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National Adaptive Capacity Framework Helps Countries Get Ready for Climate Change

This week, WRI released a new report summarizing assessments of institutional readiness for adapting to climate change. The report, Ready or Not, focuses on pilot applications of the National Adaptive Capacity (NAC) framework in three countries: Bolivia, Ireland, and Nepal. Co-authors Heather McGray and Aarjan Dixit respond to questions about the NAC framework, which provided the analytic basis for this report.

What is the National Adaptive Capacity framework?

Heather: This is a framework for assessing the performance of national institutions on key functions required if countries are to adapt effectively to climate change. Such an assessment provides an indication of what we call “institutional capacity” for adaptation – the ability of government agencies, research institutes, and other organizations to support activities needed for a country and its people to adjust to climatic changes over the long term.

How can the NAC framework help vulnerable people successfully adapt to climate change?

Aarjan: National governments and other institutions can play a critical role in improving the living conditions of people affected by climate change, and in helping them adjust to the changes they face. For example, irrigation departments create plans for irrigating large agricultural areas. Ministries of rural development play a part in providing basic services in underdeveloped areas. Such agencies will have to change how they do business because of climate change. The NAC framework provides a means of assessing the ability of such institutions to effectively perform the functions that support adaptation to climate change.

Heather: Institutions matter for adaptation, and what the NAC offers is a way to make the institutional agenda at the national level more concrete, and to help countries identify and address their institutions-related adaptation needs in a more systematic manner.

Why would a government agency or other institution need the NAC to support national adaptation planning efforts?

Heather: Typically an agency that needs a bird’s eye view of overall adaptive capacity in the country would use the NAC. For example, planning ministries devise a country’s overall development strategy, and they might want this kind of assessment to identify entry points for adaptation. Likewise an environment ministry often plays a lead or coordinating role in planning for adaptation, and this kind of framework can help them.

The framework helps deal with people’s tendency to work in separate “silos,” such that they don’t know where to look for information outside their own institution, or sometimes even which questions to ask. This is a particular challenge for something as interdisciplinary as adaptation.

The NAC framework helps gather and map out key sources of information– such as climate vulnerability and impacts, poverty, community-level adaptation, and other areas. The added value is its ability to help people synthesize disparate information around adaptation and review a range of different institutions’ activities and abilities. This also helps develop a baseline of information that can be used to measure progress over time.

What work is involved in doing a NAC assessment?

Aarjan: The NAC framework includes five key functions: assessment, prioritization, coordination, information management, and climate risk management. Each function has detailed questions associated with it that try to get at the heart of what is needed for adaptation. There is some flexibility allowed in how you conduct the assessment, but normally it involves working through the questions within each area, trying to understand what capacities exist, where there are gaps, and which are the responsible institutions. It then involves making a judgment, based on all available information, as to whether the country’s capacity in each of the function areas is adequate, or where there are gaps.

Heather: Our experience is that decisions can follow pretty quickly from identification of the gaps from the NAC framework if it is conducted through an inclusive process, and involves the convening of different people. So if you find that information dissemination is weak, for example, often there’s a finding as to why it’s weak. The spreadsheet that’s used to capture the NAC findings includes a column where users can make notes on what they see as driving that weakness, which can lead to solutions.

What did the countries that participated in the pilot application gain from the experience?

Heather: We already talked about the NAC framework’s power to gather and synthesize evidence, and we saw that strongly in Nepal and in Bolivia. It can also be used to identify indicators for tracking progress in building capacity, which the Bolivian team focused on. They used the NAC to develop some indicators which they recommended their environment ministry include in their national adaptation policy.

In Ireland, the NAC assessment was part of the preparation for an adaptation planning process mandated by parliament in the wake of serious flooding a couple of years ago. When the Irish team did their NAC assessment, the need for a national vulnerability assessment came out as a key missing piece. So they took this to their environment ministry and ultimately a national vulnerability assessment was commissioned and is now almost complete. The NAC assessment helped create the evidence base to catalyze action in this area.

For more information on the NAC framework, go to the WRI web site or contact the authors.

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