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The challenge of adapting to climate change in developing countries

Publication date:
Tom Mitchell
Type of publication:

Climate change poses a huge threat to humans, particularly in developing countries. Until recently, however, donors and governments have done little to prepare for the impacts. A recent report highlights the progress and challenges in enabling development to adapt to a changing climate.Adaptation to climate change is the ability to respond and
adjust to the actual or potential impacts of changing conditions, in order to
reduce harm or exploit opportunities. A report from the Institute of
Development Studies in the UK and Tearfund, a development charity based in the
UK, reviews the progress made by developing countries and donor agencies in
‘mainstreaming’ adaptation. This means including climate change in other development
programmes and budgeting plans.
Many countries have carried out impact assessments to
determine how climate change will affect them. The small island developing
states in the Caribbean and the Pacific, which are
extremely vulnerable to climate change, have made good progress. Wider progress
on mainstreaming climate adaptation has been limited, however. In particular,
mainstreaming adaptation into existing frameworks, such as national Poverty
Reduction Strategy Papers, has been poor.
Challenges to mainstreaming climate change adaptation in
developing countries include:
A lack of awareness amongst many policymakers
and development workers about the potential impacts of climate change, and little
information about how these relate to development priorities.
with little policy influence, such as environmental organisations or
meteorological departments, often deal with climate change. There is poor
coordination between organisations working on climate change and those involved with development
and disaster risk reduction.
Policymaking related to
climate change often overlooks important groups of actors, particularly civil
is a risk of ‘mainstreaming fatigue’ if efforts to integrate climate change
adaptation are not successful. This means that adaptation may not receive the
attention it deserves if staff are under-motivated or
overworked. Also, donors and planners may not accept the costs of changing their
working practices.
countries, largely responsible for climate change, must assist developing
countries’ adaptation, through provision of financial and technical assistance.
However, current levels of funding and support are woefully inadequate.
Climate change is likely to affect developing countries most
significantly. They are more reliant on agriculture, which is closely linked to
climatic conditions. They are also more vulnerable to changes in coastal
environments and water resources, and have limited money or expertise to cope
with damaging changes. It is vital, therefore, that adaptation strategies
become a central part of development planning. Key recommendations include:
Governments need to work
closely with the scientific community to help it provide information that is easy
to understand and more relevant to development activities.
A broad range of
stakeholders should be involved in climate change policy-making, including
civil society, sectoral departments and senior policymakers.
Funding for adaptation will need to increase well beyond current levels.