Responding to a Changing Climate: Exploring how Disaster Risk Reduction, Social Protection and Livelihoods Approaches Promote Features of Adaptive Capacity

Lindsey Jones et al
Overseas Development Institute (ODI)
Year of publication: 

How can other humanitarian and development approaches help enhance communities’ capacity to adapt to a changing climate? This paper examines which aspects of disaster risk reduction, social protection and livelihoods approaches can contribute to adaptive capacity and how these approaches can better respond to climate change and facilitate adaptation. While recognising that each approach has its distinct niche and strength, it argues that, as a collective, the three together can help in promoting certain features of adaptive capacity.

Adaptation actions refer to actual adjustments, or changes in decision environments, which might enhance resilience or reduce vulnerability to observed or expected changes in climate. Central to adaptation is the notion of adaptive capacity – the ability of a system to evolve in order to accommodate shock and stress or to expand the range of variability with which it can cope.

In order to further understand how features of disaster risk reduction (DRR), social protection (SP) and livelihoods (LH) approaches can contribute to promoting adaptive capacity, a new framework is needed. The Africa Climate Change Resilience Alliance (ACCRA) framework involves:

  • The asset base: The availability and interplay of key assets needed to respond to evolving circumstances in a changing climate
  • Institutions and entitlements: An institutional environment that allows equitable access and entitlement to key assets
  • Knowledge and information: The system has the ability to collect, analyse and disseminate knowledge and information in support of adaptive activities
  • Innovation: The system creates an enabling environment to foster innovation and experimentation
  • Flexible, forward-thinking decision making and governance: The system’s governance structures and planning are able to anticipate, incorporate and respond to changes.

It is important to understand how each intervention contributes to the various features of adaptive capacity. Quantifiable evidence of the impacts of interventions on reducing vulnerability and increasing adaptive capacity is currently very limited, but analysis to date suggests that:

  • Many DRR, SP and LH interventions contribute to features of adaptive capacity: All of these approaches seek to provide, protect or recover assets or to strengthen or create institutions (formal and informal) at multiple levels, although each approach tends to have a specific focus.
  • Efforts to enhance adaptive capacity require a focus on particular features: Many DRR, SP and LH interventions have gone a long way towards enhancing adaptive capacity without a deliberate intention to do so, but the challenge of climate change requires an examination into which particular elements of the approaches and different interventions can contribute to adaptation. For example, in terms of how different elements of SP can contribute to adaptation: social assistance can protect those most vulnerable to climate risks and preventive measures (such as weather-based risk insurance) can stave off damaging coping strategies, whereas promotive and transformative strategies can help people to withstand shocks.
  • No single intervention addresses all of the features of adaptive capacity, but they can complement each other to promote adaptive capacity as a collective. For example, DRR interventions might focus on infrastructure, Early Warning Systems and providing information, whereas LH and SP approaches place more emphasis on social and economic vulnerability and on institutions. Ensuring that elements of each approach are combined within a community or system may go a long way towards enhancing adaptive capacity to climate change.
  • However, interventions aiming to enhance adaptive capacity need to explicitly mainstream adaptation within programme operations: Key to achieving this are interventions that support institutions, both formal and informal, in ensuring accountability, equitable representation and entitlement across various levels – local, national, regional or international.