Vulnerable communities experiencing adaptation limits and constraints
Bonn, 7 November 2013 – In the lead up to the high-level Climate Conference COP 19 in
Warsaw, Poland the United Nations University’s Institute for Environment and Human Security
today released a new research report focusing on the loss and damage that climate change is
already causing. The report finds that despite adaptation efforts, vulnerable communities are
experiencing loss and damage that are threatening their most fundamental needs, livelihood and
“Our research findings clearly show that current levels of adaptation and mitigation efforts are
insufficient to avoid negative impacts from climate stressors. Policy responses are needed now,”
explained Dr. Koko Warner, Scientific Director of the Loss & Damage Initiative at the United
Nations University. “People are feeling impacts right now that affect their food security and way
of life. These negative effects will only grow unless we take action. Maintaining the status quo is
no longer an option.”
The scientific case studies in the current report explore the impacts of floods and droughts in
Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Mozambique and Nepal, and build on earlier research conducted in
Kenya, the Gambia, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Micronesia. In total 3269 household interviews and
over 200 focus groups were conducted for all nine case studies.
Despite applying a variety of coping and adaptation measures to mitigate the damage caused by
climate change, 96 per cent of households surveyed in selected districts in Ethiopia, 78 per cent
in Nepal, 72 per cent in Burkina Faso and 69 per cent in Mozambique still experienced severe
negative impacts on their household budgets. Three out of four surveyed households across the
study sites reported that they have to cut down on the number of meals or reduce portion sizes -
a clear sign that coping capacity is inadequate. As the households in the case study regions are
primarily small-scale farmers, climate change impacts, such as changing rainfall patterns,
increased frequency of flood and drought, also directly and critically threaten their livelihood
security in addition to their food security.
“Following a severe flood in Ethiopia in 2007, 94 per cent of respondents reported that their
crops were severely damaged or entirely destroyed. Large-scale destruction of crops also lead to
higher food prices, which made staple foods such as maize unaffordable”, stated Dr. Fatima
Denton, Coordinator of the African Climate Policy Centre (ACPC), a partner for the African case
studies. “Time and time again the study found that households that are already struggling, are
forced into deeper poverty due to climate change impacts. When adaptation is insufficient to
manage climatic stressors, the loss and damage that results will undermine human well-being
and sustainable development.”
While loss and damage from climate change impacts is commonly expressed in monetary terms,
non-economic loss and damage, such as loss to culture and identity, may actually have the most
far-reaching and significant consequences. In Burkina Faso, pastoralists have had their herds
decimated due to lack of water and fodder. This represents not only a loss of physical assets but
also a critical loss of cultural identity and way of life.
The evidence on loss and damage presented in this report comes at a crucial time in the lead up
to the upcoming climate negotiations in Warsaw, Poland, where there is a mandate to establish
institutional arrangements to address climate change-related loss and damage.
The Loss & Damage in vulnerable countries initiative at the United Nations University assesses abroad range of both extreme weather events and slow onset climatic changes in vulnerable
countries around the world.
The four case studies presented in this report, Volume 2, focused exclusively on droughts and floods. Three case studies were conducted in Africa (Ethiopia, Burkina Faso and Mozambique) and one in Asia (Nepal).
They build on previous case studies published in Volume 1 which investigated floods in Kenya,
droughts in the Gambia, cyclones and salinity intrusion in Bangladesh, glacier retreat and
changing monsoon patterns in Bhutan, and sea-level rise and coastal erosion in Micronesia.
The previous and current research brings together new empirical evidence on loss and damage
based on 3269 household interviews for all nine case studies in Volume 1 and 2 and over 200
focus group discussions and expert interviews in 9 vulnerable countries.
The Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN) aims to help decision-makers in
developing countries design and deliver climate compatible development. CDKN has provided
support for the underlying empirical research for this report, as a contribution to the Loss and
Download the full report here: http://ehs.unu.edu/file/get/11480.pdf
High resolution images from field research are available for download at http://www.flickr.com/photos/unubonn/sets/72157637299727934/.
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