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The human Dimension of
The imporTanCe of loCal anD
Commission on Climate Change and development
glemminge development ReseaRCh
inteRnational institute foR enviRonment and development
insititute of development studies
stoCkholm enviRonment institute
stoCkholm ResilienCe CentRe
Copyright © 2009
by the Commission on Climate Change and Development
All rights reserved.
For electronic copies of this report, please visit www.ccdcommission.org
For hard copies of this report, please contact the secretariat of the
Commission on Climate Change and Development,
Ministry for Foreign Affairs, SE-103 39 Stockholm, Sweden
Printing: Edita Sverige AB, Stockholm, Sweden
Design and layout: Global Reporting, Stockholm, Sweden
Editing: Linda Starke, Washington, D.C., United States
The Human Dimension
of Climate Adaptation:
The Importance of Local
and Institutional Issues1
Ian Christoplos 2, Simon Anderson 3, Margaret Arnold 4, Victor Galaz 5,
Merylyn Hedger 6, Richard J.T. Klein 7, and Katell Le Goulven 8
1 The authors would like to thank Siri Eriksen, Natasha Grist, and the
4 ProVention Consortium
participants of a seminar held on 9 January 2009 in Stockholm for
their helpful comments. Thanks are also extended to Linda Starke and
5 Stockholm Resilience Centre
Lloyd Timberlake for editing the paper.
6 Institute of Development Studies
2 Glemminge Development Research
7 Stockholm Environment Institute
3 International Institute for Environment and Development
8 Commission on Climate Change and Development
Climate change is already affecting poor people and com- the need for locally owned capacity-building processes.
munities around the globe. They are used to handling ad-
The paper is an important outcome of the Commission’s
versity and risk, but climate change presents a burden that work. In an abbreviated version, it constitutes the central
is likely to go beyond the historical experience of many of Chapter 3 of its final report, Closing the Gaps.1 In this fuller
version, it makes an important contribution to the climate
When the Commission on Climate Change and Develop- change discourse.
ment was tasked with taking the perspective of the poor and
the vulnerable, a natural point of departure was to develop Johan Schaar
a deeper understanding of the new situation through three Director
lenses: the risks that vulnerable people face now and in the Commission on Climate Change and Development
future, the elements of their capacity to manage these risks,
and what they need from others to further strengthen their
resilience. The Commission felt it needed this understand-
ing to define and propose measures that governments and
organizations should take to support adaptation to climate
change in developing countries.
This meant breaking out of the limitations of a sector ap-
proach, which can hide the unity of lives and livelihoods.
It also meant turning the climate change discourse “upside
down” – that is, looking at people and climate change from
the local perspective, not from global scenarios and models.
The Commission thus set out to capture the human dimen-
sion of climate change impacts and adaptation.
For this purpose, several experts representing a range of
disciplines and expertise were invited to produce a paper.
They met in person three times and held a number of tel-
econferences to define and develop an approach that went
beyond their individual disciplines. This paper is the result
of their collective work.
The paper does not present new research findings; it
brings together elements that are often separated in the com-
partmentalized way we tend to treat complex phenomena. In
particular, it identifies a set of important issues that are often
given insufficient attention in current development and dis-
aster risk reduction efforts but that will be critical for poor
communities’ adaptation to climate change. Three issues
deserve special mention: the integration of risk analysis and
assessment in development planning, the inclusion of tar-
geted social protection measures as part of adaptation, and 1 The full report of the Commission on Climate Change and Develop-
ment is available at www.ccdcommission.org.
Climate change, conflicts, and the squeeze on natural re- forts must start with recognizing the importance of adaptive
sources due to population growth and environmental deg- capacity, and it then explores what decades of development
radation are intensifying the poverty and vulnerability experience have revealed about ways to effectively invest
of many people. The poor adapt in diverse ways that are in the capacities of individuals and the organizations that
usually unnoticed, uncoordinated, and unaided by national poor people rely on. Such investment involves promoting
governments, development agencies, or international agen- structures of inclusive governance, locally and nationally,
cies. This autonomous adaptation is often overlooked in to ensure that the poor can gain access to services and so-
international and national efforts to manage the impacts of cial protection mechanisms and engage in effective natural
resource management in order to deal with the hazards they
This paper presents a conceptual framework that turns face. This will only come about if adaptation initiatives in-
the mainstream adaptation discourse upside down, with clude efforts to create an enabling institutional environment
understanding and respect for autonomous adaptation as that facilitates ownership and ensures the accountability of
the starting point for a new agenda to manage the human states, donors, and other actors with regard to the impact of
dimensions of climate change. It suggests that adaptation their actions on the changing range of risks associated with
should be built on efforts to more effectively support in- climate change. And it will only materialize if adaptation
dividuals, households, and businesses as they struggle to initiatives also address inequities and the political and eco-
adapt to climate change and that this should be done with nomic structures creating them.
