Authors : Ben Murphy, Drew Corbyn
Affiliated organization : African Centre for Technology Studies (ACTS)
Type of publication : policy research
Date of publication : June 2013
Climate change has been recognised as a global environmental threat and the impacts related to climate change are likely to worsen over the coming decades.
While mitigation efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and avert dangerous interference with the climate system are critically important, adaptation to the adverse impacts of climate variability and change is necessary now and will continue to be well into the future.
This paper argues that energy access is the golden thread that connects development, adaptation and mitigation. It posits that energy is a crucial feature of a resilient household, community or country, and that development programmes addressing adaptation should consider components relating to increasing and securing energy access services, alongside other vital resources such as water, land, food, shelter and biodiversity.
Adapting to a changing world
Poor communities concentrated in the areas of high (climate-related) risk are particularly vulnerable to climate change; dependence is high on resources that are climate-sensitive such as water for human consumption and irrigation, wood for burning and building, biomass for heating and cooking. In addition to climate change impacts, poor communities face multiple stressors such as market fluctuations and lack of access to current information and technology. The vulnerability and resilience factors vary widely between geographic regions, rural and urban areas, community scenarios and many other factors but they are in many cases worsened by the lack of access to modern energy services.
When a change in climate is too sudden and does not have recent historical precedent, the familiarity or capacity to cope and adapt may not be present. One of the most common responses to environmental stresses has been migration to more hospitable regions on a seasonal or permanent basis. However, in a crowded world where there are no verging territories left to exploit, large population movements are known to cause stress and hostility within and between countries and have ceased to constitute an effective adjusting measure. The pastoralists who suffer repeated or multiple crises and have lost their livestock, or people displaced by conflict, would take actions simply to survive and become dependent on a limited number of marginal activities, such as firewood collection, brick making, casual labour etc. These coping strategies are the short-term responses to deal with shocks and are not necessarily ‘adaptation’ in a positive sense. (If environmentally damaging and therefore not sustainable, this is referred to as maladaptation). Positive adaptation involves long-term changes to the mix of activities required for subsistence.
The ability to minimise negative impacts and maximise any benefits from changes in climate is known as adaptive capacity. There are several aspects that contribute to this capacity: the asset base made of economic and infrastructural resources; the institutional environment that must ensure equitable access and entitlement to key resources; the ability of the system to collect, analyse and disseminate knowledge and information in support; ability to innovate and test niche solutions; and elements of flexibility and dynamics of the decision-making and governance to best respond to evolving circumstances.
On a practical level, economic capacity can for example refer to the extent to which households are able to diversify and incorporate non-agricultural components (which are less likely to be disrupted by natural disasters) into their income-generating strategies, or the ability to commute outside of drought-and flood-affected areas to pursue sources of income. The social capacity would be strengthened by education and community institutions, and weakened by existing patterns of vulnerability created by gender, income and social position. The structural capacity could relate to the ability of households to obtain secure sources of water for domestic uses, whether by exploiting local sources, distant water markets, or rural supply schemes.
Disproportionately, the communities most affected by climate change are often marginalised, remote and receive limited services or support from their governments. An effective way to operate interventions within this context is through community- based adaptation which recognises that the environmental knowledge and resilience to climate impacts lies within societies and cultures. The focus is therefore on empowering communities to take action on vulnerability to climate change, based on their own decision-making processes; involving the community in the planning, design and construction of projects, as well as linking with actors that provide support to build the necessary capacity to deal with a range of threats into the future.
The goal of community-based adaptation projects is to increase the climate resilience of communities by enhancing their capacity to cope with less predictable rainfall patterns, more frequent droughts, stronger heat waves, different diseases and weather hazards of unprecedented intensity.
The Importance of Energy Access
Access to energy is considered a prerequisite for human development, essential for meeting basic and productive needs in households, enterprises and community institutions. Yet a vast proportion of people in developing countries remain without access to modern energy: 1.3 billion people are without electricity, and almost 3 billion cook using solid fuels, largely on a three stone fire. These traditional energy sources are characterised by inefficiency, high cost, and health implications. Three stone fires, for example, require more fuel compared with an improved stove, thus demanding more time spent collecting wood, or a higher percentage of household income spent on fuel. Using traditional cooking methods indoors kills 2 million people a year, mostly women and children, through smoke pollution.
The social capacity would be strengthened by education and community institutions, and weakened by existing patterns of vulnerability created by gender, income and social position
It is the services derived from energy including lighting, cooking and water heating, space heating, cooling, and access to information and communications that are essential to meeting people’s basic needs and enabling development. Economic activities either rely on these services or are substantially improved in their productivity, profitability, and efficiency, allowing more time and money to be devoted to livelihoods than would otherwise be spent on the burdens of using traditional energy. Access to energy for community institutions, such as schools, health centres, meeting places, and local government buildings, help attract greater provision and efficiency of support, adding to the quality of life and livelihoods.
Energy access includes a wide range of technologies and uses. One definition of Total Energy Access is given as “Households, enterprises and community services have sufficient access to the full range of energy supplies and services that are required to support human social and economic development”.
Energy and Communication: Radios, Meteo-Stations, Warning Systems
If people are to adapt to new circumstances, they need to know the types of changes and threats that are likely to occur, what solutions are possible, and where support can be accessed. Whilst communities rely on the established pathways of communication with a range of actors, meteorological information and potential solutions will typically be outside their regular network of interactions. The advances in communication technologies have considerably broadened the scope and increased the speed of communications in ways that can help deal with climate change impacts. Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) programmes are disseminating information that helps farmers to ‘take timely decisions, especially on which crop to cultivate,what preventive measures to take when facing disease or pest attacks, when to harvest and what prices to demand.
