Future climate change poses significant challenges for society, not least in terms of how best to adapt to those impacts to which the world is already committed. Adaptation is a dynamic social process and the ability of societies to adapt is determined in part by the ability to act collectively. This paper reviews the literature on social capital and collective action and argues that insights from these areas inform the nature of future adaptation capacity and direction. Case studies are presented of present day collective action for coping with weather extremes in coastal areas in South East Asia, and in community-based coastal management in the Caribbean to demonstrate the importance of social capital in these situations. It is argued that these cases illustrate by analogy the nature of adaptation processes and collective action in adapting to future climate change.