a deeper awareness of the social, economic, cultural, and
Much depends on the actions of local organizations, espe-
political factors that frame their actions, incentives, oppor- cially local governments. Decentralization is shifting heavy
tunities, and limitations for action.
responsibilities to local organizations for adaptation as well
Climate change adaptation is part of the processes of hu- as a range of other tasks. But few additional resources have
man development and risk management that have been un- been shifted to help them deal with these burdens, and their
der way for centuries. Development has always been about ability to use new funding is often limited, especially in the
how people manage many risks. Climate change is changing poorest and most risk-prone municipalities, districts, and
this landscape of risks, especially those faced by the poor provinces. Appropriate strategies must reflect the fact that
and vulnerable. Adaptation needs to reflect a disaggregated enormous challenges exist in developing local capacities
perspective on the diverse ways that climate change affects and engagement, given the structural realities and compet-
the livelihoods, food security, natural resource management ing priorities that these actors face.
opportunities, and the health and energy security of indi-
Inclusive governance helps reduce vulnerability through
viduals and local societies, and also how these impacts are efforts to alleviate poverty, but it must do more than that.
mediated by institutional realities: struggling governments; Vulnerability reduction depends on capacities to provide ap-
changing markets for products, services, and labor; and propriate leadership, to engage actively as part of civil soci-
strained social structures within and beyond their localities. ety, to get access to services (especially those related to infor-
The paper examines the climate-related adaptive capaci- mation, technology, and capital), and to mobilize a dynamic
ty of people, businesses, and ecosystems and discusses their business environment that creates opportunities to pursue
interactions, complementarities, and competition. It also more sustainable livelihoods. This will require action at lo-
looks at adaptive capacity across scales – local, national, in- cal, national, and international scales and an awareness of
ternational – and how interfaces among these scales facili- the prevailing social, political, and economic power struc-
tate or stand in the way of adaptation. It describes how ef- tures that stand in the way of such inclusive governance.
Efforts must focus on removing barriers to autonomous the nascent adaptation architecture is harmonized with ex-
adaptation and must acknowledge that local ownership is isting aid and DRR structures and expanding programs to
the starting point for better interfaces between how adap-
strengthen local institutional capacities. Beyond Copen-
tation works and sub-local policy formation. Adaptation hagen, adaptation efforts by the development community
by the poorest will require support from public funds that should support decentralized structures for improved mar-
allow those facing the climate challenge to better demand ket integration, consider social protection systems, and ex-
relevant goods and services, such as cash transfers through pand agricultural extension services while respecting the
social protection mechanisms.
principles of the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness.
Ecosystem services are fundamental for human well-be-
ing; thus the ecological impacts of adaptation policies must
be taken seriously. This will require greater awareness of
how environmental change will inevitably include surpris-
es. Effective adaptation therefore demands better scenario
planning and also the flexibility to respond to unexpected
tipping points as well as to thresholds whereby negative
changes escalate and hazards that were manageable in the
past suddenly or gradually turn into humanitarian disasters.
Neither climate change adaptation nor disaster risk re-
duction (DRR) can remain obscure technical processes.
Both should become integral parts of development while
ensuring that adaptation priorities are set by those who
must adapt and providing room for national and local politi-
cians and communities to develop and coordinate their own
agendas. Priority must be given to facilitating demand from
those affected by climate change.
The new approach to risk-aware development called
for in this paper will involve scaling up existing develop-
ment approaches that reflect past lessons on how to promote
growth and support local capacity development while re-
maining cognizant of vulnerability and exclusion. This new
approach calls for caution in pursuit of many prevailing de-
velopment objectives, notably those that undermine auton-
omous adaptation and may weaken local adaptive capacity.
Revised approaches to monitoring and evaluating are also
needed. This approach finally requires greater use of avail-
able climate information to achieve better climate foresight
in local planning and development implementation.
