As climate change impacts become increasingly apparent, adaptation becomes increasingly urgent. Accordingly, adaptation to climate change has shifted towards the centre of attention in both policy and research. In this article, we review the last 10 years of adaptation research (2008–2018), with a focus on work within the Earth System Governance network. We use the lens of access and allocation to structure our review and examine how adaptation affects, and is affected by, access to basic needs, basic rights, and decision-making on the one hand, as well as allocation of responsibilities, resources, and risks on the other. We find that questions of justice, equity, and fairness are fundamental to all dimensions of adaptation. The access perspective, for example, suggests that we need to assess vulnerability, understood broadly, while the allocation perspective focuses on questions of responsibility for being vulnerable, e.g. when people live, or move to, hazard-prone areas exposed to climate risk. This also relates to questions of who is responsible for selecting, implementing, and funding adaptation measures. Overall, we find that the framework of “access and allocation” and its subcategories offer a detailed approach to adaptation and adaptation research, but that it is not intuitive. The notion of “climate justice” seems to resonate more with both academic and policy debates.