Posts Tagged ‘Adaptation’

Climate Change Information Mismanagement

December 6, 2009

Momentum is building in the development and environmental management sectors to integrate climate change considerations into programme design and implementation. In Nepal, the focus is firmly on building adaptation capacity, across sectors and at all administrative levels.

The Nepal government, in consultation with the United Nations and other stakeholders, is working on their National Adaptation Plan of Action (NAPA), which promises to be a much more capacity-building exercise than the process in other Less Developed Countries. International Non-Governmental Organisations (INGOs) with their local partners are also mainstreaming climate change adaptation into their high-profile programmes, and some are considering new adaptation-specific interventions. These INGOs include WWF, Practical Action, Oxfam, Concern International and Care International, and local partners include Resource Identification and Management Society Nepal (RIMS-Nepal) and Local Initiatives for Biodiversity, Research and Development (LI-BIRD).

Knowledge generation in the form of information gathering and management is playing a central role in these early days of climate change action in Nepal. Most of the current INGO projects are impact assessments. The NAPA process is similarly oriented, although also puts a strong emphasis on building institutional capacity for future intervention.

Most impact assessments take a participatory approach, stressing the importance of identifying socio-economic vulnerability to possible climate change impacts. Little time or effort is expended on considering the physical hazard context. There are many valid, practical reasons for this. In the case of localised scientific studies, such as regional hydrological and atmospheric simulation experiments and local ecological field assessments, these require technical expertise and financial resources often not available in Nepal.

However, there is substantial scope and feasibility for synthesis research of available information. The Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is an obvious starting point for information on past climatic trends and future projects, and can be complemented by the wealth of disaster risk reduction and natural resource management knowledge available. Some such synthesis research is being carried out, by the NAPA team in particular, but it is not widespread enough. Synthesis of climate change-specific information such as that which is available from the IPCC is especially lacking, as the evidence of currently available impact assessments, and published presentations from important stakeholders, reveals. Reports often only begin with a short section on climate change in the context of Nepal, making unsupported statements about present and future hazard context changes, with only general reference to the IPCC, if any citation is included at all.

This exposes serious methodological weaknesses. Firstly, the onset of climate change is generally assumed as a starting point of impact assessments rather than confirmed as part of the assessment. This leads assessment teams to begin their participatory socio-economic assessments without a firm grasp of data-confirmable historical trends. The result is that trends in physical hazard context are assessed using inappropriate approaches such as participatory tools.

Secondly, consideration of downscaled simulation models is omitted, their assumed limitations at the local level used as a convenient excuse to avoid exploring what value they might have despite weaknesses. This is no doubt driven by a lack of confidence on the part of assessment teams to invest into understanding the complex and diverse uncertainties of numerical modelling.

Lastly, because of the two issues above, reports find themselves with precious little to report in the introductory sections that are meant to provide a concrete basis for their assessments. The IPCC is broadly referenced as a stop-gap, leading to the mystification of the Panel, and only adding to the confusion that shapes the climate change debate in the public and political spheres.


What is Community-Based Adaptation to Climate Change?

June 2, 2009

Addressing climate change: Mitigation and adaptation

In developed countries much of the climate change discourse has focused on mitigation. Primary concerns have revolved around how to cut carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions down to appropriate levels in order to halt climate change.

However the earth’s climate is responsive to greenhouse gases that have built up over time, and there is a delay between the time of emission and the experience of the effects of climate change.

The effects of climate change caused by a build up of greenhouse gases over the last century are already being felt presently in some of the most vulnerable parts of the world, and even if we cut greenhouse gas levels to appropriate levels today, the effects of the emissions of the recent past will be felt for some time in the future. Climate change has started to happen.

We must therefore adapt to cope with these changes. In particular areas most vulnerable to the effects of climate change, such as coastal areas, dry and arid locations, and river and glacier effected areas must adapt their patterns of behaviour to become more resilient to increasing climate variability, prevalence of extreme weather events, flooding, droughts, spreading of salinity in water sources and the ground, changing patterns of endemic and epidemic diseases and other effects of climate change.

The most vulnerable parts of the world are also some of the poorest. Mega-delta regions such as parts of Bangladesh and India, small island states in the Pacific and elsewhere, the Sahel region and other dry parts of Africa, rural natural resource dependent people, and slum-dwellers are and will all be acutely affected by climate change.

Community-based adaptation

Past experience of developing country adaptation to climate variability and change shows that community knowledge of their specific phenomenal experiences, their particular vulnerabilities to them, and the resources at their disposal for making changes to increase resilience has often been central to successful adaptation.