The paper concludes by offering a set of principles to
ensure a focus on the human dimension of climate change.
It offers recommendations for and beyond the 2009 Copen-
hagen climate meeting. In Copenhagen, negotiators should
make room for adaptation demands emerging from locali-
ties and recognize the learning experience of the National
Adaptation Program of Action process while ensuring that
Table of Contents
Preface . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .2
Executive Summary . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .3
1 Unpacking climate risks . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .7
1.1 How the changing climate is changing risk . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .8
1.2 How institutions mediate climate risks . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .10
1.3 Why vulnerable people remain vulnerable . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .12
2 Climate adaptive capacity. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .14
2.1 How people, businesses and ecosystems adapt . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .14
2.2 Interfaces among the capacities of people, businesses and ecosystems . . . . . . . . . . . .16
2.3 Interfaces among local, national, and international scales. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .21
3 Toward capacity development. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .23
3.1 Rethinking how capacity development underpins human development efforts . . . . . .23
3.2 Promoting inclusive governance, locally and nationally . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .24
3.3 Facilitating ownership and accountability . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .28
4 From here to there: Enabling adaptation at local levels. . . . . . . . . . . .31
4.1 Principles for ensuring a focus on the human dimension of climate change . . . . . . . . .31
4.2 Recommendations for Copenhagen and beyond . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .32
Acronyms . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .35
Climate change, conflicts, and the squeeze on natural re-
This is not to say that the solutions are always there. The
sources due to population growth and environmental deg- factors that determine vulnerability, impact, and capacity to
radation are intensifying the poverty and vulnerability of respond are usually embedded in broader social, cultural,
many people. The diversity of these challenges and of how political, and economic structures. However, if analysts do
individuals, households, businesses, governments, and civil not focus on the local dimensions of climate change adapta-
society deal with them are best understood through analysis tion, they cannot tell whether human vulnerability is being
of their local dimensions. “Local” here refers to the inter- reduced. Tracking the process of change in people’s lives
face between households and grassroots organizations, on helps the world understand whether efforts to support adap-
the one hand, and the meso-level structures of municipal, tation really make a difference.
district, and provincial governments, of public and private
As it becomes clear that society is not going to quickly
service organizations (such as agricultural extension), and mitigate climate change, adapting to its local effects be-
of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) involved in ac- comes more important and more urgent. This paper reflects
tions affecting climate change.
this urgency in calling for strong action to facilitate action
at the local level while also providing a reminder of the It is not intended as a set of specific recommendations for
need for due caution in ensuring that efforts build on local aid programming but is rather a broad description of a new
priorities. This conceptual framework carries with it a de-
approach that can connect the concerns of those dealing
gree of uncertainty, since climate change has yet to become with development and those designing the new architecture
a priority for the vast majority of those who need to act. of climate change adaptation. The broad range of issues and
This ambiguity is problematic, but it highlights the reality conceptual frameworks covered in the paper form a vision
of development practice wherein awareness and respect for of a different approach to development. The paper also sug-
the current perceived needs of people affected by climate gests how to better situate disaster risk reduction (DRR)
change (people who are also dealing with other, more press-
within both of these areas of intervention.
ing risks) must be combined with efforts to help people
The paper was prepared by a multidisciplinary team of
expand their understanding of the changes that lie ahead. researchers and development practitioners with expertise in
Analyzing and doing things that people want must be com-
environmental management, climate negotiation processes,
bined with investments in helping them to reflect and make resilience, DRR, and capacity development processes in lo-
informed decisions about a future filled with uncertainties. cal institutions. We did not set out to develop an academic
Dialogue is the tool with which these seeming contradic-
paper or a theoretical conceptual framework, but the ap-
tions can and must be reconciled.
proach proposed here builds on our fields of expertise. It is
Climate change almost always has a negative effect on hoped that this vision will influence the process leading to
people. First, it involves more and more-fierce weather-
the Fifteenth Conference of the Parties to the UN Frame-
related disasters. Second, since human systems are closely work Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in late
tied to established climate systems, climate change creates 2009, while providing a basis for rethinking development
societal stress. This is especially true for the poor, who policies in the post-2012 UNFCCC framework.
