Global Climate action and sustainable development, Communities and society

Social inclusion in climate resilience planning

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Photo by Ashwini Chaudhary (Monty) on Unsplash

Last week, members of the LGIU team took part in the ICLEI World Congress 2022 in Malmö, Sweden, both in-person and virtually. This major summit highlighted best practice initiatives by local and regional government worldwide to advance sustainable development.

I attended a number of virtual and hybrid sessions, including a memorable interactive session on the value of integrating social inclusion into climate resilience planning.

Led by the Climate & Development Knowledge Network, this session focused on the value of mainstreaming gender and social inclusion into climate resilience planning – and the pitfalls of not doing so for the whole community – through a presentation, international panel discussion, and innovative “serious fun game” played by us participants.

This blog shares some of the highlights and takeaways from the session. To access our full coverage of the summit and a taster of global LGIU content on the event’s key themes, please click here.

Gender mainstreaming in climate planning: what & why?

The Climate & Development Knowledge Network (CDKN) is a demand-driven network that provides training for climate change resilience and planning across Asia, Africa and Latin America. Their consultations at COP24 showed the need for training on gender mainstreaming in climate action.

Mairi Dupar, from the Overseas Development Institute, explained how the CDKN’s work started with gender and quickly became intersectional. She said gender issues are too often seen as a tick box exercise at project proposal stage and not followed through, implemented or evaluated effectively.

“Women’s issues” are frequently undervalued or dismissed within climate resilience planning. However, gender-blind planning can lead to maladaptation, as it does not take into account the varied climate risks imposed on different groups by their intersecting needs. It can also ignore the different strengths, skills and knowledge that women and other marginalised groups can offer to climate planning processes.

CDKN’s knowledge programme tracks examples of failures as well as successes to highlight the pitfalls of non-inclusive climate resilience planning. Technical climate expertise does not necessarily mean that decision makers have knowledge of gender-related issues or how to integrate socially inclusive climate solutions. As a result, CDKN has adapted its training processes to highlight why a gender approach is needed before presenting socially inclusive climate solution options.

Techniques to amplify the voices of women and other climate vulnerable groups include highlighting first-hand climate change testimonies through blogs, witness trips where possible, and documentary films. CDKN has trained women to use video and ICT equipment to record their stories and share the impacts they face with a wider audience. CDKN also uses “serious fun games” with decision makers that promote empathy and understanding, by allowing practitioners to imagine and discuss how climate change impacts different people in affected communities and design ways to include them in climate action.

Panel: implementation successes, challenges & next steps

The panel of international speakers shared their experiences of implementing gender and socially inclusive measures into climate change responses within their communities, highlighting both the need for these measures and the challenges they faced.

The panel addressed the following questions:

  • What are the challenges when trying to integrate social inclusion into climate planning?
  • How can we help to empower climate vulnerable women at a grassroots level?
  • Which interventions have worked well?

Kalyani Raj, All India Women’s Conference – India

Kalyani Raj has experience integrating gender into climate change plans at a state and national level. She noted that many people see climate change as a scientific problem requiring technical solutions, rather than as a social issue. Women and other marginalised groups are often only understood as beneficiaries of climate action rather than participants – limiting opportunities for community participation.

A successful intervention helped to improve access to clean domestic energy for a group of women living in a small, rural ward of Kerala, India. Old cooking systems and firewood create indoor air pollution that leads to more than 3.8 million premature deaths per year globally, according to WHO data. These cooking systems also compromise surrounding soil and water quality. A group of women in this Keralan ward were made aware of the associated risks with using firewood and provided with smokeless cookstoves that are more energy efficient and allow smoke to escape through vents. Some women were trained to make small cookstoves to help others, build capacity, and offer an income generation opportunity. It is hoped this initiative can be replicated elsewhere.

