sustainable raw materials, and supporting customers’, suppliers’ and communities’ efforts to adapt to climate change. However, there is a paucity of work analysing adaptation actions by MNCs, 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 MNC adaptation to climate change. Our review highlights that the literature on the impact and outcomes of MNC adaptation actions is considerably sparse and we consider the implications for future research. Our analysis concludes with a reflection on the relevance of MNC-led adaptation – for the companies themselves, for policy-makers at all scales, as well as for society at large.