IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2007
Climate Change 2007: Working Group II: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability

17.4 Enhancing adaptation: opportunities and constraints

17.4.1 International and national actions for implementing adaptation

An emerging literature on the institutional requirements for adaptation suggests that there is an important role for public policy in facilitating adaptation to climate change. This includes reducing vulnerability of people and infrastructure, providing information on risks for private and public investments and decision-making, and protecting public goods such as habitats, species and culturally important resources (Haddad et al., 2003; Callaway, 2004; Haddad, 2005; Tompkins and Adger, 2005). In addition, further literature sets out the case for international financial and technology transfers from countries with high greenhouse gas emissions to countries that are most vulnerable to present and future impacts, for use in adapting to the impacts of climate change (Burton et al., 2002; Simms et al., 2004; Baer, 2006; Dow et al., 2006; Paavola and Adger, 2006). Baer (2006) calculates the scale of these transfers from polluting countries, based on aggregate damage estimates of US$50 billion.

Considerable progress has also been made in terms of funding adaptation within the UNFCCC. Least-developed countries have been identified as being particularly vulnerable to climate change, and planning for their adaptation has been facilitated through development of National Adaptation Programmes of Action (NAPAs). In completing a NAPA, a country identifies priority activities that must be implemented in the immediate future in order to address urgent national climate change adaptation needs (Burton et al., 2002; Huq et al., 2003). Although only 15 countries had completed their national NAPA reports as of mid-2007, a number of specific projects were identified in these reports for priority action. Since the implementation of NAPAs had not commenced at the time of this assessment, their outcomes in terms of increased adaptive capacity or reduced vulnerability to climate change risks could not be evaluated. The process of developing NAPAs is, however, being monitored. Box 17.6 discusses some emerging lessons from Bangladesh. Early evidence suggests that NAPAs face the same constraints on effectiveness and legitimacy as other national planning processes (e.g., National Adaptation Plans under the Convention to Combat Desertification), including narrow and unrepresentative consultation processes (Thomas and Twyman, 2005).

Box 17.6. Early lessons on effectiveness and legitimacy of National Adaptation Programmes of Action

At present there is sparse documentary evidence on outcomes of NAPA planning processes or implementation. One case that has been examined is that of the Bangladesh NAPA (Huq and Khan, 2006). The authors recommend that NAPAs should adopt (a) a livelihood rather than sectoral approach, (b) focus on near- and medium-term impacts of climate variability as well as long-term impacts, (c) should ensure integration of indigenous and traditional knowledge, and (d) should ensure procedural fairness through interactive participation and self-mobilisation (Huq and Khan, 2006). They found that NAPA consultation and planning processes have the same constraints and exhibit the same problems of exclusion and narrow focus as other national planning processes (such as those for Poverty Reduction Strategies). They conclude that the fairness and effectiveness of national adaptation planning depends on how national governments already include or exclude their citizens in decision-making and that effective participatory planning for climate change requires functioning democratic structures. Where these are absent, planning for climate change is little more than rhetoric (Huq and Khan, 2006). Similar issues are raised and findings presented by Huq and Reid (2003), Paavola (2006) and Burton et al. (2002). The key role of non-government and community-based organisations in ensuring the sustainability and success of adaptation planning is likely to become evident over the incoming period of NAPA development and implementation.

In the climate change context, the term ‘mainstreaming’ has been used to refer to integration of climate change vulnerabilities or adaptation into some aspect of related government policy such as water management, disaster preparedness and emergency planning or land-use planning (Agrawala, 2005). Actions that promote adaptation include integration of climate information into environmental data sets, vulnerability or hazard assessments, broad development strategies, macro policies, sector policies, institutional or organisational structures, or in development project design and implementation (Burton and van Aalst, 1999; Huq et al., 2003). By implementing mainstreaming initiatives, it is argued that adaptation to climate change will become part of or will be consistent with other well-established programmes, particularly sustainable development planning.

