15 April 2013

A climate of distraction: Are current efforts to integrate climate change and development misdirected?

A guest blog from IDS research fellow Thomas Tanner

Climate change is now a mainstream development concern. Rightly so in my view – transforming to low carbon development pathways and adapting to change that cannot be prevented are critical to the welfare of billions of people, especially those in poverty.

But I’ve had a few niggling concerns for some time about whether our current efforts to tackle climate change in a development context, an issue which international policy makers will be grappling with today at the Dublin Climate Justice conference, are misdirected or counter-productive.  Maybe I’m playing devil’s advocate, and perhaps doing myself out of a career, but these are issues that need debate.

Firstly, we still seem to consistently focus on changing hazards rather than the changing development context that underpins how those hazards affect us (our vulnerability and resilience). In other words, we are always starting from rising temperatures and erratic rainfall rather than the lack of existing rainwater storage or inability of urban citizens to enjoy good drainage or access to medical services.

This is in part because of the privileged position of physical science and modelling in influencing policy-making. It also reflects the demands of the UN to show what element of impacts are specifically related to human-caused climate-change (known in the science as detection and attribution). This is underpinned by the demand to justify international finance that is over and above existing aid flows. The same force is pushing parallel debates around post- 2015 Sustainable Development Goals and UN global climate change agreement.

Secondly, in treating climate change as different, we are too often creating parallel institutions and practices that ignore many of the lessons from the wider development community. These lessons include the long history of reducing the human causes of underlying risk factors (pdf), the role of social protection mechanisms in bolstering resilience to climate shocks, and efforts to ensure that our responses are culturally and developmentally appropriate rather than focused only on maximum greenhouse gas emissions reductions (exemplified in fuel efficient cook-stoves).

Thirdly, our standard response to tackling climate change is as a managerial response, breaking it down into a technical issue. Get the right information and technical assistance to the right people and, lo and behold, policies and actions will adjust to become low-carbon and climate resilient. This ignores both the fact that behaviour is often not rational, not least when it comes to managing risks, and that policy change is contested, mediated by political economy and politics. It also turns attention away from more radical solutions such as addressing over-consumption. We need to better understand the political factors that mediate trade-offs between the achievement of climate change and development objectives, and engage with radical and behavioural approaches.

This is not to say that no-one is working on aspects of human vulnerability (witness the growing community based adaptation community), or trying to mainstream climate change into development, or asking questions about how to adapt to more catastrophic levels of climate change given the failure of international efforts to date, or challenging the dominance of a ‘post-politics’ managerial approach to development. It’s just that these seem to be sideshows next to the main act which continues to treat climate change as something isolated and separable from wider development processes. Should we just let development take care of climate change?

To explore these issues further, the IDS Climate Change Team is hosting a Sussex Development Debate to discuss how to tackle these issues in light of new post 2015 development and climate change frameworks. The debate is open to all and will also be available to watch live on the IDS website.


Anonymous said...

Lawrence Haddad is correct to ask about the underlying state of development. Climate change is the all too convenient whipping boy for the failure of privatised utilities and inefficient bureaucracies to provide the infrastructure they are responsible for maintaining at adequate levels.

The future is as uncertain as the science and temperatures may fall just as likely as rise. Many more excess deaths in the UK result from unexpectedly cold winters than from unexpectedly hot summer. A million since 1980 in fact.

Roger Tattersall
BA(Hons)Phil/Hist Sci
HND Mech & Prod Eng.

Anonymous said...

Lawrence Haddad is correct to ask about the underlying state of development. Climate change is the all too convenient whipping boy for the failure of privatised utilities and inefficient bureaucracies to provide the infrastructure they are responsible for maintaining at adequate levels.

The future is as uncertain as the science and temperatures may fall just as likely as rise. Many more excess deaths in the UK result from unexpectedly cold winters than from unexpectedly hot summer. A million since 1980 in fact.

Roger Tattersall
BA(Hons)Phil/Hist Sci
HND Mech & Prod Eng.

John Townend,MA ,IDS 2012 said...

Hi Lawrence,
I detect a concern that "climate change' agendas will divert much needed aid financial resources away from more established and effective policies and processes.
I like your comment about parallel institutions. I think it is critical that any institution created specifically fro climate change enhances coordination and creates awareness of the changes that are coming and their likely impact. A particular role being to alert the poor and more vulnerable communities which are least able to cope with the impacts of climate change.
Here in the Caribbean and other small island states, climate change is already having an impact; witness the breaking down of sea walls in Guyana, which is already half a metre below sea level etc .The aid flows need to ensure the survival of the state in this case alone are horrendous and well beyond the capacity or interest of major donors. And yet the Climate Change Unit in the Office of the President is doing nothing to encourage people to move inland or more ambitiously plan for a new Capital City.
The only saving grace about "climate change" is that it is happening slowly, so there is time to adjust approaches, which hopefully will happen after the forthcoming conferences.
Dont worry about your job man- your safe!

Lawrence Haddad said...

Thanks all for the comments- Tom Tanner is the author of the blog entry. He is at t.tanner@ids.ac.uk feel free to contact him directly too.. best, Lawrence

Dr Kate Crowley said...

Drawing on what is happening on the ground with our partners and the wider INGO sector I would like to just highlight a few key aspects motivating development agencies such as CAFOD to mainstream climate change.

