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Climate risk integration: A new era for aid and development programming

Learn about why system transformation of the development sector is needed to ensure development progress continues against the backdrop of increasing climate change impacts in this short blog.
Multiple Authors
Pacific region
Source: UTS-ISF, photographed by Anna Gero

This weADAPT article has been cross-posted and adapted from the University of Technology Sydney website, where the original blog was published on the 19th April 2023: A new era for aid and development programming. Please access the original text for more detail, research purposes, full references, or to quote text.

Introduction

Addressing climate change is a critical issue for the development sector given its links with poverty, injustice and inequality. Climate change amplifies and intersects with other risk factors and threatens to undermine or even reverse development gains. System transformation of the development sector is critically needed to ensure development progress continues against the backdrop of increasing climate change impacts.

A revival of interest in climate change is occurring, driven by increasingly visible climate change impacts, renewed climate action commitments by the Australian Government and global calls for a coordinated response. However, more efforts are needed to define strategies, build knowledge and awareness for an effective integrated approach to managing climate risk in our region.

Researchers from the University of Technology Sydney, Institute for Sustainable Futures (UTS-ISF) hosted a panel session at the 2022 Australasian Aid Conference to explore new ways of integrating climate risk into development programs. The session was chaired by Dr Keren Winterford from UTS-ISF. Four panellists joined the session and shared their perspectives of climate integration across the development sector. Panellists included: Ms Christine Lemau, Program Director, ADRA Fiji; Mr Simon Wilson, Climate Change Specialist, Australia Pacific Climate Partnership; Dr Alison Baker, Fund Manager, Water for Women and Dr Tazrina Chowdhury, Research Consultant, UTS-ISF.

This blog summarises five key takeaways from the panel session, providing insights on how to integrate climate change more effectively (also termed as “climate integration”) into the development sector.

Five Takeaways

1. Climate integration should reflect a holistic approach

Simon noted, “Climate change calls for an integrated approach and requires vision, leadership, resources and technical support across different domains of development programming.

Climate change can challenge development approaches and delay anticipated development outcomes. Therefore, climate action should be seen as part of the broader system of development practices, with multi-faceted dimensions and linkages. Consideration of climate change in development programs often narrowly focuses on vulnerability assessments to identify key climate risks and challenges. This integration practice needs to be expanded to include approaches that consider root causes of vulnerability or barriers to resilient development. The role of governance, civil society organisations (CSOs) and communities need to be looked at with a holistic perspective to influence system transformation and ensure climate change is integrated into development processes in a sustainable manner. Collective ways of working such as collaboration and genuine partnerships are key aspects of climate integration and can support different stakeholders to enable climate integration across development programs.

2. Intentional approach is a key enabler of good practice integration

Climate integration needs to be intentionally impactful, with a deep understanding of how taking an integration approach will create pathways towards more positive change and create meaningful and practical development impacts.

Donors, implementing partners and all stakeholders need to have a clear and uniform understanding of the intention and expected outcome from certain approaches to climate integration. Climate integration often focuses on the dissemination of climate information and providing resource to local partners, as part of the ‘climate risk mainstreaming’ agenda. In many cases, these approaches lack clear indications of long-term outcomes or strategies, and cannot deliver anticipated change outcomes. As described by Christine, an intentional comprehensive design comprising what changes are expected and how integration is to be achieved can enable effective integration.

3. Local leadership should be supported to champion climate integration

Tazrina discussed the significance of community-led research approaches to ensure that climate integration efforts are beneficial and offer tangible outcomes to the community.

A good climate integration approach views communities as the centre of development solutions and aims to build climate resilience through local leadership. Alison provided a good practice example from the Water for Women Fund in the Pacific, where local CSOs facilitated collaborative processes and effectively involved community, sub-national and national government authorities while undertaking community’s needs and risk assessments. The project was designed considering community’s perspectives, which ensured substantial impacts for communities and sustainability of an integrated approach to climate change adaptation.

However, local CSO partners often face challenges in implementing climate integration projects. The language associated with climate integration is often technical or donor-focused, and local CSOs face challenges in translating the technical language into community-appropriate language. Local CSOs should be supported to overcome structural and technical barriers to champion climate integration within local contexts. Donors should review local CSOs’ requirements to reduce barriers to accessing climate finance.

4. Collaboration and being humble in partnerships can facilitate effective climate integration

Alison noted, “We need to be humble and learn through partnerships.” Climate change impacts are leading us towards more uncertain times, which calls for working in partnerships to support climate integration in development programs.

True partnerships and ongoing engagement between different stakeholders can create new ways of learning among partners and facilitate reflective processes that ensure ongoing learning is integrated into their approaches. For example, local CSOs have deep insights into local agendas, and their contributions help to ensure informed climate integration decisions into development approaches. However, CSOs often lack resources to implement these processes. Partnering with diverse stakeholders such as donors and researchers and collaboration through co-design and a transdisciplinary approach can enable two-way learning and pave ways toward meaningful and practical climate integration initiatives at community levels.

5. Climate integration approaches need to be grounded and informed by local systems

Christine stressed, “We need to acknowledge local existing systems and build on that, rather than introducing new Western systems.” Because of the existing power dynamics and power imbalances among different actors, climate integration approaches are often being ‘Westernised’, without considering the local capacity and existing knowledge. Shift in mindsets through decolonising knowledge systems and methodologies is needed, to ensure climate integration generates wellbeing outcomes for local stakeholders.

Local knowledge should not be considered as ‘add-ons’ but prioritised as a similarly important and legitimate knowledge base. Strengths-based approaches should be undertaken in integration approaches to ensure climate integration approaches are amplifying the voice of local partners and communities, valuing their strengths, and working towards shifting the power dynamics in the new era of the development and aid sector.

Authors

Dr Tazrina Chowdhury is a research consultant at the Institute for Sustainable Futures, University of Technology Sydney. Tazrina is passionate about community-focused research and specialises in climate change and risk reduction through community resilience.​

Dr Keren Winterfordis a Research Director at the Institute for Sustainable Futures, University of Technology Sydney. Keren is an experienced research and evaluation leader in the international development sector.

Anna Gerois a research principal at the Institute for Sustainable Futures, University of Technology Sydney. Anna specialises in understanding the complexities of climate change and applying that knowledge to support communities.

Dr Alison Baker is Fund Manager for DFAT’s flagship water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) program, Water for Women Fund. Alison has extensive experience of working in Asia and the Pacific that explore pathways to improve climate resilience for inclusive WASH.

Ms Christine Lemau is Program Director at ADRA Fiji. Christina has experience in working on child protection, safeguarding, and social work and counselling, disaster preparedness, response, disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation across community programming in Fiji.

Mr Simon Wilson is Climate Change Adviser at the Australia Pacific Climate Partnership. Simon has expertise on providing advisory support to enable resilient development in the Pacific and strengthen climate and disaster risk integration across all sectors of the aid program.

Suggested Citation:

Chowdhury, T., Winterford, K., Gero, A., Baker, A., Lemau, C. and Wilson, S. (2023). ‘A new era for aid and development programming’. Available at: https://www.uts.edu.au/isf/news/new-era-aid-and-development-programming

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