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Watching climate politics: can we conduct ethnography of international agreements online?

By Aishath Green, on 14 June 2024

Climate politics is seen in the media through the big annual meetings in cities around the world. The most recent meeting – COP28 – was in Dubai with 80,000 delegates. The flashy gold decorations and green background in the plenary room were captured in selfies and social media posts. But there is another, quieter side to negotiating climate change. Numerous small technical meetings and workshops held in person and online to thrash out specific issues. Often the same core group of negotiators and observers will meet regularly for several years. Much of the detail is worked out in these spaces and they are a crucial research site for understanding climate politics.

Over the past year I have been conducting ethnographic observations of a specific part of the UN negotiations on climate change seeking to define the ‘global playbook’ for adaptation as part of a wider research programme analysing the knowledge politics around adaptation measurement. The area I was following – the Glasgow Sharm el-Sheikh work programme known to those on the inside as the GlaSS – had eight workshops over 2022 and 2023 which I was able to watch online. The process culminated at COP28 in Dubai with the establishment of the UAE Framework for Global Climate Resilience (UAE-FGCR). I have been able to piece together what influenced this final framework through watching the UNFCCC’s Youtube channel as a contribution to our empirical research. But through doing this, I have also learnt lessons on how to conduct ethnographic research online and what the turn to online might mean for climate politics.

Following a soap opera

In practical terms, conducting digital ethnographic research of the GlaSS workshops meant watching lengthy recordings lasting up to 8 hours long. I followed the twists and turns through multiple breakout groups and plenary discussions. As I watched the recordings of the workshops, I also observed the interactions between online attendees and those who had been present in person. As I transitioned from one workshop to the next, the recordings gave me vital insight into Party and non-Party perspectives on the development of the framework and what mattered most for different contributors. This ranged from firm beliefs such as the importance of financial support to enhance adaptation action, to the smaller details of wording for specific targets. It was like following a soap opera, with each episode revealing slightly more about each character’s position and the same themes of conflict carrying through with each instalment. By the time COP28 came around, I was up to speed just in time to watch negotiations play out on the event’s virtual platform – yet another digital ethnographic lens through which I could keep up to date.  

A partial picture

Before I started, there were factors that I knew would impact my analysis. For instance, not being able to observe participants’ body language, pick up as easily on visual cues or feel the sensory aspects of the room. However, as I continued to watch the workshops, I became aware of other aspects that I was missing through my digital lens. As I became familiar with Party representatives and break out group rapporteurs, I began to think more about the voices of those I was not hearing and those in the room the camera did not show. While the recordings (and participating online) enable you to hear the views of the most confident, the perspectives you gain from those who speak in smaller group discussions or perhaps during coffee breaks, are not captured. In a similar vein, by only watching COP28 negotiations online, you are excluded from the important conversations happening in the corridors. An advisor to the Small Island Developing States for instance, remarked that the second week of negotiations relied on trying to understand what was happening in between the formal sessions. With my colleague bringing back some of these vital insights from attending in person, the importance of triangulating digital ethnographic research was clear.  

Inclusion of online participants

While I was only getting a partial picture from conducting this research digitally, it did highlight important areas for the future of global agreement making through hybrid spaces. During the GlaSS workshops, there was a clear difference in how the online group and those attending in person were able to participate. During some of the hybrid break out group discussions, while there was an effort by the moderator to incorporate online participants, their perspectives felt like more of an afterthought and as though they carried less weight. This can be put down to a combination of connection issues, time-constraints, and the difficulty for online participants to disrupt the flow of the conversation taking place in the physical room. Throughout some of the sessions, there were also hands raised by online participants which the moderator never managed to answer. When perspectives are being gathered on the development of targets for a global framework on adaptation, it is important to think about what these little omissions mean over the course of eight workshops and how the disparity between online and offline negotiations might affect future global agreements in the future.  

Where next for online research

Covid-19 has changed the way many events take place, enabling more people to conduct research through digital means. At this point it is vital to reflect on the various opportunities, challenges and impacts of digital research. Conducting research online has many positives. In the context of the climate crisis, it allows us to continue our work without racking up airmiles. With increased financial constraints and the contraction of university budgets, it also offers an affordable alternative to attending in person. For those who are time-poor due to added challenges such as child-care, it may also provide the only opportunity to participate. However, researchers need to be attuned to the limitations of online ethnography. In the context of global agreement making, this includes recognising the power dynamics underlying online participation and the drawbacks of partial findings. Digital ethnography provides a meaningful tool through which to conduct vital research, but we need to think seriously about how we can ensure its effectiveness.


