What does it mean to ‘do’ climate-smart, risk-informed development?

Thursday, January 18, 2024

The wide variability and uncertainty of impacts from climate change complicates planning for the future. Planning in ways that are ‘climate-smart and risk-informed’ is one way to face this challenge. But what does ‘climate-smart and risk-informed’ mean? Zurich Flood Resilience Alliance teams are exploring this question through their work in countries around the world.

Exploring what ’Climate-Smart, Risk-Informed Development’ means 

The phrase ‘climate-smart, risk-informed development’ (CSRID) describes the way we aim to combine activities across sectors and scales to build community flood resilience. However, articulating what it means to ‘do’ CSRID at the community level is challenging given the wide range of contexts we work in and the broad range of priorities we need to align our work with.

We start from an understanding that CSRID sits at the nexus of sustainable development, disaster risk reduction (DRR), and climate change adaptation (CCA) (Figure 1). This means that DRR and CCA must be an integral part of development planning, and that development planning must consider changing risk environments. 

Figure 1: CSRID sits at the nexus of CCA, development and DRR. Adapted from UNDRR.

Incorporating climate and risk thinking into programmes 

What CSRID work should look like or include varies depending on a team’s context and capacity, and the resources available for action. Alliance teams are incorporating climate and risk thinking into their work through:      

  • Gathering evidence on current development strengths and challenges, including core capacities and vulnerabilities; 
  • Identifying opportunities to build capacities and address vulnerabilities in ways that consider the current risk landscape (“Risk-Informed”);  
  • Identifying opportunities to build resilience that actively consider how climate change is changing the current risk landscape, creating new risks, and creating uncertainty by using climate-risk information in planning discussions (“Climate-Smart”). 

So, how can we make community work climate-smart and risk-informed?

  1. Pursue a multi-hazard approach
    • What risks and hazards do the communities face? 
    • Are adaptation options for these risks and hazards different or do they overlap?  
  2. Add a ‘time element’
    • What might the community look like and face in terms of hazards in 10-20 years?  
    • What actions could be taken now that would bring benefits now and in future?  
  3. Consider how climate change may increase vulnerability. 
  4. Take actions that will build resilience across a range of possible futures.

Stages of CSRID thinking 

Working with communities in ways that are climate-smart and risk-informed goes well beyond standard development practice. Consequently, Alliance teams are on a learning journey with some teams farther along in the journey than others. Recognizing this, we identified a series of stages for thinking about the development of our CSRID work (Figure 2). This approach draws on the stages used by Plan International in their gender transformative marker, and on the three stages the Red Cross Climate Centre uses in their Guide on Climate Smart Programming.

Climate change unawareClimate change awareClimate change specificClimate change transformative
Climate change is not yet considered.  ​ 
Example: A focus group does not include a discussion on observed trends in higher tides or weather. 
Approaches ensure climate change is considered, but go no further. ​ 
Example: A  focus group  discusses observed trends in weather and weather-related hazards, but doesn’t use that information in planning. 
Approaches include climate change throughout the work. ​ 
Example: Climate trends and future climate are discussed and used as criteria in selecting activities.
Approaches actively challenge development and DRR norms that might otherwise prevent communities to continue on their development path under future climate change. ​ 
Example: Influencing city government to identify low-lying areas for the development of parks that will double as flood water storage. 
Figure 2. Stages of CSRID thinking

Common challenges

At an Alliance wide Learning Event in 2023, teams identified common challenges to incorporating CSRID thinking into their programming.  

 Climate change unaware/aware teams identified that:  

  • Livelihoods often take precedence over climate change for many communities;  
  • Climate considerations need to be grounded so solutions are useful; 
  •  A set of building blocks to transition from DRR to climate-smart programming would help teams better integrate CSRID thinking into their work. 

Climate change specific teams identified:   

  • Greater climate awareness and learning between stakeholders is needed;  
  • Interpreting climate data to make it useful for communities is important;  
  • Documenting what people are already doing to address climate change and helping them see why those actions are climate-smart helps build capacity and speeds uptake.    

Climate change transformative teams identified that:  

  • Established ways of working can hinder new action; 
  • Collecting evidence of impact/improvement can incentivize uptake of better practices; 
  • Clear resilience strategies are needed to demonstrate pathways to climate resilience;
  • Building the capacity of stakeholders to recognize and think about the uncertainty inherent in climate projections (e.g., adopt resilience thinking approaches) is critical. 
Alliance teams discuss what it means to ‘do’ CSRID. Credit: Michelle Pang

The take-away

It is evident that each team is working to progress their programs toward being climate-smart and risk-informed. The knowledge and skills within the Alliance can help us shift the Alliance towards the climate change transformative stage, but it is an ongoing process and one we are still working on. You can learn more about CSRID here.

Let us know in the comments below, what does it mean to ‘do’ CSRID in your context?  

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