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Adaptation to Climate Tied to Development

Rasmus Heltberg's picture

How should adaptation to climate change be designed and funded? In the run-Storm pattern from satelliteup to the December 2009 Copenhagen climate negotiations there’s an international push to create new funding mechanisms for climate adaptation in developing countries. Given the complexity of climate change and limited experience in funding adaptation, we in the World Bank’s Social Development department decided to launch a study of the lessons from the DM2009 proposals. The proposals constitute a large and interesting database of proposed adaptation interventions. By studying the proposals as a group, we hope to gain insight into the global supply of adaptation innovations and project ideas, especially at the community level.

Our study considers how adaptation is conceptualized by suppliers of global adaptation interventions, what innovations for climate adaptation are proposed, and what kind of partnerships are put forward. We hope to contribute to policy discussions on how donors in the future can provide funding for community-based adaptation to climate change.

One of the discussions circulating among practitioners is how to orient funding for adaptation: Should development funds be considered separate from adaptation or are the two intertwined?    

One major early lesson is that applicants to the Development Marketplace view the two as inextricably linked.  The DM proposals see ongoing challenges such as poverty and environmental destruction as inseparable from the new challenges brought about by climate change. The issues applicants address and their proposed solutions are fundamentally shaped by this dual framework.

For example, the risks and issues that proposals identify and seek to address are often a mix of pre-existing issues and new climate risks, sometimes with an unclear balance between the two. Only 18 percent of the 346 proposals that made it to the semifinalist stage clearly identified new climate risks brought about by climate change even though the call for proposals had a clear focus on climate change.  In the minds of DM applicants, old development issues such as poverty, food insecurity, and environmental degradation were tightly bound to the impacts of climate change.

We do not see much buy-in for the “impacts-driven” approach whereby adaptation responds to predicted impacts of climate change such as storms, drought, and sea-level rise.

Instead, applicants’ adaptation responses are most often “development-oriented” and aim to broadly reduce vulnerability to whatever risk may occur, especially in the short term.  Proposals seek to alleviate poverty, boost agricultural productivity, preserve indigenous knowledge, protect local environments, and protect against natural disasters.  This results in a mix of hard (erecting physical barriers or technologies) and soft (capacity building, awareness raising, etc.) adaptation actions in the proposals with soft adaptation dominating other forms.  Soft adaptation constitutes 82 percent of the proposed adaptation actions.

Applicants provide no unique focus on erecting physical barriers or technologies against climate change in isolation from development-oriented actions. Only 4 percent of the semifinalist proposals want to invest in hard adaptation alone. Ninety-one percent of semifinalists propose a web of several adaptation interventions as opposed to “silver bullet” stand-alone solutions.

In the eyes of the 346 DM semifinalists, confronting climate change seems to require a broad view of adaptation that spans multiple soft and hard adaptation mechanisms undertaken in tandem.

In closing, DM applicants overwhelmingly adopt a development-oriented view of adaptation. This should caution policy makers and donors to ensure that funding arrangements for climate change allow for the inseparability of adaptation and development.

This post was co-authored by Radhika Prabhu.



Submitted by Christine Zarzicki on
In response to the focus of the DM applicants, I agree that adaptation and development are issues that are intertwined. In order for a developing nation to truly reach its developmental potential, it must first eliminate the risks associated with climate change. Before a nation begins implementing developmental strategies, it must first determine the most vulnerable aspects of their society and correct them. For instance, if a nation decides to direct aid and international funding toward their agricultural sector, but it suffers from annual drought or flooding, it is crucial for this nation to adapt to the climate change issues before focusing on commodities production and/or its exports sector. Hard adaptation actions such as building irrigation systems or erecting flood barriers or levees should take priority over strategies to strengthen their economies. Soft action such as increasing awareness is also very important, but I think this knowledge should be incorporated with hard infrastructure. While awareness is necessary, it cannot prevent disasters from happening, so hard action is needed. I believe the reason developing nations suffer the greatest consequences from the effects of global climate change is on their deficiency of capabilities. Whether they are structurally inept, lack the personnel or are insufficient in terms of broadening awareness, these nations do not have the means to thwart disaster. Climate change is affecting societies around the world; these issues do not only exist in the global South. Many developed nations, however, have the capacity to prevent or react, avoiding complete devastation. In order for developing nations to continue on their pursuit toward development, they must confront those vulnerabilities that inhibit their success.

I guess it is up for the national/regional adapation policy to tackle new or unpredictable at this stage impacts. Quite logically local response is best driven and has ownership - which is to stimulate the response in fact - if those impacts are "visible' to people on the ground, dealing with consequences of harvest lost due to a storm , etc.

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