• adaptation;
  • adaptive capacity;
  • climate change;
  • coping strategies;
  • distributed governance;
  • urban planning

Climate change and disasters pose a serious risk to sustainable development. In the South, local coping strategies are an important element of adaptation to climate and disaster risk. Such strategies have emerged because of the limited assistance provided by urban actors and associated social security and governance systems. In the North, in contrast, local coping strategies are comparatively poorly developed. However, the extent of the changing climatic conditions is also reducing the capacity of Northern institutions to deal with climatic extremes and variability, which emphasises the need for more local-level engagement in the North. This paper analyses the differences in local and institutional responses to climate change and disasters in a Southern and a Northern city (San Salvador, El Salvador, and Manchester, United Kingdom, respectively), and highlights how the lessons learned might be translated into an improved distributed governance system; that is, an ‘integrated engagement model’, where local and institutionalised responses support rather than hinder each other, as is currently the case.