As a Disaster Risk Reduction Advisor I am busy preparing for the Global Platform for Risk Reduction in May. This important event will shape the future international agreement for DRR and it is vital that any future framework /agreement has a focus on those people it aims to help (CAFOD position paper for post-2015 HFA http://www.cafod.org.uk/Policy-and-Research/Environment-and-climate-change ). This may seem like an obvious statement but in reality this is often not the case, if it were then international agreements such as the Hyogo Framework for Action would have created real change on the ground that could be measured and monitored or at the very least within the last 8 years ensured the participatory and inclusive development of national DRR implementation plans and policies in all countries that signed up for to the framework, this is sadly not the case.

Frameworks therefore must be embedded in the realities of those who are the poorest and the most vulnerable in addition to those who can make real change at the local level. And as pointed out to the panel by a student at IDS these frameworks must consider the complexity that a local level framing means for example, local level corruption or power dynamics can be a barrier to implementation.

These frameworks must also ensure sustainability and therefore consider future risks including climate change. Despite the uncertainty surrounding climate change it is such a widespread and ‘game-changing’ threat to development that it is being integrated alongside Disaster Risk Reduction and sustainable livelihoods efforts. More recently the framing of this integration has been termed resilience.

The term resilience is being used more frequently and now in many development agencies resilience is being used to describe the integrated approach between DRR/Climate change adaptation, livelihoods and other core sectors. Although this concept is complex it is helping our agencies to develop programmes that better reflect the realities on the ground. However we are still learning and because of this agencies are working together to share our experiences. An example of this collaboration is the PPA Resilience Learning Group (also known as the Interagency Resilience Group) was created by DfID and brings together over 30 INGOs. This year the group is focussing their efforts on a better understanding the application of resilience programming in complex settings, the measurement of resilience and our organisational change for resilience.

Ultimately our programmes are grounded and shaped by those we work with and for, we are accountable to them and we ask that future international agreements echo this approach. In reality and therefore in our programming climate change is rarely treated differently, given a separate framework or approach instead it is mainstreamed in to all our programmes. We are working towards integrated programming, and although this challenges our systems, donors and international framings it is necessary.

Nicola Ranger said...

Thanks Tom for raising this important question. What is overlooked here is the fact that adaptation and development are not the same, and that there are considerable risks to treating them as such in our policies and investments. While adaptation should be ‘mainstreamed’ into development policy, managing the risks from climate change will require specific and additional, and in some cases, urgent, measures to tackle those risks.

Climate change calls for a paradigm shift in that way that we manage risks as a society.

- Firstly, levels of risk are and will continue to change. If we don’t take account of changing risk, societies will become more and more vulnerable. We need a shift toward a more forward-looking, long-term approach in the way we make decisions today. We need to look ahead because in some cases, like long-lived infrastructure, it is cheaper and easier to take account of long-term risks upfront rather than making retrofits later. If we don’t do this, the value for money of many of our investments will decline. Focusing only on the near-term could also commit us to greater and difficult-to-reverse risks down the line. For example, mismanaged urbanisation ‘locks’ us into a more vulnerable future.

- The second challenge is that the speed and scale of changing risk could be greater than seen before. This year the World Economic Forum ranked a “failure of adaptation” as the largest environmental threat faced by humanity. Climate change will increase the intensity of weather-related shocks, like droughts, storms and flooding. The existing pressures on our food, water and ecosystems will be aggravated by climate change. For the most vulnerable, dealing with these risks will require transformational changes in where people live and their livelihoods.

For us today, this means we need a greater focus on anticipatory action – acting ahead of time. We know that the benefits of acting before a disaster strikes far outweigh the costs, particularly in terms of lives saved. Yet, to date, much of our risk management has been reactionary. Where risk is increasing, the consequences of not acting ahead of time are much greater. Also, transformational adaptations will take time and so, we need to think and act ahead.

- Finally, future risks are deeply uncertain. If we do not account for this in decisions today, it can lead us to take the wrong choices, leading to greater costs, wasted investments and bigger risks down the line. We need a new approach to our development investments that is robust and adaptable to future conditions. Long-term investments cannot be a one-off, but must be flexible and progressive.

The new paradigm outlined above is not rocket-science and should be ‘just good development’. Yet, in practice, it raises many fundamental challenges for traditional development and for those that fund development. Traditional development is focused on achieving immediate gains. Projects are typically only 3 – 5 years in length and are required to demonstrate ‘impact’ within that period. In contrast, adaptation is often seen as bringing immediate costs with only long-term and uncertain benefits.

Development is a crucial ‘low-regrets’ adaptation – measures like improving education and health systems, building effective institutions, increasing access to markets and reducing poverty will reduce vulnerability and build adaptive capacity today and in the future. But what traditional development misses is tackling the long-term issues – identifying where we need to change our actions now to avoid locking in higher risks and costs in the future. A number of reviews of developing funding, including the WB’s portfolio, finds that adaptation investments to date tend to tackle the ‘low hanging fruit’ and fail to tackle the long-term risks. This is not a chance that the most vulnerable can afford to take.

vkonnect said...

I want to know about"underlying state of development"
Nature is a very precious to every one and climate change is one of its marvelous aspect!