World Resource Institute

Adaptation Approaches and Lessons for Development Agencies

By Bindu Lohani, Vice President (Finance and Administration) - Asian Development Bank


Commentaries were commissioned by the World Resources Report to react to the Expert Perspectives series. This commentary responds to Question 3: How can development agencies help vulnerable countries adapt effectively?


This commentary responds to four papers which address the key question: "what are appropriate roles for development agencies in supporting national-level decision-making processes for a changing climate?" The four authors shared their ideas, thoughts and research achievements from different angles based on their background, expertise and experiences. This material provides useful reference and information for the Asian Development Bank (ADB), in particular for the staff in charge of climate change strategy, adaptation program/projects.

"Role of Development Partners in Adaptation Planning" by Mr. Philip M. Gwage, Department of Meteorology, Government of Uganda.

General Comments: This paper introduces the practical experiences of the Government of Uganda in addressing adaptation issues through policy-making, institutional building and technology/techniques deployment. A good paper, it can be a very useful reference for other developing countries in particular for LDCs and vulnerable communities.

Some of the experiences recounted can also be good references for ADB to support its developing member countries on adaptation. Several key points from the successful experience described in this paper can be highlighted as of use to policy makers.

  1. Clearly and correctly define the two types of adaptation activities: reactive/autonomous adaptation, and planned adaptation.
  2. Establish a climate change unit at national government level to lead adaptation work and to ensure ownership that lays a solid basis for taking long term adaptation actions.
  3. Multinational organizations form a coordination group to support the host country's adaptation efforts. In Uganda, a joint action plan was formulated and implemented by the coordination group.
  4. Integrate adaptation into national development plan to enhance climate resilience; pay great attention to implementation to avoid plans and programs to address climate change landing on bookshelves for show only.
  5. Integrate adaptation into plans for disaster reduction and risk, which makes adaptation activities workable, tangible and feasible.
  6. Pay attention to indigenous technologies which can be low cost and efficient.

Comments for further improvement if author wishes:

  1. Make more detailed recommendation for development partners based on experiences and lessons learned.
  2. Add any specific lessons that have been learned.
  3. Add any thoughts or consideration related to key and pillar adaptation engineering projects that a community or a country may benefit from in the long run based on climate change scenarios.

"Changing the Course of Development: UNDP's role in supporting national-level decision-making processes in a changing climate" by Ms. Bo Lim and Ms. Jennifer Baumwoll, Bureau of Development Policy, Energy and Environment Group, United Nations Development Programme.

General Comments: This paper summarizes the practical experiences of UNDP in supporting the decision-making process by governments in addressing climate change, and highlights its future considerations and planned actions. Some of these practical experiences are a very good reference for ADB to consider in its future actions to support its DMCs for addressing climate change. Important messages from this paper include:

  1. Promoting national decision making involves more than the use of climate scenarios and climate data. Current climate modeling scenarios provide limited useful information and even potentially misleading information to decision-makers, and large scale investments that are informed by such scenarios can be dangerous. A more sensible approach for development agencies is to empower national stakeholders to make flexible and robust policies so that they may better cope with unforeseen impacts. This will require multinational development organizations to more effectively support the new model of development through greater alignment of their programs to reduce duplication.
  2. UNDP's Climate Change Adaptation Strategy (2008-2011) works to support developing countries to access, sequence, and integrate climate finance to advance pro-poor, low-emission, climate-resilient development. To ensure that its adaptation projects are implemented effectively, UNDP has set up two parallel tracks: the first to support countries in accessing adaptation project finance in the context of national development priorities; and the second to ensure that climate change is integrated into UN Development Assistance Frameworks (UNDAF) and UN country programs. In addition UNDP Administrator Helen Clark has made climate change and poverty reduction her top two priorities, ensuring budget support.
  3. UNDP experience and lessons: achieving climate resilience requires developing capacity in four domains: 1) political and institutional leadership; 2) increased knowledge and technical support; 3) enhanced financial management; and 4) robust accountability and reporting systems. Enhancing these capacities will support the integration of climate change into economic policies, direct climate finance, and support investment decisions that help countries to transition towards a low-emission climate-resilient economy.
  4. UNDP's key efforts in supporting effective national-level decision making in a changing climate include: 1) an Africa Adaptation Programme; 2) an Adaptation Learning Mechanism; and 3) support to strengthen national capacity for accountability and reporting, through building capacity to identify opportunities for NAMAs and the design of low-emission development strategies, and to monitor, report and verify (MRV) greenhouse gases.

