Hudon is part of Oxfam’s arable farming project in Ethiopia, helping pastoralists who have been struggling with drought, to diversify their source of income. Credit: Kieran Doherty / Oxfam

From climate science to climate action

Climate Change, Research Leave a Comment

Jesse DeMaria Kinney reflects back on the Adaptation Futures Conference and calls for more adaptation action building on the rich pool of global research and knowledge now available.

Hudon is part of Oxfam’s arable farming project in Ethiopia, helping pastoralists who have been struggling with drought, to diversify their source of income. Credit: Kieran Doherty / Oxfam

Hudon is part of Oxfam’s arable farming project in Ethiopia, helping pastoralists who have been struggling with drought, to diversify their source of income. Credit: Kieran Doherty / Oxfam

Here and now. Here I am now, having returned from nearly three weeks of climate change adaptation packed reflection and learning in Cape Town, South Africa. It’s been exhausting but rewarding as I’ve been challenged by – and challenged – some of the leading thinkers in the field.

One of the key events during my trip was the Adaptation Futures conference, a three day event which attracted over 1,300 scientists, practitioners, business leaders, and policy makers from around the world. It truly provided a global perspective on climate science, practice and implications on policy. The Adaptation at Scale in Semi Arid Regions programme (ASSAR) – and Oxfam – shared our research findings and empirical evidence, from our experience using a research for impact approach, during numerous sessions. This included Oxfam hosting sessions on models of enabling environments for researcher-practitioner collaboration, and on the role of performance arts in communicating adaptation research and practice.

Overall it was an excellent experience, but while there was a lot about adaptation futures I felt there was not enough discussion about longer-term adaptation actions today. Saleemul Huq, director of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development in Bangladesh, calls for the need for greater, more integrated or joined up adaptation in his recent blog. He also flags that “adaptation to climate change is now a recognized science with its own researchers and scholars.” We must build on this rich pool of knowledge and step up the drive towards transformative adaptation.

There is plenty of diagnosis across the globe from local to national levels to determine what the most effective and appropriate adaptation actions might be… But there is still a lack of urgency around putting our knowledge into action at scale
For nearly 5 years, I’ve been working with researchers on how they – we – can maximise opportunities for research impact. This means paying close attention to ensure research processes are participatory and inclusive with stakeholders. This, combined with effective communications (don’t confuse with dissemination!) and the capacity development of researchers and research-users, is all done to ensure that research products are relevant, meaningful and, ideally, timely. Essentially, we’ve been working with researchers to collaboratively move from research to action. It’s an integrated process where the sum of our actions aims to bring about change greater than any one academic or practitioner could achieve.

It occurred to me that this same barrier between research and action in many disciplines exists across the ‘adaptation space’. There is plenty of diagnosis across the globe from local to national levels to determine what the most effective and appropriate adaptation actions might be. And most point to integrated solutions (e.g. ASSAR briefing note on water governance). But there is still a lack of urgency around putting our knowledge into action at the scale required to respond to climate change.

Figure credit: IPCC, from the IPCC report Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Vulnerability and Adaptation. Summary for Policymakers, figure 9 p.29

Figure credit: IPCC, from the IPCC report Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Vulnerability and Adaptation. Summary for Policymakers, figure 9 p.29

We have years of evidence from both academic and grey literature which we can use to help inform our decisions, as well as significant evidence from the ground. Perhaps more importantly, there seems to be a consensus that flexibility and working with and through uncertainty, while learning as we go, are key to adaptation. If that’s the case, let’s go ahead with a degree (or two!) of uncertainty and act now. Regardless of our adaptation actions today, we will need to review and shift our adaptation pathways in the future. If we are actually helping vulnerable groups, communities and even countries adapt to climate change then we actually have to do it. And just to clarify, I’m not advocating for implementation wide-scale technical measures without ‘solid science,’ but there is much to be done now on the social and political adaptation spaces.

So I’d like to challenge us – adaptation researchers, practitioners and those in positions to make decisions – to move from project by project adaptation today and continued adaptation diagnosis to integrated, collaborative adaptation action. I’m looking forward to an Adaptation Futures 2020 where there will be lots to share and learn from the start of these transformative adaptation actions that take place over the next two years.  We can only fulfil the promise of adaptation futures if we start here and now.

Author
Jesse DeMaria-Kinney

Jesse DeMaria-Kinney

Jesse joined Oxfam GB in September 2014 as the Programme Coordinator for Adaptation at Scale in Semi-Arid Regions (ASSAR). In his position, Jesse coordinates and manages Oxfam's role as Research-into-Use (research uptake) lead partner in the ASSAR consortium. Prior to joining Oxfam, Jesse worked with international and local NGOs and the United Nations (UNESCO and UNV) in Asia, Africa and Latin America. His work has focused on the thematic areas of climate change adaptation, resilience building, environmental sustainability and education. Jesse holds an undergraduate degree in Environmental Studies - Biology, and Master's degrees in both Environmental Health and Decentralised International Cooperation.