Often the poorest communities to climate change are also the most vulnerable, blurring the lines between development and adaptation Syed Zakir Hossain

What’s the difference between development and climate change adaptation projects?

As the Green Climate Fund (GCF) attempts to ramp up its funding for adaptation projects, the UN fund continues to face a major challenge: how to differentiate a development project and a climate change adaptation project.

Already two projects – one from Bangladesh and the other from Ethiopia – have been rejected by the GCF Board on the grounds that the proposals looked too much like development projects than adaptation projects.

Unfortunately, the GCF has not provided any clear guidelines regarding the difference between a development proposal and an adaptation one.

Why it is complicated?

There is no clear way of separating development outcomesfrom adaptation outcomes, since the two are very closely linked in practice. Distinguishing mitigation projects from other development projects is relatively easier, given the former requires a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

As of now, there is no metric or indicator for measuring adaptation; and the proxy measures used overlap greatly with development outcomes.

This becomes even more complex when proposals for adaptation projects aim to help the most vulnerable communities who are generally also the poorest.

To insist that an adaptation project does not help alleviate poverty would make no sense. There must be an allowance to include development outcomes as co-benefits alongside an adaptation project, where adaptation to climate change is the main outcome.

While Bangladesh and Ethiopia were both able to revise and resubmit their proposals, which were approved by the GCF the second time around, there is still a lot of confusion on how to distinguish the two.

The worst impacts of climate change will not be faced now, but in the future, which is why adaptation projects need to look forward । Bigstock

A potential solution

I would like to offer one way of thinking about the design of an adaptation project in the time frame of its intended outcomes.

I argue a climate change adaptation project in essence is about building resilience to withstand the impacts of climate change that will most likely occur well after the project is over. Hence, the investment made by the project – both financial and technical – is in fostering the adaptive capacity or resilience of a community and its partners to cope with the future shocks of climate change.

Given a typical project period is seldom more than five

to seven years at best, it is extremely unlikely that climate change impacts will occur during the project period. There may be some consequences of climate variability, but the real impacts will occur a decade or more in the future, when the project funders and implementers are long gone.

As such, adaptation projects should emphasize long term sustainability over the outputs during the project period.

Adaptation projects should require sustainability plans that ensure the project builds climate resilience well into the future । Dr Saleemul Huq

Understanding the diagram

The upper section of the diagram depicts a typical development project, where outputs of the project are evaluated at the end of the project period. Whereas the lower section describes my proposal for an adaptation project design that includes an ongoing sustainability plan to be implemented by “legacy partners”.

In this design approach, there are three broad categories of legacy partners (there can be more than one institution in each category).

The first are the “implementing partners” who continue the work started by the project. Typically, this should be a government agency, which can implement the project and commit to sustaining the investment beyond the project period.

The second are “knowledge partners” who will not only generate new knowledge, but ensure this knowledge is put into practice, since adaptation is a learning-by- doing process. Universities would fit this role well.

And the third category of partners are “evaluation partners” who monitor and periodically evaluate outcomes and impacts of the adaptation project, for over a decade or longer. The Parliamentary committee on climate change or environment, whose role is to oversee the executive branch of government, would be good in this position.

Benefits of this approach

There are several design consequences of accepting this framing of adaptation projects.

The first is emphasising “legacy partners” who already have a post-project sustainability plan with them in the project proposal.

The second consequence is to recognise that a large part of the project investment is actually in capacity building of the legacy partners through training and mentoring.

The third and final consequence of the approach is ownership of the project by the legacy partners; and not the GCF approved implementing entities, which seems to be the case in many adaptation projects submitted to the GCF so far.

Adaptation projects are like a fruit tree plantation programme. The point isn’t how many seeds you plant; it’s how many trees grow and bear fruit in the future. This requires constant watering and protection, years after the initial planting is over. The purpose of an adaptation project is not what happens during the project period but what happens after.

Originally this article was published on May 20,2018 at Climate-Tribune (Dhaka Tribune). The author Dr. Saleemul Huq is the director of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD) at the Independent University, Bangladesh (IUB).
Email: saleemul.huq@icccad.net