Download Chapter
Asian Development Bank

Chapter 1.4 Introduction

DRR and climate change adaptation

Photo: Asian Development Bank

Climate change is predicted to increase the frequency and severity of certain types of hazard event in many parts of the world. Gradual climatic changes are also likely to have a significant impact on people’s vulnerability. The risk environment is changing and the speed and scale of these changes may be greater than in the recent past. There is also a large degree of uncertainty about future climate change risks and their impacts: climate change may generate new threats which regions and populations have no experience of. People have always adapted their livelihoods and ways of living to climate variability. However, changes in variability are putting pressure on many vulnerable communities’ capacity to adapt, cope and respond, as well as increasing their exposure to weather-related risks. Climate change also affects people indirectly by influencing prices in crop and livestock markets (at global and more local scales), triggering environmental and economic migration and potentially creating conflicts over natural resources.

ODI 2015 and Truscribe

Helping people deal with climate change will support efforts to make disasters less destructive. Video: https://vimeo.com/142153857

In the past, climate change and DRR specialists have operated largely in isolation from one another. However, a growing number of thinkers and organisations are working on ways of integrating DRR with climate change adaptation (CCA), as well as mainstreaming both into development. Development, DRR and CCA are interdependent and mutually reinforcing areas of policy, strategy and action. The key challenge is how to achieve this convergence at conceptual, strategic and operational levels.

In many ways, DRR and CCA have overlapping aims and involve similar kinds of intervention. They share the aim of reducing the impacts of shocks by anticipating risks and addressing vulnerabilities. In practice, CCA and DRR interventions range from supporting long-term sustainable development and vulnerability reduction to more specific measures to help societies adapt to, protect against, prepare for and respond to risks and hazards. This includes adapting development practices to long-term environmental stresses, as well as reducing or managing the risks associated with more frequent, severe and unpredictable weather events.

A stronger connection between the two areas of work could help to reduce losses from climate-related disasters. CCA measures can become more effective by building on existing DRR experiences and through more widespread implementation of DRR. DRR practitioners already use a variety of methods and tools to assess risks and vulnerability (see Chapter 3: Project planning) which can be used or modified for adaptation work. DRR approaches are more likely to be sustainable if they take climate change forecasts into account. DRR would benefit from the longer-term perspective of CCA and its emphasis on addressing the underlying drivers of vulnerability and building adaptive capacities to deal with future problems. Greater collaboration could also make more efficient use of limited human, material and financial resources, although it is not necessarily easy to bring such a wide range of scientists, practitioners and policymakers together.

Although DRR and CCA have much in common, they also have differences in their scope and emphasis. The most obvious is that CCA seeks to manage and reduce risks associated specifically with changes in the climate, whereas DRR also considers other hazards and risks (e.g. earthquakes, volcanic eruptions). In adaptation, the emphasis is more on long-term changes in average climatic conditions, whereas DRR focuses on extreme events. CCA strategies are based on climate science projections of future changes and threats (and the associated uncertainties), whereas DRR remains more grounded in current risks, previous experience and local knowledge. A further challenge is that there is often a lack of climate data on the more local scale at which many development and DRR interventions work.

At a global level, there is already a substantial alliance of scientists, environmentalists and businesses (notably insurers) engaged in advocacy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. At more local levels, disaster workers are sometimes unsure what they can do about climate change beyond what they are already doing to minimise risk. How can they calculate the increased risk due to this problem? How far should their existing disaster planning be stepped up, expanded or altered to counter the threat from climate change? Although there has been much discussion about new or alternative frameworks and tools for bringing DRR and CCA work closer together operationally, agencies are finding that integration can sometimes be achieved relatively simply by modifying existing project planning methods and tools to incorporate a wider range of questions and information. This has been particularly useful in adapting standard risk, vulnerability and capacity assessment tools (see Chapter 3: Project planning) such as seasonal calendars, historical profiles and risk mapping to identify longer-term climate trends and uncertainties.+For example, see ‘Yumi Stap Redi Long Climate Change’: Integrating Climate with Vulnerability and Capacity Assessment in Vanuatu (The Hague: Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre, 2013); Changing Tools in a Changing Climate: Experiences from the Philippines (The Hague: Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre, 2012), http://www.climatecentre.org/publications/case-studies. Many participatory assessments can be adapted in this way (see Case Study 1.4: Identifying and integrating DRR, CCA and other concerns through participatory assessments).

Case Study 1.4 Identifying and integrating DRR, CCA and other concerns through participatory assessments

A research project in Papua New Guinea in 2006–2007 facilitated participatory situation analyses in three rural communities. The aim was to enable the communities to identify and assess evidence, problems and solutions. Each community carried out a detailed situation analysis using participatory tools such as mapping, timelines, seasonal calendars and environmental trend analysis. These enabled them to identify a number of changes in their lives and environments over the years, and to see links between community activities, the environment and increasing natural hazard events and impacts. One community identified connections between local land use practices and the greater frequency of landslides and floods; another realised that farming practices and land clearance were contributing to riverbank erosion. The community groups went on to review the underlying causes of these problems, situating them in a broader development context. All three communities felt, without prompting, that changes in the climate were affecting their vulnerability. However, they saw climate change as just one of the major underlying problems facing them, which included land degradation, lack of government support, population growth and globalisation.

J. Mercer, ‘Disaster Risk Reduction or Climate Change Adaptation: Are We Reinventing the Wheel?’, Journal of International Development, 22(2), 2010.