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Ideas from the global climate change hotspot research

June 27, 2017

Bruce Currie-Alder

Program Leader

More than one billion people live in the deltas, semi-arid lands, and glacier- and snowpack-dependent river basins of Asia and Africa. And while there are many differences across these regions, something they hold in common is that they can be considered climate change “hotspots,” which are areas where strong physical and socio-ecological effects of climate change come together with large numbers of vulnerable and poor people and communities. The Collaborative Adaptation Research Initiative in Africa and Asia (CARIAA) builds resilience in these hotspots by supporting collaborative research on climate change adaptation to inform adaptation policy and practice. This model of collaborative research provides opportunities for institutions with varying levels of expertise and geographic scope to come together to share knowledge and experience across disciplines, sectors, and geographic areas. Within the CARIAA network, there are around 450 leading climate scientists who are working in four consortia on topics ranging from long term climate projections to people’s adaptation to changing climatic conditions in climate change hotspots. 

So what are the major findings from the research happening in the three climate change hotspot areas? In the semi-arid regions of Africa and Asia, the research confirms that vulnerability to climate stresses, and capacity to respond, is due to a mix of social, economic and political factors, closely coupled with wider development challenges. In the deltaic regions, a research from Volta, Mahanadi and Ganga-Brahmaputra-Meghna delta on the impacts of migration reveals that while only a small proportion of households perceive environmental risks as the principal reason for migration, perceptions of insecurity around livelihoods, caused by environmental factors, are directly link to observed migration behaviour. Government action on migration does not necessarily lead to positive outcomes, while government inaction is likely to bring about ad-hoc migration and in-situ adaptation responses based on individual’s adaptive capacity. In the Hindu Kush Himalaya (HKH), research is happening in three glaciated river basins—the Indus, the Ganges and the Brahmaputra. Early results of the research show that vulnerability to climate change is driven by a combination of bio-physical, socio-economic, gender and governance factors. Also vital are the temporal dimension of climate change and the question of how to adapt to it. A major issue for HKH is that even if the global average temperature rise stabilises at 1.5C by the end of this century, our climate research projects that higher elevations in the HKH will warm substantially more than the global average. This will lead to loss of glacier volume and have profound consequences for the people and environment of the mountains, hills and plains of the HKH. 

So what could be the possible solutions and how does this research feed into the policy process? Adaptation is a process of social change. Informed policy and practices that respond to climate variability and enhance prospects for people to realise a meaningful future are part of adaptation. The research is looking at innovative ways in trying out solutions. The multi-actor Transformative Scenario Planning (TSP), a methodology used in the research, has shown potential for linking actors from community to district to national levels so that they can together diagnose critical factors in driving vulnerability and explore possible solutions. The policy-first approach is important in engaging decision makers in government and the private sector. Rather than starting by presenting complex climate change projections to stakeholders, this approach means that researchers work with them to jointly identify the decisions they need to make about investment choices and development options, how these might be impacted by climate shocks and stresses, and what opportunities there are to adapt to these climate impacts. Further, through innovative work on critical moments, adaptation turning points and pathways, the researchers are contributing to strengthening the climate resilience of the people and countries of the region. 

This op-ed was first published in The Kathmandu Posts on May 9, 2017.

Bruce Currie-Alder is the Programme leader for CARIAA at IDRC.