By Ciara Kirrane at Trócaire and Thomas Tanner and Lars Otto Naess at The Institute of Development Studies (IDS),15 April 2013
The Dublin conference on hunger, nutrition and climate justice
that started today aims to inspire innovative thinking and solutions, by bringing together global development leaders with people at the receiving end of the impacts of climate change and food and nutrition insecurity.
This is commendable, and a focus on the hunger, nutrition and climate justice nexus is long overdue. Regardless of climate change, hunger and undernutrition are major problems, particularly for the most marginalised. A new IDS-led Hunger and Nutrition Commitment Index (HANCI) shows that governments vary widely in their political commitment to tackling hunger and undernutrition. Climate change brings new risks that could undo the progress that has been achieved to date, and make future goals harder to achieve.
But the challenges are not just about the changing hazards, but as much about the way societies are organised. We argue that there are in particular three persistent challenges in the way we think and work with climate change and development that continue to hamper progress:
First, the need to address the changing development context that underpins how climate hazards affect us (our vulnerability and resilience) rather than changing hazards. The dominant tendency is still to start with rising temperatures and erratic rainfall and their impacts, for example on food production, rather than the mechanisms and structures that hinder access to food. For example, findings from joint Trocaire-IDS work over recent years
found that declining access to natural resources came out as the main limiting factor in households’ options and abilities to adapt their livelihoods, not increased climate stress.
And third, the need to broaden responses to climate change. Development actors must recognise climate variability and change as an additional stressor on already vulnerable livelihood systems. More broad-based rural development strategies that reduce dependency on a narrow range of climate dependent livelihood options are required. However the dominant response remains tackling climate change as a managerial response, breaking it down into a technical issue of, for example, drought tolerant crop varieties.
Get the right information and technical assistance to the right people and, lo and behold, policies and actions will adjust to become low carbon and climate resilient. This ignores both the fact that behaviour is determined not only by objective “rationality”, not least when it comes to managing risks, and that policy change is contested, mediated by political economy
and politics. It also turns attention away from more radical solutions, such as addressing over-consumption
. We need to better understand the political factors that mediate tradeoffs between the achievement of climate change and development objectives, and engage with radical and behavioural approaches.
Despite an increase in research and actions in these three areas, we feel they still remain sideshows next to the main act which continues to treat climate change as something isolated and separable from wider development processes. We hope the Dublin conference can help change this.