Pachauri opens door to new climate adaptation science

A new approach to tackling climate change in developing countries may win greater recognition, thanks to support from the head of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Speaking yesterday at the close of the 5th International Conference on Community-Based Adaptation to Climate Change held in Bangladesh, Dr Rajendra Pachauri announced that its findings could be included in the adaptation chapters of the Fifth Assessment Report. This IPCC guidance for global decision-makers is due to be published in 2014.

The conference keynote speaker, Dr Ian Burton, Professor Emeritus at the University of Toronto, explained that adaptation to the impact of climate change has become increasingly urgent as international efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions continue to flag.

Interviewed by OneWorld, Burton said: “when we started talking about climate change seriously in the 1990s, people thought that reducing greenhouse gases would not be so difficult. They also thought that climate change would evolve somewhat more slowly.”

Community-based adaptation addresses the question of how to assist people who are most vulnerable to climate change. The most serious impacts are predicted for rural regions of the world’s poorest countries where household resources are already stretched to their limits.

Champions of the community-based approach harbor doubts about top-down solutions involving national action plans implemented by inefficient layers of government bureaucracy.

They favor support for village communities who already have extensive experience of coping with unpredictable weather patterns. According to Charles Ehrhart of the development agency Care International, “these projects are empowering communities to engage with district-level funding and financial allocation processes.”

Speaking to OneWorld, Dr Pachauri gave his own endorsement: “adaptation has to come from the grassroots level. It has to be community-based,” he said.

Similar sentiments have been circulating amongst other UN disciplines. Last month the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Olivier De Schutter, told a Stockholm conference: “it is very important to move from a macro approach to hunger.”

A micro approach to climate adaptation was the essential message from the Dhaka conference, which was jointly organized by London-based International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) and the Bangladesh Centre for Advanced Studies.

In advance of the formal proceedings, delegates were dispatched to all corners of Bangladesh, acknowledged in global climate change risk assessments to be the world’s most vulnerable country.

Examples of community-based adaptation demonstrated in these field visits included a cyclone shelter built by villagers, houses raised on stilts and crops cultivated in floating bamboo rafts.

Back in the conference hall, the gathering of over 300 senior academics, researchers and international NGO executives was advised by Dr Pachauri to collate the results of their pilot projects as scientific evidence suitable for peer review. He said that the timetable for production of the next IPCC report permits only a “short window of opportunity” for assessment of new work.

At stake is access to a share of international climate finance promised at the Cancun climate conference last December. New funding for developing countries could rise to $100 billion per annum by 2020.

To achieve the scientific rigor necessary to gain the scrutiny of the IPCC, the conference had to address one formidable obstacle. Community-based adaptation is very difficult to define or measure.

The impact of climate change has not created a new category of poverty which can be isolated and counted. Instead, it aggravates existing risks and insecurities associated with food, water, health and energy.

Adapting to the threat of global warming therefore typically demands more determined delivery of existing poverty reduction and disaster risk programs rather than ring-fenced climate endeavors.

The big donors are under pressure to deliver results for taxpayers which can be expressed in simple terms. Additional funds for climate change expect reports of additional numbers of people helped.

One of the conference sessions attempted to tackle this issue with the provocative title “measuring adaptation: alternatives to quantitative approaches.” But a representative of a key donor, UK Aid, was unconvinced. “I have not heard a single quantitative indicator,” she grumbled, “the minister will not consider this.”

Addressing the closing session, Dr Saleemul Huq, Senior Fellow at IIED, acknowledged the point. “The question of what is CBA, and how do we define it and measure it, this is something that the community itself is still struggling with and we need to think about,” he said.

Nevertheless, the conference ended on a positive note. “Each of the session theme leaders has agreed to be the lead author in a book…… which will be published hopefully early next year in time to be cited and used in the 5th Assessment Report of the IPCC,” said Dr Huq.

Next week a number of the delegates will attend the next round of UN climate talks in Bangkok, seeking to persuade international negotiators to give more serious attention to climate adaptation in general, and community-based adaptation in particular.


this article was first published in the OneWorld section of Yahoo World News