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FEATURE: How can research programmes foster wider climate resilience?

Lucia Scodanibbio met researchers from the Building Resilience and Adaptation to Climate Extremes and Disasters (BRACED) programme to reflect on whether their experiences in building communities’ climate resilience can be scaled up to wider levels. The experience of BRACED and others raises questions about how major research programmes can be most effective.

“What do we know about climate resilience and what do we need to do?”

This is the question I was asked to answer during one of the concluding panels of the BRACED (Building Resilience and Adaptation to Climate Extremes and Disasters) final learning event, held in Nairobi at the end of February 2019. Many of the sessions I attended had posed more questions than answers. But I had also been privileged to hear about the many actions that had taken place on the ground to support communities from Mauritania to Nepal to become more resilient to the impacts of climate change.

From putting in place financial mechanisms to ease the mobility of livestock herders across a number of West African countries, to supporting farmers with access to markets, value-adding initiatives and climate information, the numerous projects reached thousands of community members in more than 10 countries. I was also impressed by the rigorous and exhaustive monitoring and evaluation mechanisms that the programme had put in place and thought about the mutiny that would have caused, had we tried it in ASSAR (the action research project on climate resilience that I have coordinated for the past few years).

More than anything, I attended the learning sessions to see what reflections were emerging at the end of this massive programme, and how those compared to ours in the Collaborative Adaptation Research Initiative in Africa and Asia (CARIAA). We reflected on the conflict that inevitably emerges when people from different personal and institutional cultures, organisational mandates, scales and geographies are brought together. We discussed the risks associated when funds are disbursed across partners with varying capacity levels and how to mitigate those; and the value for money of such an endeavour.

Perhaps this last question is the biggest question that churned around in my mind, considering the huge investment made in the BRACED programme – more than 100 million pounds – and similarly, in the research programme I had worked on, or many others being implemented in parallel. Are research consortia worth it? Under which circumstances? What benefits do they yield? For whom? At what cost?

This seemed like an important reflection for our funder, the UK Department for International Development (DFID), and many others that invest in these large-scale collaborative programmes that have very high transaction costs and – as far as I can tell – very difficult-to-quantify benefits whose sustainability will only be determined with time.

So, as many of these programmes are currently coming to an end – CARIAA in 2018, BRACED and FCFA (Future Climate for Africa) in 2019 – what do we know, and what do we need to do next? These are the reflections I shared during the panel:

–          We know that the problem we are dealing with is urgent. The 1.5 degree report that was released in October 2018 was clear: we have 12 years to act. In the semi-arid regions where ASSAR worked, the time is less. When the global average temperature reaches 1.5 degrees, in Mali and Botswana it will already be over two degrees. The impacts that will be felt on agriculture and food systems, water resources, health and fisheries will be substantial. We therefore know that the need for action is urgent.

–          We know that people are already adapting, in many ways, and we know some of the enablers of adaptation and enablers for becoming more resilient. These include access to climate information, being part of an association or network, or involvement of the private sector. We also know some of the barriers: such as fragmented governance systems, power structures, or patriarchal norms that keep women marginalised. We have lots of evidence, from a number of different research projects such as CARIAA, FCFA and others. We also have considerable experience from the implementation of projects on the ground, such as from BRACED, ASAP (The Adaptation for Smallholder Agriculture Programme ) and numerous others. We therefore already know many of the answers.

So, what do we need to do?

–          Firstly, we need to talk to each other and learn, with humility, openness and in the spirit of addressing the huge challenges humankind faces. The research consortia have a role to play by answering the remaining knowledge gaps highlighted by the implementation consortia’s actions on the ground. The implementation consortia can learn from the rigorous findings of the academics that shed light on why interventions have failed in the past, or challenge assumptions about who the most vulnerable are. The policy-oriented consortia need to be informed by both ground realities and researchers’ findings.

–          We then need to build on the actions that have taken place through these different programmes. Keep disseminating research findings – such as through the CDKN (Climate Development Knowledge Network) – and influencing policy and practice with these. Keep strengthening the actions that have taken place on the ground, without reinventing the wheel; and scaling up their impact.

–          However, we also need to be more challenging and innovative. We need to contest the power structures that keep the marginalised marginalised, and that prevent action on climate where it is most needed, including on climate change mitigation. This does not necessarily imply through conflict. On the contrary, we need dialogue, especially working with different actors, those that do not attend our meetings and conferences. We need to use different tools, such as power analyses to be able to understand the dynamics at play in the political economy; scenarios and adaptation pathways, to think together about the future differently; but also more creative and innovative tools, including theatre and games. In the end, it is only through exploring these challenges in different, dynamic ways, that we may reach some answers and question some of our myths and dominant paradigms.

–          But for this, we need to re-think our timeframes. Donors cannot expect to achieve long-term impact by funding five-, or ten-year projects, especially when considering the systemic challenges we are talking about. Similarly, it takes time to build the relationships and trust that are needed to create ownership by the varied actors that will need to get together to co-develop these different responses.

Finally, we need to be ready to experiment and fail. And then to get up, learn from what went wrong, adapt and keep going.

But all of this needs to happen fast, as we only have a small window of opportunity to act.



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