A demand-led approach to climate resilience

Communities in Swa Swa village in Dodoma, a semi-arid region, are being encouraged to adopt alternative livelihood activities including vegetable growing and beekeeping. Treated water from a nearby reservoir is pumped into the fields in Swa Swa to help farmers grow vegetables. Photo by: Rajeshree Sisodia / PRISE

In semi-arid regions across sub-Saharan Africa and Central Asia, development programs are often left at the mercy of climate change-related risks.

As traditional approaches to climate-proof those programs have so far proved ineffective, a new five-year research project led by the London-based Overseas Development Institute hopes to address the challenge of creating climate resilience in these areas by focusing on demand instead of supply.

But what does this mean?

Most climate resilience research projects start off with understanding how global warming can impact a particular geographical area or one aspect that is vital to livelihoods such as food security or access to clean water, according to Tom Mitchell, head of ODI’s climate change program. These projects then come up with a set of options to adapt current policies to minimize impact and expect governments and communities to “listen and act,” he added.

But this approach often produces limited results. Mitchell, who is also one of the principal investigators in the organization’s Pathways to Resilience in Semi-arid Economies project, told Devex that most adaptation options aren’t always compatible with existing policies or practices or “ignore” important economic and cultural reasons that entrench certain practices.

Second, options are usually based on science that looks too far ahead into the future, like 2050, a timeframe that many governments and communities find it hard to consider given day-to-day pressures. Finally, some researchers often don’t sufficiently understand the local political context when recommending changes.

The 10 million pound ($16.1 million) PRISE project wants to break new ground by focusing first on economic development and economic growth in semi-arid regions by looking at how economic development is shaping the future prospects of these regions and how local, national and regional policies combined are affecting these plans.

Under the new demand-based approach, Mitchell explained, researchers would seek what the different stakeholders — policymakers, business leaders, trade associations, labor unions — need in terms of climate change information and socio-economic scenarios, and from there develop tailored plans to support them in the decisions they need to make.

“Through this process of involving key stakeholders early on, we believe PRISE research will have a longer-term impact by being more heavily routed in the economic and political realities of current challenges and by promoting stronger ownership, among these key stakeholders, from the outset,” he said.

But to push the project forward, the project — which will be funded by the Canadian government and the U.K. Department for International Development and composed of five research consortiums — must tackle one of the biggest barriers to fight climate change.

Stakeholders “need to recognize that climate change is a threat to the balance sheet, a threat to profits, a threat to votes, a threat to security,” Mitchell asserted, noting that while awareness of global warming is growing, the problem is that often “the public memory is quite short, and within a few months, concern about climate change can wane.”

That’s why, he added, it’s crucial to take advantage of the immediate period after a severe climate event to push bold policies in rich countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and provide money for adaptation to climate change.

The consortium is still in the midst of working out the specific details of the project, but we’ve learned the initiative will initially target Burkina Faso, Kenya, Pakistan, Senegal, Tajikistan and Tanzania, and focus on five key research areas: climate risk management; governance, institutions and finance; markets and supply chains; natural capital; and human capital.

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About the author

  • Jenny Lei Ravelo

    Jenny Lei Ravelo is a Devex Senior Reporter based in Manila. She covers global health, with a particular focus on the World Health Organization, and other development and humanitarian aid trends in Asia Pacific. Prior to Devex, she wrote for ABS-CBN, one of the largest broadcasting networks in the Philippines, and was a copy editor for various international scientific journals. She received her journalism degree from the University of Santo Tomas.