Comments for further improvement if authors wish: describe the effects of the actions undertaken.

"Learning from Water Wars: Development Assistance for a Changing Climate" by Mr. Mike Muller, Professor, Graduate School of Public and Development Management, Witwatersrand University, Johannesburg.

General Comments: This paper proposes five guiding principles for development agencies that seek to support national decision-makers in addressing climate change challenges, based on the rationale that climate change is simply one additional factor for governments to consider, amongst many others, in the decision-making process. The author believes that once population growth, the impacts of economic growth and consumption changes, together with existing climate variability, have been taken into account future climate change appears to be a relatively small problem. The five guiding principles are:

  1. Support efforts to enhance the effectiveness of development assistance;
  2. Adaptation should be integral to the overall development process;
  3. National ownership is a key objective of current development assistance;
  4. Responses to climate change must not be locked into sectoral "silos" (sectoral isolation); and
  5. The legitimacy of political issues should be recognized.

Some additional points and explanations by the paper may be useful, for instance: "politics needs to be respected as part of decision-making" and "development is a contested arena and competition between interests, as well as synergies, should be recognized and addressed".

Comments for further improvement if authors wish:

  1. It would enhance the paper if some practical cases can be introduced to support the view points of the author; and
  2. Two points made by the paper may not be entirely correct, or reflective of present perspectives. These state that: "Current climate change negotiating processes unfortunately emphasize the difference between adaptation actions and general development support"; and that "most of the scientific community still looks at climate change as a medium to long term phenomenon, whose major impacts will occur in 20 to 50 years". The author may wish to reconsider his reasons for making these two statements.

"No Regrets' Approach to Decision-Making in a Changing Climate: Toward Adaptive Social Protection and Spatially Enabled Governance" by Dr. Paul B. Siegel Consultant, World Bank.

General Comments: This paper summarizes through literature review the development of adaptation approaches, and highlights changes in terms of the convergence of disaster risk management (DRM), climate change adaptation (CCA), and social protection (adaptive social protection) in the context of spatially enabled government. The latter uses modern information and communication (ICT) technology, geographic information systems (GIS) and spatial data infrastructures (SDI) for territorial planning approaches. The paper defines the proactive people and place oriented approach to building resilience as a "no-regrets" approach because it focuses on transforming, strengthening and protecting assets and livelihoods, including the provision of basic needs (including security), for all persons. Following are some key messages:

  1. There has been increased recognition that DRM and CCA agendas should be integrated and mainstreamed into the development agenda using a climate risk management approach, and that climate risk management involves proactive "˜no regrets' strategies aimed at maximizing positive and minimizing negative outcomes for communities and societies in climate-sensitive areas such as agriculture, food security, water resources, and health.
  2. There has also been increasing attention paid to the need to integrate the DRM and CCA agendas within a social protection context. This approach addresses multiple hazards by transforming, strengthening and protecting household and community assets and livelihoods and increasing resilience. The key to integrating DRM/CCA/SP is to have information about who and where the poor and at-risk households and areas are located, and how natural hazards and climate change impact their assets/livelihoods and well-being.
  3. Thirdly, there has been increasing attention paid to the need to integrate and mainstream DRM (and CCA) with land administration and governance, using tools such as GIS, spatial data infrastructures (SDI) and information and communication technologies. In deploying such approaches, the process undertaken by public authorities to identify, evaluate and decide on different options for the use of land is critical.
  4. A "Social Protection Floor" was proposed by several UN agencies to reduce the negative direct and indirect impacts on poor and vulnerable households and communities. This would guarantee a set of basic social rights, services and facilities (e.g. food security, health, nutrition, education, water and sanitation, employment and/or pension/disability payments) for every human being, shifting towards a focus on reducing vulnerability and increasing resilience.
  5. The paper finally recommends the development agencies "to move toward a no-regrets resilience-based approach to spatially enabled adaptive social protection that is globally guaranteed, nationally managed, and locally administered in the context of territorial land governance framework".