When PowerPoint culture clashes with indigenous culture

Experts shape discussions and actions of adaptation. For two reasons the process must be questioned: Do the experts fully understanding the social context and the real needs of the local population? Is it democratic that these experts set the agenda rather than the administration of states? This essay shows alternatives for a new ethics in adaptation management.

Who sets the agenda of adaptation?

National Adaption Programs of Action (NAPA) were developed to mainstream climate adaptation in national policy to avoid ‘one size fits all’ solutions. Multidisciplinary technical teams examined the priorities for adaptation to climate change of each country. Many bureaucratic input is necessary to access international funds. The procedures for acquiring budgets are sometimes Kafkaesque. Due to the limited administration staff on Pacific Islands, small island states need expensive external consultants for project proposals (Traufetter 2012). International experts tend to privileges managerial and bureaucratic responses or capital intensive technical and engineering solutions which have a primacy in developed countries. Civil society and grassroot movements were not sufficiently integrated in the development of NAPA plans.

 Community opposition to projects

The inclusion of civil society in the policymaking process is particularly important for Pacific Islands, because rural areas of the region are still shaped by tribal governance structures, strong chief authorities and customary rights over land. Central government structures have limited influence on communities, so that adaptation projects can be compromised by land-use conflicts and strong community opposition. Technical concepts of conservation management where protected areas are set aside for any management, can obstruct subsistence livelihood options and can lead to opposition to projects. Gilman and Ellison (2007) described a case were a family removed planted mangroves, because they blocked the boat access from their house to the sea.

For a dialogue in cognitive justice

A technocratic approach make people to passive actors rather that active participants in the process of adaptation. Experts are often in a stronger position of power and knowledge as people in rural communities have often no formal education and limited knowledge about climate change. Especially for indigenous people expert language is a main obstacle to take part in a meaningful conversation between experts and citizens. The abstract language creates fears and paralyses the constructive engagement of people. But experts should not confuse these knowledge gaps with incompetence. Abstract science is important to understand climate change. But outsiders tend to overestimate their ability to understand a place in any depth. A complete picture can be only drawn by paying attention to the experience and observation of locals. People do not need someone taking decisions on their behalf but rather take actions in a self-determined way. Local indigenous population must be involved in the planning process. It is therefore a duty for project managers to better translated their plans in user friendly information and tools in order to enter in a respectful dialogue with local communities.

The value of traditional knowledge

According to the principles of ‘cognitive justice’ advocated by the social scientist Shiv Visvanathan, it must be ensured that traditional knowledge is not marginalized. People who live there day-to-day see with their own eyes the changing environment and are affected by the related problems directly. Indigenous people are highly aware of the rising sea level and have a strong knowledge about local ecology and adaptation strategies. During focus group interviews community members mentioned mangrove planting as coping strategy against storm surge and sea level rise (Grantham et al., 2011).Information about the environment and traditional skills how to cope with natural disruptions passed down the family line over generations. And can serve as source for historical climate observations as well as a guideline for an appropriate local adaptation strategy and a sustainable use of natural resources. (Crate et al., 2009)

 A participatory decision-making process for adaptation

Community-based communication tools were developed to create a space for a citizens-expert dialogue and to involved indigenous groups actively in adaptation management. The WWF South Pacific Programme Office (WWF-SPPO) implements the approach in the South Pacific Region:

In cooperation with local stakeholders local data are assessed at sites. Low technology assessments are privileged to collect data so that community members can be better engaged in the assessment process (Ellison et al., 2012). The dialogue of stakeholders is enhanced in citizen’s workshops. The general framework of climate change is a starting point for discussions. Science, agreements and policy drafts are made accessible to the communities by translating them from legal language to everyday language. Local trained facilitator help to explain texts. Educational toolkits in local language with videos, flipcharts, radio features, posters, drama and street plays aim to make complex climate change science accessible to people with no formal education. (Khan et al., 2012, Gombos et al., 2010). Discussions are informal to overcome communication barriers between local indigenous people and project managers (Grantham et al., 2011).

Villagers commit in a self-determined way for adaptation goals. Action plans for climate change adaptation are developed on community level. Since decisions are taken by the community, they are socially acceptable. Though not legally binding, decisions entail compliance by social control. The local community is responsible for the implementation of the plan. Village committees for guiding conservation actions are selected (Ellison, 2007). People are trained in workshops in conservation skills (Saalem Khan et al., 2012; Techera, 2010) Indigenous people got empowered to cope with the new threats on their own.

Case of best practice: Locally Managed Marine Areas Network (LMMA)

The community based approach is practiced in Locally Managed Marine Areas Network (LMMA) on Fiji Islands. Launched in 1997, the LMMA developed a decentralized village-based network of communities working on marine conservation projects. In Fiji over 250 marine protected areas and 25% of Fiji’s coastline are protected by this governance regime (UNDP, 2012). In 2002 the project was rewarded as case of best practice with the ‘Equator Initiative Award’ of the United Nations Development Programme (Techera, 2010). The LLMA Network expanded as success story to several countries of the region (Figure 1) (UNDP, 2012). The conservation areas under traditional community law seems to be better protected than government-owned land. Ellison (2009) described that governmental mangrove forests on Fiji were sold for commercial activities, whereas mangrove forests under traditional law could have been kept aside for any management by taboos. Adaptation concepts can make use of this strong stewardship ethic for nature.

© 2015 Heike Huntebrinker. All rights reserved. 

LMMA Network

Figure 1: Number of sites in the LMMA Network (Fiji, Indonesia, Micronesia, Papua New Guinea, Philippines and Solomon Islands), 2000-2010 (Source: UNDP, 2012, p. 13)



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