Postcard from Dhaka - Community-based adaptation demands to be heard

Postcard from Dhaka - Community-based adaptation demands to be heard

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Date: 1st April 2011
Type: Feature
Countries: Africa, Asia
Tags: adaptation, capacity-building, climate impacts, climate impacts, disaster risk reduction, planning, vulnerability, water

Community-based adaptation (CBA) is at a crossroads.

For a number of years, CBA has focused on a relatively small number of isolated projects which have had limited impact on the international development scene. But if CBA it is to make more of a splash, it’s going to have to ‘scale up’. This was the theme of the fifth conference on Community Based Adaptation (CBA5) in Dhaka, Bangladesh, which I attended at the end of March.

CBA5 saw 350 practitioners, academics and government representatives from over 60 countries come together to share experiences and help shape the fate of CBA. Reflecting the growing buzz surrounding the topic, the event drew in a number of high-profile players. On the first day they were treated to an impassioned speech by Sheikh Hasina, prime minister of Bangladesh, calling on participants to work together and seek routes for common action. And the last day saw Rajendra Pachauri, chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), urge participants to make greater efforts to publish and disseminate their knowledge of CBA to the wider scientific community.

A state of transition

We’re already making steps to answer this call. I noted a clear transition from past CBA conferences that featured a largely NGO practitioner base, to this one, which attracted the attention of academics and researchers. Their presence highlighted the importance of research and science in supporting CBA, and in providing the evidence base for scaling it up. Participants agreed that this will be especially important if CBA is to achieve one of its major goals of being acknowledged in the IPCC’s next assessment report (AR5),the flagship document for much of our understanding on climate change.

The conference covered a wide array of topics, with 23 separate thematic sessions. It started with a focus on definitions. Lisa Schipper, from the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) outlined some of the key terms in community-based adaptation, but urged the CBA community not to get too bogged down in the nitty-gritty of specific definitions that can act as a barrier to implementation. Charles Erhart from CARE highlighted how experiences in investing in development assistance over the past 60 years have shown that development will not work unless it maintains a focus of engagement at the local level.

Understanding adaptive capacity

On the Wednesday, it was my turn to present. I gave a talk on behalf of the Africa Climate Change Reliance Alliance (ACCRA), a project that receives financial contributions from CDKN, which formed part of a session on the monitoring and evaluation of adaptation. The presentation drew on ACCRA’s Local Adaptive Capacity framework (LAC) and built on insights from the project’s efforts to provide better evidence-based research into understanding the characteristics of adaptive capacity at the community level. Questions afterwards focused on the need to measure adaptive capacity, particularly if CBA is to attract the attention of international donors.

Determining CBA’s fate

So how is CBA going to achieve its objective of scaling up? Saleemul Huq, senior fellow at the International Institute for Environment and Development, suggested that one of the key drivers will be to ensure both vertical – across sectors – and horizontal – across scales – integration of CBA objectives into wider policy processes. In order to do this, CBA will need to win recognition at higher levels of policy-making. Heather McGray from the World Resources Institute, pointed to the need for action at the national level to support CBA within planning and operations. But Saleem was quick to point out that integration should not stop at the national level. It needs better engagement with the wider international climate arena: from the UNFCCC to the IPCC.

Doing this will not be easy, but the number of participants, the depth of debate and knowledge, and the high-profile turnout at CBA5 were testament to the rise in the importance of this topic. Community Based Adaptation is rapidly climbing up the climate change agenda, and is demanding to be heard.

Lindsey Jones, CDKN.

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