Community adaptation – the key to security in the face of climate change?

March 31, 2009

The international community has so far failed to adequately address the problem of climate change. Although there is still a case for mitigation efforts, it is clear that climate change is already under way. If states ever find it beneficial to join a concerted global effort on emissions cuts, it is likely to be for economic rather than humanitarian reasons. By committing themselves to climate change mitigation, states may earn income from existing and potential emission markets, gain advantages in the emerging fields of green technology and energy, and maybe more importantly,  enhance their chances of long-term economic growth and stability. Therefore, a human security approach is not likely to be influential, effective or even needed in the area of global climate change mitigation.

Instead, human security advocates could help by concentrating on the people affected by climate change and on decreasing its negative impacts.  This can be done through two broad strategies: disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation. While the former diminishes the impacts of natural disasters and decreases the occurrence of human-induced ones, the latter concentrates on helping societies adjust to new circumstances brought about by climate change. Together, they may enable people to live with the changes they are facing. 

One example of a successful local implementation of these strategies is found in Nepal’s Jugedi stream watershed, an area suffering from climate change-related disasters in the form of prolonged droughts and floods. Since 2004, the INGO Practical Action has implemented a project in cooperation with local NGOs and poor rural communities aiming at climate change adaptation and resilience through livelihood diversification, environmental protection, and disaster prevention. The measures have included climate change and disaster awareness campaigns, emergency preparation and early warning systems for floods, as well as the introduction of new crops and landslide-resistant agricultural methods such as hedgerow technology. Also, simple systems to measure precipitations and other climate variables have been installed at schools, helping produce accurate place-specific predictions for future adaptation strategies.

This is a more realistic and practical approach than campaigning for international mitigation, since risk reduction and adaptation initiatives can concentrate on this type of narrow-scoped, local programs. Risk reduction and adaptation strategies should, as in Nepal, be closely linked to local development. They should address local needs, and empower people to improve their own lives rather than make communities dependent on aid. The main role of governments and IGOs should be to provide support for community and NGO initiatives and to develop policies that enable and facilitate local action. With the active involvement of local communities, application of local skills and knowledge, and implementation of locally controlled projects with limited scope , solutions under this approach are more likely to be both cost-efficient, well-targeted, and sustainable.

The projects in Nepal have been well received on both governmental and local levels, and the methods developed are being incorporated in regional and national strategies. On the whole, these projects have left communities more educated, less vulnerable, and better equiped to cope with the effects of climate change.

Would it be better to concentrate on adaptation rahter than on mitigation, as climate change is already a threat to human security? Or should we focus on emissions cuts in order to prevent an even larger impact in the future?



7 Responses to “Community adaptation – the key to security in the face of climate change?”

  1. jfdupre Says:

    Dear Anna,

    many thanks for this interesting blog post. I think you are raising very important issues. While I agree with you to a certain extent that the FOCUS should be on local intervention/adaptation, I wonder if we should not try to act on both fronts. Isn’t there a risk, for instance, that some State actors come to rely on Human Security types of human intervention (perhaps dispensed by INGOs?) without addressing Global Change issues? In other words, isn’t there a greater incentive for free-riding in such framework?


  2. lkmkatrina Says:

    Thanks for your post.

    While I think you are right to some extent that focusing resources on local adaptation is more sustainable and more manageable, I think that we should work out on both mitigation and adaptation. As George Monbiot pointed out in his article, we cannot afford to give up on mitigation no matter how grim the prospect is, because the cost of adaptation is far higher than that of mitigation.

    You think that “a human security approach is not likely to be influential, effective or even needed in the area of global climate change mitigation”, so do you mean that by shifting away from the Kyoto model, the fairer “per capita” approach put forward by human security advocate won’t help much in the mitigation?

  3. annahannus Says:

    J-F and Katrina, thanks for your comments.

    I do agree that action on both fronts is necessary, since adaptation is not likely to be possible (in all areas and for all people) if nothing is done on the mitigation level. Because of this, I don’t think adaptation efforts will enable states to chose “free-riding” in the long run, and it seems like most countries where comprehensive adaptation programs are taking place also tend to emphasize the importance of mitigation. Maybe you are right though, some states might try to escape mitigation resposibilities as long as adaptation seems to be working. Possibly, international adaptation support could be connected to demands for mitigation efforts, but this may lead to situations where communities suffer because of their governments lack of interest in mitigation.

    And maybe a human security approach can have some impact on global mitigation politics, in emphasizing states’ responsibilities towards their and other states’ citizens. I just don’t think that humanitarian concerns will be the main reason for states to work for global mitigation.

