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The Guardian/UK

Rural Communities Best Equipped To Cope With Climate Change: UN Report

Sustainable use of resources and environment will give 2 billion of world's poor greatest chance of surviving extreme change

John Vidal

How climate change and flooding has directly affected the lives of people in Bangladesh. (Photograph: Hassan Bipul/DFID)

Rural communities which protect nature and exploit forests, wetlands and wildlife sustainably will be the best equipped to cope with the droughts and floods that will increasingly hit Africa, Asia and Latin America with climate change, says a new UN-backed report.

Nature-based enterprise, says the report from the World Resources Institute in Washington DC, offers the world's 2 billion rural poor key survival tools to weather the extreme changes that are expected. It argues that communities must be given secure rights to access, manage and profit from, the natural resources they depend on daily and calls on governments and development agencies to scale up such approaches.

Supported by the UN Development Programme (UNDP), UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Bank, the report, called Roots of resilience, urges immediate action.

"Poverty will never be made history unless we invest in more intelligent management of the world's nature-based assets," said Achim Steiner, UNEP under-secretary general and executive director, at the report's launch in Barcelona. "Mainstreaming [such] models is now a matter of great urgency in a world challenged by climate change, in a world where we are pushing, if not pushing past, the regenerative limits of the planet's life support systems."

To support its case, the report highlights successful, groundbreaking examples of nature-based livelihoods around the world. In famine-prone Niger, one of the world's five poorest nations, it reports, low-cost farmer-led efforts to regenerate tree stumps has led to a dramatic re-planting of the semi-desert Sahel region, increasing both rural incomes and food supplies.

In Bangladesh, where 70 million people depend on floodplains for food and income, communities have achieved similarly spectacular results in reviving polluted and over-exploited wetlands. After the government awarded 110 villages joint control, along with local authorities, to manage sustainably the fisheries on the doorsteps, fish harvests rose by 140% and household incomes by a third.

Scaling up such successful enterprise models, according to Roots of resilience, requires governments and donors to engage communities in sustainably managing drylands, wetlands, watersheds, and forests so that they provide a reliable, renewable source of food and income. In the process, the report argues, poor households will also develop the resilience needed to adapt to the impacts of climate change.

The report's blueprint for making this happen includes: transferring legal authority over local ecosystems to communities; building community capacity both to manage natural resources and establish successful nature-based enterprises; and helping local nature-based enterprises link into mainstream business markets.

"Local communities clearly have an interest to sustain the ecosystems on which they depend," said Manish Bapna, executive vice president of the World Resources Institute, in Barcelona. "But today, all too often, they face a disabling, not an enabling environment."


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