Is adaptation different from development?
“The problem is people don’t understand the difference between development and adaptation”
I heard this statement twice in the last week from people working in the environmental arena. The reply to this comment is a simple question – ‘Sorry, what is the difference between adaptation and development then?’
However the REACTION to the original statement can be one of two things:
a) Interest, wonder and a want to be educated further
b) Confusion, horror and worry that someone who works in this arena believes adaptation and development can be perceived as completely separate things.
I provided reaction ‘b’ on both occasions (much to some misinformed colleague’s horror), and in doing so realised that many people working in the development and adaptation debate are confusing separate parts of the discourse. Because (and I’ll explain this later) development can be adaptation to climate change, but not a lot of people seem to understand this! Therefore I felt it was time to try and clarify some issues over adaptation. So blog readers settle down for Adaptation 101 – the first class is about to begin….
Climate change will alter the climate in many regions creating shocks and stresses on human and ecological systems. A shock may be a flash flood, a stress may be slowly decreasing rainfall. The ability of human systems to cope with these shocks and stresses, or hazards-as they are known, can affect the hazard’s impact. The more vulnerable you are the less able you are to cope. Another way of putting this is that the human or ecological system is less resilient at absorbing the impacts of these hazards without harm occurring. The more resilient you are the less vulnerable you are.
Okay take a break I know that sounded like quite a lot but basically thus far we have established:
Impact = Hazard x Vulnerability
Now in its simplest terms, adapting to climate change is behaving in such a way as to decrease the impact of climate change effects. E.g. If sea level is going to rise 30cm we could build a sea wall 30cm higher so there is no impact (such as flooding) experienced from the higher sea level. In our example here the hazard is still present but by building the sea wall we have reduced the vulnerability to the hazard and therefore reduced the impact of the hazard.
This essentially is what adaptation is about; reducing vulnerability to climate change hazards so the impacts are less. In adaptation we cannot reduce the Hazard part of the equation as this is mitigation. Only by decreasing the amount of Green House Gases we produce can we reduce the future scale of hazards. Mitigation is about doing this.
So we have now established that adaptation is about reducing vulnerability to climate change impacts.
However things now get a bit more complex, because what makes people vulnerable? In our earlier example of the sea wall, the community were not only vulnerable to the physical impact of the rising sea level, but they would also have been vulnerable if they were unable to raise the money to pay for the sea wall. The vulnerability is made up not just from the climate change impact but also from the ability to raise funds to pay for the needed response measure.
Take another example: a rural farming community where the decreased rainfall impacts of climate change are likely to reduce the yield of their crops. The vulnerability to this reducing yield could be decreased by providing them with drought resistant seeds, on the other hand vulnerability could be reduced by educating the farmers about water-conserving tillage techniques, or alternatively by building a road link to the village so that the farmers obtain access to traders to buy replacement food for their decrease in crops. All three things reduce vulnerability to the impacts and so can be considered a form of adaptation to climate change. However the education and infrastructure responses would traditionally be considered development.
Vulnerability to climate change is a multifaceted function derived not just from the physical vulnerability to climate change but also from education, socio-economic and developmental state of communities. Development which increases a population’s wealth so they can pay for technical climate response measures or replacement crops, educating a community about climate change impacts so they can plan for the future better or even teaching a girl how to swim so she will not drown in a flash flood, ALL DECRASE VULNERABILITY TO CLIMATE CHANGE. And so adaptation, which reduces vulnerability, can be a number of things. Much of which is traditional development as this still reduces people’s vulnerability to future hazards.
McGray et al. (2006) summaries this in the WRI report Weathering the Storm (and if you would like more information do read it). Here they presented the adaptation continuum. A continuum of approaches which can be considered adaptation for the aforementioned reasons, as shown in the diagram.
The adaptation continuum overview - From Klein & Persson (2008)
This blog has hopefully helped you understand what adaptation projects and programmes actually are. Yet, what it has failed to do is explain why there is still so much confusion at the international negotiation level between development and adaptation. Much of this confusion is to do with funding and it should be explained. As such the next blog will be on this topic. So come back next week for Adaptation 101 – Lesson 2 – What is the Implication of an Adaptation Continuum for Adaptation Funding?