Aishath Green is Research Manager at the Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction on the project Accountable Adaptation.


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Reflections on 2024 Noto earthquake: do we need to pay more attention to the ‘human’ element of disaster?

By Miwako Kitamura, on 3 May 2024

photograph of debris from a destroyed house. A surviving piece of wooden furniture stands in the foreground
Houses destroyed by the 2024 Noto earthquake in Anamizu, 16 April 2024

A 7.5 magnitude earthquake struck Noto Peninsula of Japan on New Year’s Day in 2024. Family members had come home to celebrate the New Year when the earthquake hit. Japan has a high level of awareness on disaster preparedness and mitigation. Despite this, more than 240 people lost their lives, 60,000 buildings were damaged and 25,000 people had to be evacuated from their homes. It is important to note that the deaths were caused by the earthquake where several buildings, especially the old structures collapsed. The new year’s earthquake also caused a tsunami, which arrived only a few minutes after the earthquake. However, the majority of people died from earthquakes, with only two people killed by the tsunami, which shows high awareness about tsunami preparedness among the general population, compared to the earthquakes. This shows more work needs to be done on earthquake preparedness in Japan, beyond a focus on developing and investing in resilient infrastructure.

In this short blog, we will shed some light on the experiences of people who are managing the evacuation centres, especially those evacuation centres that are led by the community. We will examine the current situation by putting gender and communities at the centre of our analysis.

photograph of a large room with two long tables in the middle of the room. Books stacked up on the left wall. Chairs, blankets, and some kitchen equipment stacked on the right wall. Blankets stacked up against back windows too.
Community Evacuation Centre, in Sunran No Sato Kobushi. Photo taken on 16 April 2024

Although there are many government run evacuation centres, there are also several community-run evacuation centres. In Japan, community-led shelters are commonly referred to as “voluntary shelters.” Leaders of these shelters typically include local community figures and temple and shrine heads, and, as observed during the Great East Japan Earthquake, leaders of traditional performing arts groups have frequently assumed these roles. Importantly, the foremost consideration for these community-oriented shelters is their trustworthiness. What we found was that due to the gender division of labour, which is still strongly present in Japanese society, taking care of the people in the evacuation centres becomes and remains the responsibility of women, including cooking, cleaning, and caretaking roles.

One important thing to note here is that these women, often wives/daughters/daughters-in-law, of the community leaders who automatically become the caretaker of the entire community in the times of crisis, are themselves the survivors of such events. However, they need to sacrifice their own needs and look after others. With harmony being the central key in Japanese social organisation, speaking of their own needs is seen as being selfish. Hence, no one is willing to do that: they would rather suffer than to bear the consequences of social stigma. This creates an environment where these women who are responsible for running the evacuation are often double victims: victims of the disaster and also the victims of post-disaster responsibilities.  

The person responsible for one of the evacuation centres we visited said it is comparatively manageable soon after the disaster as we only need to manage their immediate needs and there are more volunteers. However, as the time passes, people would like their normal life to return, which means a need for proper meals, proper sanitation, healthcare services, better accommodation and so on. The volunteers often go back to everyday life and the support from the government often dries out in about three months but the needs of those who are left behind – still in evacuation centres for various reasons – remain or they need even further support. Hence, taking care of the evacuees becomes a bigger responsibility, which needs to be factored into the discussions around disaster mitigation.

As evidenced during fieldwork and engagement activities in the communities affected by the earthquake in Noto, there are key local contexts and practices which must be appreciated and factored into future preparedness and response activities for disaster risk reduction. Discussions with stakeholders and local leaders for example highlighted the central value of community involvement in shaping and informing responses to disasters.

Photograph of rubble from a destroyed building.
Houses destroyed by the 2024 Noto earthquake in Anamizu, 16 April 2024

While it was reported that affected communities following the earthquake were more reserved in their engagement with the national government, they engaged readily and openly when responses were designed and driven by local communities, as evidenced by the creation of these community evacuation centres. These observations on the need to centre community involvement in disaster risk reduction and response are further substantiated by existing evidence from another disaster case study in Japan— the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami which underscored a similar significance regarding the importance of contextually-appropriate and community-supported activities for disaster risk reduction and preparedness and response to events including earthquakes and tsunamis in regionally and geographically diverse countries, like Japan.

