© 2016 Macmillan Publishers Limited. The 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris (COP21) highlighted the importance of cities to climate action, as well as the unjust burdens borne by the world's most disadvantaged peoples in addressing climate impacts. Few studies have documented the barriers to redressing the drivers of social vulnerability as part of urban local climate change adaptation efforts, or evaluated how emerging adaptation plans impact marginalized groups. Here, we present a roadmap to reorient research on the social dimensions of urban climate adaptation around four issues of equity and justice: (1) broadening participation in adaptation planning; (2) expanding adaptation to rapidly growing cities and those with low financial or institutional capacity; (3) adopting a multilevel and multi-scalar approach to adaptation planning; and (4) integrating justice into infrastructure and urban design processes. Responding to these empirical and theoretical research needs is the first step towards identifying pathways to more transformative adaptation policies.