This study traces the role of climate discourses in impeding progress towards socially transformative outcomes through the lens of Ethiopia’s flagship Productive Safety Net Programme (PSNP), despite the importance of social protection for building resilience. Ethiopia’s Productive Safety Net Programme (PSNP) is the second largest social protection programme in sub-Saharan Africa. Due to an environmental rehabilitation focus in its public works component, however, the PSNP has begun attracting attention as “the largest climate change adaptation programme in Africa”.
The study argues that intertwining narratives of moral leadership and green growth associated with Ethiopia’s national climate strategy shape how the PSNP is rendered ‘climate-smart’. These narratives, however, are embedded within politics that have historically underpinned the country’s drive for modernisation and growth-oriented policies, particularly in dealing with food insecurity. Like pre-existing narratives on development and the environment, they rationalise the presence of a strong central State and its control over natural resources and rural livelihoods. The PSNP is thus conditioned to favour technocratic, productivist approaches to adapting to climate change that may help reproduce, rather than challenge the entrenched politics at the root of vulnerability.