skip to primary navigationskip to content

MPhil in Engineering for Sustainable Development

global challenges, engineering solutions

Studying at Cambridge

Daniel Gallagher

A Resilience Perspective on Climate Change Adaptation in Central America

Daniel Gallagher

A Resilience Perspective on Climate Change Adaptation in Central America

“To what extent does adaptation planning in Central America impact on the resilience of poor communities vulnerable to a changing climate?”

Central American countries are among the most vulnerable on Earth to the impacts of climate change (UNDP, 2011).  There is evidence that extreme weather events in the region are becoming more frequent and intense, putting countries at risk of losing years of development progress. Decision-makers in the region are faced with the challenge of adaptation whilst addressing the needs of vulnerable sectors of society.
The emerging discourse at the international policy level calls for a “resilience-based approach” to improve adaptation planning (Ministry of Public Works El Salvador, 2012; UNDP, 2012) yet what form this approach should take and the implications of its use remain unclear.  This dissertation evaluates the relevance of resilience in the context of adaptation before assessing how a resilience perspective could improve the understanding of the adaptation needs of vulnerable communities.  It is addressed primarily to adaptation practitioners in the UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) who provide continuity to the adaptation planning process amidst political instability at national government level.
The methodology deployed to undertake this study involved semi-structured interviews in El Salvador, Honduras and Costa Rica with policy-makers, UNDP officials, non-government organisations and members of affected communities.  The findings allowed a conceptual framework to be constructed to map resilience concepts to the specific context of adaptation in poor rural coastal communities. 
Preliminary observations suggest that a resilience approach to adaptation planning could prove useful by incorporating concepts such as uncertainty, adaptive capacity, multiple system states and scenario planning in decision-making.  Resilience concepts can also be useful in understanding autonomous adaptation, where the adverse effects of climate change can be used as an opportunity for positive change.
There is promise that a resilience perspective offers a superior understanding of the complexities that characterise the adaptation process and its overlaps with sustainable development and poverty reduction.  There remains a danger, however, that resilience could be reduced to a fashionable term in the disaster and development lexicon and misappropriated to further inadequate adaptation policies. 
The remainder of this study will involve critically analysing gaps in the adaptation planning process in El Salvador and Honduras through national to local scales, using the conceptual resilience framework now developed.  The ultimate goal is to provide recommendations to inform the policy process in order that adaptation planning can more effectively understand the adaptation process in, and hence build resilience for, vulnerable rural communities threatened by climate change in Central America.