Our visit to the Noto Peninsula also revealed important observations and considerations on local understandings of leadership in disaster contexts, and how entrenched and gendered understandings of what constitute leadership can serve as a barrier to further vital involvement and participation of communities during events like earthquakes.  This was made apparent during discussions with female local leaders in Noto who had noted and reflected on how, despite their extensive involvement in disaster response and support activities, they did not consider themselves to be ‘leaders’ in these disaster contexts. Instead, many of their channels of leadership and support, including organising community efforts, food provision and emotional support had been regarded as traditionally ‘female’ associated practices and expectations rather than leadership roles during emergencies like earthquakes.

Again, this underscores the need to integrate local thinking and contexts in working to improve and promote local leadership during disasters in Japan by including gender frameworks to uncover how existing power dynamics and divisions of labour produce inequitable understandings of leadership, and where possible and when contextually-appropriate, to engage and work with these local communities to promote and centre diverse profiles and practices of disaster leadership and engagement of women and gender-diverse communities.

Our observations from these fieldwork activities investigating gender and women’s leadership in the Noto Peninsula also hold broader importance for the fields of disaster risk reduction and global health beyond preparing for and responding to earthquakes. Japan continues to be vulnerable to a broad scope of public health risks including earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic activity, floods, typhoons and the climate change emergency. Despite ongoing disaster and resilience planning, there remains a critical need for the ongoing consideration and integration of gender-focused and community-centred participation and leadership activities as revealed during these fieldwork engagements to ensure that future responses and recovery to these events are both sustainable and equitable. 


Co-authors

Dr Miwako Kitamura is an Assistant Professor at the International Research Institute of Disaster Science at Tohoku University

Dr Anawat Suppasri is an Associate Professor at the International Research Institute of Disaster Science at Tohoku University

Ms Hayley Leggett is a PhD candidate at the School of Engineering at Tohoku University

Dr Anna Matsukawa is an Associate Professor at University of Hyogo

Dr Stephen Roberts is Lecturer in Global Health at the Institute for Global Health at University College London

Dr Punam Yadav is an Associate Professor at the Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction at University College London


The views expressed in this blog are those of the author(s).

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Why the Gender and Climate Day at COP 28 is Important

By Peter Sammonds, on 7 December 2023

The first ever Gender and Climate Day was held at COP28 on Monday 4/12/23 and joined by a UCL IRDR GRRIPP team. But why is this important?


Photo of four members of the GRRIPP team stood in an auditorium
GRRIPP team at COP28: Dr Zahra Khan (GRRIPP Research and Outreach), Ella Bedford (BSc Theoretical Physics), Miriam Zallocco (BSc Global Humanitarian Studies), Peter Sammonds. We were part of the WOMENVAI delegation as Observers to COP28.

Women and men experience disasters differently. Women will disproportionately be impacted by climate change for instance from extreme heat. That is women working in the fields, factories and the informal economy. Pregnant women will be particularly affected. These were points made by Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton who was moderating an event on “Women Building a Climate-Resilient World”. This was a centre-piece panel discussion covering the transition to the blue/green economy, climate finance, women in STEM and gender-based violence (GBV). As she commented, it was remarkable to have an audience of hundreds discussing gender—and not just women!

In the transition to a green economy 50% of the population are being left behind and so it is essential to keep a gender lens. Food production and preparation is disproportionately done by women but they have little impact on food decisions and only own 15% of the land. 70% of jobs in the emerging green energy sectors are taken by men. Only 10% of women the skills for the future green economy. There is a massive digital skills gap and unequal access to technology. Only 0.01% of climate finance funding goes to women, but investing in women is investing in our common future. The starting point for action has to be understanding where we are and what are the issues. As the Head of UN Women argued: as a start that means sex and gender responsive data needs to be collected, but this needs to influence gender finance policies—that is not happening. Representatives from Amazon and Microsoft argued for removing barriers in STEM, and building enterprise incubators and accelerators for women who are more likely to innovate climate solutions.

Financing

The Gender and Climate Day started with a “Technical Dialogue on Financing for gender-responsive just transitions and climate action”. A key point of discussion was that women (and some men) in the Care Economy will be left out as industrial sectors transition because only the Production Economy is considered. This was a line of argument which was new to me and I found revealing. We can see this for ourselves in the UK with oil workers in Aberdeen being offered investment and training – but the Care Economy is excluded. And without gender justice there will be no social justice or climate justice.

