Sector News: The Social Vulnerability in Climate Change

“The Social Vulnerability in Climate Change”

Extreme climatic events of the past few months in the US, Australia, Thailand and Indonesia alongside record global carbon emissions level last year remind us of the scale of the challenges ahead and the urgency of the need for innovative financing and technology solutions. It also reminded us that Social Enterprises (SEs) have a role to play in bringing pro-poor and cost-effective climate change adaptation solutions. However, the lack of knowledge on ‘climate change-friendly social entrepreneurship’ is making it more obvious that climate change and international development communities have not yet successfully bridged the gap to effectively provide integrated solutions.

Social vulnerability and climate change vulnerability are often dealt with separately. Experts in climate change adaptation usually look at how extreme weather occurrence, changes in precipitations, droughts and saline water intrusion impact agriculture, forestry or infrastructure, without analyzing what this may mean in practice for the local communities. Millions of rice farmers in South and Southeast Asia, where rice is a prime agricultural product, have to adjust their practices in farming with not just either more or less rain in their region, but also with the possibility of more saline water, increased pests and rice diseases, etc. However, research institutions such as the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) are developing technology to help farmers cope their farming techniques with climate change so that they will not lose their prime source of income come a drought or extreme rain.

At the same time, experts in social vulnerability focus on improving the wellbeing of disadvantaged populations with little consideration on how their current level of vulnerability will be impacted by the environment they live in and how this will evolve over time. A great example is the development of numerous ecosystem fisheries based management across the Coral Triangle that will help fishing communities thrive. Developments in these fishing communities are also being moved further away from the shore to avoid rising waters; however, in the long-term, climate change will kill the corals and reduce fish stock that provide livelihood to these communities.

Years of efforts may be spent on building basic infrastructure, helping women and children have better access to education; farmers to improve productivity; and for all to receive affordable healthcare. However, in many areas all the hard work is threatened to be wiped off by a storm or heavy flood in a few days and climate change is making this threat more and more often a reality. This was seen in the recent devastating floods in Thailand in 2011.

As an increasingly large section of the population is affected by the impact of climate change, it is vital to bring social and climate change vulnerabilities into the same equation. In particular, climate change vulnerability needs to be minimized alongside social development, and long term impact of climate change should be understood and accounted for in risk management and impact projections.

By Weina Li, Research Manager, Shujog and Louis Perroy, Co-Founder, Climatekos