The role of people's assessments

Saleemul Huq and Hannah Reid discuss the crucial role that local people should have in the climate change policy making process.

Saleemul Huq is Director of the Climate Change Programme at the International Institute for Environment and Development in London, United Kingdom, and Chairman of the Bangladesh Centre for Advanced Studies in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

Hannah Reid is a Research Associate working with the Climate Change Programme at the International Institute for Environment and Development.

The flow of information and analysis feeding into policy making, both globally and nationally, in the climate change arena over the past decade and a half has undergone a number of evolutionary changes.

In this article, we discuss an attempt to characterize the flow of information that has fed into policy making. We focus particularly at the national level input in developing countries over this period with a view to assessing the role that local peoples assessments have played or have not played. We then look at how such assessments can play a more integral part in future.

Figure 1: The flow of information.

Information flow into policy making can be characterized somewhat crudely as involving either expert assessments or local peoples assessments. This can clearly be seen in Figure 1. Relationships between policy makers, local people and experts can be seen as two-way streets with information flowing in either direction between each group of stakeholders. These streets are each discussed separately below:

1. Experts to policy makers

This is the traditional route through which information and analysis has flowed in the climate change arena. At the global level, periodic assessments by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have provided information for policy makers who in turn decided to negotiate and ratify the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). These periodic assessments have also informed the UNFCCC process through the annual Conferences of Parties.

A similar expert-driven assessment has also been the basis of policy development at the national level. National communications have been submitted to the UNFCCC by each signatory country, both developed as well as developing countries.

These national expert assessments have been in two broad areas. First, there have been greenhouse gas emission inventories and mitigation strategies. All the countries that have signed and ratified the UNFCCC are obliged to undertake national assessments of their respective countrys greenhouse gas emissions from different sectors such as transport, industry, land use and forestry, and so on. These assessments have been done through a common use of various tools, models and emission factors as provided by IPCC guidelines. In addition, countries have carried out assessments of how they could reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. These have included suggested mitigation strategies for reducing future emissions through national policy interventions.

Second, there have been climate change impacts, vulnerability and adaptation assessments. In addition to emissions inventories and mitigation strategies, countries have also been required to carry out assessments of the potential national impacts of climate change and to identify the most vulnerable sectors, regions and populations within each country. This has been done using the IPCCs seven-step guidelines for impacts assessment, based on global climate change scenarios from different general circulation models. Countries have then been required to come up with adaptation strategies, strategies for coping with the identified adverse impacts of climate change.

Since the Seventh Conference of the Parties in Marrakech in November 2001, the least developed countries have been provided with special funding. This new fund called, the Least Developed Countries Fund, was created in order to carry out National Adaptation Plans of Action over the next year or so. See Tiempo, Issue 44/45, September 2002, and Issue 46, December 2002, for more detailed information regarding this fund. The National Adaptation Plans of Action guidelines provide for a combination of top-down as well as bottom-up analytical approaches.

2. Policy makers to experts

At the global level, there is a significant flow of information from global policy makers to the UNFCCC through the latters Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice. Through this Subsidiary Body, experts are brought in to provide advice and assessments on various issues, including, but not exclusively so, through the IPCC. To a great extent, the research agenda in the climate change field is, therefore, driven by the demands of the international policy-making community.

At the national level, there is information flow from policy makers to experts on various issues, for example, on national mitigation strategies. However, the extent to which countries are able to carry out analyses depends on their scientific and expert capacities. Thus, whereas most developed countries are able to draw on their national experts to provide information and respond to requests, most developing countries, with a few notable exceptions, are unable to do this as effectively.

3. Local people to experts

Thus far in the climate change arena, there has been little opportunity to incorporate information from local people into expert assessments, as most of the analysis has been of a top-down technical nature requiring expert input only. However, as the process evolves, especially the development of adaptation strategies, a recognition that there needs to be greater input from local people into policy making processes is growing. This is particularly important at the national level but is also crucial at the global level.

The impacts of climate change are unlikely to occur randomly and are likely to be most adverse for the most vulnerable regions and communities. In order to adequately assess vulnerability, information must, therefore, be specific to regions and communities, and will need to include local peoples own assessments.

Figure 2: Assessing climate change impacts and vulnerability at different sectors and levels, harmonizing top-down and bottom-up information flows.