The intersections with Indigenous women, women of African descent and women with disabilities were discussed. There needs to be a framework to support integration of gender and poverty issues in climate finance. There needs to be capacity building and integrated investment plans. Colombia argued for generating baseline data and prioritisation for women impacted in the transition to the green economy (e.g., re-qualification) and backed by specific actions of government, including changing the law, action on participation in management and action on GBV in employment. Zimbabwe argued that for a gender-responsive just transition it is necessary to look beyond just mitigation and the COP negotiations had to move on to become broader. There needs to be funding for implementation of the UNFCCC Gender Action Plan (GAP) initiated at the Lima COP. Some countries are not even able to develop their own national GAPs because of lack of financing. But as Colombia pointed out legal frameworks can be changed if there is a will so I agree that action cannot hold back just because of a lack of resources.

The UK Approach

The Gender and Climate Day concluded with a ministerial panel discussion session on “High Level Dialogue on Gender-Responsive Just Transitions and Climate Action Partnership”. This was attended by Rt Hon Andrew Mitchell MP, International Development Minister in the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO). He committed to investment to advance gender equality as we are at a critical juncture and that no one should be left behind. He said that the UK is endorsing a gender-responsive just transition and there will be £40 million to support a just transition. The new UK government white paper sets out its approach to tackling world hunger, making the international system fairer and progress towards the UN sustainable global goals. The UK has also announced £1.5 billion for climate finance. There will be focussed efforts on women and girls and there will be direct support to women’s rights organisations. There were similar supportive comments from the Rwandan Environment Minister and Dutch Finance Minster for instance, with all ministers agreeing with the Partnership. But all agreed that implementation is the big issue with climate finance just not getting to women. Actually, I was surprised there was such an explicit commitment to gender equality from the UK government. So COP is more than just a talking shop.

Finally, the COP Parties are negotiating an updated Gender and Climate Change decision requiring a strengthening of national commitments. The UNFCCC Gender Action Plan is under review with final agreement due in July 2024. So there is still an opportunity to make inputs. And yes, in my mind there can be no climate justice without gender justice so it is not an issue that can be separated out. Having a Gender and Climate Change Day at COP is a recognition of this.

Members of the UCL GRRIPP team presented at the Cop 28 event: Opportunity over urgency.

Peter Sammonds is Professor of Geophysics, UCL Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction, and GRRIP Gender and Intersectionality Ambassador.

The UKRI Collective Fund award ‘Gender Responsive Resilience and Intersectionality in Policy and Practice (GRRIPP) – Networking Plus Partnering for Resilience’ is funded by the Global Challenges Research Fund. It is a 4-year global collaboration and knowledge-exchange project, implemented by a collective of universities. It aims to bring together theory, policy and practice to promote a gender-responsive approach to disaster management and development.

What is needed for national resilience?

By Robert Hall, on 14 September 2023

Whether a community struggling to keep its members buoyant, a business trying to stay solvent or a nation fighting to protect its citizens, adversity and crises impact us all. The resilient can pick themselves up, dust off, and not only bounce back but also bounce forward. Yet, this ability is not an obvious and natural one that is easy to acquire and retain. Rather, it needs careful nurturing and maturing. It is a mindset that can be honed and deployed to help manage shocks or stresses and those in-between challenges. There is no one model of resilience but there are pointers and lessons that can help apply resilience in its many variations to overcome adversity whenever it strikes.

Building Resilient Futures is a new book that takes a fresh look at what resilience means. It examines resilience under six ‘capital’ traits – personal, emotional, organisational, urban, communal, and national. It offers insights on how to manage the consequences of upheaval and trauma in those domains. Each trait is introduced by a profile that puts the subject into context with practical and human experiences. As leadership and stewardship underpin all these capital traits, a discrete chapter is devoted to these important issues along with diversity, trust, education and training. Similarly, a separate chapter is allocated to standards, indicators and benchmarking as they cut across all aspects of resilience but are critical in assessing impact. Through a mix of theory, case-studies and anecdotes, the book reveals the nuances of resilience in a digestible and thought-provoking way. Early reviewers say the book is a valuable read!

For the purpose of this blog, which will not attempt to condense the text into a superficial summary, focus is given to that chapter which examines national resilience. This subject is very much in the news, elevated by the inspiring levels of national resistance and resilience exhibited by the Ukrainian nation in its contest with the Russians. The consequences of that war have seen millions migrating far and wide, food and fertilizer stocks severely reduced worldwide, energy prices spiking, and geopolitical tensions escalating well beyond Ukraine’s borders. The interconnectedness of dependency means that any major disruption can readily cascade into corners that were hitherto immune. Hence, we all need to know about national resilience.

