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HI-AWARE Climate Change Adaptation Policy and Science Conference Recommends Bridging a Divide between Science and Policy
25 Mar 2016

HI-AWARE conference participants posing for a group photo. (Photo: Jitendra Bajracharya/ICIMOD)

The Climate Change Adaptation Policy and Science (CCAPS) Conference held in New Delhi, India from 24-25 February 2016 brought together over 100 participants—HI-AWARE consortium members, partners, scientists, student researchers, and government and donor representatives—to discuss the reality of climate change and other changes taking place in the Indus, Brahmaputra and Ganges river basins. The ‘knowledge gaps’ that research should henceforth address to, in turn, help policymakers address adaptation, and to seek inputs on how evidence-based climate adaptation science should inform policy and practice were discussed at the conference. Also examined were the major challenges and opportunities facing the successful implementation of adaptation options to help poor and vulnerable communities living in the said basins adapt to climate change.

David Molden, Chair of the HI-AWARE Steering Committee and Director General of the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), in his keynote address, reminded everyone that HI-AWARE has come a long way since the DFID-funded CARIAA meeting at post-CoP 18 in Doha to address adaptation in glaciated river basins of the Hindu Kush Himalayan region. He highlighted the necessity for a connection between science and policy, which requires crossing boundaries, not only across disciplines, but also gender and countries.

Ajay Mathur, Director General of The Energy Resources Institute (TERI), underscored that science must answer when the nature of climate change impacts changes, as this has implications for policy and practice response. He also flagged the need for scientists to interact with policy-makers in each country to learn about the kind of inputs the latter may need to do their jobs better—that of policymaking with respect to climate change adaptation.

Anindya Chatterjee, IDRC, said he was interested in seeing partners working together to address climate change issues, and that he felt it important that science be brought forth for better interaction with policy and practice. He expressed his appreciation for HI-AWARE’s exemplary work on integrated energy use in the Indus, Pakistan; and on flood-resistant housing in Bihar, India; and Rangpur, Bangladesh.

Rucha Ghate, Senior NRM Governance Specialist at ICIMOD, pointed out that HI-AWARE researchers were lucky to be working in three river basins across four countries. She recounted that her recent field visit to Bihar taught her that households with only female children were the most vulnerable. To the question, how can HI-AWARE research help such households, Ghate said social research is important to identify who really needs what most.

Ashok Lasava, Secretary, Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) of the Government of India, said that his government has launched a national mission on Himalayan studies to come up with prescriptions for what needs to be done to help people adapt to climate change. He informed that the 12 Himalayan States of India are already considering adaptation projects such as introduction of new crop varieties, regeneration of springs in hills, and rainwater harvesting, among others. He outlined the potentials that need to be harnessed in hill areas, especially in terms of hydropower and tourism development, while keeping their adverse impacts on the environment in check. This would include better management of wastes. He argued that science and policy must play a role in striking a delicate balance between development and conservation.

Prodipto Ghosh of TERI opined that the process of policy-making consisted of several steps; the first of which demands that science must play a key role in giving answers to the causalities of the climate issues most pressing for humans. He said dialogues need to take place between scientists and policymakers to set a research agenda: “what needs to be researched to create an impact”. So the focus of scientists should not just be on publishing journals but also on informing policymakers about which sectors need what policy inputs.

Philippus Wester thanked everyone present at the inaugural and encouraged all to participate actively in all sessions of the conference.

The first session of the conference discussed what we know about climate adaptation science and what we do not know about the same, and ways in which the ‘knowledge gaps’ that still exist might be addressed. For example, the hydrogeological aspects of hill springs across the Hindu Kush Himalayan region are still largely unknown. The financial, technical, and gender and social equity aspects of adaptation at different time scales were flagged, including the challenges of downscaling global scale data to the catchment or community level, and implementing adaptation at the local level, taking cognizance of the fact that politically expedient adaptation strategies are not necessarily the most scientifically sound strategies. It was further argued that rural poverty and food insecurity—factors that drive outmigration—were immediate concerns, whereas adaptation in the water sector is doomed to failure without crosscutting solutions linked to energy and food sectors.

The second session of the conference discussed adaptation from a multilevel governance perspective. It was deemed next to impossible to formulate policy that will support transformative adaptive changes without a paradigm shift in governance mechanisms in South Asia. So vertical devolution: across levels of governance, and horizontal consolidation: across multiple thematic levels of policy, were suggested. Devolution without mechanisms of accountability, however, would not work, considering the threats posed by corruption at the local level. It was suggested that research and information need to trickle down to the local level so that there is a blending of science with local knowledge. There was a call for the mainstreaming of climate change as a threat multiplier, which also takes into account disaster risk reduction.

During the third session of the conference, The Mountain Institute India; The Centre for Ecology, Development and Research; Practical Action; and Gana Unnayan Kendra—all strategic partners of HI-AWARE—exhibited posters about their ongoing research and adaptation interventions on: a) reviving drying mountain springs in Sikkim, India; b) spring revival and lake sustainability in Uttrakhand, India; c) rice-duck farming in Chitwan, Nepal; and d) flood-resilient housing in Rangpur, Bangladesh, and shared their plans or strategies for scaling these up.

The following morning, Sanjoy Hazarika gave what was billed as the Big Talk on “The North East: Where India and South East Asia Meet—A Weave of Stories.” He put North East India in its proper historical, political and cultural contexts and also shared several “stories” from the region so rich in trust and social capital. His story about “boat clinics” on the mighty Brahmaputra River that deliver medical services to far-flung rural villages went down well.

Arabinda Mishra of ICIMOD next facilitated a session on “Science Policy Interface (SPI): Participatory Exercise” aimed at bringing out the influence of the particular SPI context in defining the main challenges and opportunities related to the successful application of the seven adaptation interventions – alternative livelihoods, heat alert system, harnessing of social/financial remittances, recharge of underground water, flood resilient housing, plantation along river banks, and rainwater harvesting – proposed by the conference participants.

All in all the conference was very commendable in terms of content, gender balance, and quality of participation, as it included individuals from the Secretary of the Government of India to young PhD, MPhil and MSc student researchers from different countries. The proposed way forward was to focus HI-AWARE research and interventions on benefiting populations from the HKH region most vulnerable to climate change. The conference successfully highlighted the importance of a convergence between science, policy and practice, including linkages between short-term solutions and the long-term goal of climate change adaptation.