Climate Change

IPCC Special Report: Climate adaptation needs multi-level support

Adaptation is a local process that needs involvement of local authorities and communities in designing and implementing adaptation policies

By Tarun Gopalakrishnan
Published: Monday 08 October 2018
Photo: iStock

According to the IPCC Special Report on 1.5°C, climate-related risks for natural and human systems are higher for global warming of 1.5°C than at present, but lower than at 2°C. These risks depend, in part, on the choices and implementation of adaptation and mitigation options. This is because adaptation options, which reduce vulnerability of human and natural systems, can have synergies with the objectives of sustainable development: ensuring food and water security, reducing disaster risks, improving health conditions, maintaining ecosystem services and reducing poverty and inequality. The report notes that investment in physical and social infrastructure is a key enabler in enhancing resilience and adaptive capacity. These benefits are applicable to most regions during 1.5°C temperature rise.

But adaptation to 1.5°C can lead to adverse impacts for sustainable development. For example, poorly designed or implemented adaptation projects can increase greenhouse gas emissions and water use, increase gender and social inequality, undermine health conditions, and encroach on natural ecosystems. Hence, adaptation efforts must pay attention to poverty and sustainable development.                                                                

These efforts need financial support. Adaptation finance, which is consistent with the target of limiting global warming to 1.5°C, is difficult to quantify and compare with 2°C because of knowledge gaps, but estimates of costs might be lower at 1.5°C. Adaptation needs have generally been supported (to a limited extent) by public sector sources such as national and sub-national government budgets, together with support from development assistance, multilateral development banks, and UNFCCC channels. An important but a less analysed segment in some regions is NGO and private funding.

Participatory approach to adaptation

It is important that support for adaptation is directed into the right channels. This requires a framework to identify useful adaptation interventions. The IPCC report cites examples of such frameworks. Disaster risk management (DRM) is one of them. It is a “process for designing, implementing and evaluating strategies, policies and measures to improve the understanding of disaster risk, and promoting improvement in disaster preparedness, response and recovery”. According to the report, there is a need to integrate DRM and adaptation to reduce vulnerability. However, the institutional, technical and financial capacity constraints exist.

The report also identifies “educational adaptation” options which motivate adaptation through building awareness. This involves leveraging multiple knowledge systems, developing participatory action research and social learning processes, strengthening extension services, and building learning and knowledge sharing mechanisms through community-based platforms, international conferences and knowledge networks. A similar approach based on socio-economic parameters identified by the report is to focus on enhancing current health services as an adaptive measure. This includes providing access to safe water and improved sanitation, enhancing access to essential services such as vaccination, and developing or strengthening integrated surveillance systems, combined with iterative management.

A more participatory approach towards adaptation, especially for vulnerable population, will be to formulate adaptation action based on indigenous knowledge: diversity of indigenous agro-ecological and forest management systems, collective social memory and social networks. These people are threatened by cultural modification, dispossession of land rights and land grabbing, rapid environmental changes, colonisation, and social change—all of which result in increasing vulnerability to climate change. These can be exacerbated by climate policy if it is based on limited understanding of indigenous worldviews. This is why the report argues that recognition of indigenous rights, governance systems and laws is central to adaptation, mitigation and sustainable development.

Finally, a climate services approach can play a critical role in aiding adaptation decision making, according to the report. Higher usage of short-term climate information like weather advisories and daily forecasts is in contrast with lesser use of longer-term information such as seasonal forecasts and multi-decadal projections. These climate service solutions struggle to scale up because of low capacity, inadequate climate information, and difficulties in maintaining systems beyond pilot project stage.

It is particularly important to note, as the report does, the differences between global mitigation and adaptation governance. While mitigation tends to be global by its nature and is based on the principle of the climate system as a global commons, adaptation has traditionally been viewed as a local process, involving local authorities, communities, and stakeholders (although it is now recognised to be a multi-scaled, multi-actor process). Hence, local governments are important; they enable more participative decision-making and involve wider community in designing and implementing adaptation policies.

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