Monday 23 May 2016

Reflections on the Adaptation Futures Conference

Dr Philip Antwi-Agyei, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST), Ghana
Cohort 1 CIRCLE Visiting Fellow

With realisation that mitigation alone might not be sufficient in tackling climate change; adaptation has dominated recent international political and academic discourse on climate change. Following the momentum of the historic Conference of Parties in Paris in December, 2015, over 1600 participants from more than 100 countries, gathered in the beautiful city of Rotterdam, the Netherlands, to share new scientific findings, products and services aimed at promoting the business case for climate change adaptation. Participants included academic researchers, innovators, practitioners and decision-makers both in the private and public sectors. Hosted by PROVIA (Global Programme of Research on Climate Change Vulnerability, Impacts and Adaptation) and funded by the European Union and the Government of the Netherlands, the theme of this conference was “adaptation futures 2016: practicesand solutions”.

Philip explaining CIRCLE’s business poster to a participant

The conference had 155 sessions, 7 high-level round tables and, of course, the highlight of it, the Adaptation Expo. There were seven key themes including food and rural livelihoods, cities and infrastructure, fresh water availability and access, ecosystems and ecosystem based adaptations, disaster risk reduction, the artic, and public health. Additionally, there were three 3 cross-cutting issues touching on risk assessment, adaptation planning and evaluation, institutions and governance, and investment and business. One of the key highlights of this conference was the address by Her Majesty Queen Maxima of the Netherlands, who is the United Nations Secretary General’s Special Advocate for Inclusive Finance for Development. In her address, HRH Queen Maxima emphasized the need for the international community to provide all inclusive financial access to the most vulnerable in our communities. As the keynote speaker, Queen Maxima indicated that globally there are over 230 million people who are affected by climate change induced disasters. She opined that access to financial services by these people was critical for their survival.

Several cutting edge studies conducted across the globe were presented. I participated actively and made a presentation titled: “mapping the multiple stressors contributing to vulnerability across scales in the Savannah zone of Ghana”. In this presentation, I explored how the various climatic and non-climatic stressors vary and interact across three different spatial scales in dry land farming systems, typified by case studies from northern Ghana. This presentation outlined that smallholder households are confronted with multiple stressors, many of which are non-climatic in nature. To this end, the presentation highlighted the urgent and practical need to tackle both climatic and non-climatic stressors in a holistic approach in climate change adaptation policies. In addition to my academic presentation, I presented CIRCLE’s business poster at the Adaptation Expo. It is important to stress that CIRCLE’s business poster received considerable audience and participants were generally impressed by the overall objective of the programme, which is aimed at developing the capacity of early career researchers in climate change impacts on development in sub-Saharan Africa.

Philip (middle) explaining a point on academic poster to participants

For me, two key things made this conference a resounding success. First, the tool shed session, where practitioners including NGOs such as CARE International, Oxfam (UK) and other organisations such as the European Environment Agency, The World Bank, Stockholm Environment Institute etc., demonstrated practical tools for addressing various aspects of climate change vulnerability and adaptation. Indeed, many of the tools were quite innovative and attracted large audiences. Another fascinating feature of the Adaptation Futures Conference was the active participation by the business community (including insurers, accountants, bankers etc.), non-governmental organisations as well as policy makers. The participation of these stakeholders was a clear demonstration that the issue of climate change is not a problem only for academic researchers, but rather an all-encompassing issue that needs a holistic approach involving all stakeholders.  For instance, several sessions were devoted to the role of insurance and business models in reducing the impacts of climate change related risk on households, especially on poorer households. It is believed that businesses could help in developing appropriate business models in tackling climate change.

Philip (extreme left) with H.R.H. Princess Abze Djigma, Burkina Faso (in the middle) and other participants from Ghana

Additionally, this conference outlined some of the key challenges in adapting to climate change, the next steps and who should take the lead. In terms of challenges, a number of challenges were highlighted including the lack of communication on climate change, inadequate engagement amongst researchers and practitioners, as well as lack of appreciation of local knowledge, etc. Personally, one of the refreshing moments was meeting some of the key global leaders in adaptation literature that I have cited several times in my writing. Importantly, the Adaptation Futures Conference provided a good platform for forging new networks and renewing old friendships. Crucially, new thinking and ideas on adaptation to climate change emerged from this conference.

The next Adaptation Futures Conference takes place in Cape Town, South Africa in 2018 and it will be great to have a good representation of climate change adaptation researchers and practitioners from the Africa continent attending this conference. In doing this, the continent shall be demonstrating its commitments in contributing to finding lasting solutions to climate change, which is already posing a considerable threat to Africa’s poverty reduction, economic growth and social development efforts.

Finally, I wish to take this opportunity to express my profound gratitude to CIRCLE and the organisers of the Adaptation Futures Conference for providing the necessary support to enable me attend this important conference.

Dr Philip Antwi-Agyei is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Environmental Science at Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Ghana and recently completed a CIRCLE Visiting Fellowship at the University of Ghana.

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