LONDON (AlertNet) - Knowledge is now plentiful on how to adapt to climate change and build resilience to its impacts, but putting that expertise into practice remains a problem around the world, climate and security experts say.
“We’re at a point where we’ve run through the theory and have to start doing practical stuff,” said Nick Mabey, the chief executive of E3G (Third Generation Environmentalism), an international non-profit organisation that works on accelerating transitions to sustainable development.
Applying knowledge in real contexts will require everything from finding ways to work with corrupt or exploitative governments, to using game theory to help bureaucrats get hands-on experience in making effective decisions, Mabey and other experts said at a London roundtable meeting on climate security issues.
Measures like moving responsibility for climate adaptation from environment ministries to more powerful finance or economy ministries will also be helpful, they said, as will financial and other incentives for politicians and officials to take action.
Innovations will “have to happen for there to be change on the ground”, said Lindsey Jones, a researcher who works on climate change adaptation for the London-based Overseas Development Institute.
One problem facing governments and other institutions trying to incorporate climate adaptation into their planning is that decisions often need to be made quickly, across departments, and in ways that go against traditional planning.
After Pakistan’s record-breaking 2010 floods destroyed roads, schools and other infrastructure, for instance, officials came under pressure to rebuild facilities fast. As a result, many were reconstructed to existing standards – not to a level that would make them more resilient in the face of worsening floods, droughts and other climate impacts, Mabey said.
“The urgency of now meant they rebuilt as things had been. That’s going to happen again and again in a lot of places,” he warned.
WORKING WITH ‘SCUZZY FOLK’
Getting governments prepared to deal with new conditions will mean persuading them that changing their way of working can make a difference, and providing benefits for doing so.
For example, to encourage different departments to work together, projects proposed jointly by several departments could be given first access to funds, Mabey said.
And using interactive games – as many militaries do already to explore the potential outcomes of different strategies – might help bureaucrats gain experience in making good real-time decisions, he said.
Building resilience to climate change may also require working with what Jan Selby, an international relations expert at Britain’s University of Sussex, termed “rapacious state actors” - the corrupt, undemocratic or otherwise problematic strongmen who govern some of the most climate-vulnerable parts of the world.
Doing that will be difficult and fraught with risks, the experts predicted. But “sometimes you have to work with some pretty scuzzy folks to get things done,” admitted Dan Smith, the head of International Alert, a London-based peacebuilding group, and one of the organisers of the roundtable.
Mabey urged international organisations trying to effect change to start by targeting countries and regions that are in the headlines – such as Pakistan, Yemen or North Africa – in an effort to achieve visible successes.
Choosing countries that have “some leadership and capacity” is also important, he said.
The aim then should be to concentrate resources on building a model that can be emulated elsewhere, he said.
“The main way the world changes is (by) copying,” he said. “The hard thing is creating the first thing you copy.”