18 March 2011

When Three Tribes Don’t Go to War

This week I was a participant in a World Bank-DFID-Economic Commission for Africa-IDS workshop on "Making social protection (SP) work for climate change adaptation (CCA) and disaster risk reduction (DRR)".

The key questions: should these three tribes (SP, CCA and DRR) work together to improve the ability of government and development partner agencies to support individuals, communities and states to manage risk and live with uncertainty? If so, what are the incentives to do so and the constraints holding us back?

The workshop was in Addis Ababa, where major investments in social protection are taking place (the Productive Safety Net Programme or PSNP), where natural disasters (e.g. droughts) are common and where climate change is thought to be changing rapidly.

Some conclusions:

1. Participants, drawn from the three tribes, thought that the commonalities of approaches far outweighed the differences. SP focuses on individuals and households, helping with current consumption and protecting against asset draw downs. CCA focuses on helping individuals, communities and societies anticipate and respond positively to changes brought by a changing climate. DRR helps societies minimize exposure to major shocks and helps them prepare for the impacts of those shocks. SP is best at dealing with individual and aggregate risks. DRR is aimed at aggregate shocks. CCA is about uncertainty at the aggregate level (i.e. we don’t know what the probabilities of the shocks are because their drivers are new).

2. The potential for the three tribes to combine productively was thought to be large, and that it was feasible in practice. The combination of tribal difference and relatedness would seem to make them natural partners. They are all concerned with enhancing risk management, the capacity to live with uncertainty and the advancement of human wellbeing. But, in practice, given the constraints of how agencies and programmes are organized, can overlaps be created which enhance the effectiveness of each? For example, is it possible to design a cash transfer programme to households and communities (SP) that helps to (1) build the capacity to adapt to climate change (e.g. diversification of livelihoods and income sources or the capacity of the community to act on imperfect climate projection information) and (2) strengthens the preparedness for natural disasters (e.g. investment in flood barriers, infrastructure and storage) and so, in turn, enhances social protection to make it “adaptive social protection”?

3. The incentives for working cross-tribally are not that clear. The transactions costs of working together are non-trivial (getting beyond the very serious levels of jargon, the clunky administrative procedures, and the need for relationship building), so what are the incentives to do so? Obviously we all want to make our own tribes better, but working with other approaches is risky. What are the drivers? Well, for SP and DRR, is one incentive to collaborate to get access to the growing climate finance streams? For CCA programme managers, is the key incentive to collaborate with SP to become integrated into development activities? For the DRR, might the incentives be an enhanced ability to demonstrate impact in a results based context? (By linking to continuous SP evaluations it should be possible to make plausible estimates of the value of, say, flood barriers if there is a flood during the period of evaluation.)

4. Impact assessment on climate change adaptation is going to have to go beyond business as usual. CCA poses challenges to standard impact assessment techniques. Does it make sense to randomly allocate an intervention that increases the capacity to deal with a stress that is not likely to appear in the treatment and control areas at the same level of intensity? Moreover, the cycles over which the payoffs to enhanced adaptive capacities are visible are long—much longer than political cycles. So one approach is to invest in a portfolio of adaptive capacities that seem to make sense for the community/region, but never really knowing which has been most effective. An additional appraoch is to try to construct plausible (but not definitive) answers to the question of which interventions perform best against a series of artificial stresses? Perhaps one way forward is to use the behavioural sciences to construct scenarios and “games” to analyse how different groups of people (including those most vulnerable and practitioners and policymakers) respond to different stresses in terms of the choices they make. Not perfect, but they may be able to give us some ex-ante assessments of which adaptive capacities best meet a portfolio of stresses in a given context.

5. We need to learn better from people who are facing these risks and uncertainties on an everyday basis. Vulnerable communities and households don’t know anything about these three tribes, they just try the best they can to survive and thrive in the presence of changing risks. We need to find better ways of learning from these experts.

As someone who would identify with the SP tribe, I can now see much better scope for collaboration, not war, between the tribes—and will look to do this in the context of IDS skills, partners and audiences.


Rachel Godfrey Wood said...

Hi Lawrence,

Before thinking about how adaptation goals should be linked to social protection policies, there needs to be more understanding, and communication, of the ways in which existing social protection policies already contribute to adaptation. As I´ll be suggesting at the upcoming conference at the Centre for Social Protection, existing cash transfer programmes are likely to already contribute to adaptation goals, mainly by building long-term adaptive capacity, increasing the options available for poor, facilitating new investments and migration, etc. At the moment we have an adaptation field which hasn´t really looked at the potential of existing social protection policies to provide a foundation for effective adaptation - and given that many of the most vulnerable countries to climate change are those which have the most limited social protection coverage, that surely needs to be corrected.

Beyond that, before looking at whether it is possible to link cash transfer programme more explicitly to adaptation, we need to ask whether this would actually be desirable. The added costs and difficulties of doing so could be significant, particularly given that these policies would need to be effectively implemented in areas where governance is a major issue. There may be a risk of over-burdening cash transfer programmes, or even detracting from their major strength:- that they leave a relatively high degree of decisions in the hands of recipients. Trying to make social protection contingent on what outsiders consider to be the best way to respond to climate change could be problematic, given that there is rarely enough information at the local level to consciously plan adaptation, and that climate change impacts will be highly contingent on local factors anyway. Perhaps the real challenge is not to look at how to modify social protection policies to better meet adaptation goals, but to look at how they interlink with additional adaptation policies (i.e. whether they provide a safety net which allows people to take better advantage of things like new seed varieties, raised houses, etc.) Although speculative, it may be that effective social protection is a pre-requisite for effective adaptation (which would make a strong case for the adaptation community to focus on social protection in countries where it is lacking before moving on to 'adaptation' policies per se). Anyway, hopefully the conference will provide an opportunity to further discuss these issues. Best,

Rachel Godfrey Wood

Taylor Higgins said...

I agree. Social and perhaps religious orientation division also hampers several Middle East countries in creating a proactive environmental protection plan. War and coal power also affects the climate. That was noted in the increasing temperatures that saw even weird weather patterns here in Australia. I saw my usage of dehumidifier sydney rise due to the heat wave.