BOOK REVIEW: Adapting to a Changing Environment: Confronting the Consequences of Climate Change

Book coverBook Title: Adapting to a Changing Environment: Confronting the Consequences of Climate Change (2011) by  Tim R. McClannahan, Senior Conservation Zoologist with the Wildlife conservation Society and Joshua E. Cinner, Senior Research Fellow at the James Cook University.

The book is focused on the Western Indian Ocean Communities. These communities depend on fisheries and coral harvesting to sustain a livelihood. Some communities have over-harvested their coral reefs.  Climate change is causing waters in this part of the world to heat up affecting the source of their livelihood. This book analyses the state of their environment and the adaptive capacity of the people to withstand the impacts of climate change.

The book contains eleven (11) chapters. The first six chapters contain excellent background on impacts of climate change. Chapter 7 and 8 contain instruction on how to build an adaptive capacity model. Chapter 9 and 10 describes the social and ecological adaptation. Chapter 11 – talks about the future and how to confront the consequences of climate change.

This book is recommended for practitioners interested in helping communities adapt to the changing climate.

Chapters of Interest

The chapters of interest are chapter 7-10.

To identify the adaptive capacity of communities to climate change the authors measured the environmental and social attributes that predisposes communities to impacts of climate change.

Adaptive capacity is the flexibility with which communities can cope with changes. Adaptive capacity  of the people in the West Coast of Africa was measured by measuring the communities (i) flexibility to switch between livelihood strategies (ii) Social organization (iii) Learning – recognizing change and taking advantage of the change or adapting  (iv) Assets – the resources to draw on in times of change.

Data collection for this exercise involved extensive surveys. What is missing in the book is the survey to collect adaptive capacity data and the kind of information that was collected.   Environmental health was measured by surveying the health of the coral reef.

Data analysis was done using the Analytical Hierarchy Process (AHP).  AHP is one of the multiple criteria decision-making methods. AHP provides measures of judgment consistency by deriving priorities among criteria and alternatives and then simplifies preference ratings among decision criteria using pairwise comparisons.

The analyzed data was then mapped into a 4 quadrat planning graph. Depending on where the communities fell in the quadrat given their environmental health versus the adaptive capacity, the planners can then develop locally appropriate strategies to address the challenge of climate change.

graphThe heart of the book is this graph which identifies and explains what action communities should take to help them adjust to climate change depending on which quadrat the community falls in.

For instance, when both Adaptive Capacity and Environmental health of a community is high, the intervention is in quadrat C. The activities of the community must be toward transforming and managing the health of their environment, while the ability of the people to look after themselves must be preserved and enforced.

On the other hand, when both environment health and adaptive capacity is low, the prescribed intervention is in quadrat A. The environment needs relief immediately which means that it must be left alone to recover, while the adaptive capacity of the people must be built.

The more adaptive the community , the more flexibility they have to adjust to changes in the environment.

In the last chapter, the authors discuss the merits of the method. They encourage nested efforts in addressing adaptive capacity issues in communities. At the very top of the nested effort is the international community, followed by the government, then the sub-national government and at the core is the local scale where the project is happening.  This is to ensure accountability when it comes to implementation.

The authors however caution that adaptation measures can potentially create unintended and unforeseen consequences on other social and natural systems creating uncertainty about the outcomes of AC. In an attempt to build adaptive capacity, social equity must also be taken into consideration. Excluded communities can undermine efforts to build adaptive capacity in chosen communities.

This model is a one-off tool. Ideally this exercise must be repeated within 4/5 years to measure the changes that have taken place.   It is costly to run this exercise in the field because it requires stringent data collection. The data collected must be in a format that can be analyzed by the AHP.

Application to Papua New Guinea

The adaptive capacity model is a helpful planning tool because it identifies environmental health and human capacity as the two factors that can be used to measure community capability to respond to impacts of climate change.

The model identifies the ideal situation then analyses the current situation, then detects the deficiency in the system. Once that is done, it becomes easier to identify interventions.  The interventions can then be turned into project activities.

The challenge of using this model is proponents will need to work out a method for data collection, and then identify the kind of information that must be collected.

Logically this is a project that must be undertaken by the government through its designated authority dealing with Climate Change.

It may work at District level and above for several reasons.  First, districts are a planning unit in the PNG system and therefore, planning for adaptive capacity can happen at that level. Second, districts have a budget and this may be the way to get the commitment by the governments to systematically address the interventions identified.  Third, the provincial government and the National Government are the levels of government that can ensure that such plans are implemented. This fits in with the nested level of implementation. Such projects require investment of money and infrastructure – all of which are the responsibility of all the levels of government.

The danger however, is this exercise may become just one more planning exercise. If there is no follow-through, this may become a waste of time and resources for both the planners and the people. The local people may become disillusioned because they would have identified the interventions, but lack the tools and the capacity to implement those activities.


1 Comment

  1. April 6, 2016 at 4:38 am

    Reblogged this on menggeyaomorobeblog.

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