Perspective on the Adaptation Futures 2018 Conference

By Marius Masoga

The Adaptation Futures 2018 Conference was a successful and interesting event. I attended this conference for the first time (it had not been hosted in Africa before), and learned a lot from the conference. It provided a great platform to engage with various international experts who work on different processes and projects that embody a common goal, and most importantly work towards climate adaptation goals. It felt great to hear the project I’m involved in, the Small Grants Facility (SGF) being mentioned at the conference, signifying progress on climate change adaptation activities, particularly in South Africa with the SGF projects the focus of two sessions, Taking Adaptation to the Ground, and Enhanced Direct Access to Adaptation Fund.

The highlights from some of the vibrant sessions that warrant attention include the session on “How to Train for Better Access to Climate Adaptation Finance”, which saw interesting points regarding challenges in adaptation finance unfolding. One of the challenges that stood out for me was “proposals that lack understanding of the meaning of adaptation”. It was also pointed out that countries are competing to access funds from the GCF. Hans Bolscher from Netherlands posited that there are more funds than projects; however, donors and funders want to understand the need to engage in climate adaptation projects. Session 309 on “Agriculture: Knowledge Systems” flagged the importance of investing more in project preparation and knowledge sharing, citing that there are barriers in climate service delivery, and that there is poor flow of information amid farmers and stakeholders. The later stage of session 309 saw Hoang Vo Thi Minh from Wageningen University, Netherlands, present on ‘Local Farmers’ perception on the role of room for the river in livelihoods: case study in An Giang Province, Vietnam’. This saw Minh in the spotlight following her statement that “Floating rice (otherwise known as ‘deepwater rice’) benefits from flooding: it has strong ability to adapt to flood”, as the rice plants’ stalks lengthen to follow the rising water upwards e.g. the plant can be as tall as the level of water.

The third day of the conference (20 June 2018) marked the second conference plenary on ‘Resourcing Adaptation’. Stephane Halegatte (Lead Economist at World Bank) gave the keynote address and gave important insight based on his many years of World Bank activities in support of climate resilience and climate adaptation. Amongst the key messages from an economic perspective are, at prima facie, adaptation is all about development. This message reveals the fact that common shocks, such as drought, floods and storms, keep people in poverty, and retard economic/development progress. This is especially because poor people are already more vulnerable to climate change, and as such, the natural hazards expose them to risk – financial, social and economic. Another key message was that adaptation projects do not necessarily require larger and larger amounts of funding – often, adaptation activities are not expensive, and local communities can already be implementing adaptation practices in order to improve their resilience to climate change. That being said, it was said that finances must be redirected towards what people need for improved resilience, especially infrastructure. Most importantly, there should be improved efficiency in adaptation spending, and improved tax collection as well as increasing revenue, as these remains at the forefront of funding. It was said that being a richer country helps, but ultimately it is all about resilience – everyone will feel the impacts of climate change.

Steve Nicholls, Head of Environmental Sustainability, National Business Initiative (NBI) of South Africa posited that knowledge sharing is important to further disseminate effective adaptation solutions. Moreover, D. Mandy Barnett from the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI), which acts as the National Implementing Entity (NIE) for the Adaptation Fund, noted that communities are not going to be enabled to adapt if they are not able to engage national actors. Mandy addressed the issues of channelling resources to the ground, especially through the direct access entity, emphasising that national and sub-national institutions must lead the work. Aligned to this is that municipalities must work together to mainstream adaptation action. “We should not wait for the future to adapt, particularly in Africa”, Mandy said.

The first question should be ‘where are the resources?’, and the second ‘where should the resources go?’ The limited resources that we have access to are not enough, and will never be enough to deal with the full spectrum of adaptation issues. Therefore, adaptation funders should be challenged on how they target their investment. As far as session 401 on “Adaptation Finance” is concerned, it was postulated that development banks must invest not only in infrastructure development, but also invest in people.

I have taken home a lot of knowledge from the conference, and of greater personal significance is that I am now tempted to consider my PhD study with something that embodies the issues encountered at the conference of Climate Change Adaptation.

Marius Masoga is involved in the Small Grants Facility (SGF) programme, under SouthSouthNorth’s management, and is a member of the Adaptation Network.