By switching to dark mode you can reduce the energy consumption of our digital service.

Lessons learned from Guatemala NCAP Project

Multiple Authors

The goal of this project, finding appropriate points of engagement with actual policy setting and decision making processes for the introduction of climate change adaptation considerations, has been derived from the experience of the PNCC team over the course of the NCAP.

Points of Engagement

One conclusion that can be drawn from this experience is that not all policy and decision processes can be informed by climate change considerations. For example, one process encountered during the NCAP process involved creating a real-time water allocation dispute resolution policy in the Rio Naranjo. The focus here is on creating a structure which can be called upon to resolve the conflict related to the current actual availability, or more correctly scarcity, of water.

Even in processes where climate change would seem to be more relevant, such as the setting of water quality standards and the design of a wastewater treatment infrastructure, this inference is not always evident to those involved in the negotiations.


The strategy developed by the PNCC team at the awareness raising point of engagement was to attempt to develop what were called storyboards that cast the analytical framework in the details of the process in question. An example of such a storyboard is shown.

The challenge at the awareness raising point of engagement was that the project team could not significantly move beyond general linkage and information flows, and owing to skepticism on the part of the participants about developing this information, there was little expectation that such a development was possible. The general response of those to whom the storyboards were presented can be summarized as: ‘We have heard of this sort of technical analysis in the past, particularly from experts coming from Ciudad Guatemala or abroad, and have yet to experience a time when it came to fruition. It is better to make our decisions based on our own current and local understanding of our system’ It is likely that this reaction is not unique to the watershed area managers and stakeholders of Guatemala.

Educational Materials

As an alternative, the NPCC contemplated the potential benefits of developing a series of educational materials that were less technical in tone. Experience with this approach in Peru was considered exemplary. There, posters were developed in an effort to raise the awareness about climate change in specific sectors. These posters suggest that a time is coming when the supply of staple foods, fish and fruit will be reduced because of climate change and ask the question, ‘What will happen then?’

The implicit assumption in these materials is that some analysis has been done to characterize the status of stable food, fish stocks and fruit production under some future climate regime. This is the sort of analysis summarized in a storyboard, analysis which was considered untenable by many of the participants in the policy setting processes. Some work needs to be done to characterize the impacts of climate change before effective educational materials can be developed. Viewed in these terms, it perhaps should not be surprising that the PNCC found relatively little understanding at the awareness raising point of engagement during its interactions with participants in ongoing water management dialogues.

Implementation of the Impact Analysis

The next potential point of engagement was the implementation of the impact analysis required to understand the implications of climate change on the water resources of the two target basins, in effect, to implement the PNCC’s analytical framework. This became the major focus of the NCAP activity in Guatemala and while local water managers and stakeholders did provide some valuable insights into this effort, they adopted somewhat of a ‘wait and see’ position towards the project. In fact most of the effort needed to gather the information required to implement the analytical framework was directed at the custodians of national databases in Ciudad Guatemala. This is unfortunate as it is likely to have resulted in a missed opportunity to build ownership of the analytical process among the participants in the policy dialogues. Recall also that one of the steps in the development of the analytical tool was calibration using historical climate data. . This tool could be beneficial to decision makers whether or not they would chose to use it to investigate climate change impacts and adaptations.

Defining Appropriate adaptation Strategies

The final point of engagement, namely defining appropriate adaptation strategies, certainly cannot be undertaken without the full participation of actors in a particular decision making process. Failure to develop comfort with the analytical tools and to allow the stakeholders to contribute to the definition and evaluation of appropriate adaptation strategies will condemn the analytical framework to the purely academic arena. Producing results showing that a wastewater treatment plant, sized based on information about historical climatic and hydrological conditions, should be expanded in order to accommodate climate change will likely prove impossible to digest for decision makers who have not been involved in reaching such a conclusion. Here it can be said that the PNCC has worked to promote the WEAP application that they developed with stakeholders in the Rio Naranjo system so that the participants in the water quality negotiations can propose and consider their own adaptation options.

Implications for the Use of Models

There is an old adage that states that ‘All models are wrong, some are useful’. This seems relevant to this paper regarding the appropriate point of engagement in water management decision making process for those interested in climate change adaptation. It suggests that the builders of models need to be honest with the users of model about the assumptions that went into model construction and their implications for interpreting model results. By the same token, model builders should not be afraid to share the insights that are gained through the modeling process. In the case of Guatemala one critical insight was that in spite of the belief in some camps that insufficient data was available to implement the analytical framework, the PNCC was able to assemble and process all of the data needed to build the WEAP applications which calibrated reasonably and which yielded pleasing results when run under a range of future climatic conditions. While by no means perfect, these models are at least based on factual predictions.

