© Emerald Group Publishing Limited. Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to assess the potential effects of climate change on the habitat and human settlements in Mexico, through an analysis of three regions that are vulnerable to hydrometeorological hazards such as droughts, floods and hurricanes. Design/methodology/approach – The research process included fieldwork in the states of Oaxaca, Tabasco and Yucatán, and a historical study of hydrometeorological events in each region. The authors sought to identify a means of interpreting these events linked to climate variability, on the basis of the history of disasters, the environment and the habitat. The local climatic indications were compared to the IPCC’s global successes, to show that contradictions do not exist but that it is difficult to apply the IPCC’s findings at a local level, given the considerable margin of uncertainty. Findings – The indications of the effects of climate change make it possible to foresee that the most vulnerable populations will be the ones facing the strongest impact in the future. Practical implications – The research has direct implications on urban and housing policies, offering a roadmap to design climate change adaptation strategies; adaptive capacity not only requires political commitment. Social implications – It is also related to social and economic development and an “integral risk management” approach rather than a “civil protection” strategy. Originality/value – The main interest of this research is to show that a multidisciplinary approach is essential in order to understand the local implications of climate change.