One aspect that has emerged recently is how to engage large sections of a population to prepare for and deal with major, nation-wide crisis. The UK Government has released an Integrated Review (2021, refreshed in 2023) and a Resilience Framework (2022), both of which talk about a ‘whole-of-nation approach’ to resilience. This term implies drawing on the services of more than a few specialists and officials but turning to the public and private sectors on mass, the full resources of the voluntary and charity sectors, as well as the trade unions, NGOs, religious groups, schools and colleges, communities, etc. To be commensurate with the level of a national threat, wide-spread societal engagement should be measured in the hundreds of thousands if not millions. This scale was evident in Covid-19, when 750,000 people initially responded to a national call. It could well be required again either in another pandemic or as the ravages of climate change bite, or even with the spread of a European war.

The preparation of a population cannot wait until the event when it will be too late. Work on identifying and organising people who are qualified to help, training others who are willing, educating others on the sidelines, and co-ordinating resources that may be necessary, are worthwhile activities in ‘peacetime’. All this comes at a price but one that is less than the cost of a delayed recovery and heavy loss of life. It should be a government priority: the conclusions of the UK Covid-19 Inquiry may reinforce this message, as other official committees have already done so. Perhaps the formation by 2025 of a UK Resilience Academy, built out from the existing Emergency Planning College, will be an opportunity to bring a wide range of people together and work up resilience plans across all four nations of the UK.

So far, Local Resilience Forums (LRFs) are seen as the main delivery platforms for resilience across the UK at the ground level. In the government’s Resilience Framework, it is proposed that the 38 LRFs in England are strengthened through three ‘pillars’: leadership, accountability and integration. The creation of a Chief Resilience Officer (CRO) for each LRF, accountable to executive local democratic leaders, may help with wider local delivery and levelling up. Consideration will also be given to putting existing Resilience Standards onto a statutory footing for LRFs and all responder organisations.

We can certainly learn lessons from some of the Baltic and Nordic which are way ahead of the UK in preparing their populations to deal with disasters. Admittedly, these countries face the pressures of the Russian ‘bear’ to the east but having a generic plan for all eventualities is sound. In Sweden, for example, a government-appointed Commission (2017) recommended that a ‘Total Defence’ concept engaged all functions of society in the defence effort, both military and civilian. Accordingly, the parliament, the government, authorities, municipalities, private enterprises, voluntary defence organisations as well as individuals are all part of the Swedish concept. On 1 October 2022, a new structure for Swedish civil defence and crisis preparedness was announced with spending planned to increase to approximately €420 million by 2025. A publication titled ‘If crisis or war comes’ has been sent to every household and tells of practical measures to take in an emergency.

When such an idea has been proposed in the UK, it has not gained traction: it is seen by some as alarmist. Nonetheless, the government has introduced an Emergency Alerts service which was trialled for the first time this year. This may be expanded over time to include practical advice. The UK has certainly made some significant strides in national resilience planning in the past few years. But with the threat clouds darkening, we need to be much better prepared and time may not be on our side.


Robert Hall is the former Executive Director of Resilience First Ltd. He is currently writing a sequel to Building Resilient Futures looking at Natural Resilience: How the natural world can help us understand the key elements of resilience.


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Building Resilience with Decision Analysis

By Jeffrey Keisler, on 25 May 2023

I have the wonderful honour of being a MAPS Fellow at UCL. This came about through conversations with my friend and colleague (and now host), Prof. Gianluca Pescaroli. Although we bonded through discussions about used vinyl records, I will instead talk about our work.

My background is in decision analysis, a field that takes quantitative approaches involving probability, utility, and decision trees to identify the overall risks and benefits associated with actions under uncertainty. In the context of resilience, there is much uncertainty but most of the focus is on trying to improve systems.

Thinking of information as a separate dimension of protection–because information helps people make the decisions that lead to optimal recovery–can lead to lower cost ways to bring about greater resilience. But improving information itself is costly. It can be tricky to figure out which information-related efforts are worthwhile. There are different ways to bring information into a decision process.

