top of page

Initiative for Climate Action Research and Understanding through the Social Sciences

Directors: Jesse Ribot (UIUC), Maria-Carmen Lemos (University of Michigan), Arun Agrawal (University of Michigan), and Ben Orlove (Columbia University)


The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), National Science Foundation (NSF), and Stern Reports call for greater social science engagement in discussions about climate change mitigation and adaptation. ICARUS responds to this call. Vulnerability and adaptation have emerged as key concepts in the social science literature on climate change. Both concepts have long, inter-linked histories. Scholars from various disciplines working on development, acute disasters, and slowly-unfolding crises like hunger, famine, and dislocation have contributed insights on the meanings and drivers of vulnerability. Meanwhile, scholars in diverse fields in social and ecological sciences are developing systematic ideas about adaptation. The applicability of these two bodies of work to climate-related stress and crisis remains a vigorous arena of discussion.


ICARUS seeks to develop vulnerability and adaptation theory in order to improve understanding of the inter-related concepts of vulnerability and adaptation. ICARUS is building and applying innovative frameworks and approaches to understanding social dimensions of climate phenomena. The Initiative conducts research in six areas: (1) frameworks for understanding vulnerability and adaptation; (2) forms, drivers, and outcomes of vulnerability and adaptation; (3) contextual conditions that affect vulnerability or the prospects for successful adaptation; (4) configurations of public policies relevant to vulnerability and adaptation; (5) types of private and civic action that reduce vulnerability and support adaptation; and (6) interactions between environmental, social, and individual-level factors that influence institutional structures and global climate change.


  • ICARUS I: “Climate Vulnerability and Adaptation: Theory and Cases” was hosted by SDEP at the Beckman Institute of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in February 2010. At this inaugural conference, thirty-four papers were presented by scholars from around the world.

  • ICARUS II: “Climate Vulnerability and Adaptation: Marginal Peoples and Environments” was held at the University of Michigan in May 2011, hosted by the International Forestry Resources and Institutions (IFRI) Research Initiative and the School of Natural Resources and Environment (SNRE). Over two hundred researchers attended.

  • ICARUS III: “Scales, Frameworks and Metrics” was held at Columbia University in May 2012, hosted by the Department of Anthropology. With fourteen panels and double panels, and a total of eighty-one presentations, participants considered ecological and social vulnerability and adaptation to climate change over multiple temporal, geographical, social, political and economic scales.

  • ICARUS IV: "Causes of Vulnerability & Livelihoods of the Poor" was held at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in May 2015.

  • ICARUS V: ICARUS V addressed the themes "Security in Diversity,” “Topographies of Governance,” and “Technology and Society.” ICARUS V was held at the Indian School of Business (Hyderabad) in June 30 – July 2, 2016.


Project Status: Ongoing, ICARUS coordinating team is taking a rest until 2020.

Note: There are many ICARUS related publications that are not listed here. They are by the participants and have been published as special issues in Global Environmental Change, World Development and other journals. 

Working Papers
Related Documents



Agrawal, Arun, Maria Carmen Lemos, Ben Orlove and Jesse Ribot. 2012. ‘Cool Heads for a Hot World – Social Sciences under a Changing Sky’ Global Environmental Change. Vol. 22, No. 2.

bottom of page