2 December 2011

Kenya: Anchor Climate Change Policies On Protecting Poor


In development circles, climate change policies are being informed by many factors. There are instrumental concerns that climate change will slow down progress in poverty reduction, especially achievements made in the Millennium Development Goals and Human Development Outcomes. Extreme weather events are more frequent and with them come significant erosions of physical, natural, financial, social and human assets critical to people's well-being.

Closely related to this is the fact that policy efforts should be integrated with existing wider poverty reduction efforts. This is because climate change is interacting with other challenges such as rapid population growth, high prevalence HIV/Aids and malaria, weak or fragmented markets, seasonality, unplanned urbanisation, scarcity of resources and economic shocks. The combination makes life most difficult for the poor.

There are also the inherent injustices that are being felt hardest by those who have least contributed to climate change particularly in Africa and Asia. Consequently, climate change is causing serious human rights violations. Seen from this perspective, on the one hand are the duty-bearers -- those responsible for the high level of carbon emissions -- who should be compelled to take bigger responsibility in financing and facilitating coping with and adapting to climate change activities. On the other hand are the rights-holders -- the most affected by climate change -- who must be allowed to participate fully in decision making.

Lastly, is the importance of the differentiated nature of poverty in any poverty reduction effort. In the climate change context, its impacts are not evenly distributed due to the multifaceted nature of the hazards in different parts of the world and also due to people's varying abilities to cope with and adapt to the shocks and stresses. To this end, the extent of vulnerability to climate change is largely determined by inequalities in income, education and healthcare, and accessibility to economic opportunities.Therefore, while acknowledging that climate change is a reality whose impacts will be felt across generations, efforts to fight the problem should be integrally mitigating and adaptive. In other words, we cannot halt climate change -- it is already with us.

Rather our real chances of fighting climate change lie in ability to come up with effective ways of reducing its impact on life. These efforts are grouped into three; disaster risk reduction strategies, climate change adaptation and adaptive social protection. Firstly, disaster risk reduction encompasses the development and application of all policies, strategies and practices that minimise impacts of hazards and unfolding disaster impacts throughout a society in the broad context of sustainable development.

Apart from mitigating impacts of on-going climate change effects, one of its other priorities for action is reducing underlying risk factors.

Disaster risk reduction activities include development of sound early warning systems; collection and analysis of potential risk information; identification of differentiated vulnerabilities of different sectors within the society; strengthening of local resilience and capacity to prepare and respond to hazard events; creation of a catastrophe financial pool; and supporting of pro-poor financing mechanisms such as microfinance and micro-insurance.

Secondly, climate change adaptation strategies are those employed in design and implementation of processes that help people learn to live with impacts of climate change. In agriculture for example it includes efforts such as development of drought-resistant and early-maturing crop varieties and alternative crop and hybrid varieties (this is where biotechnology comes in handy), investment in water-harvesting, dam building and drip irrigation, diversification of livelihoods, strengthening of existent social networks and social capital, public education in risk awareness and assessment, expanding agricultural education and extension services, continuous improvement in the state of the infrastructure, and efficient use of fertilizers and irrigation.

Social transfers

Thirdly, social protection describes all public and private initiatives that transfer income or assets to the poor, protect the vulnerable against livelihood risks, promote access to economic activities and enhance the social status and rights of the marginalised. As a policy, social protection has become a key response to risk and vulnerability, including those related to climate change.

It is often lauded as a policy that contains predictable means helpful in fighting predictable problems. Strategies within the social protection framework which can be useful in reducing impacts of climate change include social service provision, basic social transfers (food/cash), pension schemes, public works programmes, weather-indexed crop insurance, access to credit, asset transfers, ex-post starter packs, promotion of minority rights and anti-discrimination campaigns.

Overall, it is important to point out that there exists significant practical gaps on how to bring together disaster risk reduction, climate change adaptation and social protection so that they can support each other in producing synergic and maximum effects.

In the most affected countries, the potential to link the three is limited by financial and institutional capacity concerns, lack of sufficient household data to inform thorough poverty profiling, domination of the climate change agenda by rich nations, differences in disciplinary grounding and distinctive focus for each of the three.

Mr Aseka teaches at Moi University. He is also a poverty reduction policy specialist.

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