World Resource Institute

WRR 2010-2011: In-Country Simulation Exercises

At left, Akosombo Dam turbines in Ghana, by Talata M. At right, rice paddies in Vietnam, by Eric Baker.

Simulation Exercises and the World Resources Report
The use of simulations is not new; many institutions, from private corporations to the military, use them in planning exercises to help ensure preparedness for a range of future eventualities. For the World Resources Report 2010-2011, we used simulation exercises because the tool is well suited both to the topic of climate adaptation decision making and to our goal of research transparency.

Rather than use these simulations as planning exercises, we employed them to learn about how officials make decisions when confronted with choices that involve significant future consequences.

We didn't want to know what decision was made as much as we wanted to know how and why it was reached. What were the critical forces, pressures and constraints that officials had to contend with as they weighed key facts and an uncertain future?

These innovative exercises, produced in collaboration with the Consensus Building Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts, were designed with a dual purpose: to provide insight into how adaptation decisions are made that could provide useful lessons for officials in other countries, and to give participants experience in negotiating skills and in the use of simulation-based planning for their own national needs.

Ghana and Vietnam
Working with our partners at the World Bank and UNDP, we chose Ghana and Vietnam to stage exercises in November and December 2010. Public officials, and national institutions, including universities and NGOs in both countries became co-sponsors of the research.

Based on significant background research, we devised hypothetical scenarios for each country that were both realistic and probable, and that participants would easily regard as decisions they could likely face.

For a more detailed description of the simulation exercise in Ghana, click here, and for more details on Vietnam, click here.

General Conclusions
While it is both difficult and risky to generalize from a limited set of events, there are certain conclusions that became evident from these exercises. We highlight them below, with the goal of pointing out issues and challenges that are common to the countries whose officials are on the front lines of climate change impacts:

  • It may sound self-evident, but economic development is the key issue in developing countries. Meeting the pressing, legitimate and basic needs of citizens is primary for most governments. Right now, the equation adaptation=development is not how this challenge is viewed.
  • Governments are aware, to one degree or another, of climate change and its potential impacts. They are less certain about those impacts will affect their country or areas of their country, especially in the long term. That is as much a function of the inadequacy of information and the ability to make long-range predictions of useable accuracy.
  • Factoring climate change risks into current and future planning, to the extent it requires significant new expenditures, is a big barrier. Developing countries see climate change adaptation now as a cost, not a benefit, and that colors much of their planning and decision making. The exercises showed how long term risks are widely discounted or, in some cases, dismissed as yet "another study."
  • A key challenge to international aid agencies and donors is to create the incentives so that climate change adaptation is seen as critical to national planning and policy, that it can provide opportunities to countries, and not merely another claim on scarce resources. This is a critical point: some officials see the requirement of adaptation as a necessity, however unwelcome or unfair. Others see it as yet another burden, the benefits of which are not immediately obvious, but the costs of which are quite clear.
  • The issue of fairness is the backdrop to virtually every discussion of adaptation. "We didn't cause this problem; why do we have to pay to avoid the consequences?" summarizes that attitude. How officials and other players react ranges widely: for some, it just another reality that must be dealt with---they are very matter of fact and don't dwell. For others, it gnaws, as if that constant focus may somehow result in some redress in the form of significant financial assistance.