Date of Award

Spring 2021

Project Type



The urgency to adapt to climate change presents important questions about who stands to benefit from these efforts. The previous two decades of scholarship devoted to social justice in climate adaptation has established an important theoretical basis to evaluate these questions. Less understood however, is how and under what conditions climate adaptation policy implementation promotes or inhibits justice for socially vulnerable populations. This work draws upon the disciplines of urban climate change governance, climate adaptation, urban planning, social justice theory, and policy implementation, to evaluate ongoing climate adaptation policy initiatives in Boston, Massachusetts. Through a case study approach, this dissertation examines the role of social justice in the implementation of Boston’s climate adaptation policy from 2016-2020. The findings of this research project are organized into three distinct, but related, parts. Chapter 2 outlines the theoretical underpinnings of this project and presents the analytic framework used to carry out this research. Chapter 3 provides a detailed case study of climate adaptation policy implementation in Boston, Massachusetts, referred to as Climate Ready Boston. Findings from this case study demonstrate the importance of strategic interactions among stakeholders and recognition of systemic sources of injustice to promote socially just climate adaptation policy. A lack of metrics to evaluate incremental adaptation policy implementation outcomes is a significant finding from this case study and represents a significant barrier to achieving transformation. To address these findings, Chapter 4 presents a typology that provides a clear metric for evaluating the dimensions of justice in the implementation of climate adaptation policy with an explicit focus on incremental evaluations of justice. Additional case study examples and policy recommendations are provided in support of these research findings. This dissertation suggests that while goals of equity are an important and necessary aspect of climate adaptation policy implementation, conditions for transformation (i.e. just adaptation) remain elusive. Examples from Boston, Massachusetts, demonstrate however, that adaptation efforts operating within different policy domains may support policy learning and incrementally shift the needle closer to transformational adaptation.


A recording of the PhD defense in which these slides were presented can be viewed here:

The PhD dissertation is available here: