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Community based approaches to battle climate change

Mar 23, 2010

Participatory Learning and Action 60. Community-based adaptation to climate change, International Institute for Environment and Development’s publication describes how community based adaptation approaches towards climate change, based on participatory methods prove to be more effective than top-down initiatives.

The focus of this special issue is community based adaptation to climate change. Its publication was timed to coincide with the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 15) held in Copenhagen, Denmark, and events surrounding it.


Reducing emissions of greenhouse gases is crucial to limiting the extent of future climate change. However there is also recognition that human-induced climate change is already happening, and those most affected will be the estimated one billion people living in developing countries who are already poor and marginalized.

It is now increasingly recognised that, for poor communities, adaptation approaches that are rooted in local knowledge and coping strategies, and in which communities are empowered to take their own decisions, are likely to be far more successful than top-down initiatives. In addition, communities have the right to participate in decisions that affect them. ‘Good’ community-based adaptation, like other forms of participatory development, is community-driven, empowering, and strengthens local capacity. Much CBA is rooted in disaster risk reduction approaches, designed to build the resilience of communities to disasters, such as floods and drought, with the difference that it should also incorporate longer-term climate change and its predicted impacts into community-based planning.

Communities have a wealth of knowledge about the local environment, and have been adapting to and coping with change for years. Although this knowledge and traditional coping mechanisms may become less effective as climate change leads to greater unpredictability in weather patterns (e.g. rain coming at any time rather than at predictable times) and more extreme events (e.g. droughts and floods) it remains an invaluable resource, and, in the absence of historical written records, is often the only source of information on e.g. rainfall trends.

This is not to say that scientific knowledge does not have a very significant role to play in helping communities to adapt to climate change, and many of the articles in this issue reflect on the respective strengths and weaknesses of local and scientific knowledge, and how the two can best be integrated.

The issue describes how community-based approaches to climate change have emerged, and the similarities and differences between the relatively new field of CBA and other participatory development and disaster risk reduction approaches. The issue observes that shifts have occurred in the scope and focus of participation with emphasis on sub-national, national and international decision making downplaying local decision-making. The emphasis now leans to policy processes and institutionalisation, issues of difference and power, assessing the quality and understanding the impact of participation, rather than promoting participation. Participatory Learning and Action reflects these developments and recognises the importance of analysing and overcoming power differentials which work to exclude the marginalised.

This issue is divided into three sections:

i) The first contains reflections on participatory processes and practice in community-based adaptation to climate change. These include participatory vulnerability analyses, disaster risk reduction frameworks, and Farmer Field Schools and case studies which provide a source of experience and lessons for CBA practitioners.

ii) The second focuses on participatory tool-based case studies. These describe a participatory process with an emphasis on the use of a particular participatory tool, such as participatory video or participatory mapping. They also reflect on the strengths and limitations of these tools.

iii) The third looks at participatory tools, step-by-step descriptions of how to facilitate a particular tool in a community, for example, rain calendars and mental models of the drivers and effects of climate change.

The report also presents two tips for trainers. These are:

1) Communication maps which are a participatory tool to understand communication patterns and relationships. It provides a simple and effective way to plot and understand how children communicate with the people in their lives.

2) Tips on using a tool called Rivers of Life, where participants reflect on personal experiences that have motivated them in their personal lives. The symbol of a river is used to reflect on key stages in their lives, reflecting experiences, influences, and challenges.

Source : Eldis
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