Key Conclusions on Climate Change Adaptation

Submitted by Andrew Maclean | published 31st Mar 2011 | last updated 17th Mar 2020

Decades of development theory and practice prove that a holistic, people-centred approach is the best path to effective and sustained poverty reduction. The challenges presented by climate change means that it’s also the only way to adapt. Elements that are crucial for adaptation are:

1. Investing in communities’ ability to shape, create, and respond to change by building adaptive capacity;

2. Empowering (and resourcing) local levels of government to be genuine agents of change for the communities they serve;

3. National planning that is informed by bottom-up vulnerability assessment in order to create an enabling environment for adaptation.

These are all identified elements of effective development that are frequently sidelined, but which adaptation demands be kept front and centre. Adaptation interventions are not necessarily new, but how you arrive at them and the transformational changes they seek to make certainly are. A robust decision-making approach must select interventions that, in combination:

Address current hazards, increased variability, and emerging trends;

Manage risk and uncertainty;

Build adaptive capacity.

Climate change forces a more holistic approach, not only to lift people out of poverty, but also to enable them to manage risk, uncertainty, and change, and to make them agents of their own destiny to shape, create, and respond to changes throughout their lives. Adaptation isn’t a choice between reducing general vulnerability and preparing for specific hazards, it is a process of assessing and reassessing conditions and information related to climate change impacts and to the factors that leave people unable to adapt.

To go beyond resilience, which deteriorates as conditions change, to transformational changes in the lives of people living in poverty in a changing climate demands enormous political will and investment. It demands flexibility and learning through every institution, from household to government. It demands an approach that combines bottom-up with top-down processes; local knowledge and scientific knowledge; reducing vulnerability and addressing impacts; specific responses and managing uncertainty; sustainable livelihoods, natural resource management and DRR approaches; change, and learning how to change. Climate change forces us to draw the strands together.

Source: C. Pettengell (2010) Enabling People to Live in Poverty to Adapt. Oxfam GB Research Report.