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Home > MEA Bulletin > List of Guest Articles > Guest Article No. 66b
MEA Bulletin - Guest Article No. 66b - Thursday, 26 March 2009
Community-Based Adaptation in the Global Climate Change Response
By Angie Dazé, Regional Climate Change Coordinator, West and Southern Africa, CARE International, and Christina Chan, Senior Policy Analyst, CARE USA
The world’s poorest people are least responsible for causing climate change; yet, they will bear the brunt of its negative consequences. One of the biggest challenges facing negotiators of the post-2012 agreement under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is ensuring not only that sufficient funds are available to support adaptation in vulnerable developing countries, but also that those funds are used effectively and reach the people who need them most.

Despite the global nature of the challenge, the impacts of climate change are locally-specific.   Well designed top-down, scenario-driven approaches to adaptation can play a role in reducing vulnerability to climate change; however, there is evidence that they may fall short in addressing the particular needs and concerns of the most vulnerable people.  These large-scale interventions must be combined with community-based adaptation initiatives in order for the global adaptation response to be effective.

Existing funding mechanisms and planning processes under the UNFCCC do not prioritize community-based adaptation.  Generally speaking, the National Adaptation Programmes of Action (NAPAs) have identified vulnerability only on the basis of location-based risk and the impact of that location-based risk on key GDP sectors, like agriculture and livestock production. They have failed to take the analysis one step further to assess social, economic and political vulnerability within high-risk geographic regions. As a result, priority for assistance may be given to large agricultural producers or companies rather than smallholder farmers who, even without the threat of climate change, may already lack access to markets, financial services, information, and basic infrastructure and are therefore less resilient.

If adaptation funding does not reach the people most vulnerable to climate change, they may continue to rely on short-term coping mechanisms that are more damaging in the long run. Climate-related shocks may force them, for example, to sell precious assets, withdraw children from school, and/or reduce consumption of food. They may also become increasingly risk averse, e.g., selecting crops that are less sensitive to rainfall variation but also less profitable, or not investing in improved technology.

To minimize these risks, the post-2012 agreement must more effectively support community-based adaptation as part of an effective, pro-poor global climate change response. Though climate change is a new challenge, the world community can draw from three key lessons learned through decades of development research and practice:

First, vulnerability is more than exposure to climate shocks and other stresses. Vulnerability varies within countries, within communities, and even within households.  It is, in large part, determined by the economic, social and political systems and structures that govern people’s lives. Women and other marginalized groups are particularly at risk.

Second, participation matters. One important reason women and other marginalized groups are more vulnerable to climate change is their lack of control in making decisions, which ultimately affects their lives and livelihoods.  Their voices are often unheard. Successful development initiatives generally result from decision-making processes that are inclusive and transparent, with appropriate accountability mechanisms.

And third, for programs to be effective, poor and marginalized people need support not only to strengthen their ability to voice their concerns, protect their rights, and secure their lives and livelihoods, but also to change the very economic, social and political structures that govern their lives and shape their vulnerability. There is a role for both top-down and bottom-up approaches.  Some issues are best dealt with at a central level, while others must be tackled at the grassroots. These approaches must be coordinated to ensure that they are mutually supportive.

With these lessons in mind, the post-2012 framework must include three key elements to ensure that funds are directed to the needs and priorities of vulnerable communities and groups:

Systematic identification of vulnerable communities and groups
The Bali Action Plan – the guiding framework for post-2012 negotiations – prioritizes urgent and immediate needs of developing countries that are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, especially the least developed countries, small island developing states, and countries in Africa affected by drought, desertification and floods.  This emphasis on vulnerability in targeting adaptation funding is appropriate; however, in order for adaptation funds to reach the people who need them most, the post-2012 agreement must require systematic identification of vulnerable communities and groups within countries in addition to assessments of biophysical risk. This process will serve to build capacity of communities and other stakeholders to plan and design community-based adaptation initiatives. 

Inclusive and transparent decision-making
National governments and multilateral organizations are making critical decisions with little space provided for the representatives of poor and marginalized groups. For adaptation plans and activities to meet the needs of the most vulnerable, they must be guaranteed a role in decision-making and ongoing monitoring processes.

The post-2012 agreement must mandate the participation of vulnerable communities and groups in decision making on adaptation, and it must ensure that this participation is active and meaningful. Meaningful participation implies dialogue and shared decision-making power at all levels. This requires a global framework that establishes standards and mechanisms for participation as well as accountability to those most affected by climate change.

Engagement of civil society and local institutions
In existing mechanisms for adaptation under the UNFCCC, the role of civil society and local institutions remains unclear. The Nairobi Work Programme on Impacts, Vulnerability and Adaptation represents a good effort to engage a wide range of stakeholders in the dialogue on adaptation, but it remains to be seen how this will translate to implementation.

Successful adaptation will require the engagement of civil society and local institutions, which have an important role to play in supporting community-based adaptation. These organizations have skills and experience in working with communities and vulnerable groups. They can use this experience to facilitate adaptation. The post-2012 agreement must put in place mechanisms to ensure that these stakeholders can play appropriate roles, and that the global adaptation effort is focused on appropriate actions to meet the needs of the world’s most vulnerable people.
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