This leads to a second insight, how could one, without the use of a model arrive at any point of knowledge regarding potential climate change impacts on something like BOD in the Rio Naranjo below San Marcos. While it is certainly legitimate to question just how information from WEAP should be factored into the final decision regarding the proposed wastewater treatment plant at San Marcos, it would seem naïve to ignore the information completely. Much of the current research on climate change adaptation involves refining the exact approach that should be taken to integrate climate change consideration into planning, with major contributions emerging from the actuarial sciences and decision theory. As this approach is refined over time, the effort invested now in using models to develop information like that presented in this paper, and in building the level of understanding of and comfort in the analytical process within which these models fit, will be considered a very strong foundation for future efforts to plan for a future in which the climate stands to be very different than the one experienced today.

Recommendations and Conclusions

At the beginning of this paper, a statement was made that while the NCAP work in Guatemala focused on the water sector, an effort would be made to develop a general structure for successful engagement with policy makers and decision leaders on the issue of climate change adaptation. That effort will be made here.

At the awareness raising point of engagement, it seems to be of little value in terms of contributing to a policy setting or decision making processes to draw broad conclusions about the impacts of hypothetical climate change scenarios. Quite honestly the mass media is already filling this role. Hardly a day goes by without some report on melting glaciers, more intense and frequent fires, shifting ecosystems and the link to climate change appearing in print or over the airwaves. Instead, decision makers need to have information on what these changes mean for the decision at hand. Here is it prudent to say nothing if the implications of the decision are of such a limited time horizon that they cannot possible be affected by changes that will take decades to fully materialize.

There are decisions, however, where the time frame over which climate change will increase in severity are extremely relevant. These include decisions on investments in infrastructure which will be paid off and operated over a period of decades. Political and legal negotiations that are unlikely to be revisited for decades are another reasonable arena for climate change considerations. Property acquisition to meet a specific objective is another. A very relevant function of the climate change adaptation community is to develop preliminary sensitivity analysis of what are considered climate critical decisions in a particular sector. The goal of these analyses should be to show in a general manner what a difference a choice might make if plausible climate change considerations where realised. This should be the focus at the awareness building point of engagement. At the level of impact assessment, a general recommendation is that the factors that will be assessed must emerge from an actual decision making process. It is of little benefit to describe how certain factors will change under future climate scenarios if they are of little relevance to the decision at hand. This would be a mandatory point of engagement and would have the added benefit that an effort could be made to improve the understanding of decision makers of the data that will have to be assembled and processed and the models that will need to be developed in order to carry out the assessment. In retrospect it is at this level that storyboards, laying out the general linkage and information flows could be most useful, not at the awareness raising point of engagement. The key is to create a sense of ownership, indeed to create a perceived need for the results of an impact assessment.

The completion of an impact assessment seems another logical point of engagement. Although the climate change adaptation community should to be prepared for two possible responses to the information generated. The first is the reaction that the decision at hand may not be that sensitive to climate change. There are times that this may indeed be the case, even under the worst potential climate change scenarios. If the awareness building point of engagement is properly implemented, climate change insensitive decisions should not have progressed to the level of impact assessment. The second potential reaction to an impact assessment might be uncertainty about how to actually use the information contained in the assessment. Here it would probably be useful to articulate future sensitivities in the language of risk and regret and the cost of climate proofing a particular decision.

This brings us to the final point of engagement, the definition of appropriate adaptation strategies. Adaptation costs money. The decisions are in effect insurance policies against the looming and potentially significant risk of climate change. This should be made clear to decision makers and rhetoric should be developed to help them grapple with the implications of this reality. Here also, the definition of adaptation strategies that will be analyzed should emerge from conversations with decision makers, if for no other reason than because they will have a good idea as to the costs of implementing various options. As experts in their field they will also be in a good position to imagine innovative strategies once they arrive at the point of internalizing the threat posed by climate change.

In conclusion, it seems clear that decision makers, and the analysts with whom they collaborate, are beginning to be able to define the process whereby climate change can be taken into consideration. As such the way forward is not entirely clear yet. This should not be surprising; decision makers have developed planning apparatus over the course of many decades that made the fundamental assumption that the climate experienced in the past will be representative of the climate that will be experienced in the future. Perhaps this report on climate change adaptation planning in the water sector in Guatemala will provide an help towards a new planning paradigm.


Back to: Netherlands Climate Assistance Programme (NCAP)

Guatemala NCAP Project

Methodology of Guatemala NCAP Project

Key findings from Guatemala NCAP Project

Related resources

Add your project

Exchange your climate change adaptation projects and lessons learned with the global community.