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FEATURE: Climate vulnerability assessment – CDKN’s experience in Uttarakhand

Climate vulnerability assessments should be the cornerstone of adaptation action and can play a key role in India’s State Action Plans on Climate Change, says CDKN Programme Manager Aditi Paul. Here, she reports how CDKN is supporting the Uttarakhand State Government to do a vulnerability assessment – that can generate action to save lives and livelihoods. Please also visit the companion article Seven top tips for vulnerability assessment with impact.

In the Indian state of Uttarakhand, CDKN is working with the State Government to meet its goals to produce a climate change vulnerability assessment. Our assessment is not just about the slow-onset impacts of climate change: we have expanded the scope of work to look at the risk of floods and landslides in recognition of the increased number of extreme events and their impacts in the state.

The vulnerability assessment is the first action by the Government from their State Action Plan on Climate Change (SAPCC). Our project aims to support the delivery of the plan.

An expert local supplier team (ICF, IISc, INRM, CHEA) together with State Government champions have designed a framework for the methodology.  It marries a data-rich, indicator-based approach from the ‘top down’, together with a bottom-up approach which involves the community in vulnerability mapping.

All partners agree that there is a risk that the vulnerability assessment will be a standalone initiative, rather than a decision-making tool which directly facilitates the delivery of the SAPCC. Therefore, we decided to draw upon the learning from other CDKN vulnerability assessments, from partners across the world, and to build on their expertise to forge an effective local process of our own.

CDKN’s learning initiative

A small group of expert CDKN partners was convened to act as a learning group for this initiative. This included drawing on the wisdom and experience of CDKN’s staff and partners who had guided vulnerability assessment processes in Cartagena, Colombia; Alto Cauca, Colombia; and in the Caribbean.  The learning group identified and developed two equally important parts, each complementing the other by providing inputs and outputs to each other:

  • The vulnerability assessment itself, and
  • A connected process of engaging stakeholders and institutionalising the findings of the assessment – ensuring that the findings are truly owned by the individuals and institutions who need to act on it.

Engaging stakeholders and encouraging institutions to ‘own’ the process

Engagement and institutionalisation are often the weakest part of vulnerability assessment approaches. They need to be given equal weight with the scientific process. A distinct strategy or plan is therefore required, perhaps multiple plans, to address different aspects of engagement and institutionalisation of the vulnerability assessment. Adequate time, resources and staffing should also be allocated for this activity.

In Uttarakhand, the engagement process has been multi-faceted. It has been important to engage with the State Government at all levels. This includes key ‘champions’ at the higher echelons, who will drive the uptake of vulnerability assessment findings in decision-making processes. It also includes the level of government officials below who will provide data and inside stories on both climatic and non-climatic factors that deepen vulnerability. They will carry on with the process even when the ‘champions’ shift position or move out.

The project team has been successfully engaging with the departmental heads and sector secretaries in a formal way through large workshops and small and focused group presentations, converting them into ‘champions’ to receive the vulnerability assessment results. At the onset, the project team engaged only with a nodal person from the government’s end. However, they soon realised that in order to strengthen ownership of the project, more sector champions had to be identified – and apart from sector champions, participation from the planning and finance departments is equally crucial. However, since the planning and finance departments deal less with pure science and ecosystem studies, the engagement has been necessarily kept broad for easy exchange of conversations and feedback.

Engaging with the bureaucrats a level below the champions has been more informal. On a day to day basis, the project team has explained its need for information, and has described how the data is being applied in the vulnerability assessment – as well as how the results will help government officers in planning. Both technical reports and easy-to-read policy briefs have been developed to engage with this group of the stakeholders. Knowledge products – such as short and easily-understood project briefs and presentations – have been the showstopper!

Engagement with legislators and politicians has been the most difficult dialogue so far. While their availability has always been constraining, political differences between ruling and opposition government has been necessarily kept out of the purview of the project.

In terms of engaging with the large community groups, the project team is working with local NGOs and networks of academic institutions. Formal partnership has been developed for local surveys and workshops. The objective of this engagement stream has been to share the methodology of conducting a vulnerability study, so that these groups can support government in reviewing and revising the findings of the vulnerability assessment with changing scenarios in future. Further, engagement with the community has been largely non-technical in nature, sharing the objectives and benefits of the study in the vernacular language.

Effective communications – secret of success

What’s been the secret to success in engaging audiences in Uttarakhand? As much as possible, we found that the communication work should use human interest and real life ‘stories’, which the Government and general public can relate to. Media is the most efficient tool for initiating public opinion and sharing concepts. We have used press releases and briefings to engage journalists and encourage coverage of the vulnerability assessment work. Journalists can also become allies in helping the project team to translate technical language and terminologies into more straightforward explanations for ‘everyday people’. For example, while interacting with communities, the concept of ‘vulnerability to climate change’ can be expressed as ‘loss of life and livelihood from flood and landslides’, as Uttarakhand is prone to these.

Acting on stakeholders’ feedback

CDKN and its partners’ experiences in running a climate vulnerability assessment in Uttarakhand really show why the project and process must be introduced to all stakeholders who may be impacted by climate change. A final and vital lessons learned has emerged from our experience, as we finalise the vulnerability assessment and move towards supporting the State Government of Uttarakhand in crafting climate adaptation guidelines. Our lesson and recommendation is this: informing climate-affected people about the project and gathering information from them about the vulnerability assessment is itself not enough. The project team needs to have a protocol, by which all communication and feedback from stakeholders is logged and incorporated appropriately in the vulnerability assessment.  Stakeholders need to know that they are being listened to. This will make them feel important, and recognised, and will encourage them to participate enthusiastically in the ongoing assessment process and its next steps.

Next steps

The learning group has urged CDKN and the Uttarakhand project team to:

  • Develop a common understanding, set of ‘principles’ of how vulnerability assessments can be used within a wider decision-making process to inform the follow-on work plan in Uttarakhand; and
  • Identify other inputs needed to support the positioning of the vulnerability assessment in the SAPCC, for example: capacity building and awareness raising; institutional strengthening etc.

Building on the comprehensive work we have done so far, we look forward to consolidating and publishing these next outputs, which can support the State Government in taking action in the years ahead.

Please keep up to date with our project progress here:

Vulnerability and risk assessment to support implementation of the Uttarakhand Action Plan on Climate Change

Image: Uttarakhand, 2013 floodwaters, credit Diariocritico de Venezuela,





















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