have fewer resources to help them adapt to change and
The paper is organized into four parts. The first part
who usually rely more directly on local ecosystems than shows how the changing climate is changing risk, how cli-
their wealthier neighbors do. The poor adapt in ways that mate change is affecting lives and livelihoods, how insti-
are usually unnoticed, uncoordinated, and unaided by na-
tutions mediate climate risks, and how the vulnerable are
tional governments, development agencies, or international kept vulnerable. The second part examines the adaptive
agencies. People draw on resources and support from these capacities of people, businesses, and ecosystems as well as
sources, but they do it in ways that are rarely reflected in the interactions between them and across local, national,
the formal mechanisms designed for poverty reduction and and international scales. The third part focuses on capac-
climate adaptation. This autonomous adaptation is a core ity development: it discusses which capacities need to be
theme of this paper.
strengthened, and what works or does not work in terms of
This paper’s focus on autonomous adaptation is an ap-
the sustainable development of capacities for governance
peal for a new ethos on adaptation, wherein responsible and autonomous adaptation. The final part offers a list of
governments and institutions ensure that adaptation priori-
principles from the analysis developed in the paper and
ties are at least informed by and where possible even set by translates these principles into recommendations for the de-
those who must adapt. A new mindset is needed if room is velopment community.
to be provided for people to develop their own agendas, in
concert with local and national governments.
This paper has been prepared as an input to the report of
the Commission on Climate Change and Development.2 It
is intended to inform and advise the Commission and also
the wider development community, including international
2 The Commission on Climate Change and Development is an initiative
organizations, bilateral donors, governments, and civil so-
launched and financed by the Swedish government. The Commission
is headed by the Swedish Minister for International Cooperation and
ciety organizations in industrial and developing countries.
Development, Gunilla Carlsson, but its membership is international.
1. Unpacking Climate Risks
Some see climate change adaptation as a new, emerging of quality into quantity and vice versa, the interpenetration of
field of study and practice. Others approach adaptation opposites, and the negation of the negation.
through modeling to project future climate changes and
Climate change can be interpreted as proceeding accord-
secondary impacts and to formulate recommendations on ing to these laws. Climate varies across time and space.
how to adapt to the projected change. The limitations of Relatively stable variability can be maintained for tens of
this approach include the inherent uncertainty of predic- thousands of years. However, transformations can occur
tions, the reliance on external technical expertise, the ten- within a few hundred years. Gradual directional changes
dency to ignore wider factors affecting vulnerability to build up within the existing climate until some tipping point
climate change, and the failure to consider the poorest and is reached; quantitative changes are transformed into quali-
most marginal groups within adaptation options.3
tative change and, for example, the rate of glacial advance
This paper offers an alternative approach. It puts climate or retreat changes significantly, reaching points where new
change adaptation in the context of human development and effects are seen and new states entered. During the final mil-
the risk management that people have been undertaking for lennia of a glacial period, negative feedbacks maintain the
centuries. It acknowledges that development has always stability of the ice age while the warming factors are gradu-
been about managing many risks.
ally building up within the system (the interpenetration of
This approach focuses on the poor because they are more opposites). Eventually the negative feedbacks are them-
vulnerable to climate hazards than wealthier households. selves negated; positive feedbacks take hold and the system
Poor people face a higher incidence of diseases that have flips over to the interglacial state (negation of the negation).
been all but eradicated in most industrial countries (e.g., The process is reversed at the end of an interglacial period.
measles, tuberculosis, malaria). The poor also have fewer
If it is accepted that adaptation refers to the adjustments
assets to absorb shocks and less access to formal risk reduc- in a system’s behavior and characteristics that enhance
tion mechanisms. In response, they have developed some its ability to cope with external stresses, then from a dia-
innovative and sophisticated coping strategies. Understand- lectical perspective adaptation has to take place against a
ing the different types of risks, how risks will change, and background of constant change related to processes of in-
the coping mechanisms of the poor is critical to supporting ternal contradiction and to the impacts of external or con-
textual factors. Adaptation will happen in both incremental
Climate change is and will continue to be non-linear, in- adjustments and step changes as responses to incremental
equitable, and dialectical. Dialectical theory helps explain changes in local environments and to accumulative impacts
how social entities respond to change. It demonstrates that of changes bringing about the arrival of thresholds beyond
change is constant and due to factors that can be considered which return to the previous state is not an option. Climate
internal (inherent) and external (contextual) to the social change may hasten or exacerbate the effects of society’s in-
group under consideration, that incremental quantitative ternal contradictions; it can already be seen that the impacts
changes can lead to thresholds that precipitate larger-scale of some of the factors causing poverty are made worse by
qualitative change (and vice versa), and that all social and climate effects that reduce access to resources, worsen se-
other systems have inherent contradictions – internal op- curity, and threaten the livelihoods of the poor and those on
posites – that make their permanence impossible and make the brink of poverty.
equilibrium and stasis exceptions rather than norms. Freder-
ick Engels in his 1883 treatise “Dialectics of Nature” explains 3 T. Tanner and T. Mitchell, “Building the Case for Pro-poor Adapta-
these three fundamental laws of dialectics: the transformation
tion,” IDS Bulletin, vol. 39, no. 4 (2008).
1.1 How the changing climate is
Risk literature frequently distinguishes between general
Idiosyncratic versus covariate shocks:
categories of risk to describe its frequency and intensity:
whether or not it is auto-correlated (independently distrib-
A practical example can demonstrate the difference between
uted over time) and how it is distributed among individu-
and the interplay of idiosyncratic and covariate shocks on an
als and groups (idiosyncratic versus covariate). Climate
individual household. A family who makes their living from
change is affecting all of these risk categories. The ability
farming less than a hectare of land suffers a blow when the
of individuals, households, and communities to adapt is be-
husband is kil ed in a traffic accident (idiosyncratic shock).
ing strained in different ways, as is that of the governance,
His wife, mother to six children, uses the little savings they
social, and market institutions upon which they rely. This
have to cover funeral expenses. As she must care for the
children, she employs another person to cultivate her land
section briefly describes the main ways in which the chang-
on a crop-sharing basis, where each gets half of the har-
ing climate is changing the risks faced by the poor.
vest. An extended dry season causes extensive damage to
the sweet potato crop (covariate shock), and the fol owing
Idiosyncratic and covariate risk
season the crop sharer leaves for a better opportunity. The
Idiosyncratic shocks are those that affect the individual
woman’s land is left bare of any root crops.
or household (e.g., death, injury, unemployment); covari-
While a number of farmers in the area are affected by the
extended dry season, many have sufficient food stocks and
ate shocks are those that affect localities or nations (e.g.,
provide assistance to the woman and her children to ensure
epidemics, disasters, war). Several researchers note the
that they have food every day. The next harvest, however, is
imprecision in these definitions. For example, Fafchamps
affected by an extensive drought, and food supplies were
asks, “How many farmers must be affected by crop failure
depleted the previous year. Many households are affected
before it is called a drought?”4
and are no longer able to provide informal support to the
Similarly, Cafiero and Vakis note the complexities of dis-
woman and her children. As she waits for relief assistance to
tinguishing between idiosyncratic and covariate risk:
arrive, she pul s her older children out of school and sends
them to live with relatives in the city to look for work.
In principle, idiosyncratic risk can be mitigated by
risk sharing within a specific social group or net-
work. As such, an idiosyncratic risk at the household
level would only become an issue if that household’s
social network failed to eliminate it by risk shar-
ing. In this sense, a “community” is precisely the
▶ Idiosyncratic risk becoming increasingly covariate (e.g.,
minimum required size of a group of people needed
increasing severity of disasters, small localized hazard
to effectively share the most perilous idiosyncratic
events becoming larger disasters).
risks. When risks are so systemic that they cannot
Climate change adaptation discussions have focused on
be shared within the “community”, the need of ex-
increasing levels of covariate risk and specifically on the
ternal intervention (e.g., from within a more aggre-
increasing occurrence and severity of weather-related catas-
gated “community” level such as the state) arises.5
trophes. This in turn has focused attention on the humanitar-
Climate change is adding further complexity to these cat- ian (not just human) impacts of climate change, and the need
egories, as it affects both the levels and the mix of idiosyn-
cratic and covariate risks in several ways (see Box):
▶ Increasing idiosyncratic risk (e.g., increased mortality
due to heat waves, increased occurrence of malaria and 4 M. Fafchamps, Rural Poverty, Risk and Development (Cheltenham,
U.K.: Edward Elger Publishing, 2003).
diarrheal disease, increased small hazard events);
5 C. Cafiero and R. Vakis, Risk and Vulnerability Considerations in
▶ Increasing covariate risk (e.g., increasing frequency of
Poverty Analysis: Recent Advances and Future Directions (Washing-
large disasters); and
ton, DC: World Bank, October 2006).