    If economic reasons (as I claimed earlier) will make states emphasize mitigation, maybe now is an extra good time. Some people have suggested that the financial crisis have provided the economic possibility to make a huge shift in mitigation policies – as a concerted global stimulus program will be needed to help the global economy back on its feet, they would say, this is a perfect opportunity for states to chose to invest in green technologies, infrastructure, transportation systems, and energy production. In this way, states can combine stimulation of their economies with long-term climate change mitigation efforts – and thus short-term with long-term economic goals.

    I’m not sure of whether the ‘per capita’ approach would make much of a difference, but I doubt it. In international politics, few things are ‘fair’, and it would probably be equally difficult to gain political support for this model as for the previous ones.


  4. Tiffany Lam Says:

    Hi Anna,

    Thanks for your thought-provoking post! I do find the case of the Nepal Jugedi stream very interesting; on a personal level, I find the actions taken by NGOs in the area innovative and contributive in lessening human security threats in the region. Certainly goes the distance to advancing human security needs; as opposed to global, high-handed negotiations, which may take years for the effects to be seen among the populace.

    I have the folllowing concern to add:

    The disaster risk reduction and climate change adaption framework, while capable of providing immediate relief, focuses almost exclusively on people most acutely affected by environmental degradation. In many cases, these are developing countries, where the lack of environmental policy, the haste to industrialize and general poverty have deepened the effects of environmenal degradation on the people. Conversely, many effects of environmenal degradation are not felt by developed nations, who contribute greatly in bring pollution to these regions by industrial investments etc.

    If priority is to be given to these two broad frameworks as you have suggested in your post,what suggestions would you make to ensure that these detached ‘culprits’ will be motivated to provide relief for countries hit hard by a worsening environment, when the effects of their actions are so far removed from them?

    • annahannus Says:

      Hello Tiffany,

      You have a good point, it tends to be the poorest areas of the world that experience the worst consequences of climate change, and indeed, working with adaptation and risk reduction in these countries usually would require aid from more well-off and less threatened states. Even if NGO’s and INGO’s (like Practical Action) supported mainly by civil society contributions can do much on their own, and local communities can do a lot with little resources if relevant knowledge is provided, governments have way more potential resources to contribute.

      I think the same problem applies to most forms of aid flowing from richer to poorer countries, and to many global human security issues. How to make rich countries willing to contribute to the well-being of poorer nations, especially in difficult economic times?
      The reasons for wealthy governments to give aid would be to please their domestic voters or civil society movements (if such exist), to protect their investments and markets in poorer areas (if such exist, and are threatened by human security-related disasters), or to fulfil their standing commitments to international funds or organisations (like the UN).
      You could argue that climate change adaptation is less acute than for example starvation, violent conflicts, or relief to current natural disasters, and therefore even more difficult to find support for.

      It is really problematic, I admit that, and as we’ve discussed many times before, a shift in the perception of duties or responsibilties by wealthier governments may be required. Strengthening the support from civil society for this kind of adaptation projects and spreading the information of their relative cost-effectiveness and benefits is a beginning.

      This week’s discussion will be pretty much about these questions, so I’m looking forward to it..

      Best wishes,

  5. wufiona Says:


    Thank you for your enlightening post in bringing adaptation on the table. Indeed the world is having the hot debate on mitigation, yet less attention has been given to adaptation at the moment.

    If you were to ask me, I would say both mitigation and adaptation matter. As prevention is better than curve, adaptation cannot be as relieving as mitigation. Efforts have to be put continuously in having nations to negotiate on the control on greenhouse gases emission for our better environment. Though it is difficult, but it is not impossible to acheive from my perpective. You never know what would happen is somehow my motto. In term of adaptation, I praise for the work done by various INGOs and NGOs in helping locals suffering from global warming to adapt and resilient. It is the cure to patients after they got infected.

    Concerning the economic reasons for establishing global effort on emissions cuts, I have doubt on real cost in developing green energy source. It bares high initial investment and is not as efficient as fossil fuel from my knowledge gained in science course. I do not think that this economic tempest is a great time to develop renewable energy sources. People would complain why to invest heavily on alternative energy source when they demand more social benefits from the government.

    Just my thought.


    • annahannus Says:

      Dear Fiona,

      I like your motto 🙂

      I agree that mitigation is important as well, I just find it hard to believe that human security would be able to have much of an impact on that debate. Maybe I’m underestimating the possibilty to raise states’ humanitarian concerns, that would be wonderful.

      You are right to point out that green technology migth be expensive and hard to find popular support for at least in some places. But I think that in a lot of (wealthier) countries investments in renewable energy are quite positively perceived. Right now, when many states are desperate to create new job opportunities, maybe it is easier to make some of the necessary investments in renewable energy. Maybe states that have been considering enhancing their use of these sources as a part of their mitigation efforts could take the opportunity to invest now.
      In the EU, it is estimated that the jobs directly created by the windmill industry will double to 330,000 by 2020. Maybe this is not that much, but still.. It’s something.


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