OPINION: Knowing the ‘who, what, where and when’ of climate change
“We need more information on this subject. We need to understand what we are facing before we can take action”
For most problems, particularly the emerging and difficult to solve ones like climate change, this is the valid response from policy-makers when faced with the question ‘so what shall we do’.
As a result there are donors funding, and academics implementing, numerous studies across the world trying to meet this demand. Whether these are risk assessments, vulnerability analyses, hazard maps, economic costings, or other work they are all trying to do the same thing: increase our understanding of the ‘who, what, where and when’ of climate change impacts now and in the future.
At the same time we see examples every day of when better information has not led to better decision-making. The most obvious and worrying is that despite reports like the World Bank’s warning of what a 4 degrees temperature increase would look like, no global deal to limit GHG emissions has been made. At the more micro level, new evidence on the environmental vulnerability of a stretch of land of the Bhagirathi river (as well as public pressure) caused the Government of India to declare it an ‘eco-sensitive zone’ (ESZ) but the Uttarakhand Government is contesting it.
For both examples there are many reasons why new evidence hasn’t led to action. CDKN has done a lot of work documenting and analysing the drivers and challenges to climate compatible development policy change. Beyond a lack of information, there are other barriers to action. This includes interest groups opposing change, a short-term perspective of decision-makers, and institutional constraints. Can a new piece of research on the scale and reality of climate change cut through these barriers?
Which leads to the depressing question of ‘why bother’? Is it really more information which will make the Government better able to take action, or are the constraints to action too great to overcome?
This question came into sharp focus last week when in Uttarakhand the first stakeholder workshop was convened for the process of designing the State Government’s vulnerability assessment of climate change for the state. Over the next couple of months an expert team led by ICF will be supporting the Government to decide what they want to achieve through this assessment, and how to do it.
This initiative originated in discussions CDKN has been holding with the State Government on how to support the implementation of the Uttarakhand Action Plan on Climate Change (UAPCC). They realised while drafting the document that they lacked sufficient information on where and how climate change will impact the state.
CDKN decided to invest in the process of actually designing the assessment which will hopefully look at both risk and opportunity. We hope that this will ensure the methodology and output is tailored to what will be useful and used.
We are fortunate to have the leading experts involved in the process, including INRM, the consultancy wing of IIT and IISC who have carried out similar assessments in Madhya Pradesh and all seven North East states in India. CDKN has also supported many such studies across the world. We have a great opportunity to make sure that this vulnerability assessment doesn’t end up collecting dust in Government offices, but influences investments and decisions. Some ideas for how to do this in Uttarakhand include:
Build political will through the process and output – The results of vulnerability assessments can put the issue of climate change on the agenda of politicians and bureaucrats. The objective should not be to scare people into action by portraying a doomsday scenario. Rather by putting forward a vigorous and reliable scientific assessment of risks and opportunities, decision-makers will be under pressure to respond. To make this happen the results need to be packaged in a way that attracts media attention, and is easily understood. It should also speak to those departments at the front line of climate change but not usually recipients of climate information – such as irrigation, animal husbandry and public works.
Go beyond identifying the problem, to looking at solutions – The UAPCC puts forward an initial set of actions that has been described as a ‘wish list’. The vulnerability assessment may be able to look at which of these will be the most effective, does not lead to maladaptation in another sector and needs to be prioritised. The Government of Uttarakhand rightly sees the UAPCC as a dynamic document which they will update and refine with the results of the assessment.
Address the governance challenge – There are many complicated institutional weaknesses which reduce the effectiveness of the policy-making and delivery system. For example, climate change is a cross-sector issue but coordination across departments is difficult to achieve. The results of the vulnerability assessment can be framed in such a way that highlights the inter-departmental linkages needed. The process of designing and delivering the assessment can also strengthen the coordination mechanisms, such as by working through the cross-sector UAPCC steering committee.
All of the above require the team who deliver the vulnerability assessment to take it to the next level. It cannot be left just as a piece of science, but the linkages to policy and action need to be built into the design. With this there is an opportunity to not only deliver a robust and compelling piece of evidence on climate change in the state, but also to address some of the barriers to turning information into policy and action.
There are many steps to take to ensure this vulnerability assessment leads to policy change which in turn leads to increased resilience for the most vulnerable in society. The Government, CDKN and our partners are committed to this journey, and we will be reporting here on our progress.
For more information on CDKN’s work in Uttarakhand contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Picture courtesy of Oxfam International @flickr creative commons