Adaptation, Adaptation, Adaptation; Migration, Climate Change and National Adaptation Plans in South America

"Melting glaciers are among the most noticeable effects of climate change in South America, Aconcagua, Argentina" © Daria Mokhnacheva 2008

By Elizabeth Warn

Adaptation, Adaptation, Adaptation:  If there was one call made by experts and panelists in the 1st Symposium for Climate Change and decision makers, held in Montevideo on the 8th October of this year[1], it was that further focus is required on adaptation and climate change, and not just mitigation measures, and that further analysis is needed of the social, and not just financial impacts of climate change, in South America and Latin America as a whole.

Migration can play an important role in building adaptive capacity, for example by diversifying household income sources, building resilience to climate change and leading to positive development impacts.  National Adaptation Plans (NAPs) provide a potential policy tool. Nevertheless, the NAP process is not prescriptive, nor should it result in the duplication of efforts undertaken in-country. Instead NAPs provide a tool which can facilitate country-owned and country-driven action. The development of NAPs represents a relatively new policy area, yet there is likely to be increasing focus in COP19 on how National Adaptation Plans respond to the complex challenges posited by climate change. 

In South America, the response to climate change has evolved rapidly over the last decade; there has been a major increase in policy making and institutional development in climate change in the region.  Most countries of the region have developed national strategies and policies regarding climate change, such as the Paraguayan National Climate Change Policy (2011) and the Uruguayan National Response Plan to Climate Change (2010), while Argentina is involved in the ongoing development of a National Strategy on Climate Change. In Venezuela, the Second National Socialist Plan 2013-2019 places focus on conserving and preserving the natural environment.

Some countries, such as Peru, have developed specific National Adaptation strategies, based on wider climate change priorities, in line with their National Development Plans. Other countries have also ingrained their commitments to addressing climate change into their Constitutional provisions (for example, Ecuador and Bolivia). Chile, Peru, and Brazil are working on sectorial level policies which incorporate climate change, while in 2012, a Bolivian municipality launched its first Municipal Plan on Adaptation to Climate Change. For the majority of the countries in the region, the focus has been placed predominately on mitigation efforts.

At the national level, the majority of these climate change and development policies do not make specific reference to migration and climate change together, either in the analysis of risks and vulnerabilities, or in the context of adaption. Where countries have made reference to mobility in their policy frameworks, these have mainly been limited. Migration is principally viewed as the result of a failure to adapt, and is not generally conceptualized as an adaptation strategy. Nevertheless, a number of countries do have provisions within their climate change strategies and policy frameworks which could pave the way for a greater analysis of the complex relationship between migration and climate change. 

For example, the Bolivian National Mechanism for Adaptation to Climate Change (MNACC) which was adopted in 2008, makes reference to five specific adaptation measures, of which two relate to migration: measure four to “plan the migration flows of rural populations to guarantee the generation of opportunities”, and measure five to “determine the causes of temporary and permanent migration to guarantee the sustainability and the process of new human settlements” (p.60 MNACC, 2007). In addition, the Five year action plan under the National Climate Change Programme calls for the development of “a National Adaptation Plan (NAP) that is realistic, executable, generated and locally adapted and responsive to national circumstances”.

Another example can be found in Peru. As of 2012, a National Plan of Action on Adaptation and Mitigation and Climate Change (PACC) was under development by the Ministry Of Environment, outlining specific adaptation measures. While the document does not include migration as an adaptation measure, it does mention one initiative to reduce vulnerability and forced migration. The PACC also calls for risk and vulnerability studies in various sectors, including water, agriculture, economy, fishing and areas of high biodiversity.  In that regard, a specific technical working group on Food Security and Climate Change has been established, as well as sectorial policies, such as the “National Plan on Risk Management and Adaptation to Climate Change Impacts in the Agricultural Sector” (2012-2012).

At present, two countries in South America are moving ahead in the migration, climate change, and adaptation agenda:  Brazil and Colombia. Both countries are known to be pioneers in South America on climate change issues, and both countries are in the early phases of the development of National Adaptation Plans.

Colombia is about to embark on preparations for the National Study on Climate Change and Migration, to be undertaken by the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development, the National Planning Department and the National Administrative Department of Statistics. This study is being supported by IOM, and will inform and support the advancement of public policy as well as national and territorial adaptation plans.

Brazil, having launched its National Plan on Climate Change in 2008, is currently in the process of developing its National Adaption Plan, to be launched in 2015. It is currently in the early stages of its policy formulation, which include an impressive array of institutional actors, public consultations, networks and bodies of scientific evidence. In December 2012, an Adaptation Working Group was created, which is co-coordinated by the Ministry of Environment (MMA) and the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation (MCTI). On the 25th October, the Brazilian Panel on Climate Change launched its executive summary report on “Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability”, which assesses the impacts of climate change, including negative socio-economic impacts, and examines the consequences for adapting to these changes. Migration figures in section 5.1 of this report which examines rural areas and the impact of climate change on agricultural production, migration and interaction with urban areas.

The extent to which migration will feature as an adaptation strategy in future policy instruments, either in Colombia or Brazil, is still too early to tell. Nevertheless, these two initiatives highlight an important political commitment with the national climate agenda in these two South American countries.  The 20th COP will be hosted by Peru in December 2014, thus placing greater focus on South America and on climate change in the region. 

[1] The Symposium was organized by UNESCO and Avina, and brought together decision makers from across Latin America.