nterest in the role that cities can play in climate change as sites of transformation has increased but research has been limited in its practical applications and there has been limited consideration of how policies and technologies play out. These challenges necessitate a re-thinking of existing notions of urban governance in order to account for the practices that emerge from governments and a plethora of other actors in the context of uncertainty. We understand these practices to constitute adaptive governance, underpinned by social learning guiding the actions of the multiplicity of actors. The aim here is to unpack how social learning for adaptive governance requires attention to competing understandings of risk and identity, and the multiplicity of mechanisms in which change occurs or is blocked in urban climate governance. We adopt a novel lens of ‘environmentalities’ which allows us to assess the historical and institutional context and power relations in the informal settlements of Maputo, Mozambique. Our findings highlight how environmental identities around urban adaptation to climate change are constituted in the social and physical divisions between the formal and informal settlements, whilst existing knowledge models prioritise dominant economic and political interests and lead to the construction of new environmental subjects. While the findings of this study are contextually distinct, the generalizable lessons are that governance of urban adaptation occurs and is solidified within a complex multiplicity of socio-ecological relations.