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Interest is growing in supporting vulnerable people and communities to adapt to the impacts of a changing climate, and there is a general assumption that there are close links between development and adaptation. Yet our understanding of the impacts that development interventions have on adaptive capacity at the local level remains limited. Most development interventions are not designed with a climate change
  Overseas Development Institute By Lindsey Jones, Eva Ludi and Simon Levine I nterest is growing in supporting vulnerable peo-ple and communities to adapt to the impacts of a changing climate, and there is a general assump-tion that there are close links between develop-ment and adaptation. Yet our understanding of the impacts that development interventions have on adaptive capacity at the local level remains limited. Most development interventions are not designed with a climate change ‘adaptation’ label, but it is likely that they influence communities’ capacity to adapt to changing shocks and trends – whether as a result of climate change or other pressures associated with development (see Jones et al., 2010). A framework for understanding and assessing adaptive capacity at the local level is needed to begin to understand how it can be supported through wider development processes at both local and national levels. Such a framework may in time serve as a plat-form to monitor progress, identify needs and allocate development resources to enhance a system’s ability to adapt to change. Why another framework? Traditional frameworks to conceptualise adaptive capacity, both at national and local levels, have focused largely on assets and capitals as indicators (Brooks et al., 2005; Dulal et al., 2010). While useful in helping us to understand the resources at the disposal of a system – a nation, a community or a household – to cope with and adapt to changing environments, asset-oriented approaches typically mask the role of processes and functions in supporting adaptive capacity. Understanding adaptive capacity, therefore, entails recognising the importance of various intangible proc-esses: decision-making and governance; the foster-ing of innovation, experimentation and opportunity exploitation; and the structure of institutions and entitlements, for example. Doing this requires moving away from simply looking at what a system has  that enables it to adapt, to recognising what a system does  to enable it to adapt (WRI, 2009). The framework presented here has many similari-ties with others, but it gives greater attention to proc-esses, rather than snapshot pictures of a system at a single point in time. As with all frameworks, the idea is not to claim a greater truth in reflecting reality than other frameworks, but rather to be as useful as Towards a characterisation of adaptive capacity: a framework for analysing adaptive capacity at the local level Background Note December 2010 The  Africa Climate Change Resilience Alliance (ACCRA)  is a consortium working to increase governments’ and development actors’ use of evidence in designing and implementing both humanitarian and development interventions that increase poor and vulnerable communities’ adaptive capacity. Consortium partners include ODI, CARE, Oxfam GB, Save the Children and World Vision. For more information visit The Overseas Development Institute is the UK’s leading independent think tank on international development and humanitarian issues . ODI Background Notes provide a summary or snapshot of an issue or of an area of ODI work in progress. This and other ODI Background Notes are available from ODI at 50: advancing knowledge, shaping policy, inspiring practice ã  2 Background Note possible – specifically, in this case, to those who are looking at how internal and external factors change local adaptive capacity, to make it easier for users to see and to reflect on important dimensions that might otherwise be neglected.This Background Note puts forward a ‘Local Adaptive Capacity framework’ (LAC) developed as part of the Africa Climate Change Resilience Alliance (ACCRA) programme, drawing on extensive consulta-tions with academics, policy-makers and practition-ers. It is an attempt to incorporate intangible and dynamic dimensions of adaptive capacity, as well as capitals and resource-based components, into an analysis of adaptive capacity at the local level. The framework forms the conceptual basis for ACCRA’s country-level research, which seeks to under-stand how development or social protection interven-tions undertaken by ACCRA members, namely, Oxfam, Save the Children, World Vision and CARE contribute to adaptive capacity in 11 communities in three African countries, Uganda, Mozambique and Ethiopia. It starts by recognising that it is currently not feasible to measure adaptive capacity directly  . Instead, LAC is based on an analysis of the characteristics that contribute to the adaptive capacity of a system. These characteristics are identified and further analysed in consultation with practitioners and academics, build-ing on existing literature. The focus of LAC is currently on systems at ‘local’ level, recognising that, while much of the attention has so far been given to developing characteristics and indicators at the national level, little research and analysis has been done on adaptive capacity at the community or household levels. The framework lays out five distinct yet interrelated   characteristics of adaptive capacity, with the underlying assumption that positive