31, May, 2013

ELLA Expert Review: A Focus on the Process of Developing Adaptation Actions in Latin America’s Mountain Regions

Here Marius Keller of the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) offers his perspective on the ELLA knowledge materials on Climate Change Adaptation in Mountain Environments.

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ELLA Expert Reviews: As part of ongoing efforts to ensure quality in our research and communications, the ELLA team asks recognised experts to conduct reviews of the knowledge materials in a given theme and produce a short written response. The purpose is to highlight a range of distinct perspectives amongst experts in the field and link readers with additional research, cases and arguments that the original ELLA materials may not cover.

In the spirit of discussion and debate, we encourage you to share your own comments about the ELLA materials and the review in the comments section below.

With accelerating climate change, the need for adaptation action is increasing around the globe. Because many regions face similar challenges, much is to be gained from exchanging knowledge, experience and lessons learned from past or on-going activities. The ELLA knowledge materials on climate change adaptation in mountain environments are therefore a highly useful resource for adaptation practitioners within and outside of Latin America.

Dr. Jorge Recharte argued in a previous expert review of these ELLA materials that not all the experiences documented by ELLA necessarily constitute adaptation actions, because these should “respond to specific climate impacts affecting specific resources in specific contexts”. I would argue that adaptation encompasses actions on a continuum that ranges from vulnerability reduction measures that cannot be clearly separated from (rural) development activities to responses to very specific climate impacts, such as the construction of water reservoirs as a substitute for melting glaciers. But Dr. Recharte is right in that adaptation action should be highly contextualised and based on a solid understanding of the specific climate risks in a given environment.

This shifts the focus from adaptation outcomes to the research and planning processes that help identify and prioritise context-specific solutions. My contribution in this review focuses on such processes and how they can create and consolidate this necessary knowledge base for tailor-made climate change adaptation. The ELLA documents mention many of the components that are relevant for such processes, such as the need to take into account traditional knowledge and to combine it with scientific information, or the importance of fostering research capacity. They also refer to the importance of participatory methods in identifying and prioritising risks and adaptation options. But they do not explicitly illustrate how a comprehensive and participatory adaptation process can be organised and what experiences have been carried out with such processes in Latin American mountain environments.  What I aim to do in this review is highlight just a few of the many examples of such processes coming from the region, and the interesting lessons they offer. 

One important example of such a process is the successful application of the Community-based Risk Screening Tool – Adaptation and Livelihoods (CRiSTAL) within the Adaptation to the Impact of Rapid Glacier Retreat in the Tropical Andes Project (PRAA) by CARE. The CRiSTAL tool, which has also been applied in many other projects in the region, guides users through a participatory process for identifying climate risks to local livelihoods and tailor-made adaptation options. In the Peruvian municipality of Santa Teresa, one of the PRAA sites in the Andes mountains, CARE applied CRiSTAL in combination with other tools in 14 communities, identifying the most pressing risks such as excessive rains, water scarcity and changing temperatures. To complement local perspectives, scientific studies were conducted to look at the impacts of glacier retreat. In a participatory process that closely involved the municipal government and local councils, concrete adaptation options ranging from bee-keeping activities for vulnerable women to irrigation systems for key crops were integrated into local development plans in the area of Santa Teresa.[1]

Important experiences have also been carried out using UNDP’s Climate Risk Management Technical Assistance Support Project (CRM TASP), which aimed to identify and prioritise adaptation options in key sectors or regions in several countries, covering mountain areas in the Dominican Republic, Honduras and Peru, among other places. The work in the Dominican Republic focused on one of the largest watersheds in the country, the Yaque del Sur basin, and illustrates particularly well how you can identify locally-specific options within an ecosystem that ranges from the country’s highest peak, the 3098m Pico Duarte, to the coastal plains, by closely involving local communities, farmer irrigation committees, civil society organisations and national government agencies.

The participatory process to identify the key climate risks and adaptation options involved a combination of research methods and tools, including quantitative methods to project future climate conditions, changes in river flows and in water availability, and demand and crop impacts, as well as participatory tools such as CRiSTAL and Participatory Scenario Development (PSD). This tailor-made combination of methods allowed for the comparison of local experiences and perspectives with past climate events and scientific information on the longer-term challenges in the area and provided a solid evidence base for identifying and prioritising adaptation options. Such options were identified for different areas of the watershed, but based on an understanding of the relations between different parts of the watershed. For example, a Payment for Ecosystem Services System was proposed so that the farmers in the lower watershed who depend on water from the upper watershed could fund reforestation activities in the mountains.

What these examples show is that good adaptation is not only an outcome (such as those described in the ELLA knowledge materials), but also a research and planning process, which should be stakeholder-driven and inclusive. Both traditional and scientific sources of knowledge should be fed into such a process, to make sure that the results are not only context-specific, but also sustainable under future climate conditions, and that proposed adaptation actions can build on existing capacities and approaches as much as possible.

Inclusive stakeholder processes also create ownership and ensure the compatibility of proposed actions with plans and policies in related sectors. For example, adaptation plans should not be independent from government policies on water and agriculture, but should be integrated into them. The same is true for disaster risk management policies and institutions, which often have a large overlap with climate change adaptation. To enable this integration, decision makers from the relevant government agencies need to be involved in the research and planning process. Finally, participatory adaptation processes are also a great opportunity to strengthen local research capacity. Local actors need to be involved as much as possible in designing the process and conducting the research.

Latin American countries, including their mountain regions, have relevant experiences and lessons to share from their research and planning processes that enabled the identification, prioritisation and implementation of tailor-made adaptation options. Without doubt, many of the experiences illustrated in the ELLA knowledge materials have built on similar participatory exercises. The lessons from these processes, as I have tried to show, are as important as the outcomes themselves.

[1] This experience is documented in a short brief by IISD and CARE: CRiSTAL Supports Climate-Resilient Development in the Peruvian Andes

Marius Keller leads the work of the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) on climate risk management in Latin America and the Caribbean and is responsible for the ongoing development of the CRiSTAL tool for local-level adaptation. He has been involved in research and capacity building projects focusing on climate risks in agriculture, food security, water, forestry and health. Before joining IISD, he worked for the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (UNECLAC) and the Swiss Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN), as well as HEKS and Bread For All (Charities of Swiss Protestant Churches), where he developed and applied a climate proofing tool in rural development projects across the world.


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