Changing focus? How to start taking adaptive capacity seriously

Briefing papers
January 2012

Change is a constant in the lives of rural people in Africa. They have had to cope with both sudden shocks such as war, rain failures and food price spikes and with long-term stresses such as increasing population pressure on land, declines in their terms of trade, and the degradation of land and water. They will have to cope with these pressures in the future, coupled with the growing impact of climate change.

People need the ability to maintain (and even improve) their well-being in the face of change – whatever that change may be. This is what we call adaptive capacity.

Drawing on evidence from the Africa Climate Change Resilience Alliance (ACCRA) project – a research and advocacy consortium in Ethiopia, Mozambique and Uganda – this Briefing Paper aims to understand better how different kinds of development interventions affect the characteristics of adaptive capacity. Do interventions take it seriously enough? Are they having a positive effect? How could any positive impact be maximised?

This Briefing Paper argues:

  • Adaptation to climate change should not be addressed in isolation: climate change should be part of forward-looking planning
  • Development interventions could be designed and implemented to build people’s capacity to adapt to any change – including climate change
  • A shift is needed from technology transfer to a focus on people and their agency – which must include better analysis of power and institutions.