For example, in southern Bangladesh floating gardens, or Bairas, have been devised to withstand increasingly frequent flooding and water-logging. Using water hyacinth (Baira), a local invasive weed, which floats in water, floating mats have been developed on which soil, manure and rotting baira can be spread and a number of crops can be cultivated. These mats simply ride out water-logging and flooding. They are easy to build using local resources and know-how, are recyclable and sustainable, and are ideally suited to the particular problem faced. Local knowledge is central to every part of the success of Bairas.

Community-based adaptation (CBA) makes explicit the worth of community knowledge and management in small scale adaptation to climate change in developing countries.

For other examples of CBA check out the mini film festival which took place at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Bali (COP13).

The role of ‘outside’ organisations

Just as a particular adaptation project varies considerably depending on the community it is intended to help, the risk it is addressing and so on, and just as the level of community-basis similarly varies widely, so does the role of ‘outside’ organizations such as higher-level government, NGOs and foreign and international institutions.

However, broadly, the role of ‘outside’ organizations is four fold. Firstly they often play a very important role in education of the risks of climate change. Scientific understanding of the expectations of climate change is almost exclusively formed in developed countries and is generally technical in nature. Where awareness of the threats of climate change is absent, as it often is in vulnerable areas, accessible and appropriate dissemination of understanding is essential. This education plays a crucial role in mobilizing community effort to address local vulnerability.

Secondly, ‘outside’ organizations have much better information about other adaptation projects elsewhere in the world that may provide guidance on a particular new project. Though CBA stresses the importance of local knowledge and highly-contextualized solutions, much insight can be gained from the understanding of the successes and failures of other projects around the world. A number of databases and knowledge exchange forums have been set up internationally for this purpose (e.g. Community Based Adaptation Exchange;

Thirdly, ‘outside’ organizations can provide technical expertise where it is deficient in the community. This can take the form of bringing an expert in to help, or to bring in a technical teacher to pass on expertise.

Finally, ‘outside’ organizations nearly always provide much needed funding.

For more information on CBA, see the International Institute for Environment and Development

The Importance of Climate Change Considerations in Development Issues

May 23, 2009

I have been fairly surprised by the reaction of fellow development students when I mention my interest in climate change. The underlying feeling might be well characterised by something Anthony Costello, head of the Centre for International Health and Development at University College London, said recently (May 14, 2009): “[Climate change is] not just an environmental issue about polar bears and deforestation”. But as his unit’s report on global health identifies climate change as the biggest threat to world health today, and other international commissions* similarly emphasise the centrality of the climate change issues in 21st century development, the view of climate change as a ‘green’ environmental cause separate and secondary to ‘red’ development is still prevalent, at least in my academic circles.

I like polar bears, and I love a nice walk in the woods, but my interest in climate change has little to do with ‘hippy’ environmentality. Rather, I realise that my, and thousands of others’, ‘red’ commitment to improving livelihoods and empowerment of the poor and marginalized around the world is at risk of being in vain if the changing environment is not taken into account.

There are three conceptually distinct climate change policy agendas. Mitigation policy concerns itself with reduction of the future extent of climate change, and in particular greenhouse gas reduction schemes. Closely related is the question of future energy sustainability. Thirdly, in view that the effect of past greenhouse gas emissions are already being felt today and effects of present emissions will be felt into the future, climate change adaptation is of fundamental importance. The interaction of all three of these arenas with development goals needs to be addressed by all in the development industry.

Of particular interest to me, and to the work of UYDO and micro-level projects in general, is the need to consider climate change coping and adaptive capacity within one’s conception of livelihoods. For example, the medium to long term criteria of success of microcredit for income generating purposes must consider to what extent fledgling businesses can cope and adapt to climate shocks. With this consideration in mind maybe hardy goats are a better farming investment than chickens (which are more weather affected), or buying salinity-resistant seeds is worth it despite extra costs (where sea level rises cause increasing salinity of nearby soils).

Furthermore where NGOs are already on the ground providing business and other technical advice, education on the local threats of climate change should be included in the ‘curriculum’. Where understanding about the potential effects of climate change is slight, simply explaining that a ‘bad year’ may not be an exception any longer can be the most powerful capacity enhancing mechanism. Information is key to good business decisions.

* Commission on Climate change and Development presents its final report to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Statement to the 17th Session of the Commission on Sustainable Development