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Safeguarding semi-arid regions from climate shocks


Environmental and social systems in semi-arid regions are acutely vulnerable to climate change, experts agreed during a panel discussion in Paris in July. The panel took place during the Our Common Future Under Climate Change conference, the largest climate science forum in advance of the COP21 climate summit.

In the Indian tropics, knowledge gaps around social vulnerability still exist, said Andaleeb Rahman of the Indian Institute for Human Settlements. Detailed data on livelihood strategies, landholding, and credit sources are largely unavailable, he said.

The consortium on Adaptation at Scale in Semi-Arid Regions (ASSAR), part of theCollaborative Adaptation Research Initiative in Africa and Asia (CARIAA), is helping to fill these knowledge gaps. The structural drivers of poverty create barriers to climate adaptation, and these barriers are most acute for already marginalized groups, indicators from ASSAR-led research suggest.

Defining maladaptation

Elizabeth Carabine, a researcher with the UK's Overseas Development Institute, set out findings from CARIAA’s Pathways to Resilience in Semi-Arid Economies (PRISE) consortium. She explored the concept of maladaptation, which she said is constrained by a lack of conceptual clarity and disagreement over how it can be measured.

She argued that deliberate non-action should be considered maladaptation if it contributes to increased climate risks and negative outcomes for people and communities. More consideration should be given to issues of justice and equity, Carabine said.

“Maladaptation can occur long after a project cycle is completed,” she noted. “Ecosystems, livelihoods, and economies are not static. Under climate change, climate risks and vulnerabilities to particular climate variables are also likely to shift.” Carabine presented the outline of a framework for measuring the quality of adaptation outcomes, and identified a number of signs that can act as early warnings for maladaptive actions.

Discussants agreed that there was need for better information on vulnerability and for governments and other bodies to use this information to undertake effective action in order to avoid maladaptation.  

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