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Adaptation to climate change must be inclusive, equitable, and representative


Georgina Cundill-Kemp

Senior Program Officer, IDRC

Bruce Currie-Alder

Program Leader

The IPCC’s Special Report on the impacts of Global Warming of 1.50C is unequivocal: global warming caused by human activities will persist for centuries (and even millennia) and will continue to cause long-term changes in the climate system.

The report is clear that disadvantaged and vulnerable populations are disproportionately at risk and that both incremental and transformational adaptation is required to respond to risks such as sea-level rise, drought, and flood hazards. Overcoming the temptation of quick fixes to these issues is one reason IDRC will work with the Global Commission on Adaptation over the next two years. Elevating the visibility and political importance of climate adaptation and encouraging bold solutions like smarter investments, new technologies, and better planning to become more resilient to climate-related threats will be at the heart of the Global Commission’s work.  

Convened by the Netherlands and Canada, along with 15 other countries, the Commission was formally launched in October to provide vital input for UN Climate Summits planned for 2019 and 2020. A major challenge the Commission will encounter is the need to balance the allure of short-term solutions with the need to convey what it takes to pursue adaptation over the longer term in a way that fosters social equity.

The effects of climate change can have a snowball effect: prolonged drought will cause failed crops, resulting in hunger and lower incomes. In turn, these lower incomes make school fees unaffordable, which prevents children from gaining a formal education. To find effective solutions for climate-related stresses, it is crucial to understand the lived experience of real communities — while remaining wary of “quick-fix” solutions that tout fiscal incentives based on self-interest. In these contexts, developing the capacity to collaborate and building on existing practices may be more relevant than solutions that are parachuted in from outside.

De-mystify adaptation and equity

The need for local adaptation solutions and endeavours was just one of the insights raised during the Commission’s dialogue in Ottawa. The dialogue also highlighted the urgent need to de-mystify the simultaneous pursuit of climate adaptation and a more equitable world.  One example of how this is being achieved at scale is the Adaptation at Scale in Semi-Arid Regions (ASSAR) project.

Research has shown that Botswana is a climate change hot spot: an increase of 1.5℃ to 2℃ globally will result in an increase of 2.2℃ to 2.8℃ locally. Botswana and other semi-arid countries in southern Africa are facing a future of intensified and longer droughts. And when the rains do fall, they are expected to be intense and lead to flash floods. In these contexts it is essential to ask: what are the most effective entry points to support systemic responses to climate risk that prioritize the voices of the most vulnerable? This question is important to identify adaptations for long-term change, 10 and 20 years into the future.

In Botswana, one answer is to strengthen district-level planning. At this level, communities can directly input their interests and aspirations into practical actions and investments. After integrating participatory assessment of vulnerability and risk into one such development plan, the ASSAR consortium was invited by the Office of the President to scale out this approach nationwide. Now all 16 districts across the country have trained district development officers and economic planners with the skills to work with their communities to manage climate risks and reach the most vulnerable, including women and girls. This success has been highlighted by the United Nations as a best practice in inclusive adaptation, an example for upcoming climate negotiations and National Adaptation Plans elsewhere.

Systemic, forward-looking approaches

There is a critical need for systemic, forward-looking approaches that seek impacts over longer time frames. In Botswana, the entry point of district planning offered one avenue for accelerating adaptation that is scalable across a country. It is also rooted where people live, engaging in the deeper work of enacting values such as gender equality as climate and development policy is developed. This is what scaling can look like.

IDRC and its climate change programs such as the Climate and Development Knowledge Network , will work hand-in-hand with the Commission over the next two years to support the effort to hold these kinds of “softer” solutions up against harder infrastructure and financial solutions and treat both as essential and worthy of recognition. If the global community fails to achieve this, then experience tells us that adaptation actions, investments, and infrastructure are less likely to reach the most vulnerable to climate change.

Georgina Kemp is a senior program officer for the Climate & Development Knowledge Network’s (CDKN) Knowledge Accelerator project, and for the Collaborative Adaptation Research Initiative for Africa and Asia (CARIAA). Bruce Currie-Alder is the program leader of CARIAA and CDKN.