Lively discussion on adaptation yesterday

July 13th, 2010

Yesterday we held a workshop in London on Community Based Adaptation (CBA). This is a field of work in which Practical Action is regarded as a leader, but the spur for holding the workshop was given by Saleemul Huq, senior fellow of IIED’s climate change programme; At the 4th International Workshop on CBA held in Tanzania in February, Saleem invited people from each of the countries represented at the workshop, to organise a short workshop for people in their own country, to share latest thinking and practice in helping vulnerable people adapt to climate change.

I took up Saleem’s request, and the result was a very lively workshop with around 50 people present, mostly from international NGOs, including the big ones like Christian Aid and Oxfam as well as smaller ones, a few PhD students, and some research institutes like IIED and Overseas Development Institute (ODI).

A year or two ago, and such a workshop mostly consisted of presentations showing how climate change was already affecting people around the world, and what different organisations were doing to help them. But yesterday, all the presenters demonstrated much deeper understanding of the links between poverty, development and adaptation, and, as importantly, some of the social and political barriers facing vulnerable groups in communities in trying to adapt to the changing climate.

Among governments, adaptation is still seen as something related to particular economic sectors – requiring changes to infrastructure, to crops grown, ways of dealing with water scarcity etc at a national level. Recognition that climate change will affect vulnerable people in all these ways and that a co-ordinated response is needed from government is still very low.

So one session yesterday a group discussed how to get these messages across to policy makers and decision takers in both UK and developing countries. Other groups discussed what kind of agricultural production system will be flexible and varied enough to cope with the uncertainty and multiple changes in seasons that climate change will bring to different regions, and a new theme beginning to be addressed is adaptation in cities, where the challenges and the power structures around land and services are very different from those in rural areas where the focus is on land-based livelihoods.

Discussion didn’t flag the whole day long! So, how and where will the debate continue? Well, we will be producing a report, and putting it and all the presentations on our website – look out for those in a week or so. There will be a 5th international conference on CBA in February 2011, to be held in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

Meanwhile, in Practical Action we are focusing on analysing more deeply what adaptive capacity really involves, and my colleague Jon Ensor will be writing a book on this theme. I continue to follow the climate change negotiations, to ensure that whatever is agreed on adaptation will enable a focus on local level actions by countries, and ensure that vulnerable people are not forgotten. We are also working on ways to ensure that communities have a say in how funding for adaptation is allocated, and have access to advice and technology on how to adapt that may be provided by governments or international institutions.

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