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Assessing vulnerability and adaptive capacity to climate risks: methods for investigation at local and national levels

This paper presents the research and learning approach of a World Bank study, and offers emerging findings on policy, as well as institutional questions surrounding adaptation arenas in Bangladesh, Bolivia, Ethiopia, Ghana and Mozambique. It outlines the methodological approach of the social component of the World Bank’s Economics of Adaptation to Climate Change study, which features both village-level investigations of vulnerability and adaptive capacity and innovative, participatory scenario-development approaches that lead diverse groups at local and national levels through structured discussions using GIS-based visualisation tools to examine trade-offs and preferences among adaptation activities and implementation mechanisms.

The authors review new tools used in the Social Component of the study (including that of Participatory Scenario Development) which aim to amplify local voices in the national adaptation planning process and improve downward accountability.

The paper indicates that participatory scenario development approaches offer the following advantages:

  • access to practical knowledge and experience
  • understanding of problem perceptions and identification of new and challenging questions
  • bridging of gaps between the scientific communities and governments, business, and citizens, providing a cross-check of planning assumptions
  • improved communication between scientists and stakeholders, as well as facilitated collaboration and problem-solving
  • increased salience and legitimacy of the resulting scenarios, and more ready acceptance and utility of selected adaptation pathways by end-users.

The authors argue that applying participatory scenario development approaches helps in identifying locally relevant pathways of autonomous and planned adaptation in the context of development choices and decisions, as well as in informing actors on potential trade-offs, and possible consequences of adaptation actions.

The lessons learnt from design and implementation of the study are:

  • adaptation planning can be usefully coordinated with ongoing national policy reform agendas and discourse
  • planning across scales matters for pro-poor adaptation programming
  • identifying and gaining support for soft adaptation measures is a difficult but crucial task
  • political/economical variables are a key element that must be understood in planning for adaptation support efforts globally.