The vast majority of these technologies require electrical power and may be promoted through energy projects. However, as some of the following examples show, it is crucial that the technology is introduced in energy projects alongside the analysis of social and local conditions, opportunities and constraints, and that successful project design must always take into account every aspect of planning of which technology is just a small part. For example, in the case of early warning system in Nepal, powered sirens play an important but limited role in the overall alert structure, which is primarily made up of existing, traditional communication channels.
Early Warning Systems for Flooding
In Nepal, downstream villages had experienced flooding for years. Despite measurement of the river from upstream gauge-reading stations that could have warned villagers, information was only sent to central agencies and academics. To address this problem, Practical Action’s Nepal programme coordinated and collaborated with the Department of Hydrology and Meteorology (DHM), the focal agency in the Government of Nepal, to monitor hydro-meteorological data. The practice was changed and permitted the data to be shared with vulnerable communities living at the risk of floods and with other stakeholders such as district disaster response committees, security forces (army, armed police, and general police) and media (especially local FM radios).
It is the services derived from energy including lighting, cooking and water heating, space heating, cooling, and access to information and communications that are essential to meeting people’s basic needs and enabling development
While the technology input in this case has been important, it is useful to note that much of the project has focussed around developing the community’s own capacity to monitor the behaviour of the river and strengthening the traditional alert communication channels through training and improving organisation. This is a good example of how well-rounded projects are better able to tackle adaptation problems.
Small-Scale Irrigation in the Ethiopian Highlands
In Ethiopia, small-scale irrigation is a policy priority for rural poverty alleviation and growth, as well as for climate adaptation, since it is expected to contribute to income diversification and livelihood resilience. Only around 5% of Ethiopia’s arable land is irrigated, and less than 5% of total water resources are withdrawn annually, leaving considerable scope for expansion.
The Research-inspired Policy and Practice Learning in Ethiopia and the Nile region (RiPPLE) programme analysed three different spring-based community managed irrigation schemes in the highland communities. The programme showed that the increased water availability to irrigate crops enabled some of the households to generate more income by increased crop production, crops diversification and by growing higher value products. This strengthened their resilience and in some cases transformed their livelihoods. However, poorer and more vulnerable farmers are unwilling to pay higher costs for using more water or changing crops, due to high risks involved in the production and marketing.
Energy enabling Adaptation
The case studies in this paper explore how energy is also important for adaptation. It can be summarised that access to energy contributes to enabling climate change adaptation in the following ways:
1. Improving general physical and economic well-being
Improving people’s general physical and economic well-being provides the pre-requisites for resilience and adaptation. Access to energy enables broad social and economic development; if people are healthy, wealthy and wiser they have greater capacity to adapt.
2. Building resilience
Modern energy and technology enables a whole host of productive use activities; diversification of livelihoods away from vulnerable activities is a key factor in building resilience to adverse events, including the impacts of climate change. The greatest benefits demonstrated were the reduction of time, increase in production, and greater number of livelihoods options available. However, extreme caution should be applied when developing livelihood options based on natural resource dependent energy supplies; thorough research into the sustainability of the source is needed.
3. Enabling innovation and adaptation through ICTs
Access to knowledge and information powers innovation; it enables experimentation and testing of different adaptation options. Electric-powered ICTs including mobile phones, TVs and radios can provide valuable information that can, for example, inform a farmer about new drought-resistant plant varieties, farming techniques or seasonal weather forecasts. Extending the reach of communication and relevance of information about threats and solutions is particularly important for agriculture and markets. Energy itself is not enough to trigger the supply of information that is not available or blocked from certain a group. Awareness-raising on the need for information and the creation of inter-personal relationships are required.
4. Empowering communities
Energy technologies can be deployed in such a way that empowers communities. Approaches that strengthen community organisation and decision making, and build relationships with local stakeholders can empower communities to take independent action in the future in response to climate change.
These are initial findings on the energy and adaptation nexus, and must be developed through further primary research and testing.
The role of energy in enabling adaptation to climate change and the different mechanisms for this have been explored in this paper and illustrated through a range choice of case studies. Based on this analysis the following recommendations have been concluded:
1. Promote productive uses to encourage adaptation
Maximise the opportunities that energy access offers in improving livelihoods and diversifying income sources. Promote productive uses of energy through skills trainings, access to finance and business development. Sustainable livelihood frameworks and productive use manuals are available to support project developers.
2. Use energy to build resilience to cope with shocks
Introduce technological innovations and organisation models (irrigation systems, management structures of energy stations) that build the capacity of communities, are suited to new climatic conditions or that can respond to emergency events (early warning systems, solar medical or communication equipment). Extend access to information about threats, solutions and ways to innovate (radios, TV, mobile phones) and draw new connections and networks of communication channels that strengthen communities.
3. Capitalise on the participatory community adaptation approaches
of energy projects
Household energy projects based upon participatory approaches constitute an
ideal and natural background to introduce capacity building programmes on climate change. The skills, capacities and networks that have been built in the community, and the themes around energy and natural resources that the household energy project introduces, facilitate new dialogue on climate change and the environment.
4. Ensure climate-proofing of energy systems
Energy systems are vulnerable to a changing climate, and future climate-proofing of systems is necessary to avoid maladaptation. Climate-related failures of energy systems (due to lack of water for hydro for example) risk setting back development gains.
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