IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2007
Climate Change 2007: Working Group II: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability Capacity building, communities and adaptive capacity

Encouraging the active participation of local communities in capacity building and environmental education has become an objective of many development programmes in small islands. For example, Tran (2006) reports on a long-term project that has successfully included the local community of Holbox Island (Mexico) in monitoring coastal pollution in and around their island. A similar approach is being applied by Dolan and Walker (2006) to another community-based project which assesses the vulnerability of island and coastal communities, their adaptive capacity and options in the Queen Charlotte Islands (Haida Gwaii), located off the west coast of Canada. The study highlights determinants of adaptive capacity at the local scale, and recognises that short-term exposure to climate variability is an important source of vulnerability superimposed on long-term change. Thus, they suggest that community perceptions and experiences with climate extremes can identify inherent characteristics that enable or constrain a community to respond, recover and adapt to climate change, in this case ultimately to sea-level rise (Dolan and Walker, 2006).

A similar conceptualisation, which considers current and future community vulnerability and involves methodologies in climate science and social science, provides the basis for building adaptive capacity, as illustrated in Box 16.7. This approach requires community members to identify climate conditions relevant to them, and to assess present and potential adaptive strategies. The methodology was tested in Samoa, and the results from one village (Saoluafata) are discussed by Sutherland et al. (2005). In this case, local residents identified several adaptive measures including building a seawall, the provision of a water-drainage system and water tanks, a ban on tree clearing, some relocation, and renovations to existing infrastructure.

Box 16.7. Capacity building for development of adaptation measures

in small islands: a community approach

Capacity building for development of adaptation measures in Pacific island countries uses a Community Vulnerability and Adaptation Assessment and Action approach. Such an approach is participatory, aims to better understand the nature of community vulnerability, and identifies opportunities for strengthening the adaptive capacity of communities. It seeks to promote a combination of bottom-up and top-down mechanisms for implementation, and supports the engagement of local stakeholders at each stage of the assessment process. If successful, this should enable integration or ‘mainstreaming’ of adaptation into national development planning and local decision-making processes. The main steps of this approach are outlined below (Figure 16.3).

Figure 16.3

Figure 16.3. The main steps of a community vulnerability and adaptation assessment and action approach.

Several pilot communities in the Cook Islands, Fiji, Samoa and Vanuatu are already using this approach to analyse their options and decide on the best course of action to address their vulnerability and adaptation needs.

Source: Sutherland et al. (2005).

Enhancing adaptive capacity, however, involves more than just the identification of local options which need to be considered within the larger social, political and economic processes. Based on the Samoan experience, Sutherland et al. (2005) suggest that enhancing adaptive capacity will only be successful when it is integrated with other policies such as disaster preparedness, land-use planning, environmental conservation, coastal planning, and national plans for sustainable development.

Given the urgency for adaptation in small island states, there has been an increase in ad hoc stand-alone projects, rather than a programmed or strategic approach to the funding of adaptation options and measures. It can be argued that successful adaptation in small islands will depend on supportive institutions, finance, information, and technological support. However, as noted by Richards (2003), disciplinary and institutional barriers mean that synergies between climate change adaptation and poverty reduction strategies remain underdeveloped. Adger et al. (2003b) note that climate change adaptation has implications for equity and justice because “the impacts of climate change, and resources for addressing these impacts, are unevenly distributed”. These issues are particularly applicable to small islands, which have a low capacity to deal with, or adapt to, such impacts.