impacts on these characteristics should enhance the system’s adaptive capacity. In time it is hoped that tools will be developed that may allow this assumption to be tested, and, as understand-ing of adaptive capacity and ways to monitor it are developed through research, that it will be possible to adapt and improve the LAC. From adaptation to adaptive capacity  At the heart of any local-level adaptation intervention is the need to increase the individual or community’s adaptive capacity. There is still much debate around the definition and practical applications of the term adaptive capacity. Broadly speaking, adaptive capac-ity denotes the ability of a system to adjust, modify or change its characteristics or actions to moderate potential damage, take advantage of opportunities or cope with the consequences of shock or stress (Brooks, 2003). A key component of this is ensur-ing that individuals, communities and societies are actively involved in processes of change (Pettengell, 2010). Importantly, this relates to changes in behav-iour, as well as in resources and technologies.Although the immediate application of this frame-work within ACCRA has been to look at adaptive capacity to climate change, the framework is designed to look at change generally, and may be applicable in other contexts of changing shocks and trends. With this in mind, the characteristics of a system with a high capacity to adapt to a changing climate may largely overlap with those of a system that is resilient to wider external shocks and trends. A framework designed exclusively to look at local capacity to deal with the impacts of climate change would be of doubtful practical utility, as a commu-nity’s ability to respond to climate change depends, at least in part, on underlying drivers of poverty and vulnerability (e.g. levels of economic resources and the effectiveness and flexibility of local institutions), and on factors that both influence and are highly influenced by them (e.g. the willingness of a com-munity to innovate). Moreover, it is seldom the case that adaptation action will be taken in the context of climate change alone (Smit and Wandel, 2006). With this in mind, adaptive capacity to climate change can only be analysed usefully within the context of wider development processes and interventions. Linking adaptation and development Adaptation in developing countries has attracted a great deal of attention in recent years. This is due, in part, to our increasing understanding of humankind’s influence on the climate system and the recognition that actions may be needed to help communities deal with the consequences. Addressing adaptation issues is a central part of the international climate change negotiations (UNFCCC, 2007). The impacts of climate change are widespread, but its consequences will fall disproportionately on developing countries, and typically will hit the poor-est communities within them the hardest (Smith et al., 2003). Generally, these communities also face a host of wider pressures, some of which may be influ-enced by the impacts of climate change – e.g. the threat of displacement in conflict, increasing popula-tion pressure on land, unequal resource distribution and globalisation (O’Brien et al., 2004). Interventions to facilitate adaptation vary con-siderably in breadth, scope and appearance. Conceptually it is useful to distinguish between two distinct approaches (McGray et al., 2007). At one end of the spectrum, actions respond to impacts  3 Background Note associated directly with climate change, such as reducing the size of lakes prone to Glacial Lakes Outburst Floods (GLOFs) or erecting coastal embank-ments in areas threatened by rising sea levels. These impact-centric options tend to approach adaptation as distinct from, and additional to, ‘conventional’ development – though the concept of additionality in relation to adaptation has proven both technically and conceptually difficult to demonstrate, and has been widely criticised (Brown and Kaur, 2009). At the other end of the spectrum, adaptation interventions can be approached as an integral part of ‘good development’. The premise here is that addressing the underlying drivers of poverty and vulnerability will help people and communities to respond to changing shocks and trends more gen-erally, including climate change (Riché et al., 2009; Bapna and McGray, 2008).Although LAC’s roots are in this second approach, in frameworks that look at underlying drivers of poverty and vulnerability, it is merely a framework for looking at change, not a theory of change. It can therefore be used as a lens to look at the impact of any intervention on a system’s capacity to adapt, no matter where such an intervention falls along the ‘spectrum’. Characterising adaptive capacity  In order to understand how adaptive capacity can be influenced at the local level, it is important to charac-terise it. As discussed above, direct assessments of adaptive capacity are not feasible, and so it becomes necessary to identify the characteristics or features that influence it. Unfortunately, understandings of adaptive capacity are still very much in their infancy (Vincent, 2007), and there is no agreement about its characteristics and determinants at national, com-munity or household level. