MSV contributes to the debate on Climate, Disasters and International Development

The long-term, global disaster of climate change is already starting to cause problems around the world. Continuing scientific work with affected communities reveals two main lessons.

By Ilan Kelman, Senior Research Fellow and Programme Lead for MSV at CICERO

First, climate change is not new or different from past or other ongoing challenges. The problem is difficult, but we do have hope for dealing with it—if we choose to do so. Second, by learning from history, without becoming mired in it, we can create a better future, irrespective of climate change.

For instance, communities in the Arctic and Small Island Development States (SIDS) are particularly vulnerable to climate change. Yet Arctic and SIDS peoples have previously dealt successfully with many changing conditions. Those experiences and abilities might not be enough to deal with contemporary social and environmental trends. They nonetheless provide a solid basis on which to build and to learn from.

One programme that aims to address such challenges is Many Strong Voices. Many Strong Voices joins people and communities from the Arctic and SIDS to exchange knowledge and ideas about, and to develop solutions for, climate change problems.

Activities cover capacity building, support at international negotiations, communication, education, awareness raising, outreach, and networking. Original scientific research is also a major activity in order to influence policy and action.

One publication from March 2010 that contributes to Many Strong Voices science and policy is the Journal of International Development’s special Policy Arena on “Climate, Disasters and International Development”. Edited by Ilan Kelman, four articles contribute to ongoing development debates and policy discussions related to climate and disasters, encompassing climate change.

JC Gaillard reviews the scientific history of and then critiques popular terms in development and climate change: ‘vulnerability’, ‘capacity’ and ‘resilience’. Betsy Hartmann analyses two other terms: ‘climate refugees’ and ‘climate conflict’, explaining why these concepts have become such popular policy paradigms despite the conceptual and practical problems.

The other two papers report field-based SIDS case studies. Jessica Mercer describes how placing climate change within disaster risk reduction improves development policy and practice for villages in Papua New Guinea. Michele Daly and three colleagues detail work in Samoa for reducing the vulnerability of coastal communities to climate-related disasters, of which climate change is one component.

Climate challenges do not affect only SIDS or Arctic communities, but also the world. Everyone can and should act in order to deal with climate change and other disasters, but without forgetting wider contexts, including what we know from the past.

Through Many Strong Voices and many other activities, Arctic and SIDS peoples and communities are doing their part. They are helping themselves and they are sharing their experiences and successes in order to help others.

Edited by Ilan Kelman from MSV, the four articles in the March 2010 issue of the Journal of International Development:

Introduction to climate, disasters and international development (pp
208-217). Ilan Kelman

Vulnerability, capacity and resilience: Perspectives for climate and development policy (pp 218-232) J.C. Gaillard 

Rethinking climate refugees and climate conflict: Rhetoric, reality and the politics of policy discourse (pp 233-246) Betsy Hartmann 

Disaster risk reduction or climate change adaptation: Are we reinventing the wheel? (pp 247-264) Jessica Mercer 

Reducing the climate vulnerability of coastal communities in Samoa (pp 265-281) Michele Daly, Namouta Poutasi, Filomena Nelson, Jude Kohlhase 

Click here to view Abstracts