The impact of climate change is going to affect the poorest communities the most, so the focus has shifted to formalising community-based adaptation (CBA) to climate change, which will help the poorest and most vulnerable" to access funding and information.
"Even with the best of intentions and lots of money being made available by the international community towards adaptation to climate change, it will only trickle down to the poorest and most vulnerable (as is our experience of development funding in general in the past)," said Saleemul Huq, head of the climate change group at the London-based International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED).
But what is CBA to climate change?
Huq explained by email that CBA is "still an 'aspirational' term that (we hope) will describe the universe of adaptation to climate change activities being done by very vulnerable and poor communities (mostly in developing countries but not necessarily only there) over time. We are still at a very early stage of developing the methodology and definitions."
Many such activities are taking place in Bangladesh, identified as among the countries most vulnerable to the effects of climate change, such as sea level rise, increased flooding, salinity, and frequent droughts in some areas.
As the rains have become more intense and frequent over the years, villagers struggling with waterlogged fields in parts of southern Bangladesh have been growing food on floating islands of paddy straw, water hyacinths and other aquatic plants; hydroponics, or soil-less agriculture, is another way of adapting to "climate variability", as Huq put it.
|Even with the best of intentions and lots of money being made available by the international community towards adaptation to climate change, it will only trickle down to the poorest and most vulnerable|
The distinction between adaptation to climate change and adaptation to climate variation is often blurred. Climate variability refers to the variations in the mean climate statistics, while climate change refers to long-term significant change in average weather, including climate variability.
The focus is now on "clubbing" all community-based adaptation activities under the term "community-based adaptation (CBA) to climate change", said Huq. "So it is still a work-in-progress to define CBA to Climate Change (as opposed to CBA to Climate Variability)."
A CBA project looks much like any development project - for example, water harvesting in drought conditions rather than a stand-alone response to climate change - noted an IIED policy brief written by Huq. CBA to climate change is just another new layer added to other community-driven initiatives.
"The adaptation element introduces the community to the notion of climate risk and then factors that into their activities. This makes them more resilient, both to immediate climate variability and long-term climate change," said the IIED brief.
"It should be noted, though, that the few existing CBA projects are so new that they have hardly been tested for resilience to climate variability, let alone to climate change."
The process was the focus of the recent Third International Workshop on CBA in Dhaka, capital of Bangladesh, organized jointly by the IIED, the Bangladesh Centre for Advanced Studies (BCAS) and the Ring Alliance of 13 policy research organisations from across the world.
A Global Initiative on CBA was launched at the workshop to promote the concept and share knowledge. The initiative would not only build a support base of information for communities but would also serve the strategic purpose of advocating "specific quotas" for the most vulnerable in any new global funds for adaptation that may be agreed in the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change or other global processes, said Huq.
"Climate change is an esoteric and initially confusing concept to many," the IIED brief acknowledged. "Communication about it must use a community's own language and terms they can understand."
Studies in Vietnam and Malawi have shown that rural communities often sense the climate is changing and start adapting to climate variability by growing new hardy crop varieties, but lack of understanding was greater in areas with poor communication.
The IIED brief recommended not only translating scientific texts into local languages but also using traditional means of communication such as art and theatre. One of the papers presented at the workshop highlighted the use of rural radio in the Democratic Republic of Congo to inform small-scale farmers of the challenges posed by climate change.
The UK-based Institute for Development Studies has set up a website for exchanging information (www.cba-exchange.org) on CBA to inform NGOs and communities. Google Earth is also working with governments to map adaptation projects globally.