Dr Nurun Nahar, National Resilience Programme – Bangladesh

Nurun Nahar works for the Bangladesh Government’s National Planning Commission. After Bangladesh experienced an extremely severe cyclone in 2007 with a high death toll, the Government established a comprehensive disaster risk management system, co-ordinated early warning systems, and more shelters to drastically improve public resilience to subsequent natural disasters. The Government also ran awareness campaigns and made it easier for marginalised groups to access weather information.

The Bangladesh Risk Atlas identifies resilience issues to ensure that long-term development projects are sustainable. New projects are also assessed using a Disaster Impact Assessment Tool, which monitors both high risks and residual risks. To ensure projects meet community needs, the Government has introduced gender and social inclusion markers at the planning stage, including indicators relating to older people and people with disability. The Government is trying to mainstream third gender needs within public services. However, Nurun Nahar stressed the need for better data, monitoring and evaluation to ensure services fully meet wide community needs.

Knowledge for the disaster management system came from the community, through a robust volunteer system. There were initially no ramps for disabled people in shelters and no facilities for pregnant women, but community input allowed the Government to change its plans. While it may be easy for the Government to average community risks, on-the-ground knowledge shows that hazards and vulnerability vary across geographical regions and community groups, both during and outside disaster periods. Nurun Nahar said the Government needs to work on assessing how effectively services reach real households – particularly marginalised communities.

Patricia Velasco, CDKN – Ecuador

Patricia Velasco shared her experience as a practitioner, both supporting the Ecuador Ministry of Environment to integrate sustainability goals and working on a climate resilience project in a small town in rural Ecuador.

She observed that people often think gender mainstreaming is just one step, but it needs to be ongoing process to be sustained. Long-term implementation requires a budget and political will. It can be challenging to break stereotypes and preconceptions around climate and gender issues, but this is often a key part of the process. The capacity building project with the Ministry of Environment was extended in order to combine specialist knowledge from gender and climate experts and expand available case studies to ones that combined these two challenges.

The project in rural Ecuador was intended to reduce climate risk. However, the community faced significant issues, including violence and poverty, that were more immediate than climate change impacts and needed to be faced to address the community’s basic needs first. A gender specialist was brought in to support the project. The team created spaces for women to participate, including by running kids’ activities to take their household responsibilities into account. Patricia Velasco noted that climate plans often contain very technical measures, but this project included indicators related to gender and social inclusion, including sexual and reproductive health, changes in labour burden and the number of women in leadership roles, along with indicators addressing basic needs, such as waste management.

“Serious fun” training games

Climate hazards are experienced differently by individuals within a community, but each person also has their own strengths that they can use to take action against climate change impacts.

In order to help policymakers better understand the varying needs and skills of vulnerable communities, CDKN has designed a range of interactive ‘Climate and Society’ training games. These games allow workshop participants to engage with the experiences of fictional communities facing real challenges, such as sea level rise in a coastal Indian city and drought in Ethiopia.

By taking on the role of an impacted character, participants gain insights into the specific challenges faced within communities to help broaden their perspective when creating related policy.

In our session, we took on the role of different characters facing flooding in a small town in Latin America in breakout rooms. We considered the barriers preventing our character from being involved in climate action so far, how flooding impacts them, and how they can be included in climate-smart solutions.

My group’s character was a 28-year-old male IT professional who worked for a public institution. We discussed how he may have been prevented from attending climate action meetings due to work, so he could help to develop virtual alternatives at times suited to workers. He could mobilise people online and in-person through his networks (work, university and his son’s school) and help to train people locally in digital skills to ensure they are not digitally excluded.

Other groups focused on different characters, including how a woman experiencing domestic violence could be included in climate action by running house-to-house surveys to gain input about climate impacts on individual households.

The game offers an unusual approach to climate resilience training that encourages participants to broaden their understanding of intersecting community needs and look past their own blind spots. Its personal approach helps to imagine how everyone could be involved in community climate action through inclusive and equitable policy that is also aware of individuals’ limitations and barriers.

Local government is at the forefront of climate action, resilience and mitigation worldwide. This blog was produced as part of Global Local from LGIU, which highlights local solutions to pressing global challenges. Click here to find out more about our Global Local service.

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