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How can development agencies help with adaptation to climate change?

Publication date:
Tom Mitchell
Type of publication:

Climate change threatens to undo any progress towards the Millennium Development Goals, with the world’s poorest people suffering the most from its impacts. Development agencies already advocate for cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, but they must also adopt a new role, focusing on helping people to adapt to climate change.Adaptation is
the ability to respond and adjust to the actual or potential impacts of
changing climatic conditions. This can be to reduce harmful impacts or to exploit
opportunities. Research from Tearfund, a UK-based
charity, explains why development agencies (including research institutes and
non-governmental organisations) should be concerned with adaptation, what has
been done so far, and how they might proceed.
Development agencies are concerned with the wellbeing of
poor people. In developing countries, poor people are likely to be the worst
affected by climate change. They are also least responsible for causing the
problem, as they generally emit the fewest greenhouse gases. This raises
questions about fairness, which development agencies should address.
Poor people’s experiences are crucial to informing efforts about
how to adapt to climate change, both at national and international levels. The
development community is well placed to bring this knowledge to international
negotiations, which are currently dominated by politics and the natural
Development agencies and other institutions already have
experience of climate change adaptation in several areas:
Community-based climate change adaptation: CARE Bangladesh
has helped communities in six flood-prone districts to diversify their
livelihoods, for example through duck-rearing.
Health: as part of efforts to promote proactive
health services, the University of Nairobi in Kenya has developed an early
warning system for malaria, based on climatic conditions.
Water and sanitation: adapting the management of
water resources will be essential. In Niger, Jemed (a
local non-governmental organisation) has been working with the semi-nomadic Tuareg people, helping communities to establish ‘fixation
points’ (such as wells) and conserve rainwater through low dykes.
Agriculture and food
insecurity: the Evangelical Fellowship of Zambia is implementing ‘conservation
farming’ with communities to deal with changing rainfall patterns.
Disaster risk
reduction: The Vietnam Red Cross has helped to protect coastal communities threatened
by typhoons through cultivating mangrove plantations, which not only provide
storm protection but also create a source of seafood farming.
Adaptation efforts such as these are currently fragmented
and not always consciously seen as adaptation to climate change. They need to
be brought together and built upon so people can learn from each other’s
Development agencies should:
raise awareness among partner organisations about
make all their programmes more responsive to
climate change impacts
plan their adaptation activities carefully to
ensure that they are consistent with poverty reduction policies, plans and
engage with international climate change debates
and continue to advocate for government action on climate change and adaptation
build links with researchers
to help create and refine new approaches to adaptation.