The need for such assessments is even stronger when adaptation strategies are developed. Such strategies should be based on peoples existing capacities to deal with climate related stresses and how those existing capacities can be strengthened. Therefore, to carry out the next generation of adaptation assessments and provide useful advice to policy makers it will be increasingly necessary to combine both the traditional top-down approaches with more bottom-up approaches that include local peoples assessments and inputs. Figure 2 illustrates this process.

Local input into expert assessments will also be important under the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). Established under the Kyoto Protocol agreements, the CDM has two primary goals. One is to achieve emission reduction targets by allowing developed countries to take credits from CDM projects in developing nations. The other goal is to assist developing countries who host CDM projects to achieve sustainable development.

Sustainable development should occur at local, regional and global levels but, at the project level in particular, sustainable development is more likely to be achieved if local people are involved. For example, a monoculture forest might be an effective carbon sink, but is likely to provide fewer benefits to local people than a mixed age, mixed species forest.

4. Experts to local people

The importance of information flow from experts to local people in the climate change arena is increasing recognized. The latest IPCC reports, for example, have been widely publicized and made available through different media all over the world and summary reports are increasingly translated into different languages. Article 6 of the UNFCCC also requires countries to make information on climate change issues available to the general public.

In the mitigation arena, there is clearly a well-understood need to make all the relevant actors aware of their respective responsibilities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. While this is most important for the Annex I countries who have committed to reducing their emissions under the Kyoto Protocol, it is also important for developing countries who may wish to take advantage of opportunities available through the CDM.

A number of awareness-raising and capacity-building exercises have been carried out in many developing countries. These exercises inform the local people, as well as any relevant stakeholder groups, about the needs for mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions.

In the vulnerability assessment and adaptation arena, information flow from experts to local people is also important. People who are most likely to suffer the adverse impacts of climate change, both in developed as well as in developing countries, need to be provided with the necessary information for them to be able to take precautionary measures to deal with these impacts. There is, therefore, a growing emphasis on developing tools to provide local people and relevant stakeholder groups with the information needed for them to take action.

5. Local people to policy makers

This communication channel is essentially a political one through which people are able, or unable, to inform policy makers about their concerns. Its effectiveness is heavily dependent on the forms of governance and democracy practised in different countries. At the global level, the concerns of people are fed into the policy making process primarily through non-governmental organizations and other civil society-based organizations participating in and lobbying at the Conference of the Parties. These efforts have, at times, been extremely effective.

At the national level, however, efforts to provide inputs into national policy making have been relatively unsuccessful to date. It is possible that, with growing public awareness of the issues, mechanisms to provide policy makers with inputs from local people may improve. The problem is most severe in developing countries where the most vulnerable communities are, almost by definition, the poorest and, hence, least able to communicate with and affect policy makers.

6. Policy makers to local people

This communication channel has been characterized by policy makers, both at global and national levels, taking decisions and informing, or imposing decisions upon, local people. There have been few attempts to date to provide local people with relevant information and knowledge. This is gradually changing, and governments in both developed and developing countries are increasingly trying to provide local people with the information they require to take necessary actions, or at least to explain national decisions to them.

The challenge

It is clear from the evolution of issues in the climate change arena that the focus has moved over time from experts and scientists to policy makers, initially globally and then nationally, and that only of late has the need to inform and involve local people been recognized.

Climate change is increasing being recognized as a development as well as a scientific issue. Recognition is growing, both amongst experts as well as policy makers of the need to inform and obtain inputs from local people and communities in order to deal with the problem of climate change. Local involvement is particularly important when assessing vulnerability and adaptation priorities, and requirements for sustainable development under the CDM.

Innovative approaches for assessing and integrating local peoples priorities have emerged in recent years. Participatory approaches offer important ways forward and have shown that local people often have much more sophisticated technical knowledge than anticipated. Indeed, many local communities have already developed systems, such as rapid deconstruction of their houses in times of flood, that enable them to cope better with climate impacts.

Donors, experts and policy and decision-makers need to recognize the added value and importance of local assessments and ensure they are factored into the terms of reference of routine assessments. Participatory processes can be costly but are necessary. Stakeholders should aim to overcome the funding, timing and institutional constraints that so often result in reliance on expert assessments alone in order to ensure improved quality of decision-making in terms of effectiveness, equity and environmental sustainability.

Further information
Saleemul Huq, International Institute for Environment and Development, 3 Endsleigh Street, London WC1H 0DD, UK. Fax: +44-20-73882826. Email: Web:
Hannah Reid, International Institute for Environment and Development, 3 Endsleigh Street, London WC1H 0DD, UK. Fax: +44-20-73882826. Email: hannah.reid@iied org. Web: