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How can we create climate-resilient development?

Published on September 13, 2022

As we explore the wide-ranging repercussions of the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, our experts explain how their work is responding to the increasing challenges of the climate crisis. In this insight, Dr Natalie Suckall, International Climate Resilience Lead at RSK’s International Projects Group (IPG), sets out how her team is working hard to achieve sustainable futures for all.

Over 40% of the world’s people, approximately 3.3 to 3.6 billion individuals, “live in contexts that are highly vulnerable to climate change”. This is one of the key findings from the IPCC’s 6th Assessment Report (AR6) titled “Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability”. Of this group of highly vulnerable people, the overwhelming majority live in countries within Africa, Asia and Central and South America. It is no coincidence that these are the same places where existing social, environmental and economic challenges threaten the core principle of the UN’s sustainable development goals (SDG): the achievement of a better and more sustainable future for all.

RSK’s International Projects Group (IPG) has been working in countries throughout the world, and especially throughout Africa, for almost three decades. We have seen first-hand the challenges that many marginalised communities face. And for many of the projects that we work on, a core focus is to ensure that development happens in a way that is both sustainable and equitable.

While there is little doubt that the climate crisis threatens progress toward the SDGs, it also presents opportunities to rethink how we approach development and to learn from communities that have long since lived with climate risks: from the Ma’dan people of Iraq, whose houses built from qasab reeds can be deconstructed and rebuilt in a day to the Zuni of New Mexico and their specially engineered waffle gardens that capture rainwater for crop farming in arid desert. All of this enables us to develop solutions, from farmers planting new crop varieties in response to increasing temperatures to coastal communities building cyclone-proof houses in anticipation of more frequent storms.

The links between adaptation and development are highlighted throughout AR6, which states with “high confidence” that climate change adaptation has “strong co-benefits with development goals such as education, poverty alleviation, gender inclusion and food security.” Combining resources for adaptation and development can be a cost-effective pathway toward long-term sustainable development.

For maximum efficiency, strategies designed to address both adaptation and development should also take into account mitigation: the reduction of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide.

Dominant models of energy-intensive development risk locking vulnerable communities into pathways that, under a low emissions future, will no longer be tenable. Instead, low-carbon pathways can support long-term development goals. Similarly, carbon sequestration strategies present opportunities for vulnerable communities to secure adaptation and development benefits. For example, carbon finance can stimulate investment for emission reductions and sustainable development impacts. And low-till farming that traps carbon in the soil boosts soil fertility and improves harvests.

Bringing together adaptation and mitigation in support of development will be essential if we are to meet the challenges posed by the climate crisis. Using the term “climate resilient development”, the IPCC emphasises the importance of developing these synergies throughout AR6.

The principles behind climate resilient development are not new. Scholars and practitioners have been debating the most effective way of bringing together adaptation, mitigation and development for over a decade. However, on-the-ground examples of climate resilient development in action are few. Perhaps the most well-known example is “Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation” (REDD+), a carbon payment programme that also has development and adaptation benefits. For example, mangrove rehabilitation simultaneously contributes to carbon storage (mitigation), livelihood diversification (development) and the protection of coastal areas against flooding and sea level rise (adaptation). Other examples include the installation of a solar powered drip irrigation system, which simultaneously reduces emissions compared to a diesel powered system (mitigation), improves water security (adaptation) and increases farmers’ income (development).

These examples of climate resilient development highlight what is possible, but this is far from being the norm within the development community. The IPCC warns that there is a rapidly narrowing window of opportunity to enable climate resilient development. If we act today, there are many climate resilient development pathways still available. But for every day that brings us closer to a 1.5°C rise in temperature, gates to those pathways begin to close. This is something that we in IPG are increasingly aware of as we work with clients to provide development advice.

Ensuring we do not limit our future options will require a radical and rapid transformational shift in how we plan for the future. Climate resilient development offers a strategic and holistic approach toward this transformation. But transformational change cannot be achieved by a few individuals. Instead, it will require a joint effort between governments, civil society and the private sector.

Dr Natalie Suckall is the international climate resilience lead in the social team of RSK’s International Projects Group (IPG). IPG has been operating since 1996 and has a truly global reach, working on projects in Africa, Europe, the Middle East and Papua New Guinea. The IPG team specialises in conducting environmental and social impact assessments, stakeholder engagement plans, livelihood restoration plans and resettlement frameworks. IPG has substantial experience working on offshore wind farms, solar power plants, energy projects, roads and many other ventures.

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Natalie Suckall

International Climate Resilience Lead, International Projects Group

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Dr. Natalie Suckall leads IPG’s climate change risk assessments provision, working with climate-affected communities in Africa and Asia, scoping the impacts of climate change and identifying options for adaptation. Natalie has a PhD in climate change and her research has been cited throughout the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Sixth Assessment Report (AR6). In her role, Natalie works with diverse stakeholders, including governments, NGOs, UN agencies and grassroots groups.

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