How can local communities best be supported to adapt to climate change? How can an enabling policy context be established in order to scale-up adaptation? This chapter assesses community-based approaches to climate change adaptation in Asia, Africa and Latin America. It finds that vulnerability to climate change is linked to the ability to access and control resources and to the opportunity and skills to influence decisions that affect people’s livelihoods. The principal threat to creating communities that can adapt successfully to climate change is institutional and political marginalisation; Governance and policy frameworks must be transformed in order to address exclusion.
National and international institutional policy contexts do not currently enable people to improve their environments. However, a community-based approach has the potential to deliver an enabling policy environment through established mechanisms: enhancing social networks and focusing on the processes of engagement – participation, equality and respect – that respond to local interests.
Case studies show that it is necessary to provide networks of support for community groups and information and resources for farmers’ organisations guided by responsive district government, appropriate research and effective extension. Too often, however, policies are enacted that prevent people from adopting strategies that would them cope with shocks:
- In agriculture, the dominant model is intensive production of a limited number of crops, using varieties that often depend on a predictable water supply and regular applications of fertiliser.
- The prevailing model of information provision and extension is heavily centralised and overly bureaucratic. Furthermore, liberalisation and the privatisation of services has led to remote groups of people receiving no service at all.
- Agricultural research institutes frequently do not involve farmers as active partners in their research and do not take farmers’ problems as the starting point for their research programmes.
- Poor people are regularly marginalised from policy processes and by regulatory control and their interests are unrepresented in decision-making.
The challenge of establishing an enabling policy environment for adapting to climate change is to take the principles and processes of community-based practice and embed them into the policies that govern administrative functions, decision-making and accountability. Adaptation carries enormous financial implications, but its main cost is political. The cost per beneficiary is reduced by the economies of scale that social movements generate.
- The policy and practice of governments at all levels will need to change if access to information is to be improved.
- Community development systems should be developed as an alternative to costly public service extension systems, with government providing a regulatory role and updating technical skills.
- Research institutes must take up the research needs of smallholders on food production, processing and marketing, including disseminating relevant findings and running training courses for local NGOs.
- Decision-making should be localised through networks of user groups linked to institutions. Policies would then become more responsive to local knowledge of environmental risks and opportunities.
- Advocacy for change can be supported through enhanced relationships between community-based networks and institutions and through facilitated policy discussions.
- The UNFCCC and Adaptation Fund Board should make adaptation funds subject to a partnership agreement with civil society stakeholders or NGOs with experience in implementation programmes.