Adaptation in developing countries

Kilipada Chatterjee presents tools that can help developing countries identify appropriate measures in adapting to climate change.

The author is Head of the Climate Change Centre in Development Alternatives based in New Delhi, India.

Adaptation is a necessary strategy to complement any climate change mitigation effort. Human and natural systems will, to some degree, adapt automatically to climate change. But planned adaptation must supplement automatic adaptation. Policies are needed that reduce stress on resources, improve management of the environment and increase the welfare of the poorest members of society.

Policies such as these have many benefits. They can simultaneously advance sustainable development and equity, enhance adaptive capacity and reduce vulnerability to climate change and other natural stresses.

The developing countries, with more than 75 per cent of the worlds population, will be worst affected by climate change. These countries have very little capacity to adapt and cope with climate change due to various factors such as low levels of wealth, technology, education, information, skills, infrastructure and access to resources.

Although the objective of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere, economic and social development together with eradication of poverty in the developing countries are also implicit in the Convention. Under the UNFCCC agreements, developed country parties committed themselves to assist the vulnerable developing country parties in meeting the costs of adaptation to the adverse effects of the climate change.

It is widely accepted that enhancing adaptive capacity involves national efforts similar to the principles of sustainable development, such as social development, economic development, environmental protection and conservation and technological innovation and development.

To decide which adaptation opportunities will have the greatest value, emphasis must be given to characteristics such as resilience, critical thresholds and coping ranges. These attributes are highly dependent on regions and nations. In this respect, lessons learned from past experiences regarding climate variability and change provide an essential understanding of the processes for adaptation to climate change. All societies are, to some extent, adapted to their past experience of climate change and variability.

The ability to adapt clearly depends on the state of development of a region or a country. Underdevelopment fundamentally constrains the adaptive capacity due to a lack of resources to hedge against extreme events. It is not that the risk is unknown nor that the methods for coping do not exist. The problem is due to the lack of resources needed to guard against these events.

When framing policies on adaptation, there should be more weight given to short-term policies which can be taken up immediately. These can then be accompanied by long-term policies for activities that have a project life of perhaps 30 to 40 years or more.

Tools that may be useful for developing countries for adaptation to climate change include the following:

  • increasing the resilience and coping capacity of communities;
  • education, training and public awareness;
  • sustainable livelihoods practices;
  • cooperative efforts;
  • insurance;
  • technological intervention; and,
  • research on adaptation.

Tool 1: Increasing the resilience and coping capacity at the community level

Adaptation strategies for developing countries need to be considered from their unique perspective. For example, technological interventions are considerably high in cost. Technological intervention, therefore, may not be the best solution for such countries. What is needed is to provide the common individual with an understanding of vulnerability to climate change and the different measures possible to reduce losses from the adverse effects of climate change.

The common individual has to be told in clear and simple terms what is meant by natural capital, social and political capital, human capital, physical capital and financial capital. These terms have to be explained so that the individual can fully understand these concepts and appreciate, assimilate and apply them to their sustainable livelihood processes so as to strengthen the adaptation process. There is, within this, a strong correlation between sound natural resource management and poverty reduction.

Tool 2: Education, training and public awareness

First and foremost, it is necessary to develop national and regional processes in preparing material to educate, train and develop public awareness. This has to be done under a multi-tier approach. Literature should be produced collating the traditional knowledge of the common people which should be integrated into simple response strategies. Such literature must be written in the language and vocabulary the community would easily understand with illustrations they are familiar with.

Simple books on what is climate change and how it affects the community should be produced explicitly for use in schools. Students should be taught how we, together, can save the environment for our benefit and for the benefit of future generations. These materials should be part of the school curriculum in primary, middle and higher levels.

Another tier of activity should be the involvement of middle- and high-level policy makers, decision makers and planners. These people, at both the national and regional level, should be educated and trained so that they can integrate climate change concerns in all policy and planning activities and ensure that development is undertaken in a sustainable manner.

National, regional and district seminars should be organized at regular intervals to ensure rapid dissemination and exchange of information amongst various groups of people, communities and civil societies. This would accelerate the process of education and training because officials, professionals and teachers in school could update and exchange their knowledge and experiences.

