Rethinking support for adaptive capacity to climate change: the role of development interventions

Research reports and studies
December 2011

Change is a constant in the lives of rural people in Africa. For most developing countries, climate change adds another layer of complexity to existing development challenges, such as high levels of poverty and inequality, rapid population growth, underdeveloped markets, poor
infrastructure and service provision, and weak governance systems.

Development interventions will need to help people and communities to adapt to the interaction of these new and old pressures. Since change is a
constant, sustainable interventions can only be achieved if people can adapt them in the future to a changing context. This report explores the role of development interventions in Mozambique, Uganda and Ethiopia

In order to understand the impact of climate change at the local level, it is important to recognise the interactions between climate change and wider development pressures. People adapt to the impact of climate change on wider development processes, such as rising food prices, the spread of disease and illness, and competition over natural resources. The impacts of climate change will not be the same for all. Vulnerability to the impacts of climate change often comes from vulnerability in a general sense – from poverty and marginalisation. It makes little practical sense to talk about how people adapt to climate change in isolation, since adaptation is driven by a range of different pressures acting together. Supporting local adaptive capacity cannot therefore be seen in isolation as ‘climate change programming’. It is an intrinsic part of all development interventions.

ACCRA research found that, rather than forward-looking decision-making, policies and development interventions were often running risks of maladaptation, i.e. decisionmaking that leads to long-term increases in vulnerability, from two sources.

  • Firstly, climate information was being misinterpreted and uncertainties not adequately communicated, leading to the potential for ill-informed planning; and secondly, interventions and policies were designed without considering available evidence, either from economic analysis or climate information sources, including longer-term climate projections.
  • Interventions were based on a projectised approach, with ‘participation’ consisting mainly of asking ‘communities’ what they wanted.
  • Policies were too often based on top-down planning which did not support local flexible decision-making and agency.

Published by ODI for the Africa Climate Change Resilience Alliance.