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  • Kate Hawley

Autonomous Adaptation, is it a Solution Space?

As Dr. Marcus Moench, of ISET-International, urges the audience at the Resilience Futures conference in Fortaleza, Brazil to consider regulatory and incentive frameworks that build-off of autonomous adaptation already occurring in local communities around the world, an attendee from India replied by saying that he didn’t “believe local scale adaptation will be a solution to climate change.” Is the traditional planning regime our only answer? Systematic planning changes can take up to 5 to 10 years to influence policy shifts or institutional rearrangements. With increased extreme events and rapid urbanization, are we seeing these impacts too late or at all? If 4 degrees is where we are headed, do we have time to just consider traditional planning processes as the key intervention area for climate adaptation?

Households in Gorakhpur, India are already raising their plinths in response to the annual flooding and annual waterlogging that occurs throughout the city. Homeowners in Da Nang, Vietnam have opted for a loan program to build climate resilient shelter with limited government support. Poor communities in Pakistan are painting rooftops white to reflect the sun’s heat, adding Roshan Daans (small windows just below the roof that act as an exhaust and provide daylight), and planting creepers (vegetation) to provide shade and cooling to their houses. These homeowners are making investments on their own with limited or no government assistance. In Pakistan, household incomes range from 15,000 to 25,000 PKR (USD$152–$253) a year, and in summer months heat-related expenses can become 15,000 PKR. These households are using their decision-making power to prevent or reduce expenses and losses related to heat, flooding, and typhoons. The cost of recovery to them is too large to not be prepared.

So, why are we continuing to push the traditional planning path as the best option for climate adaptation? Why do we continue to work so hard to integrate climate science models into planning processes in these locations when that information may take 10 years to be felt at a local level? For example, in Gorakhpur, India, a highly recognized engineering firm was hired to develop and run a flood model for the city. Gorakhpur only has a conceptual landuse map for 2020, no current landuse elevation maps, and a topographical map that was last updated in 1970. Needless to say, the flood model comes with a set of assumptions that may uncharacteristically estimate the flooding locations due to the lack of data. So, is it worth spending thousands of dollars for these flood models in locations where the data and information is unavailable to truly provide more accurate results?

I would argue that alongside this push for integrating climate information into planning, that it be coupled with the support and integration of what is already happening in our communities. Let us incentivize plinth raised houses that integrate flow for water, add this technology innovation as a key input in our future landuse elevation map, and move forward with planning and implementation together, not one before the other. We do not have 10 years to wait for plans to be in place.

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