IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2007
Climate Change 2007: Working Group II: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability Social and economic processes determine the distribution of adaptive capacity

A significant body of new research focuses on specific contextual factors that shape vulnerability and adaptive capacity, influencing how they may evolve over time. These place-based studies provide insights on the conditions that constrain or enhance adaptive capacity at the continental, regional or local scales (Leichenko and O’Brien, 2002; Allison et al., 2005; Schröter et al., 2005; Belliveau et al., 2006). These studies differ from the regional and global indicator studies assessed above both in approach and methods, yet come to complementary conclusions on the state and distribution of adaptive capacity.

The lessons from studies of local-level adaptive capacity are context-specific, but the weight of studies establishes broad lessons on adaptive capacity of individuals and communities. The nature of the relationships between community members is critical, as is access to and participation in decision-making processes. In areas such as coastal zone management, the expansion of social networks has been noted as an important element in developing more robust management institutions (Tompkins et al., 2002). Local groups and individuals often feel their powerlessness in many ways, although none so much as in the lack of access to decision makers. A series of studies has shown that successful community-based resource management, for example, can potentially enhance the resilience of communities as well as maintain ecosystem services and ecosystem resilience (Tompkins and Adger, 2004; Manuta and Lebel, 2005; Owuor et al., 2005; Ford et al., 2006) and that this constitutes a major priority for the management of ecosystems under stress (such as coral reefs) (Hughes et al., 2003, 2005).

Much new research emphasises that adaptive capacity is also highly heterogeneous within a society or locality, and for human populations it is differentiated by age, class, gender, health and social status. Ziervogel et al. (2006) undertook a comparative study between households and communities in South Africa, Sudan, Nigeria and Mexico and showed how vulnerability to food insecurity is common across the world in semi-arid areas where marginal groups rely on rain-fed agriculture. Across the case studies food insecurity was not determined solely or primarily by climate, but rather by a range of social, economic, and political factors linked to physical risks. Box 17.5 describes how adaptive capacity and vulnerability to climate change impacts are different for men and women, with gender-related vulnerability particularly apparent in resource-dependent societies and in the impacts of extreme weather-related events (see also Box 8.2).

Box 17.5. Gender aspects of vulnerability and adaptive capacity

Empirical research has shown that entitlements to elements of adaptive capacity are socially differentiated along the lines of age, ethnicity, class, religion and gender (Cutter, 1995; Denton, 2002; Enarson, 2002). Climate change therefore has gender-specific implications in terms of both vulnerability and adaptive capacity (Dankelman, 2002). There are structural differences between men and women through, for example, gender-specific roles in society, work and domestic life. These differences affect the vulnerability and capacity of women and men to adapt to climate change. In the developing world in particular, women are disproportionately involved in natural resource-dependent activities, such as agriculture (Davison, 1988), compared to salaried occupations. As resource-dependent activities are directly dependent on climatic conditions, changes in climate variability projected for future climates are likely to affect women through a variety of mechanisms: directly through water availability, vegetation and fuelwood availability and through health issues relating to vulnerable populations (especially dependent children and elderly). Most fundamentally, the vulnerability of women in agricultural economies is affected by their relative insecurity of access and rights over resources and sources of wealth such as agricultural land. It is well established that women are disadvantaged in terms of property rights and security of tenure, though the mechanisms and exact form of the insecurity are contested (Agarwal, 2003; Jackson, 2003). This insecurity can have implications both for their vulnerability in a changing climate, and also their capacity to adapt productive livelihoods to a changing climate.

There is a body of research that argues that women are more vulnerable than men to weather-related disasters. The impacts of past weather-related hazards have been disaggregated to determine the differential effects on women and men. Such studies have been done, for example, for Hurricane Mitch in 1998 (Bradshaw, 2004) and for natural disasters more generally (Fordham, 2003). These differential impacts include numbers of deaths, and well-being in the post-event recovery period. The disproportionate amount of the burden endured by women during rehabilitation has been related to their roles in the reproductive sphere (Nelson et al., 2002). Children and elderly persons tend to be based in and around the home and so are often more likely to be affected by flooding events with speedy onset. Women are usually responsible for the additional care burden during the period of rehabilitation, whilst men generally return to their pre-disaster productive roles outside the home. Fordham (2003) has argued that the key factors that contribute to the differential vulnerability of women in the context of natural hazards in South Asia include: high levels of illiteracy, minimum mobility and work opportunities outside the home, and issues around ownership of resources such as land.

The role of gender in influencing adaptive capacity and adaptation is thus an important consideration for the development of interventions to enhance adaptive capacity and to facilitate adaptation. Gender differences in vulnerability and adaptive capacity reflect wider patterns of structural gender inequality. One lesson that can be drawn from the gender and development literature is that climate interventions that ignore gender concerns reinforce the differential gender dimensions of vulnerability (Denton, 2004). It has also become clear that a shift in policy focus away from reactive disaster management to more proactive capacity building can reduce gender inequality (Mirza, 2003).