In recent days, while I read the news with a cup of coffee in my hand, I began to count the number of articles that were related to the weather and the environment. The headlines related to these two topics comprised over 50% of all of that day’s articles: starting with the analysis of one of the strongest hurricane seasons in the Caribbean with a record 30 tropical storms in the Atlantic, the issues of air and water pollution, forest fires and, to make matters worse, the COVID-19 pandemic and the consequent global health emergency.
In short, a rather troubling outlook that gives us an idea of what a “new normal” might look like in the not too distant future. I think we all agree that the accelerating environmental degradation combined with the effects of climate change on our planet need an immediate joint response. In fact, Latin America and the Caribbean is facing the greatest species and habitat loss, which has an impact on the provision of natural resources that contribute to the livelihoods and ecosystem services that are essential for human survival.
Shifting paradigms is not easy and, in this regard, the current global situation offers an opportunity to accelerate the changes required in our development models.
Adaptation measures are key to achieving a paradigm shift
Adapting to climate change is a priority, particularly for those sectors that are vulnerable to climate, which should be the first to include the impacts of climate change in their planning and decision-making processes.
Research centers and universities around the world have been working on an operational definition of the concept of adaptive capacity (a rather theoretical term until a few years ago) that seeks to characterize how prepared communities, sectors, infrastructure or ecosystems are to respond effectively to climate change.
One of the first sectors in which this issue began to be analyzed was the water sector, which emphasized the need to understand how governance issues could play a determining role in the creation of adaptive capacity.
This is how the University of Geneva developed in 2014 an analytical framework to characterize the adaptive process in the water sector, using a group of indicators and operational criteria. The results of the application of this analytical framework in several countries showed that it is possible to characterize the adaptive process of the water sector fairly accurately and to identify key areas that contribute to adaptive capacity building and that may require further investment.
This referential analysis framework proved to be very useful and with great potential to support the development of public policies and the design of mechanisms to manage water resources.
The framework is based on three basic determining factors (governance, information and knowledge networks) with their respective operational indicators. These allow not only to monitor periodic progress, but also to include other key elements in the analysis to create climate resilience, such as the issues of representation and empowerment of the different local actors.
Seven key recommendations on adaptive capacity in the water sector
At the IDB, we recently published a study carried out in Bolivia titled “Building Transformative Institutional Adaptive Capacity”, in which this conceptual framework was used to analyze the contribution of a national basins adaptation program to create adaptive capacity in the water sector.
The report yields interesting results that could be of great help for the water sector in the country and which could be replicated in other countries. Here are some recommendations from the study:
1. Establish clear operating protocols and strengthen the limited regulatory framework to improve preparatory and contingency planning for extreme events.
2. Increase efforts to establish flexibility and a clear hierarchical prioritization in the distribution of water rights during emergency situations as fundamental components of a universal regulatory framework to define water rights in a country.
3. Establish projects framed within broad intersectoral development objectives that can guide strategic projects that seek to improve livelihoods, ecosystem productivity and health, with support from the intersectoral planning tools needed to improve coordination in governance between sectors.
4. Ensure that the data and associated data platforms are adapted to sector needs and support the establishment of a national research agenda that formalizes the exchange between academia and the State.
5. Integrate traditional knowledge to improve hydrometeorological and climate services, so that local communities are seen as active participants in adaptation projects, rather than just beneficiaries.
6. Establish a platform to ensure that learning is institutionalized, multiplying positive experiences and expanding the mechanisms related to integrated planning and adaptation to climate change impacts, based on the community’s main needs and challenges at the micro-basin level.
7. Raise awareness of the value of water as a resource, mainstream climate change and environmental education, change perceptions and mindsets regarding risk, and recognize that traditional knowledge can be central to adaptation planning.
Not all is bad news. Many countries are working hard to achieve a just transition to a climate-resilient, net-zero-emissions economy. The identification and implementation of adaptation measures are key to begin the process of change and, just as relevant, is the monitoring and evaluation of the implemented measures.