Cities in the Global South are quintessential sites for climate adaptation; many are rapidly expanding, struggle with increasing inequalities and experience unprecedented harm from climatic extremes. Despite scholarly recognition that adaptation pathways should reduce multidimensional vulnerabilities and inequalities, current adaptation efforts largely preserve the status quo. Many benefit powerful actors while further entrenching the poor and disadvantaged in cycles of dispossession. We bring together scholarship on adaptation pathways, politics and practice to deconstruct adaptation trajectories. We propose three conceptual steps – acknowledging injustices, embracing deliberation and nurturing responsibility for human and more-than-human others – to chart inclusive pathways towards just climate futures.