Solutions for climate adaptation need to span multiple sectors, government departments and societal contexts. The challenge is great but we can meet it by combining natural and built assets with incentives for collective action and the optimization of traditional knowledge.
Coastal areas and small islands states face an existential threat due to the impact of climate change on their shelter, land, food, and livelihood.
Recent projections estimate that 190 million people live in areas projected to be below high tide lines by year 2100 and 70% of them are in Asia. Coastal erosion exacerbated by climate change further risks the pristine ecosystems on which local industries are highly dependent, including tourism, fishing, pearl mining, among others.
Many people living in these areas have built resilience over time to climate change and hazards from natural disasters through coping mechanisms. These include raising homes on stilts, building coastal defense structures (such as dikes and sea walls), developing coastal forests, migrating to safer areas, and altering agriculture and fishing practices.
The scale of uncertainty and increasing risks from climate change has now outpaced traditional coping mechanisms. This is a wake-up call to the development community, and policy- and decision-makers.
Investments in infrastructure, as well as social and natural resources, need to prioritize resilience-building, not only in communities but also in the local government institutions that are on the front line. They are bearing the responsibility of balancing safety and service provisions for people during crisis.
The Conference of Parties COP23 in 2017, led by the Government of Fiji, representing small island states for the first time, provided an impetus to adaptation and addressing existential threats. A recent evaluation of ADB’s support for climate change recommended the expansion of the scope of adaptation investments from climate proofing infrastructure to including non-structural measures which also help strengthen community engagement; and as well as the explicit adaptation indicators in project results frameworks for tracking outcomes.
Here are three innovative guideposts for sustainably transforming project and program designs to accelerate adaptation.
Improve the management of nature-based solutions and gray infrastructure.
Governments face a complex task when combining gray infrastructure (embankments, roads, bridges, water supply networks, ports, and harbors) with green infrastructure and nature-based solutions, which protect, manage, and restore ecosystems while providing both human well-being and biodiversity benefits.
To develop these hybrid solutions for climate change adaptation, natural ecosystems and gray infrastructure should be inventoried as assets and integrated into area development plans with allocated resources and responsibility for operations and maintenance. This process, called total asset management, extends the life of infrastructure and ecosystems.
An example of this can be found in the coastal city of Chennai, India, where the Chennai Rivers Restoration Trust was created. The trust is tasked with integrating actions from government departments to manage natural assets through planning, coordination, funding, and monitoring. The implementation, operation and maintenance remains with the government departments.
In the Maldives, an inter-governmental national coordination body is directed by a national strategy and action plan to manage interventions in the exclusive economic zone of the Maldives which forms the asset base of its economy. This is comprised of coastal and marine ecosystems (coral reefs, seagrass beds, lagoons, beaches, and mangroves). The primary contributors to the economy – tourism and fisheries – depend on the effective management of this asset base.
Governments face a complex task when combining gray infrastructure (embankments, roads, bridges, water supply networks, ports, and harbors) with green infrastructure and nature-based solutions.
Institutionalize traditional ecological knowledge to enhancing investment designs.
The traditional practices of communities, especially towards changing weather patterns and managing natural resources, are valuable resources for informing infrastructure design to improve disaster response. In agriculture practice these are key to food security due to its vital nexus with natural resource management. Together, with forestry, fishery, livestock farming, and grazing, these enable the harnessing of ecosystem services—an important co-benefit of adaptation. Adopting a mixed approach that combines such traditional knowledge with evolving practices in agroforestry can help to scale-up benefits from adaptation.
For example, in Yunnan Province, in the People’s Republic of China, tea production has sustained local livelihoods for 1,300 years. They adopt intercropping systems combining tea and fruit trees which have demonstrated multiple environmental benefits to conserve water and reduce soil erosion, increase organic soil matter, suppress weeds and pests, and provide shade.
In Japan, another example of a mixed approach can be found. Rice farmers have deployed flocks of ducks into rice fields to help control weeds and pests. The integrated farming system has been refined with modern enclosure systems and knowledge to artificially hatch large flocks of ducklings. It has resulted in lower labor costs, greater benefits of weed and pest control, and increased plant health and soil fertility.
Collective action through partnering with the private sector and communities for the creation of resilient agriculture value chains.
Harnessing the private sector for technology application and entrepreneurship can scale up climate change adaptation investments. Since 2012, Papua New Guinea, in collaboration with the private sector, transformed dairy production by stabilizing supply chains to hotels, restaurants and local markets, thereby providing a continued source of livelihood.
Another example is the Rainforest Alliance, which offers a global certification program and helps restore ecosystems and connects farmers with markets. It also provides training in digital record-keeping and regenerative growing practices to boost yields and incomes. This is vital because almost 75% of the world’s coffee relies on small farms being challenged by rising temperatures, plant diseases, and climate shocks.
Clearly, there is no simple formula to address the existential threat facing coastal communities and small island states. Solutions for adaptation need to span multiple sectors, government departments and societal contexts.
The challenge is great but we can meet it by combining natural and built assets with incentives for collective action and the optimization of traditional knowledge.