By taking a concept from decision analysis, value of information (VOI), we can take a more strategic approach. We can actually quantify the benefit of different possible efforts. Basically, we characterise the mix of potential consequences of making the best possible choice given a limited amount of information and compare this with what would happen if the same decisions were made with the benefit of more information. With this analysis, we can improve resilience by making investments to ensure that relevant information will be available after disruptions. These can be just as beneficial as investments in physical assets which can also minimise the damage of disruptions.

In managing resilience, we anticipate possible disruptions, and consider what can happen before, during, and after them. With a VOI approach, we also consider what information will be available for which decisions before, during, and after disruptions, and then can take steps to make that information available during those periods. Examples include purchasing information, building better information systems and communication systems, performing experiments, or potentially buying time for information to arrive by speeding decisions implementation and freezing damage during the time we’re waiting for information.

During my time at UCL I am meeting with a number of researchers in IRDR to apply this idea efficiently to problems in several important areas where we are studying resilience. These include healthcare, natural hazards, and technological or business crises. With these results, we can look toward building more sophisticated analyses or refining the planning process to flesh out the informational dimension. The researchers here have backgrounds in quantitative areas such as risk analysis and systems analysis as well as in the social sciences and in the physical sciences. There are many different types of data and phenomena to consider as we pull together these models. My hope is this will lay the groundwork for future valuable projects and continued collaboration.


MAPS Fellow Jeffrey Keisler is a Professor in the College of Management at University of Massachusetts Boston, where he specialises in Decision and Risk Analysis. He thanks the welcoming and wonderful group at IRDR for their making this visit such a special experience. 

Building Resilience of Women for Food Security  

By Joshua Anthony, on 26 October 2022

Written by Bhawana Upadhyay


A growing body of literature suggests that climate disasters such as heatwaves and flash floods disproportionately affect the most vulnerable inhabitants of rural communities.  An analysis of 130 peer-reviewed studies published in Nature Communications suggests that women and children often face disproportionately higher health risks posed by climate change impacts than others.  For example, pregnant women often experience more risks and limited access to reproductive and maternal care services during and post disasters.

UNICEF reported that due to the recent flooding in Pakistan, about 3.4 million children needed urgent humanitarian assistance and faced an increased risk of waterborne diseases, drowning, and malnutrition and more than 22.8 million children between the ages of 5-16 were out of school nationwide. The hardest-hit province, Sindh, has had nearly 16,000 schools destroyed alone. Thousands of schools were used to house displaced families. More than 400 children were killed in the floods, and many more got injured.

Likewise, the flash floods of June 2022 in Bangladesh affected 3.7 million people in 11 districts in the northern region, of which 1.9 million were women and girls.  A key finding of a rapid gender analysis undertaken by the Gender in Humanitarian Action Working Group states that 60 percent of women surviving on daily wage and rearing livestock lost their incomes.  Most affected households had no food stock and had to survive on food relief. The dry food supplied as relief was not sufficient to cover all affected households’ needs. The flooding caused a serious reduction in the food intake of those families. It was estimated that 60,000 women were pregnant in the affected area, and more than 20,000 births were expected to occur in September 2022.

In the risk framework of the Fifth Assessment Report of IPCC, vulnerability to climate change impacts is inseparably linked to adaptive capacity. The relationships between gender inequality and adaptation capacity span from unequal access to resources and opportunities to stereotypical socio-cultural norms. It is clear from numerous empirical research that social and gender inequalities are present in all spheres of human development, which is essentially why women and girls are disproportionally impacted.

The IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report has identified South Asia as particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change in the coming years, with critical implications for marginalized and disadvantaged communities including women and children. Unfortunately, climate disasters further reinforce the existing gender inequalities, thereby pushing rural communities into the peril of food insecurity. As a result, they become more vulnerable and incapable of bracing for future hazards and risks.

So, what could be the long-term strategy to empower women to build climate resilience for food security?

In South Asia, food security and nutrition have not improved significantly despite the region’s satisfactory economic growth. We are now barely seven years away from 2030, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) target year.

The irony is that the leap toward the SDG is growing wider each year, while the clock is ticking. Working for SDG 2, 5 and 13 (Zero Hunger, Gender Equality and Climate Action) requires a holistic approach towards empowering rural women in climate-smart agriculture by supporting them through inclusive policies and practices.

The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World Report 2022  explains a growing gender gap in food insecurity reflecting that world hunger rose further in 2021 (worsening inequalities across and within countries.

Asian Disaster Preparedness Center (ADPC) through its Climate Adaptation and Resilience for South Asia (CARE for SA) project recently completed mapping and assessing of gender landscape in climate-resilient agricultural policies and practices in three South Asian countries (Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Nepal). Key findings highlight untapped opportunities for governments and other relevant stakeholders to take forward toward not just achieving SDG 5, but also building resilience in the face of food insecurity.

Immediate attention is required towards building and strengthening rural women’s and youth networks and enhancing their linkages with extension services; Engaging private sectors in investing in climate-smart tools and machines that are sustainable and women-friendly; These tools need to be marketed with government subsidies and/or insurance coverage; Harmonizing and strengthening capacity at provincial and local levels on the concept and process of empowerment of women and youth engaged in climate-smart agriculture; Enhancing close coordination among respective National Disaster Management Authorities, concerned sectoral ministries, and province and district level Women Development Departments in the three countries.


Bhawana Upadhyay is Senior Specialist (Gender and Inclusion) at the Asian Disaster Preparedness Centre (ADPC).

Resilience, semantic satiation, conflation, and Maslow’s hierarchy: I can only take so much!

By Joshua Anthony, on 24 August 2022

Author: Dr Chris Needham-Bennett


I am getting worried with hearing ‘resilience’ used incautiously. The word (a general noun) which, once a welcome umbrella term to describe the results of the contributory disciplines of business continuity, disaster recovery, crisis management, emergency response, etc., has become a hackneyed media mantra. The England middle order cricket team batsmen, the Lioness’s England football team are ‘resilient’, a company or local council has ‘built in resiliency’ (whatever that is). The Ukrainians are resilient. My local community needs to achieve resilience. I need to achieve personal resilience for my mental well-being; I am not sure to what?

This blog makes two fundamental points, the first is a conflation of resilience with mental well-being, stress management and associated issues, the second is the overuse of the term and a consequent diminution of its genuine meaning.

Alexander (2013)[1] (noting several other authorities), cautioned that resilience might not have the ‘power’ to be a paradigm, yet almost a decade later—whilst it arguably is far from a paradigm—there is little doubt of a fascination with the phrase and burgeoning academic research[2] (some of which is attributable to climate change research). Moser et al. (2019)[3] note in their abstract that, ‘Resilience has experienced exponential growth in scholarship and practice over the past several decades.…it is an increasingly contested concept.’

The question to my mind is why is there such a fascination with the word? First let us discount hitherto traditional uses of the word which could include its proper application to botany, pharmacology, risk in some instances, material sciences, and metallurgy.

My increasing suspicion is that it is to do with a burgeoning societal self-obsession and narcissism combined with a notion of zero risk. Society appears to have latched onto a phrase which has been hijacked by a quasi-utopian vision which is manifested as follows.

The conflation with ‘well-being’

At the macro level, the OECD measures resilient cities using the criteria outlined below[4]. Some of these seem an expression of good economic common sense. Others such as ‘% of citizens near open space’ seem a little tentative and debatable as to their links to resilience.

 

Four areas that drive resilience. Source: OECD Regional Development[4].

Perhaps as importantly, their definition as to what is resilience is, is tinged with slightly trendy overtones of a ‘brave new world’.

‘Resilient cities are cities that have the ability to absorb, recover and prepare for future shocks (economic, environmental, social & institutional). Resilient cities promote sustainable development, well-being and inclusive growth.’

Sadly, the definition does not really define precisely what the city will be resilient to, rather it is left in vague terms of ‘shock’. It does not mention some of the more critical resilience issues lower down on Maslow’s hierarchy (1943 version; cited by McLeod 2022)[5] such as power, housing, water, sewage, defence, health, and food, without which the ability to live ‘500 metres from services or near an open space or well-being and inclusive growth’ might appear somewhat academic.

At the opposite end of the resilience spectrum, at the individual level, a simple google search of ‘personal resilience course’, offers a spectacular array of over 82 million results. A brief survey of the top five of them indicates that their duration is one day or in some cases half a day. The general view is that personal resilience is a skill or attribute that can be acquired in about 8 hours (the extreme min/max range for the duration of such courses appears to be 90 minutes to a 12-week period).

Robertson et al. (2015) expressed some reservations as to the evidence of the efficacy of such courses. Naturally since 2015 more evidence might be apparent but truly longitudinal studies of the ongoing effect of course completed a decade ago are yet to be available. Their practitioner notes state that,

‘Despite conceptual and theoretical support for resilience training, the empirical evidence is tentative, with the exception of a large effect for mental health and subjective well-being outcomes.’[6]

One BBC report cites Dr Michael Pluess from Queen Mary University of London who is testing for the resilience gene, in which case if discovered it would potentially invalidate the courses cited above.

