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< prev - next > Environment and adaptation to climate change ESRC_briefing_paper_1 (Printable PDF)
Practice Briefing
Integrating approaches:
Sustainable livelihoods,
disaster risk reduction and
climate change adaptation
Disasters and climate change are increasingly influencing the attainment of development
objectives. Poor people regularly face hazards and stresses which undermine their lives and
production systems, and on occasions result in widespread disaster. Climate change is causing
many hazards and stresses to increase in frequency and intensity. The unpredictability of future
climate and weather patterns means that potential pathways out of poverty are less obvious. In
December 2009, Practical Action hosted a seminar bringing together academics, practitioners and
policy-makers to explore how thinking on climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction
can be integrated with sustainable livelihoods approaches for more effective and sustained poverty
reduction. This briefing paper provides an overview of the theme of the seminar, followed by
summaries of the presentations made there.
In the past, work on sustainable livelihoods, on disasters,
and on climate change was addressed by different
communities of practice with differing priorities and
assumptions. Whilst varied entry points still exist, the
synergies between these approaches are now being
Sustainable livelihoods approaches take a holistic
and people-centred approach to understanding and
addressing the diverse factors that influence poverty
and well-being. Livelihood projects tend to focus on
increasing household access to assets, and thus to
greater income-earning opportunities. This is often at the
expense of addressing the hazard context, i.e. ensuring
the safety and adaptability of people and their assets in
hazard-prone environments. As climate change comes to
the fore, the need for a more dynamic analysis of socio-
environmental systems is being recognized, and climate
predictions are being incorporated into livelihoods
Approaches to disasters have tended to focus
on response, recovery and reconstruction – typically
the domain of humanitarian agencies or divisions.
Shifts towards disaster prevention and preparedness
emphasized hazard-specific structural and organizational
measures, such as emergency plans. More recently,
however, the risk reduction agenda has recognized social
and economic aspects of poverty as underlying causes
of disaster risk, and that strengthening and protecting
livelihoods is an important strategy for preventing
Early work on climate change focused on trying
to predict changes in climate and weather and project
how these might impact on physical environments
and economies. Action was directed towards climate
change mitigation, i.e. reducing further greenhouse gas
emissions. However, more recently there has been a shift
towards understanding the impacts of climate change
on the poor, and the action needed to ensure they are
able to adapt to those changes, which remain uncertain.
Again, strengthening livelihoods is increasingly seen as a
critical strategy for supporting adaptation.
The seminar addressed three areas relating to
integration of approaches: examples of practice on the
ground; how integration is being scaled up into policy
and wider institutional practice; and what frameworks
have been developed to aid integration.
Integrated approaches in practice
Three presentations, and a number of posters (see
p. 12), illustrated experiences from the field. These
demonstrated strong consensus that holistic, livelihoods
thinking is relevant to understanding and addressing
disaster and climate change impacts. Research by the
Institute of Development Studies (IDS), Tearfund and
Action Against Hunger (Naess et al., p. 13) applied
a livelihoods approach to researching how herders
and farmers in Mali and Ethiopia are coping with the
impacts of climate change. Practical Action Nepal
(Gurung, p. 4), working in areas prone to flooding and
landslides, have strengthened livelihoods and income as
an explicit approach to reducing disaster risk, alongside
more traditional disaster prevention and preparedness
activities. The Western Orissa Rural Livelihoods Project
(Everett, p. 5) focused on different aspects of asset
strengthening, but concluded that this approach also
achieved vulnerability reduction and climate adaptation
The examples made it clear that livelihood
diversification – increasing options as well as income – is
central to helping households and communities to cope
with hazards and adapt to climate change.