Analysing the cost of adapting to climate change

How do you estimate the cost of adapting to the impacts of climate change on vulnerable communities, and involve stakeholders in identifying the costs and benefits of the approaches identified? That is the task that’s been facing researchers and project managers from Malawi, Bangladesh, Bolivia, Morocco and Nepal this year. They’ve come together at IIED this week to draw lessons from their work and each other.

Suzanne Fisher's picture
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8 May 2012

‘Stakeholders’ is NGO jargon for all the groups impacted by the climate change adaptation projects being studied, such as the national or local government, the local community (including local farmers), and the private sector.

From talking to three workshop participants, one thing that is clear. In each of the sites, the benefits – and the importance of those benefits –  is different depending on which stakeholders you are talking to.

Dr Enamul Haque the Head of Economics at United International University, Bangladesh helped support an urban development project looking to improve the drainage system of Kulna city in south-west Bangladesh. The city needs to deal with three water-related problems: increasing precipitation levels, more water draining into the city from rivers, and sea level rises.

Haque found that the government wanted the climate adaptation work to focus more on structural fixes, whereas the environmental NGOs and academic researchers didn’t agree with all the plans because they were concerned about their potential impact on the river ecosystem. Community groups were most interested in finding solutions to cope with emergencies and to reduce their risk of contracting diseases, such as waste management solutions. For each of these groups, the solutions and the benefits  from those solutions that they identify will be different.

Mohamed Boughlala is an Agricultural Economist working with the National Institute for Agricultural research, Morocco. He’s been carrying out research on an agricultural project which aims to convert farmers from using inefficient flood irrigation, with around 50% of the water lost in drainage, to drip irrigation. The country’s irrigated farmland is an important contributor to its exports, and is therefore economically important.

Boughlala said the project met with each group of stakeholders separately, including farmers’ groups, the local department of agricultural development, the government water basin agency, the water user associations, the private sector (the drip irrigation companies, for example), environmental researchers and agricultural workers to discuss both the monetary and non-monetary costs and benefits of the transition. Then the groups were brought together to meet in a workshop. “It was the first time many of them were in the same room together, able to discuss their opinions of the project frankly and to negotiate the costs of the work proposed,” he said.

Classic cost-benefit analysis doesn’t prioritize the non-monetary benefits of such projects, and that’s the difference between it and “multi-stakeholder analysis” or participatory stakeholder analysis, says Boughlala, who pointed out that sometimes the non-monetary benefits are more important to stakeholders.

For example, Boughlala said that farmers in Morocco began to recognise some of the non-monetary health benefits of the project. By switching to automatized drip irrigation, for the first time, farmers didn’t have to get up in the night. As access to irrigation water was tightly regulated, they previously had to oversee flood irrigation at inconvenient times set by the government water schedules.

Including all the stakeholders is also important, Haque said, because individuals are going to adapt the way they live anyway to cope with the impacts of climate change. By recognising that and talking to them, project planning can improve and costs can be better shared by the donors and the community.

“You could find out that for some of the strategies identified, people might say, ‘I can do it,’” Haque said. “So, for example, the government might say this area is likely to be flooded. But maybe the community will say, don’t worry about it, we’re going to raise our houses anyway. It’s possible in that case to ...reduce the costs of climate adaptation work to the government. Then they can see what additional measures they need to take.”

Arjun Dhakal from the Institute for Social and Environmental Transition, Nepal  found the workshop helped foster learning. “There are different situations, issues and perspectives, but lots of common issues. ...We’re exchanging ideas and expertise and learning from each other,” he said.  

This workshop is just the first step. There will be research papers to share more in-depth lessons coming out in the next few months.

“This is not the end”, says Boughlala about his project in Morocco. “This is just the beginning of a process of negotiation to continually adjust the project”.

Read more about supporting climate adapatation work in Morocco with participatory stakeholder analysis 

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