There is a real danger that resilience, which is a fundamentally practical issue at both the macro and micro level is suborned by the burgeoning but evidentially limited literature on resilience’s relationship to well-being, inclusivity, and mental health. Such links also veneer the unpalatable hard choices that real resilience demands. Put as simply as possible we all might live near open spaces and be very inclusive, but if London’s water supply remains dependent solely on abstraction from the rivers Thames and Lee[7] then it does not matter how ‘positive’ you might feel about the City in about 20 years you will not have enough to drink (perhaps counterintuitively based on a multi-year average, London has only 100mm more rainfall than Jerusalem)[8].

Semantic Satiation

But is there any evidence that the overuse of a word diminishes somehow its value. Broadly speaking yes there is, and it is technically called ‘semantic satiation’. Smith and Klein (1990) noted that ‘Prolonged repetition of a word results in the subjective experience of loss of meaning, or semantic satiation’[9]. At risk of oversimplifying their diligent study, it works something like this; on a relatively infrequent basis I inform my partner that I love her. It seems to cheer her up. If I informed her of my love on a daily basis she would be delighted for a while, then she would suspect that I am having an affair, then she would get bored with it and then perhaps later even angry. The phrase would become increasingly less meaningful and impactful.

At a more serious level it does seem to me to do some harm. In reality a lot of ‘building resilience’ is really risk mitigation or some type or diversification in the case of supply chains. If for instance, we take Markovic’s 1952 diversification theory[10] (disputed by later critics) it does supposedly make an investment portfolio more resilient to market volatility, but the critical issue or activity is diversification which is a ‘thing’ in its own right with a word all of its own to describe it. Now one can make the argument that the end result is a more resilient portfolio, but one should not be tempted to change resilience to an activity which requires it to be a verb. Diversify is the verb or ‘doing word’; resilience is the result. Similarly, if we claim that all activities are resilience measures it somehow diminishes the utility or worth of risk assessments, risk mitigation, plans and responses all of which combine to achieve resilience.

Conclusion

It might be easy to dismiss these concerns as semantic academic posturing yet the power of words, their definitions, associations, and nuances are what will shape the future of resilience. I would wish resilience to remain practical, efficacious, and most importantly simple. Let us leave resilience as an ambition or end state that is achieved through an array of distinct professional activities. Let us also ensure that the fundamental hard and often costly problems associated with resilience are not whitewashed with an ephemera of pleasantries normally found at the higher altitudes of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. There may well be benefits to stress or coping management courses but let us call them just that, not personal resilience.


Dr Chris Needham-Bennett is Managing Director at Needhams1834 Ltd and Visiting Professor at University College London.

Email Chris at: chris@needhams1834.com


References

[1] Alexander, D. E.: Resilience and disaster risk reduction: an etymological journey, Nat. Hazards Earth Syst. Sci., 13, 2707–2716, https://doi.org/10.5194/nhess-13-2707-2013, 2013.

[2] https://ensia.com/articles/what-is-resilience/

[3] Moser, S., Meerow, S., Arnott, J. et al. The turbulent world of resilience: interpretations and themes for transdisciplinary dialogue. Climatic Change 153, 21–40 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10584-018-2358-0

[4] https://www.oecd.org/cfe/regionaldevelopment/resilient-cities.htm

[5] McLeod, S. A. (2022, April 04). Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Simply Psychology. www.simplypsychology.org/maslow.html

[6] Robertson, I.T., Cooper, C.L., Sarkar, M. and Curran, T. (2015), Resilience training in the workplace from 2003 to 2014: A systematic review. J Occup Organ Psychol, 88: 533-562. https://doi.org/10.1111/joop.12120

[7] https://web.archive.org/web/20150325074128/http://www.london.gov.uk/sites/default/files/water-strategy-oct11.pdf

[8] https://www.sdjewishworld.com/2011/11/20/rain-in-jerusalem-almost-as-much-as-london/

[9] Smith, Lee, Klein, Raymond Evidence for semantic satiation: Repeating a category slows subsequent semantic processing. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, Vol 16(5), Sep 1990, 852-861

[10]  Portfolio Selection, Harry Markowitz – The Journal of Finance, Vol. 7, No. 1. (Mar., 1952), pp. 77-91