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Collaboration and climate adaptation: more than the sum of its parts


Bruce Currie-Alder

Program Leader

Struggling with years of drought and the spectre of a Day Zero shut-off of the public water supply, Cape Town offers a unique place to reflect on our changing environment and how to adapt. This city served as a timely gathering place for the Collaborative Adaptation Research Initiative in Africa and Asia (CARIAA) and the Adaptation Futures 2018 conference.

CARIAA has supported four transdisciplinary research consortia that are building the resilience of vulnerable people and places to the impacts of climate change. Each consortium is a unique collaboration among multiple organizations that come together around a shared research agenda. Together, the four CARIAA consortia include more than forty organizations and over 450 researchers and practitioners working across more than 15 countries in Africa and Asia.

After seven years, CARIAA has exceeded expectations by producing more than 60 peer-reviewed publications and 600 research outputs. Collectively, CARIAA participants accounted for a significant portion of the scientific program at Adaptation Futures 2018, leading in excess of 30 special sessions (ranging from women living in hot spots to the frontiers of adaptation research), more than 30 oral presentations, and showing 20 posters.

Coordinating research and action at such a scale is a daunting challenge, but one that has been met and surpassed with flying colours. Our gathering in Cape Town was an opportunity to showcase the greatest hits from each consortium: the knowledge generated, capacity built, and stakeholders engaged in order to advance science and produce tangible improvements. For example:

  • Adaptation at Scale in Semi-Arid Regions (ASSAR) worked from villages to districts using scenarios to explore the impacts of climate change on social difference, governance, ecosystem services, and knowledge systems. This works offers new evidence on what effective and just adaptation means for marginalized and vulnerable communities.
  • Pathways to resilience in semi-arid environments (PRISE) adopted a policy-first approach that started with the problems facing decision-makers, including the risks and opportunities in value chains and business practices. This work deepened our understanding of private adaptation and the actions taken by firms and households beyond national planning and public finance.
  • Deltas, vulnerability and climate change: migration and adaptation (DECCMA) surveyed more than 6,000 people in migrant-sending and migrant-receiving areas to understand where and why people migrate and the implications for men and women. This work generated the first cross-border assessment of social vulnerability of the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna delta and is engaging with the Bangladesh Delta Plan 2100.
  • Himalayan adaptation, water, and resilience (HI-AWARE) filled the regional data gap regarding the impacts of climate change identified by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), finding that a third of Asia’s glaciers are disappearing with +1.5C warming. This work also piloted solutions including portable solar-powered irrigation pumps for improved agriculture, and modular roofing that reduces indoor heat stress.

These results validate a focus on climate hotspots, “an area where a strong climate change signal is combined with a large concentration of vulnerable, poor, or marginalized people” (see De Souza et al 2015).

Our time in Cape Town also provided an opportunity to refine novel insights across the consortia. These include having:

  • Pushed the boundaries of climate science by showing that even 1.5 degrees warming is too hot for hot spots
  • Advanced our understanding of gender and social equity, recognizing vulnerability comes in different forms and is not limited to women
  • Revealed new evidence on migration as an adaptation strategy that needs recognition
  • Piloted new options for effective adaptation, including flood resistant sanitation and housing
  • Learned how to better create research for impact informing and assisting communities, businesses, and governments

Generating such insights was a fortuitous combination of planned and emergent collaboration. Over more than five years, CARIAA fostered learning through country tables, working groups, and joint projects that brought consortia together. Yet beyond design, collaboration flourished where relationships were strong and CARIAA could respond to unplanned opportunities (see Cundill et al 2018). Key among these has been contributing new evidence on the implications of 1.5C warming in hot spots, as well as on the links between climate change and migration. The coming months present further opportunities with the forthcoming launch of the IPCC special report, adoption of a Global Compact on Migration, and preparations for COP24.

A sign of successful collaboration is the cultivation of multiple identities. While each participant started identifying with their home or hiring organizations, they learned to see themselves as part of a consortium contributing to a joint work plan. As each consortium matured, participants also identified with themes that cut across consortia. Thus a CARIAA participant can see herself as part of SDPI as an organization, part of PRISE as a consortium, and part of the cross-program work on migration. While collectively CARIAA includes hundreds of participants, each has cultivated their unique role and contribution.   

CARIAA is poised for continued impact throughout 2018 and beyond. We continue to link research to policy and practice, not merely generating datasets and peer-reviewed publications, but engaging stakeholders and contributing solutions. For example, the government of Botswana is keen to replicate ASSAR’s vulnerability and risk assessment training across the country, and HI-AWARE pilot technologies in Pakistan and Bangladesh are poised for scaling to benefit thousands more people. DECCMA is contributing to the design of new adaptation funding in Bangladesh, and PRISE is contributing to the Talanoa Dialogue and working alongside the Government of Senegal at the United Nations’ High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development.

The collaboration fostered under CARIAA grew as the world adopted the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement. The results described above are delivering on the global goal on adaptation (article 7) of enhancing adaptive capacity, strengthening resilience, and reducing vulnerability to climate change. It has not always been easy. Teasing out clear messages and engaging effectively with decision-makers can be as daunting as planning field work and conducting data analysis. Yet the rewards are great. I am confident that CARIAA will leave a valuable contribution that will continue to bear fruit through the future use of findings in the Climate & Development Knowledge Network and the future achievements of the young and early-career participants that have been integral to CARIAA’s successes and will be our lasting legacy.

Bruce Currie-Alder is the program leader for CARIAA.

Photo: IDRC / Tom Pilston