Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Decision making, public participation and fairness in CCA

Research carried out by IGES, its partners, and other research community elsewhere involving policy makers and other stakeholders in climate change adaptation has revealed that the adaptation decision making in most of the Asia-Pacific countries and elsewhere is at nascent stages due to various issues such as limited understanding on how adaptation decision making could (or should) be different from developmental decision making, lack of tools or limited application of available tools to prioritize adaptation actions and limitations with policy and institutional mechanisms. A large school of scholars have been proposing that sound adaptation decision making is possible by measuring the progress in adaptation, through adaptation metrics and by embedding the principles of adaptation metrics into the existing project and program monitoring and evaluation procedures. Several monitoring and evaluation frameworks have already been proposed for adaptation projects claiming that understanding these frameworks and applying them on the ground can be of great help to project developers and implementers at all scales. However, it is not clear if these tools can help address issues such as public participation and fairness in decision making though most decision support tools claim to employ participatory processes. It is difficult to test the veracity of these claims since most of these frameworks are yet to be tested and compared on the ground in the real world.

Since climate change adaptation is a question of public policy requiring collective action and cognitive decision making, fairness and public participation are integral requirements for successful adaptation. Ensuring public participation has long been and loudly claimed by the experts and practitioners of community based adaptation (CBA). While such CBA approaches may enable public participation, there is no evidence to prove that these approaches have promoted fairness in decision making. So, creating enabling conditions for ensuring fairness may be crucial even in CBA based approaches, a question to explore. Though public participation and fairness are issues that have been historically the point of focus in developmental interventions, it is not very much clear how these experiences can be learned and applied to adaptation decision making.

Keeping the above issues in view, the author, in association with the Asia Pacific Adaptation Network, has organized a session on decision making, public participation and fairness on 12-13 May 2012 at the 2nd Adaptation Forum in Bangkok, Thailand. This session has addressed the questions such as how different are public participation and fairness issues in adaptation decision making, to what extent the proposed frameworks address the issues of public participation and fairness in adaptation decision making, what are the current experiences in promoting public participation and fairness in adaptation decision making, what enabling factors are crucial to ensure public participation and fairness in decision making and how they can be promoted? 

Various processes being taken up in adaptation decision making at the national level are already considering the issue of public participation in adaptation planning (Dr. Frank Griffin, Papua New Guinea). The issue of public participation has been addressed through two-tier consultation process wherein technical consultations were conducted at the national level and these findings were taken to the local level consultations to contextualize and identify specific adaptation practices.  The technical consultations have helped in ironing out the terminology that is being used by various stakeholders that led to proper communication among various stakeholders. In addition, the process has employed a robust process of climate change vulnerability assessment that has underlined the adaptation practices identified.

The case study of Tachin river basin highlighted the issue of multiplicity of plans, programs, institutions at the local level (Muanpong Juntopas, SEI). It showed that the evidence is crucial for successful decision making. Community based processes have helped in solving the issues such as poor vertical integration, integration across boundaries, sectors and basins.

On the contrary, the adaptation decision making process in Malaysia is centralized and top down driven (Gurmit Singh, Centre for Environment, Malaysia). The federal structure, lack of public consultation, and lack of transparency have posed several bottlenecks in adaptation decision making and communicating the message of adaptation in effective manner. It is apparent that in Malaysia, and elsewhere, adaptation should be considered as a rights issue (at par with the right to development).

Adaptation is also an issue of fairness issue (Atiq Rahman, BCAS). Fairness issue is very much limited to the international negotiations and it has been neglected at the national level. Fairness is a pre-requisite for promoting  good governance, and vise versa, at any level and it should not be limited to just the international negotiations. It is clear that, in most cases, the issue of fairness has been ignored even in the traditional developmental discourse. However,  the climate change has given new opportunity for us to discuss these issues and give greater emphasis in the decision making. Promoting local knowledge through processes such as community based adaptation and integrating/contextualizing the fairness discussion into food security, energy security, water security, health security and education securities that communities care about could be the way promote fairness.

Greater access to natural resources is a critical entry point for enabling greater participation in decision making since those with resources often happen to be the ones who makes decisions (Marcus  Moench,  ISET). Decentralization; access to information, shared learning and strengthening local governance can help promoting access to resources.

It is clear that public participation and fairness in decision making will not happen automatically but rather they need to be facilitated and promoted at all levels in a conscious manner. Issue of fairness can be very tricky when it comes to operationalizing since 'fair to whom' depends on 'who is defining fairness' and who is driving the discussion. It is often challenging to be fair to the entire section of community since there will always be losers and gainers in any given combination of resource allocation (this is just my opinion). Can we claim to have addressed the the fairness issue if 90% of vulnerable in the project location are benefited while other 10% are not since community rankings said it is OK to benefit top x number of people ranked as vulnerable? Probably not. While most project implementing agencies would like to benefit all vulnerable population in their project, often they would have to make decisions (or facilitate communities to take decisions in a participatory manner) such that project finances are 'efficiently' used rather than 'thinned out' (managers may think thinning out is a disaster for project reporting). This brings the discussion to the point that fairness is also closely linked with the 'project resources'. In the current socio-political and economic environment, it appears that bringing fairness to all is not 'just one of the challenges' that development practitioners and researchers would have to deal rather it is the crux of the problem in decision making. Fairness should be a 'chapter' in the Bible or Quran or Upnishad (or other sacred texts you can think) of every project, whether it deals with development or adaptation or disaster risk reduction.

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