The vulnerability of rural communities to climate variability and change in developing countries is widely recognized. However, the question of what factors drive their vulnerability remains subject to different interpretations. This study explored the perceptions of local key informants on the factors influencing the vulnerability of forest communities to droughts and excessive rains in five contrasting socio-ecological zones of the Congo Basin forest. Results from the local level were discussed by national stakeholders. The analysis showed that people agreed on the positive effect of most community assets (physical, natural, human, social and financial) on vulnerability reduction. Diverging views arose with regard to the effects of population density and institutions on vulnerability, as well as to whether the dependence of communities on forest products increased vulnerability. The perceptions of local respondents depended on local contexts and the roles of the respondents in communities. The divergent interpretations revealed in this study underline the challenges faced by adaptation policy-makers and project developers in reconciling the opposing views of multiple stakeholders. National adaptation plans should identify broad priorities that must be converted into specific adaptation plans at the local level.