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Earth Today | ‘Marry climate change adaptation to social protection’

Published:Thursday | March 17, 2022 | 12:07 AM
Extreme hurricane events are among the climate change impacts to which Caribbean small island developing states are most vulnerable.
Extreme hurricane events are among the climate change impacts to which Caribbean small island developing states are most vulnerable.

AS THE world looks to realise transformative readiness for climate change impacts and risks, a reminder has come to value and pursue the ‘marriage’ between adaptation and social-protection programmes.

“Integrating climate adaptation into social-protection programmes, including cash transfers and public works programmes, is highly feasible and increases resilience to climate change, especially when supported by basic services and infrastructure,” notes the recently published Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability.

“Social safety nets are increasingly being reconfigured to build adaptive capacities of the most vulnerable in rural and also urban communities. Social safety nets that support climate change adaptation have strong co-benefits with development goals such as education, poverty alleviation, gender inclusion and food security,” added the report of the United Nations body, which has the responsibility to assess the science of climate change.

Adaptation to climate change is seen as especially critical for small island developing states, including those of the Caribbean that are among the countries most vulnerable to the impacts and risks. These impacts and risks include sea level rise and the associated coastal erosion and loss of coastal livelihoods; as well as extreme weather events, such as the hurricanes experienced over recent years and which caused billions of dollars in damage and lost lives.

The IPCC is not alone. A 2008 paper, titled Social Protection and Climate Change Adaptation, authored by Mark Davies and others, notes that “social protection and climate change adaptation have much in common, as they both seek to protect the most vulnerable and promote resilience. Yet they remain somewhat disparate fields of research, policy and practice.

“While social protection aims to build resilience to some climate-related disasters, insufficient attention has been paid in the social protection sphere to the long-term risks posed by climate change. Likewise, climate change adaptation has not fully considered the policy and programmatic options that social protection can provide,” the paper noted.

That gap, the paper suggested, should be bridged, pointing to weather-indexed crop insurance as an example of the way in which this can be done.

“… There has been a shift away from insuring against poor crop yields towards insuring directly against bad weather. A contract is written against an index establishing a relationship between lack of rainfall and crop failure, verified by long historical records of both rainfall and yields. Farmers collect an immediate payout if the index reaches a certain measure, or ‘trigger’, regardless of actual losses, so farmers still have an incentive to make productive management decisions,” the researchers explained.

“When well designed, they may also permit farmers to enhance adaptive capacity through greater risk-taking experimentation in agriculture practices not possible in crop insurance schemes,” they added.

Another example used is asset transfers.

“Selling productive assets such as livestock is a common coping strategy among the rural poor during times of climatic stress or shock. The inability to access such assets traps the poor in a persistent cycle of chronic poverty. So a sustainable strategy for disaster reduction must focus on activities to help the vulnerable build assets that incorporate climate screening, in order to ensure that such assets are able to support resilience in a changing climate,” the paper said, citing a number of other researchers.

The Global Commission on Adaptation, in its 2019 report, championed the need for greater investments in the area, noting that governments should “expand and tailor social safety nets to support shock-response and long-term resilience”.

“With the right data on beneficiaries, existing social-protection systems can be modified to provide top-up benefits in emergencies or reach a wider group of people in need. Social safety nets can be an important element of livelihood security for smallholder farmers, and similarly for urban residents living in poverty and the informal sector,” said the Adapt Now: A Global Call for Leadership on Climate Resilience report.