Enhancing Adaptive Capacity in Bhutan and Nepal (Policy Brief 1)

This research brief from the Regional Climate Change Adaptation Platform for Asia (Adaptation Knowledge Platform) outlines how Bhutan and Nepal can advance with adaptation planning in respective context of socio-economic, political and climatic changes.
Village of Annapurna, Narchyang, Nepal. Photo by Giuseppe Mondì on Unsplash.
Mountain village of Annapurna, Narchyang, Nepal. Photo by Giuseppe Mondì on Unsplash.

Introduction

Both Bhutan and Nepal understand the importance of addressing climate impacts. They have strengthened their commitment to managing the impacts of climate through several efforts including the development of their respective National Adaptation Plan of Action (NAPA). They have also shown increased regional solidarity in addressing climate change impacts in a coherent manner through declarations at forum like South Asia Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC Thimpu Declaration 2010). These activities are the first step in an ongoing, evolving process to reduce their vulnerability to climate impacts. However, in order to effectively address the challenges that changing climate will bring, adaptation has to take place at a much more rapid pace than is happening at the moment. And, rather than looking at adaptation as a separate or novel idea, it has to be seen as complimentary to, an integral part of, development planning. Adaptation planning is similar to conventional development planning but adaptation planning has an extended horizon of timeframe as climate change impacts become visible only in the long-term. It also means planning for greater uncertainty, which in turn means more flexibility and less prescriptive forms of planning.

In countries like Bhutan and Nepal, a majority of the adaptation activities happen at local level but then ‘how to do it’ is often the question. Building adaptive capacity or resilience could be the most effective adaptation strategy at local level for the two countries where community based institutions such as community forestry user groups and alpine herders groups have already shown great resilience to socio-political and environmental changes. A separate prescriptive set of adaptation activities will not be an answer in an already complex situation to which a dimension of uncertainty has been added by the changing climate.

The need of the time is to build on what is already happening on the ground and work towards enhancing adaptive capacity and resilience through working with existing institutions at a local level.

This research brief outlines how Bhutan and Nepal can advance with adaptation planning in respective context of socio-economic, political and climatic changes. For full details and references download the article from the right hand column.

Some main policy implications that have been drawn are:

  • Adaptation is not about crafting something new but it is about building on experiences and scaling up those resilience-building activities that are already happening.
  • In the context of limited science-based knowledge of mountain systems, diversity and dynamism of local level scenarios coupled with complexity and climate uncertainty, the use of both climate models and vulnerability approach would help to better understand and integrate climate into development planning processes.
  • Understanding the potential utility of the concepts of exposure, sensitivity and adaptive capacity is vital for these countries where there has been a greater concern about how to proactively plan for adaptation activities. Building ‘adaptive capacity’ or ‘resilience’ of community based institutions could be the first step towards adaptation planning.
  • Adaptation decision-making requires cross-sectoral and cross-level interactions so that policy actions, development planning and local processes are better linked. Effective subsidiarity, where decisions are taken at the lowest appropriate level, is an essential part of this.
  • In addition to the national level adaptation activities, Bhutan and Nepal may also need to undertake activities that have regional scope. The national level focus may create mal-adaptations across borders especially given that ecosystems do not lie within sovereign national boundaries. In this case, Bhutan and Nepal’s long experience

Policy recommendations

1. The inherent complexity and uncertainty in ecosystems and communities characterise developmental decision-making and adaptation planning in Bhutan and Nepal. And, given that they have a history andexperience of developmental decision-making, particularly practical learning about community-basedconservation, adaptation planning should not be considered as a new vocabulary in their developmental dictionary. For adaptation planning, what they currently need to do is to simply strengthen and scale upsome of those activities that reinforce resilience and build adaptive capacity in the face of uncertainty imposed by climate change. For these countries, climate change is not to be portrayed as a “development ghost” but as a “development opportunity” that is holistic, more coordinated and focused on addressing uncertainties of economic, social, political, environmental and climatic changes.

2. In the context of limited science-based knowledge of mountain systems, the use of both model-based and vulnerability approach would help to better understand and integrate climate into developmentplanning processes. Climate models can be relevant for proactive and reactive decision-making for short term uncertainties such as monsoon related climatic variability. Community and ecosystemvulnerability could be a useful approach for making responsive decision-making to cope with or plan for greater climatic uncertainties and surprises.

3. Understanding the potential utility of the concepts of exposure, sensitivity and adaptive capacity is vitalfor these countries where there has been a greater concern about how to proactively plan for adaptationactivities. Building ‘adaptive capacity’ or ‘resilience’ of ecosystems and community based in stitutions could be the first step towards adaptation planning.

4. Adaptation decision-making requires cross-sectoral and cross-level interactions so that policy actions, development planning and local processes are better linked. Effective subsidiarity, where decisions are taken at the lowest appropriate level, is an essential part of this.

5. In addition to the national level adaptation activities, Bhutan and Nepal may also need to undertake activities that have regional scope. This is because there could be unforeseen consequences of a ‘silo’ sector approach and a national level focus may create mal-adaptations across borders especially given that ecosystems do not lie within sovereign national boundaries. Bhutan and Nepal’s long experience in landscape approach to planning, for instance Bhutan Biodiversity Conservation Complex (B2C2), Terai Arc Landscape (TAL), Kangchenjunga Landscape (KL), Sacred Himalayan Landscape (SHL), can significantly add value to planning for adaptation in general. Hence, adaptation in these countries is not about crafting something new but it is about building on their experiences and scaling up those resilience-building activities that are already happening.Both Bhutan and Nepal understand the importance of addressing climate impacts. They have strengthened their commitment to managing the impacts of climate through several efforts including the development of their respective National Adaptation Plan of Action (NAPA). They have also shown increased regional solidarity in addressing climate change impacts in a coherent manner through declarations at forum like South Asia Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC Thimpu Declaration 2010).

Recommended citation:

Thapa, S., Soussan, J., Priya, S., Lhendup, P and Krawanchid, D., 2010. Enhancing Adaptive Capacity in Bhutan and Nepal, Policy Research Brief. Regional Climate Change Adaptation Platform for Asia. Bangkok.

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