Climate change will increasingly impact large areas of South America, affecting important natural resources and people’s livelihoods. These impacts will make rural people disproportionately more vulnerable, given their dependency on ecosystem services and their exposure to other stressors, such as new rules imposed by agribusiness and trends toward the commodification of natural resources. This paper focuses on the vulnerability of rural communities in Andean drylands of Argentina, Bolivia, and Chile, showing how different economic and political pathways lead to different levels of vulnerability. The paper begins with a brief discussion of the methodological and theoretical concept of vulnerability, which framed the research. Starting from the premise that global environmental change impacts are strongly linked to styles of development, the discussion explores the diverse institutional capital and governance schemes as well as different development styles in the case studies and their role in increasing or reducing local vulnerability to climate and water scarcity. Using a comparative perspective, the exposures and adaptive capacities of rural actors in three river basins are discussed, emphasizing situations that speak for the ways in which development styles counteract or magnify conditions of vulnerability. The analysis considers irrigated and non-irrigated agriculture, water property interests, different productive structures (viticulture, horticulture, etc.), producer typologies (large/small, export, etc.), and geographical location. Finally, the paper offers some insights about development style and adaptive capacities of rural people to overcome those vulnerabilities.