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Pro-poor adaptation: The role of assets

The way in which countries and communities adapt to climate change is now at the forefront of climate change policy, and rightly so. Measures to mitigate the impact of climate change have been slow and sparse, and governments in developing countries are demanding a greater focus on, and funding for, adaptation, with countries such as Bangladesh leading the way (Kaur and Nicol, 2008). There is, however, no clear path to successful adaptation. What are the best strategies? Who will pay? Above all, who should benefit most? The poorest countries, and the poorest people within them, have contributed least to greenhouse gas emissions, but often face the greatest future risks from climate change. Pro-poor adaptation must ensure that they benefit most from adaptation.

This Opinion argues that an examination of the assets available to poor people is a useful entry point for pro-poor adaptation strategies. It outlines three approaches: Opportunities and Risks of Climate Change and Disasters (ORCHID), Community-Based Adaptation (CBA), and an Urban Asset Adaptation Framework. While the importance of assets is implied in the first two, it is only explicit in the third, which suggests one way pro-poor adaptation might become a reality.

It argues that assets are key for pro-poor adaptation. At national and community level, they play a vital role in responding to climate risk. At the individual level the forward-looking view of asset-based approaches complements the long-term focus required to tackle the effects of climate change. An analysis of the assets required by different types of households, in different contexts, is a good starting point for scaling up early pro-poor adaptation schemes.

Above all, focusing on assets highlights that poor people are not passive in the face of climate risk. Assets are central to poor people’s response to climate variability they have not created, and for which rich countries bear a heavy responsibility.