Mainstreaming initiatives have been classified in the development planning literature at four levels. At the international level, mainstreaming of climate change can occur through policy formulation, project approval and country-level implementation of projects funded by international organisations. For example, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent (IFRC) are working to facilitate a link between local and global responses through its Climate Change Centre (Van Aalst and Helmer, 2003). An example of an initiative at the regional level is the MACC (Mainstreaming Adaptation to Climate Change) project in the Caribbean. It assesses the likely impacts of climate change on key economic sectors (i.e., water, agriculture and human health) while also defining responses at community, national and regional levels. Various multi-lateral and bi-lateral development agencies, such as the Asian Development Bank, are attempting to integrate climate change adaptation into their grant and loan activities (ADB, 2005; Perez and Yohe, 2005). Other aid agencies have sought to screen out those loans and grants which are mal-adaptations and create new vulnerabilities, to ascertain the extent to which existing development projects already consider climate risks or address vulnerability to climate variability and change, and to identify opportunities for incorporating climate change explicitly into future projects. Klein et al. (2007) examine the activities of several major development agencies over the past five years and find that while most agencies already consider climate change as a real but uncertain threat to future development, they have not explicitly examined how their activities affect vulnerability to climate change. They conclude that mainstreaming needs to encompass a broader set of measures to reduce vulnerability than has thus far been the case.

Much of the adaptation planning literature emphasises the role of governments, but also recognises the constraints that they face in implementing adaptation actions at other scales (Few et al., 2007). There are few examples of successful mainstreaming of climate change risk into development planning. Agrawala and van Aalst (2005) identified following five major constraints: (a) relevance of climate information for development-related decisions; (b) uncertainty of climate information; (c) compartmentalisation with governments; (d) segmentation and other barriers within development-cooperation agencies; and (e) trade-offs between climate and development objectives. The Adaptation Policy Framework (APF) (Lim et al., 2005) developed to support national planning for adaptation by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) provides guidance on how these obstacles and barriers to mainstreaming can be overcome. Mirza and Burton (2005) found that the application of APF was feasible when they applied it for urban flooding in Bangladesh and droughts in India. However, they concluded that application of the APF could encounter problems related to a lack of micro-level socio-economic information, and gaps in stakeholder participation in the planning, design, implementation and monitoring of projects.

In summary, the opportunities for implementing adaptation as part of government planning are dependent on effective, equitable and legitimate actions to overcome barriers and limits to adaptation (ADB, 2005; Agrawala and van Aalst, 2005; Lim et al., 2005). Initial signals of impacts have been hypothesised to create the demand and political space for implementing adaptation, the so-called ‘policy windows hypothesis’. Box 17.7, however, reveals that evidence is contested on whether individual weather-related catastrophic events can facilitate adaptation action, or whether they act as a barrier to long-term adaptation.

Box 17.7. Is adaptation constrained or facilitated by individual extreme events?

The policy window hypothesis refers to the phenomenon whereby adaptation actions such as policy and regulatory change are facilitated and occur directly in response to disasters, such as those associated with weather-related extreme events (Kingdon, 1995). According to this hypothesis, immediately following a disaster, the political climate may be conducive to legal, economic and social change which can begin to reduce structural vulnerabilities, for example, in such areas as mainstreaming gender issues, land reform, skills development, employment, housing and social solidarity. The assumptions behind the policy windows hypothesis are that (a) new awareness of risks after a disaster leads to broad consensus, (b) development and humanitarian agencies are ‘reminded’ of disaster risks, and (c) enhanced political will and resources become available. However, contrary evidence on policy windows suggests that, during the post-recovery phase, reconstruction requires weighing, prioritising and sequencing of policy programming, and there is the pressure to quickly return to conditions prior to the event rather than incorporate longer-term development policies (Christoplos, 2006). In addition, while institutions clearly matter, they are often rendered ineffective in the aftermath of a disaster. As shown in diverse contexts, such as ENSO-related impacts in Latin America, induced development below dams or levees in the U.S. and flooding in the United Kingdom, the end result is that short-term risk reduction can actually produce greater vulnerability to future events (Pulwarty et al., 2003; Berube and Katz, 2005; Penning-Rowsell et al., 2006).