Governance and Climate Change

There can be no sustainable adaptation without good governance

While climate change is a reflection of environmental crisis, and adaptation planning and research are both essential, it is a folly to neglect links to developmental challenges
Global Temperatures : Long-Term Global Warming Trend Continues
The average global temperature on Earth has increased by about 0.8°C since 1880. Photograph: GISS/Nasa
There seems to be considerable overlap in the approaches to addressclimate change. It might be convenient to frame climate change as an environmental crisis, but it is a folly to neglect its link to developmental challenges. There is no one-size fits all solution, we need inclusive and comprehensive efforts to tackle the issue. Both 'top-down' and 'bottom-up' approaches should put people, politics and the planet at the centre of this crisis.
The top-down approach depends on climate prediction and the application of modelling to calculate secondary impacts (eg on crops or water availability), using projection of future changes in climate. While this might be technical, its application in policymaking for adaptation is very relevant. It gives a broader overview of what is to be expected in climate patterns, and such knowledge is important in formulating adaptation planning for crop ranges that are drought-resilient and in planning for suitable irrigation projects.
Bottom-up methods are about how current climate variations and future climate trajectory would impact the vulnerability and adaptive capacity at local level. The method is based on the fact that since climate change has become part of human existence, the different ways of coping with the challenges are factored into this approach. While bottom-up approaches could integrate climate modelling projections, its primary area of concern is in utilising local knowledge to develop appropriate responses to the problem. This method has been regarded as more relevant in effectively targeting the poor and the very less resilient in formulating adaptation policy, especially in developing countries.
Harnessing the power of communities in implementing adaptation programmes should receive more attention in most developing countries. A strong social network could build more resilience especially among smallholder farming communities. Community-based adaptation (CBA) has proven to be very effective. It's main focus is to augment and strengthen the resilience of communities by improving their capacity to deal with inconsistent rainfall patterns, recurrent drought, heat waves, diseases outbreaks and other extreme weather events. However, just as the other approaches aimed at preferring adaptation solutions to the challenges of climate change, CBA is not without its own challenges.
The effects that climate change will have on the world may not be equally distributed, the poorest countries and their poorest communities will suffer the most. Climate change is threatening the livelihoods of both the poor and the rich nations. But studies have shown that the poorest regions of the world would be worst hit. The consequences for the rural poor are particularly serious, as they are mostly dependent on immediate ecosystem services and, therefore, most vulnerable to localised environmental degradation.
In recent times, the frequency of extreme events has increased. Lives and valuable possessions have been lost. According to the UN office in Mozambique, 70 people died early this year in floods, more than 100,000 were permanently displaced, and the majority of people lost everything they had ever worked for in their lifetime. A BBC report from 2012, said that more than 2 million people were displaced from their homes in Nigeria and 363 died in floods.
Climate change might have exacerbated these extreme events, but poorgovernance was also a factor. Adaptation planning and research alone aren't enough to tackle the challenges of extreme events. A policy shift towards upgrading infrastructure and effective policy implementation are equally important. Where basic facilities – roads, drainage, power supply – are lacking, adaptation measures could be counter-productive and completely ineffective. Including development into adaptation planning must be prioritised.
Sustainable adaptation practices must encompass sound policy implementation. Research and development should be strengthened in the vulnerable regions of the world. Humanitarian agencies are getting more involved in research and development initiatives, such momentum should be sustained. Capacity building and skills enhancement are equally essential, especially in developing and less developed countries. Adapting to the vagaries of climate change would require a collaborative effort, more importantly; it would require politics, and policy makers to shift towards 'a human-face approach' in formulating and implementing policies.
One very good way of improving the adaptive capacity of the rural poor in developing countries and less developed economies, would be to strengthen the support structures and institutions around these regions. It is the poverty of support structures and weak institutions in the form of provision and maintenance of basic amenities that often increase the vulnerability of poor regions.
Steve Arowolo is a climate change and development specialist based in Cape Town, South Africa.
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