Adaptation, Governance and Civil Society
By Adriana Ramos, Executive Secretary, Instituto Socioambiental (ISA), Brasilia
Question Nine: How can civil society best support, and hold accountable, national-level governments in their efforts to integrate climate change risks into planning and policy-making processes?
To incorporate the interests and knowledge of vulnerable communities, populations and people, their active and meaningful participation in prioritizing, designing and implementing adaptation activities is essential. The most effective way to ensure that adaptation funds help the most vulnerable people is through community-based adaptation. Civil society should encourage mechanisms to support community-based adaptation as part of an integrated and comprehensive approach to adaptation. Civil society must also promote efforts to guarantee real engagement in adaptation by scientific and academic sectors. In addition, civil society has an important role to play in communicating climate information and building public support for adaptation in public policy where, at present, poverty, social equality, access to basic infrastructure, and other challenges continue to dominate. Finally, civil society must keep the pressure on developed countries to assume their historic responsibility and capability in supporting developing countries to adapt to climate change.
Adaptation to climate change is a challenge of governance. Choices and changes made to adapt our way of living to the new climate scenario will need a strong process of negotiation and a large range of alternatives and efficient possibilities. Civil society organizations have important roles in this process. They can provide different perspectives and solutions, highlight experiences from those feeling more directly the impacts already in place and act as a mediator between the different interests that will be threatened at the political, economic, cultural, social and environmental levels.
The way decisions are being made regarding climate changes issues, at both international and national levels, shows the difficulties faced by governments, the private sector and civil society in trying to establish strategies to prevent or mitigate the negative impacts of climate variability and change and its effects. The necessary policies to deal with adaptation to climate change must engage different sectors and areas focusing on those who are more vulnerable to its effects. To incorporate the interests and knowledge of vulnerable communities, populations and people, their active and meaningful participation in prioritizing, designing and implementing adaptation activities is essential. Not only are they more vulnerable to climate change but they also contributed least to its causes. The representations made by civil society in defining adaptation polices and measures must engage communities directly. It is important to promote stakeholder processes that are really effective in listening and engaging communities. Governments must ensure that sufficient funds are available. These decision making processes must be transparent and community engagement must range from design and implementation to monitoring and reporting.
Adaptation strategies can benefit from a combination of traditional knowledge with innovative approaches to address evolving challenges. Priority should be given to building resilience of livelihoods, protecting people and assets from climate hazards such as droughts, floods and cyclones, and engaging and building capacity of local institutions to support people in adapting.
To ensure adequate and qualified participation of civil society, governments must provide support not only for those who are appointed as representatives to take part in the formal fora and processes. It is also important to guarantee support for consultations and systematic assessment of socio-economic vulnerability within high-risk geographic regions. Having civil society organizations build their own consultations and assessment is fundamental.
National strategies must outline key social and ecological vulnerabilities, climate projections, and basic adaptation needs. Financial mechanisms should be defined in advance, as a guarantee of implementation. All relevant sectors inside governments must be engaged in decision making. Therefore, stakeholder processes must be led by those who are really able to take decisions at the government level. Different policy areas such as agriculture and environment are frequently in opposition when it comes to issues related to climate change and adaptation. It is not effective to have a plan designed by one sector to be implemented by another. Ideally the process must be centralized and integrated, bringing together all stakeholders and governments members.
Planning and implementation of adaptation measures must be integrated into existing development plans and processes. Adaptation strategies in agriculture, for example, have to be defined taking into account the differences between the agribusiness sector and family farmers. Relationships between agriculture adaptation and other policies related to water, forests and food sovereignty cannot be ignored. Civil society also has an important role to play in considering these connections. National policies need to reflect this diversity of situations in order to provide an effective increase in the resilience of communities and economic activities in response to climate change.
An interesting approach can also be the discussion of adaptation and mitigation integrated strategies within different sectors such as energy, agriculture, transportation, metallurgy, etc. The challenge is big, since in many countries, such as Brazil, many groups from both government and private sector have been engaged in the discussion of climate change with a sense of opportunity and expectations of profit. Although adaptation processes can also be a way to develop new economic approaches, this can not be the purpose of the process. The balance between economic and social-environmental perspectives can be guaranteed by involving representatives of public and private sectors, including civil society organizations – a participative approach that is being adopted by the Brazilian government.
Emergencies due to extreme weather events are a good example of the importance of having public interests at the top of the agenda. Prevention must be the key word. In order to define monitoring and early warning systems that will be effective in case of incidents, governments must bring together all stakeholders, evaluate and map vulnerable areas and situations and design strategies that will guarantee quick and effective response.
Adaptation will demand special attention in the transition process. There must be serious engagement and commitment by governments and the private sector to implement measures at different levels. It will be necessary, for example, to reform curricula of colleges in order to focus attention on adaptation approaches among new professionals.
The Climate Change Convention commitment from developed countries to assist developing countries that are particularly vulnerable with the costs of adaptation must include and consider these aspects. The urgency of adaptation needs is already being felt in many places. These needs will only grow over time, therefore progress on mitigation and adaptation are more than urgent.
Helping the most vulnerable
The definition of adaptation planning is a way to demonstrate the capacity that vulnerable countries will have in finding solutions and providing alternatives for their people. But civil society must also keep the pressure on developed countries to assume their historic responsibility and capability in supporting developing countries in doing their part.
Vulnerability to climate change normally reflects people's marginalization within their own communities and countries. Adaptation policies must change this from the beginning, guaranteeing them full participation in decision making, including those related to the use of funds, at the national and international levels.
Information sharing, constituency consultation, independent monitoring and evaluation systems are some of the basic approaches that must be guaranteed in the process of planning and implementation. Consultation process must allow sufficient time for concerned groups to review and provide feedback.
The most effective way to ensure that adaptation funds help the most vulnerable people is through community-based adaptation. Mechanisms to support community-based adaptation as part of an integrated and comprehensive approach to adaptation should be encouraged, enabling governments to avoid top down design that fails to address the needs and concerns of the most vulnerable people.
Scientific and academic sectors are also key players in this process and governments and civil society must promote efforts to guarantee their real engagement. Civil society also has an important role to play in communicating climate information to the public and building public support for climate change adaptation in public policy where, at present, poverty, social equality, access to basic infrastructure, and other challenges continue to dominate.