ADAPTIVE CAPACITY AND SOCIAL COHESION: THE NEED FOR A DYNAMIC APPROACH FOR DEALING WITH CLIMATE CHANGE Michael D. Mehta, Ph.D. Associate Professor and Director Sociology of Biotechnology Program Department of Sociology University of Saskatchewan Saskatoon, SK Canada, S7N 5A5 Tel: (306) 966-6917 Fax: (306) 966-6950 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Website: www.policynut.com Presented to the Senate of Canada, Standing Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry, 24 February 2003, Regina, SK.
Introduction Although real in its consequences, climate change is essentially a social phenomenon. As such, climate change will create “winners” and “losers” by virtue of its direct and indirect impacts on agriculture, forestry, and other sectors of the economy. Furthermore, these impacts are likely to be uneven across regions, time horizons, and affected individuals. In the context of rural Canada, climate change is likely to place new, and magnified, strains on the “social fabric.” Consequently, it is necessary to examine the impacts of climate change on rural communities, and to assess how climate change affects the capacity to adapt by disrupting, or altering, the social cohesiveness of such communities. “Who adapts and to what do they adapt? What influences the ability of institutions to adapt? Are there critical thresholds beyond which it is difficult to adapt?” Reference: “A theory of adaptive capacity.” Tyndall Centre, University of East Anglia, July 2002.
Social Determinants of Adaptive Capacity Adaptive capacity is defined as the ability of a system, or an individual, to adjust to climatic variability by minimising the likelihood and consequences of adverse outcomes. As such, adaptive capacity is related to risk management. A hazard is identified, its potential adverse impacts are assessed, and measures are taken to reduce the risk. This model of adaptive capacity builds upon a well-known mathematical definition of risk. To reduce risk, safeguards can be adopted to decrease the probability of an adverse event from occurring and/or to reduce the impacts associated with exposure. As such, adaptive capacity is the ability to access and use safeguards to reduce risk. A failure to adapt, under certain climatic conditions, increases risk by making individuals, and communities, more vulnerable.
Adaptive capacity is also a function of several social, behavioural and institutional variables that have interaction effects. • Clearly, adaptive capacity falls along a continuum. Assessing degree of trust, wealth, risk, social characteristics and time horizon can indicate how much adaptive capacity actors possess to buffer, and to a certain extent prosper, under conditions of climate change. In general, some degree of awareness is required in order to mobilise this capacity. Actors with high adaptive capacity and low awareness are likely to squander, or misuse, this capacity. Conversely, actors with low adaptive capacity and high awareness are likely to be under significant levels of stress due to their inability to effect positive change.
Theoretically, a comparison of actors with high adaptive capacity to those with low adaptive capacity yields the following observations.
Although adaptive capacity varies across actors, it is incorrect to assume that some actors possess enough capacity to buffer anything climate change can throw in their direction. Adaptive capacity is a dynamic property that actors possess. As such, actors considered well-adapted under certain conditions, may in a relative sense become less well-adapted when these conditions change. • Dynamic adaptive capacity (DAC) can be defined as the capacity of actors to acknowledge and respond to climatic variability in a socially responsible, environmentally sustainable, and flexible fashion. • The promotion of DAC places an emphasis on maximising the public good. Since climate change is a product of collective action, it only makes sense to place adaptive capacity within a broader social framework. Actors who build and deploy measures that improve their own ability to buffer climatic variability must recognise that some measures may diminish the ability of others to adapt. In effect, DAC becomes a collective planning exercise where social cohesion can be either built or weakened by particular kinds of decisions taken. Responding to climate change will require a significant shift in our base of economic activity, and changes in how we understand concepts like progress, economic growth and environmental sustainability.
There is little agreement on how to define social cohesion. This is somewhat startling considering how widely used this concept is, and how quickly some claim that social cohesion has declined in recent years. Jane Jenson suggests that social cohesion became popular as a topic of discourse because it illuminates the interconnections between "economic restructuring, social change and political action." Furthermore, Jenson notes that a cohesive society is assumed to be socially and economically optimal according to a range of governmental agencies and organisations like the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), and that a decline in cohesion represents a threat to social order. Judith Maxwell considers the relationship between social cohesion and those social conditions that indicate when a society fails to function adequately. Maxwell defines social cohesion as the sharing of values that reduce "...disparities in wealth and income" while giving people a sense of community. • Jenson, J. 1998. Mapping Social Cohesion: The State of • Canadian Research. Ottawa: Canadian Policy Research Networks. • Maxwell, J. 1996. Social Dimensions of Economic Growth. • Eric John Hanson Memorial Lecture Series, Volume VIII, • University of Alberta.
What is the relationship between adaptive capacity • and social cohesion in rural communities? • Adaptive capacity is a social construct: it exists only in a relative • sense, and can be fostered or depleted depending on the nature • of exchange relationships between social actors. • Adaptive capacity is dynamic such that no one actor is “perfectly” • adapted to all climatic events. Vulnerability is never equal to zero. • Individual responses to climate change can weaken the ability • of others to adapt, and therefore strain social cohesion. • To reduce this risk, my concept of Dynamic Adaptive Capacity • suggests that adaptation measures need to be socially responsible, • environmentally sustainable and flexible. • In order to maximise benefit to the public good by building • Dynamic Adaptive Capacity, trust and mechanisms for ensuring • equity are required. A high degree of social cohesion is requisite. • How can efforts at building social cohesion improve the • ability of rural communities to adapt to climate change? • Social cohesion in rural communities reverses migration to urban • areas. This promotes conditions for reinvestment in agriculture (a • necessary condition for adapting to climate change). • Social cohesion exists when equity concerns are addressed. • Laggards should not be rewarded disproportionately for adapting. • Early adapters, and farmers who have sustainable practices, should • not be rewarded differentially. This practice creates conditions for • low social cohesion, and conflict. • Socially cohesive communities can plan for collective adaptation, • and reduce the number of “losers” while maximising the • number of “winners.”
Conclusion Traditional conceptions of adaptive capacity are akin to risk management in several ways. However, individual measures for building adaptive capacity have the potential to create conflict, inequities and overall less collective adaptive capacity. Adaptive capacity is a social process with social consequences. To reduce these undesirable impacts, I propose that the links between adaptive capacity and social cohesion be understand more fully. My concept of Dynamic Adaptive Capacity allows policy-makers and others an opportunity to evaluate different adaptive responses in terms of equity, environmental sustainability, and potential impacts on social cohesion in rural communities. “Adequate prediction of climate impacts is further hindered by the fact that these complex systems will be simultaneously stressed by many other changes.” Reference: IPCC, Working Group II, Second Assessment Report, Summary for Policymakers: Impacts, Adaptations and Mitigation Options, 1995.