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) identifies economic wealth, technology, information and skills, infrastructure, institutions and equity as the principal determinants of adap-tive capacity (IPCC, 2001), though no distinction is made between determinants at national and local level. Recent assessments argue that social factors, in particular power relations – e.g. ‘social capital’, governance structures and the role and functions of institutions – have been underplayed in earlier stud-ies (IPCC, 2007). Much of the focus in assessments of adaptive capacity has been at the national level, with a heavy emphasis on assets and capitals (for examples of assessments of adaptive capacity at various levels see Yohe and Tol, 2002; Vincent, 2007; Kelly and Adger, 2000; Haddad, 2005; Brooks et al., 2005; Brooks and Adger, 2004; Adger et al., 2004, 2003). A notable exception is the National Adaptive Capacity Framework, which focuses purely on a ‘function-based approach’ (WRI, 2009). Asset-based frameworks of this sort typically rely on aggregate proxy data, and are often designed for comparison across countries (ibid.). As such, national-level indicators generally fail to capture many of the processes and contextual factors that influence adaptive capacity, and are not, therefore, an effective reflection of adaptive capacity at the level, where most adaptation actions take place (Eriksen and Kelly, 2007). Many frameworks have strong links to the Sustainable Livelihoods frame-work (SL), and have adopted the SL’s five ‘capitals’ (human, economic, social, physical and natural) as direct indicators of adaptive capacity at the commu-nity and household levels (see Osman Elsha et al., 2005; CARE, 2009; Deressa, 2008; Vincent, 2007). This has proven to be a useful starting point. However, although the SL framework assists in establishing the resources available to assist adap-tation, and has room to include intangible ‘assets’ and power relations (e.g. knowledge could fall under human capital, local institutions under social capi-tal), it is not easy in practice to use the SL framework either to analyse the dynamic processes central to adaptive capacity, or to take into consideration power relations that may determine adaptive capac-ity at the local level. Intangible factors, such as flexibility, innovation and redundancy, which are hard to capture in the SL framework, are integral aspects of a community’s abil-ity to deal with internal and external shocks. For exam-ple, redundancy, and the extent to which components of a system can be substituted and interchanged to deal with failure or irrelevance, is an important precondition for adjusting and adapting to evolving circumstances (Ospina and Heeks, 2010). The SL framework has been criticised for not incorporating these features. LAC tries to make these more central, 1  without underplaying the importance of asset-based elements. The Local Adaptive Capacity (LAC) framework Based on the findings of ACCRA’s consultative proc-ess, the framework identifies five distinct yet inter-related   characteristics that are conducive to adaptive capacity. These are: the asset base, institutions and entitlements, knowledge and information, innova-tion, and flexible forward-looking decision-making (see Figure 1 and Table 1 overleaf). These parameters  4 Background Note influence and determine the degree to which a com-munity is resilient and responsive to changes in the external environment. Figure 1 shows that the processes that shape these characteristics are very much interdependent  : flexible forward-looking deci-sion-making often requires accurate and applicable knowledge, information and expertise; successful innovation may derive from effective and supportive institutions. The framework does not describe what an adaptive system looks like: it is a framework for looking at (and for) features that tend to support adaptive capac-ity. The ‘characteristics’ may be present in different societies in many different forms. For example, adap-tive capacity may be heightened where a community or household encourages innovation – the general characteristic – to take advantage of new opportuni-ties presented. The specific features of any particular system that will encourage or discourage innovation may vary enormously. Including ‘innovation’ as a characteristic means that anyone using LAC will be prompted to think about innovation (see below) when analysing any aspect of the community/system, e.g. the impact of any development intervention. It does not mean that LAC assumes that innovation is always a prerequisite to increased adaptive capacity. Table 1: LAC’s five characteristics and their features  Adaptive capacity at the local levelCharacteristicFeatures that reflect a high adaptive capacity  Asset baseAvailability of key assets that allow the system to respond to evolving circumstancesInstitutions and entitlementsExistence of an appropriate and evolving institutional environment that allows fair access and entitlement to key assets and capitalsKnowledge and informationThe system has the ability to collect, analyse and disseminate knowledge and information in support of adaption activitiesInnovationThe system creates an enabling environment to foster innovation, experimentation and the ability to explore niche solutions in order to take advantage of new opportunitiesFlexible forward-looking decision-making and governanceThe system is able to anticipate, incorporate and respond to changes with regards to its governance structures and future planning  Figure 1: The relationships between characteristics of adaptive capacity at the local level  Asset baseFlexible and forward-thinking decision-making and governanceInnovationKnowledge and information Institutions and entitlements
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