Climate change vulnerability and social marginalisation are often interrelated in and through environments. Variations in climate change adaptation practice and research account for such social-ecological relations to varying degrees. Advocates of ecosystem-based approaches to climate change adaptation (EbA) claim that it delivers social co-benefits to marginalised groups, although scant empirical evidence supports such claims. I investigate these claims in two EbA interventions in Sri Lanka, interpreting social benefits through an empowerment lens. I use qualitative methods such as focus groups and narrative interviews to study the conduct and context of the interventions. In both cases, marginalised people’s own empowered adaptive strategies reflect how power relations and vulnerabilities relate to dynamic ecologies. The findings show that EbA enabled social benefits for marginalised groups, especially through support to common-pool resource management institutions and the gendered practices of home gardens. Such conduct was embedded within, but mostly peripheral to, broader and deeper contestations of power. Nevertheless, projects acted as platforms for renegotiating these power relations, including through acts of resistance. The results call for greater recognition of the ways that marginalised groups relate to ecology within empowered adaptive strategies, whilst also highlighting the need to recognise the diverse interests and power relations that cut across the conduct and contexts of these nominally ecosystem-based interventions.