22 - Climate adaptation, local institutions and rural livelihoods  pp. 350-367

Climate adaptation, local institutions and rural livelihoods

By Arun Agrawal and Nicolas Perrin

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To understand the role of institutions in future adaptation of rural livelihoods to climate change, especially by poorer and more marginal groups, it is essential to attend to the historical repertoire of strategies used by rural populations. Natural resource-dependent rural households are likely to bear a disproportionate burden of the adverse impacts of climate change – droughts, famines, floods, variability in rainfall, storms, coastal inundation, ecosystem degradation, heat waves, fires, epidemics, and even conflicts. In some parts of the world, these effects may already be in play with potentially disastrous consequences for the poor (Adger et al., 2007). Many households in vulnerable regions could periodically be driven into destitution and hunger and find it difficult afterwards to recover.

Even as it is clear that poorer and disadvantaged groups around the world will suffer greatly from climate change, it bears remembering that the rural poor have successfully faced threats linked to climate variability in the past. History, as the cliché goes, may be a poor guide, but it is the only available guide. Even if future climate-related threats might appear prospectively to be historically unprecedented, analysing past impacts and responses is undoubtedly important in understanding the feasibility of future initiatives. After all, the only alternative to adaptation is extinction unless the world strictly and immediately limits its future emissions, an outcome surely in doubt given the record of the past decade.

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