This critical assessment of climate adaptation and transformation challenges, agendas and actions across Africa draws on the principal findings and analyses of the papers in this special issue of COSUST. Situated in the context of the broader conceptual and comparative literature, we structure our analysis around three themes, namely conceptual and analytical approaches; the research environment; and challenges of implementation. African climate change research reflects diverse mixtures of local priorities and international trends, often with some time lag. The research reviewed and represented in this special issue reveals clear gaps and weaknesses in relation to gendered understandings, approaches to environmental valuation, and climate and environmental justice. Implementational challenges range from resource constraints and perceived conflicts between meeting immediate development needs and longer term climate change action to lack of policy integration and effective governance. The potential importance of socio-ecological and technological transformations remains very largely unexplored and a sea change in attitudes and attention is required if the adaptation challenges are to be met.