Education, training and public awareness must also take advantage of all forms of communication media such as local newspapers, simple fact sheets, television, radio, village dramas and street plays.

Tool 3: Sustainable livelihoods practices

Sustainable livelihood practices give dignity and self-esteem to a community. As well as creating purchasing power, such practices give greater economic and social equity, especially for women and the under privileged. Moreover, an added benefit is that they do not pollute or destroy the environment. A sustainable livelihood involves a remunerative, satisfying and meaningful occupation that enables each member of the community to help nurture and regenerate the resource base. In a sustainable livelihood, the nature and scale of the technology that serves the long-term goals of development can be defined as sustainable technology. In the developing world, there is an urgent need amongst both the rural and urban poor for a whole variety of sustainable technologies ranging from cooking stoves to lamps to gasifiers to windmills.

Tool 4: Cooperative efforts

Self help groups come together to promote savings among themselves, as well as to pool their savings to strengthen their economic and social empowerment. This process also prepares the group and the wider community to increase their resilience and cope with situations arising from droughts, floods and other kinds of weather events. In coastal areas, self help groups, when organized through a participatory process are very effective in coping with extreme events such as floods, cyclones and sea surges.

Staff at Development Alternatives are working in the Bundelkhand region of India that is water stressed and prone to drought. A mechanism has been set up to link the self help groups with banks. There is a direct link between the banks and the self help groups and Development Alternatives merely plays the role of facilitator under these schemes.

Tool 5: Insurance

Insurance against anticipated loss and damage may substantially reduce the risk of vulnerability and cost to a society or community against climatic events such as floods, droughts and cyclones. This type of insurance is not available in most developing countries yet is needed urgently.

Tool 6: Technological intervention

Technological responses to adapt to climate change are currently most suitable for the rich countries. Developing countries face many problems such as that of the technology transfer barrier, the financial barrier, and the capacity barrier. Solutions to such barriers must be put in place before developing countries can adopt technological adaptation options. If they are to be effective, these solutions must be found through a participatory process amongst the communities of the developing country and not be transplanted from other countries or regions.

Measuring success

Success of an adaptation programme depends on an appropriate combination of the various tools. Indicators of success should be built into any adaptation programme to monitor the efficacy of these programmes. The following are some indicators which should be used:

  • Poverty reduction by measuring the proportion of the population below US$1 a day every five years;
  • Measuring improvement of general public awareness on climate change as a percentage of the total population;
  • Measuring the increase in awareness on climate change amongst civil society, policy makers, regulators and industries;
  • Climate change introduced in the lower, middle and high school curriculum;
  • A proportion of land area covered by forests and land area protected for biological diversity;
  • Measurement of carbon dioxide emissions per capita;
  • Gross Domestic Product measured as per unit of energy use;
  • Measurements of the prevalence and death rates associated with malaria; and,
  • Proportion of population with sustainable access to an improved water source and safe water.

Tool 7: Research on adaptation

Systematic studies of how a community, a region or a country has coped with extreme weather variability can provide valuable lessons which should be integrated with the countrys adaptation strategy. Traditional adaptation practices should be studied, analysed and integrated within the policy framework of the region or country. The findings of these studies will provide an effective tool in addressing the vulnerability of water resources, agriculture and coastal areas to climate change, thereby increasing the resilience of the community. It is, however, important to note that adaptation measures and tools will not deliver many positive results unless they are incorporated within the existing national or regional policy process.

Care need to be taken in using impact assessments alone as these are not yet designed to consider a wide range of adaptation measures. For example, crop yield studies can be useful for studying farm level adaptation, such as the effect of fertilizer on productivity, but they do not help in considering other adaptations such as changing land tenure systems or price subsidies and other market interventions. Impact assessments also need to take into consideration possible future socio-economic changes such as changes in agricultural markets and patterns of trade.

In conclusion

Adaptation strategies must be developed that are directly relevant to all stakeholders. The tools for adaptation must be practical, appropriate, feasible and easy to implement. Information sharing amongst stakeholders both between countries and within countries on policy development and implementation strategies will surely strengthen the measures adopted for adaptation to climate change.

Further information
Kalipada Chatterjee, Development Alternatives, B-32 Tara Crescent, Qutab Institutional Area, New Delhi 110 016, India. Fax: +91-11-6866031. Email: Web: