Editorial: Adapting to climate change
06 June 2012
Humankind will have to learn to live with climate change. Experts argue that even the most effective mitigation measures will no longer be sufficient to avert climate change resulting from past carbon emissions.
The mitigation efforts currently agreed on by the international community are insufficient to prevent the world from warming up by less than 2º Celsius, which is broadly recognized as the safety limit. Meanwhile studies anticipate that temperatures may well rise by up to 4º Celsius. As a result, sea levels will rise 110 mm to 770 mm between 1990 and 2100. Glaciers will retreat further, affecting water availability for one sixth of the world’s population.
Precipitation patterns will change and become less predictable. The movement of species, including weeds, pests and pathogens, will transform agricultural practices and health. The number of incidences of extreme weather will increase, including heat waves, floods, storms, fires and droughts.
Climate change has already affected the lives and livelihoods of millions of people – especially those whose livelihoods depend on natural resources. Eventually everyone will experience the impact of climate change, and the longer mankind continues depending on an economic system that pumps carbon dioxide into the atmosphere to generate growth, the more severe this impact will be. In an interview with Capacity.org, Angela Churie Kallhauge, senior policy advisor at the Swedish Energy Agency, makes it clear that every country on this planet has to commit itself to making the transition towards a climate-resilient, low-carbon economy.
Measures to adapt to climate change have to be developed and will be needed for a long time to come. This issue of Capacity.org discusses the capacity of communities to adapt to the effects of climate change. It focuses in particular on those communities considered most vulnerable to climate change impacts, including marginalized smallholders and pastoralists whose livelihoods depend on natural resource bases that are already severely stressed and degraded.
Malla Reddy from India describes what happens to vulnerable groups if little or nothing is done to support them in their efforts to build up resilience against climate change. Thousands of small farmers in the Rayalaseema region are pushed out of agriculture and ultimately slide into extreme poverty as the labour market provides only very limited opportunities for them to engage in wage labour.
Elsewhere, initiatives are being taken to help communities build their resilience to the effects of climate change. Gradually, we are learning more about the methods to strengthen local adaptation capacity. This issue of Capacity.org looks at some of the lessons emerging from these initiatives.
From a community perspective, the use and relevance of scientific insights are still too limited and need to be improved. Ronak Shah, Shaika Rakshi and Peter Goedhart write about the scientific models they worked with in India. These models make projections 30 years into the future, which is a time frame with limited relevance for communities that are facing many other factors with a short-term impact on their resource base, including land rights and increased pressure on that land as a result of population growth.
Another problem is that the type of scientific information researchers are interested in differs from what communities need. Samuel Carpenter, Emma Visman, Arame Tall and Dominic Kniveton argue that the most relevant information for farmers is not easily accessible to them, while other information – deemed relevant by researchers – is accessible. What’s more, scientific information is difficult to understand for communities and practitioners who do not have the scientific background to interpret the information. Carpenter and colleagues present methods for researchers to engage with communities in a different way
Policies and practices need to differentiate between categories of households within a community depending on how they make a livelihood, and they have to be fine-tuned to the specific needs of these groups. The vulnerability of communities to climate change is not evenly distributed. Lisa Schipper explains that those in a community whose livelihoods depend directly on natural resources are usually more vulnerable than those who make a living in other sectors.
Therefore ‘blanket’ policies to help communities develop their adaptation capacity may not be equally useful for all members of the community. Different groups need different types of support, tailored to their specific situation. That is why adaptation to climate change cannot be planned entirely by professionals centrally but requires community participation in all stages of the process.
Only through community participation will it be possible to find out who needs what type of
support and at which stage. In the guest column, Jacques Somda and Annita Annies argue that the
first generation of national adaptation programmes in Africa were largely ineffective because of a
lack of community participation.