The right decisions now can make "bouncing back" easier

by Sebastian Kobler | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Friday, 14 July 2017 11:59 GMT

Workers construct a wall near the sea in Cancun, August 12, 2015. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido

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How do you build resilience that works against worsening climate shocks? Ask good questions first

To many, “climate resilience” may seem an abstract and obscure concept. But Koko Warner, who works on environmental migration, social vulnerability and climate adaptation issues at U.N. University has a simpler description: the ability to “bounce back” from climate-linked setbacks.

That ability, she said, is built largely on making the right kind of decisions in preparation for those shocks.

“There are innumerable decisions between us and the future we choose,” Warner said at Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN) conference in London. Depending on the decisions we make, we could end up with either a high resilience, low risk world or a low resilience, high risk world.

What do good decisions look like? One example might be the Caribbean Resilience Development Implementation Plan, developed by the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre in partnership with CDKN and the Department for International Development.

Acting on climate resilience is especially important for Caribbean nations because they are particularly vulnerable to extreme weather events – such as Hurricane Matthew in 2016 – that are occurring more frequently as a result of climate change.

Although the small size of Caribbean nations presents a challenge – among other things, they are not large enough to be well-represented in many global climate models – their small size also makes one things easier for those trying to build resilience: it’s easy to find the right people quickly.

As well, “resilience is about asking questions” said John Firth, who heads Acclimatise, a climate change consultancy group that worked on the Caribbean resilence-building effort.

Just because something has always been done in a certain way, does not mean it is the right - or most resilient – way, he said.

He found that framing conversations about climate resilience in terms of risk worked well – people in institutions could be trained to assess risk, and that helped them understand the need for climate resilience.

Another way to focus attention, Firth said, would be to develop a tracking tool to see how climate impacts hit public spending – such as the cost of repairing roads damaged by flooding. That could help strengthen the economic or business case for building resilience to climate change now,, he said.

Such ideas don’t work only in the Caribbean. The lower Limpopo River basin in Mozambique also faces significant problems from climate change, including, increasingly, water scarcity.

CDKN has worked with the Mozambican government to investigate different water management options to make the area’s infrastructure more climate resilient.

One particular success, experts said, was in changing the mindset of engineers who worked on infrastructure problems. As they began thinking about how infrastructure could be built to be more climate resilient, they then took away those skills from on-the-job training and began applying them in a wider range of projects.

Climate resilience requires organisations and institutions learning to approach issues through a new way of thinking – and, signs suggest, that is what is starting to happen.

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