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OPINION: Community Based Adaptation – Keep it Simple!

In the first of a series of articles from the 8th CBA conference, Pratim Roy from Keystone Foundation, India, reflects on how CBA needs to use mainstream ideas and practices to have a transformational future.  

This was my first experience of the annual Community-Based Adaptation (CBA) conferences, this year held in Kathmandu, Nepal in late April. I was there to share learning from a CDKN-supported project exploring local access to the Green Climate Fund – a potential source of future funding for CBA initiatives. During this process I also had a chance to reflect on how the growing interest in CBA can contribute to national and global efforts to tackle climate change.

Firstly, “Community Based Adaptation: Financing Local Adaptation” is a great conference theme. All the ingredients, the players – NGOs, researchers, donors, Government – and the atmosphere were all there to make a great conference. Participants were also questioning and challenging the models and best practices being showcased – are they more aspirational than reality at a large scale?

While the discussion and interactions were very interesting, I was left wondering what it would take to make CBA truly exciting and transformative.

Some of the highlights of the conference for me were:

  • Financing options and opportunities for CBA are being brought in from all sides – e.g. international climate finance, private sector, national budgets – almost like new dresses being tried to the young ‘CBA’ bride!
  • New research and learning is coming to light, at the meso, macro and micro levels, about the informal power players and structures which influence CBA in particular which impact which adaptation actions will be funded.
  • Ecosystem–based adaptation approaches – this is another new entrant to the party – and how ecosystem adaptiveness and community-based adaptiveness are compatible is an interesting new debate.
  • The fabulous games on experiential lobbying gave an insight on how to understand and attract/distract people who will give funding for CBA.

All this and many more. Yet the parts do not seem to add up to a neat whole. Do we have too much expectation for what CBA can deliver? The annual gathering of CBA practitioners is now in its 8th year, has significant progress been made?

My first confusion lies in the fact that climate change is being treated with kid gloves, almost like a holy cow or something precious that should be treated with utmost care. If climate change and CBA remain isolated and not mainstreamed within other sectors, disciplines, fields, conversations including within business, academia, markets, trade and civil society – then it could continue to be perceived as something which only concerns scientists and negotiators.

What was missing during the conference was the utterance of the word “politics”. Governance was mentioned – but if there is no political buy-in, local financing of CBA in the long run will remain a distant dream.

The second thing that has kept me confused since the conference is the discussions on ecosystem services and the linkage of upstream and downstream. From our experience in India, communities that go up on the ‘wealth ladder’ are less adaptive, and less in tune with and sensitive to their environmental impact. For example, downstream communities who are rich refuse to believe in and pay for upstream softer ecological footprints and better aquifer recharge. Though they become less vulnerable, they lose adaptability. How I wish we had evidence–based research to show this trend. Communities who bear the brunt of climate change most, being the most vulnerable are also the most adaptive. We from outside, from safe surroundings and safety nets, have to use observational science, indigenous knowledge and information to track, research, document, analyse this trend and hopefully give a voice and make a case.

My last area of confusion is around the role and need for the private sector in local adaptation financing. There was a brilliant session at the conference on this question with good strong voices and experiences. But how to make the private sector accountable? It is my experience that governments often trust the private sector more than civil society organisations (CSOs) – why? In many countries, the level of scrutiny over CSOs has increased, which it hasn’t for private sector activities. Perhaps because they bring in more money. Civil society is interested in social change, and many Governments want to track and monitor this. But actually, the private sector also has a fundamental impact on our society.

What happens if the private sector comes into the community for profit-making purposes and makes a quick buck, but does not stay for the long term? I am told that large businesses are not interested in people and environment, and only a few medium and small scale companies invest in this stuff. A partnership between the private sector and civil society is possible, and could even be a good mix of cultures and skills. But, it can’t be based on profit-making mentality.  It has to be for a passion that goes beyond money. A two-way exchange of lifestyle thoughts and livelihood strategies that goes beyond climate change and corporate social responsibility.

Ultimately we need to simplify, and break the current walls of subject ownership and fiefdoms around CBA and climate change itself. Then climate change can be dealt with using mainstream actions and ideas. My message to the community of practice on CBA: Keep it simple!

We occasionally invite bloggers from around the world to provide their experiences and views. The views expressed here are those of the author, and not necessarily those of CDKN.

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