Bringing social protection down to earth: Integrating climate resilience and social protection for the most vulnerable

Recent conceptual innovations, such as ‘social protection through a livelihood lens’ (Devereux, 2006), ‘adaptive social protection’ (Davies et al, 2008a), ‘climate change adaptation’ (Davies et al, 2008; Davies and Leavy, 2009), and ‘climate resilience’ (UN/ISDR, 2004; Parry et al, 2007), and ‘the social dimensions of climate change’ (Mearns and Norton, 2010) have helped strengthen linkages between social protection and environmental/climate concerns. These have been coupled – in social protection - with programme and policy approaches privileging livelihood support to vulnerable households and/or focusing on social transfers, social safety nets and food security as part of overall poverty reduction strategies (cf. Devereux, 2003; RHVP, 2008).

Early exploration of the impact of climate change on the poor (DFID 2004 a, b, c, d) helped pave the way to greater analytical integration between social protection and climate change, while a growing literature has helped to define common issues more clearly, strengthen awareness of interrelated risks, vulnerabilities and adaptive capacities, and identify priorities for research and action (cf. inter alia Davies et al, 2008a,b,c; Davies and Leavy, 2009; Davies et al, 2009; Heltberg et al, 2008a,b,c; and Oswald, 2009). Some literature has pointed to the importance of bringing in other distinct streams of thinking and action around, for example, small-holder wellbeing and agricultural development (Sabates-Wheeler et al, 2009; Devereux, 2009; Futures Agriculture, 2009) as well as disaster risk reduction (Jones et al, 2010). An increasing number of positive programmes and examples of strategic synergies and promising mechanisms are also being documented, particularly in Africa (Hess and Syroka, 2005; Alderman and Haque, 2007; Hellmuth, 2007), but also, for example, in Asia (cf. Mallick, 2006; Heltberg, 2007).

Nevertheless, most policies, plans and interventions continue to be developed and carried out in separate silos. National social protection strategies, for example, often neglect environmental issues, while emerging National Adaptation Programmes of Action to Climate Change (NAPAs) systematically neglect social protection concerns. This represents a missed opportunity to heighten positive synergies between programmatic responses to different forms of intersecting vulnerabilities and leads to wasteful overlap in activities on the ground which is detrimental to the sustainability of such efforts. While part of the problem may stem from remaining conceptual weaknesses in sustaining a holistic view of risks, vulnerabilities and the integrated strategies required to address them, other challenges arise from the compartmentalized nature of development planning and implementation in a sectoral world where specialist streams of discipline-specific knowledge interact with and reinforce bureaucratic fiefdoms wherein incentives for interaction are few. This can have the effect of creating what can often seem to be impermeable boundaries between, for example, social, economic, and environmental ministries and their international technical support agencies which must come together to address common issues linking social protection and climate change.

The challenge is a twin one – on the one hand of integrating environmental issues into social protection policies, plans and programmes, and on the other hand of building social protection components into adaptive responses to climate change. After providing a brief overview of current conceptual frameworks, tools and mechanisms in the two fields (sections 2 and 3), this paper aims to contribute to efforts to meet this challenge by identifying a number of social protection mechanisms that can be particularly responsive to climate change challenges (section 4), along with a number of climate resilience mechanisms that can be designed to take greater account of social protection issues (section 5). Key policy implications and challenges for greater integration are then highlighted to enrich reflection on the way forward (section 6), followed by general conclusions (section 7). Examples used in the paper are drawn primarily from sub-Saharan Africa.

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