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Expert comment - International Development Committee and climate adaptation

Dr Morten Byskov and Professor Keith Hyams of PAIS welcome the International Development Committee report's recognition of the importance of promoting fair and equitable access to climate adaptation and the need to integrate the knowledge of vulnerable communities and take into account their values and interests, and highlight areas where stronger recommendations would be useful.

Dr Morten Byskov, postdoctoral research fellow, Politics and International Studies (PAIS), said: “My initial take on the report is that it is spot-on in highlighting the most pressing issues that prevent the UK from promoting fair and equitable access to climate adaptation.

"In particular, related to my own research, I am glad to see included calls for inclusion of local and Indigenous knowledge; better integration of vulnerable communities in decision-making processes; and emphasis on addressing the root causes of climate vulnerability.

"That said, I find that the report is also a bit light on concrete recommendations, especially in two regards:

"Firstly, although the report highlights the need to address root inequalities and vulnerabilities there is little about what these exactly refers to. Is mainly economic inequality? Is it at the global or local level? Are we talking marginalisation and exclusion of vulnerable groups?

"How the UK should approach the problem of adaptation crucially depends on how we conceptualise the underlying inequalities. It is not enough throwing financial resources at the problem if it is caused by something more intangible, such as the lack of inclusion. Our research suggests that the root cause is actually multi-dimensional and includes both inequality of tangible resources and goods as well as more intangible factors, such as the lack of political representation and recognition. In other words, a key issue here is how to transform/convert resources, such as financial aid, into substantive opportunities for adaptation.

"Secondly, the report highlights the need to integrate the knowledge of vulnerable communities and take into account their values and interests. Yet, the report lacks a clear proposal for how the consultation with vulnerable communities can translate into direct influence on adaptation plans and programmes. In absence of that, there is a danger that they will be ‘given a seat at the table’ without any actual influence."

Professor Keith Hyams, Professor of Political Theory and Interdisciplinary Ethics, PAIS, added: “To also highlight the things that the report has got right and that need emphasising:

"1. The report is spot on that much climate finance isn’t reaching the most vulnerable groups and that organisations working with them struggle to access this. Slum Dwellers International for example, with whom we work on our project ‘Supporting Just Response and Recovery to COVID-19 in Informal Urban Settlements’, are embedded in informal settlements around the world and are exceptionally well positioned to help them promote adaptation, but can’t access finance streams because it is so top down. There’s also a need to recognise that vulnerability means different things in different contexts, for example adaptation for vulnerable groups in cities looks very different to adaptation in non-urban contexts.

"2. It’s good to see that loss and damage gets a mention, this is a crucial unresolved issue that will need to be worked out and financed soon in order to keep Global South countries on board with the broader mitigation and adaptation agenda.

"3. Ending fossil fuel financing makes clear sense from a climate point of view, but is contentious among countries who see fossil fuels as a route to development. To make progress on this, clean energy alternatives need to be financed so that equitable development pathways can be achieved without adding to carbon emissions.

"4. The report rightly recognises that climate adaptation and development are inseparable, and that current policy doesn’t do justice to this. Clearly ODA cuts completely undermine climate adaptation efforts.”

26 October 2021