It was a slow day today during the final sessions of the 5th Asia Pacific Climate Adaptation Forum. Participation at the sessions was low, possibly because participants were fatigued and planning to return home, after a slightly disappointing couple of days at the conference. Many sessions could be described as mediocre at best, and downright boring at worst.
That is not to say that emerging approaches to contemporary climate change issues were not discussed at the conference.
One of these themes was measuring vulnerability and resilience. Why do we measure these? Mostly to gain an understanding of how much money will be needed, where, and who needs it the most. Many numbers of how much finance will be required for adaptation to a 2 degree world. For example, Barney Dickson quoted from a study by the UNEP ‘The Adaptation Gap Report, 2016, saying ‘180 billion and 300 billion USD will be needed annually for adaptation alone following 2020. By 2050, 500 billion USD a year will be the cost of adaptation globally’ said Barney, quoting figures from the UNEP report titled ‘The Adaptation Gap Report, 2016’. The UN’s State of Food and Agriculture Report, 2016, warns that by 2030, 122 million more people throughout the world could be living in extreme poverty due to climate change.
Whilst there are climate modelling mechanisms that have become sophisticated enough to come to the number of ‘2’ degrees, quantifying vulnerability and resilience is another story. Human factors are difficult to mathematise and apply formulas to, and ensuring local contexts have been taken into account is another story.
One session today aimed to look at how adaptation and resilience are measured across South Asia. At the session, titled ‘Operationalising approaches for evaluating adaptation and resilience’, researchers from ‘Action on Climate Change Today’ (ACT) explained the most crucial aspect of even beginning to think about measurements. ‘What are we measuring?’ asked Dr. Aditya Bahadur ‘How do we even define resilience?’
Research from ACT presented at the session claimed that there are very few frameworks for measuring national level resilience. Dr. Bahadur pointed out that whilst work has been done throughout the region on measuring individual and household level resilience, that kind of attention has not been given to measuring the resilience of a nation. And if you want to talk about ‘bridging the gap between policy and practice’ , as the conference aims to do, at the end of the day, the reality is that climate finance is generally a topic handled by national governments, who apply for funds at the National level for local level vulnerabilities.
ACT works with trying to integrate their approaches into government processes. According to Dr. Bahadur, Monitoring and Evaluation is one of he most important tools for measurement and the improvement of tools. But according to their research, ACT feels that outputs are more important at the moment in many resilience approaches rather than outputs. An example he presented was that an outcome would be coverage of vulnerable population by early warnings vs use of early warnings for safe evacuation. If this continues to be the case, adaptation efforts may be ineffective. An example of this given was a project where a village in Nepal was assessed to be very resilient, following the application of a resilience measurement tool. However, a few months after, a flood hit the village and almost 70 percent of the village was ‘wiped out’.
In light of this, Debbie Menezes, ACT, pointed out the importance of a better understanding of context while designing approaches. ‘Contexts are dynamic’, she aptly put, and stressed the importance of taking the nature and types of climate impacts, contexts into account.
While attending these sessions, the ACT one being an example amongst many, a thought that refused to go away was that if we are already talking about climate financing, with the GCF already disbursing funds (while it must be acknowledged that only 1 out of 8 approved projects has already been awarded funding), how have we already got these numbers on how much finance will be needed?
If the conversation on climate finance has already advanced to the stage that funds are being disbursed, I can’t help but wonder where the numbers are coming from. How do we know that Pakistan will need 36 million to adapt to GLOF in Pakistan? If we are as committed to measurements and maths as we appear to be in conferences such as this, how are we relying on individualized assessments on finance needs at local levels?
While sessions like this are reassuring in that they reinforce the importance of having methodologies and approaches that are not only standardized but also are striving to improve our understanding of the numbers behind resilience, I cant help but worry that some of the numbers we rely on so much for global, national and local level adaptation planning may be seriously flawed.