Climate Change on the Front Lines: The Study of Adaptation in Developing Countries

Course: 420.665.81, Professor: Mr. Amir Poudel, M. Sc. (email:

  • Purpose: Understand the current impacts of climate change in developing countries and listen to people who are actually facing these types of impacts. By analyzing key livelihood sectors such as agriculture, water resources, forests, etc.


  • Per Week: Post one initial comment and provide at least one follow up comment on another student’s posting.

  • Paper 1: Trend in climatic parameters seen in selected countries.

    • Select a developed and developing nation and compare these data.

    • Compare data availability.

    • Focus on impact of climate change.

    • Compare adaptation practices of each nation (policies, institutions, programs).

    • Save files as: “Research Paper Eric Bond.docx

Developing Countries: Widespread poverty, dependency on agriculture, very rapidly growing population.

  • Oxford: A poor agricultural country that is seeking to become more advanced economically and socially.

  • UN: Nations with a low living standard, undeveloped industrial base, and low human development index (HDI) relative to other countries.

  • Characteristics

    • Lower per-capita income

      • Price differences across countries and developed the concept of purchasing power parity (PPP). PPP is calculated using a common set of international prices for all goods and services produced.

      • PPP is defined as the number of units of a foreign countries currency required to purchase the identical quantity of goods and services in the local markets as $1 would buy in the US.

    • Low Levels of Human Capital

      • Substantially lower life expectancy at birth and higher under-5 mortality rate.

      • Adult literacy rate is defined as the percentage of the population age 15 and over that is able to read and write.

    • High levels of poverty and under-nutrition.

      • Inadequate Nutritional Intake.

      • Lack of proper housing.

      • Low level of education.

      • Excessive Working Hours/No Job Guarantee.

      • Limited to no health care.

    • Higher population growth rates

      • Crude birth rate is defined as the number of children born alive each year per 1000 population.

      • Agriculturally driven economy tends to increase family size for labor and other work.

      • Limited Family Planning.

      • Religious factors and social taboos/norms increase family size.

    • Predominance of agriculture and low levels of industrialization

      • Highly labor intensive.

      • Poor technology.

      • Lack of labor due to migration.

      • Price competition.

      • Highly susceptible to climate change.

      • Limited availability of credit.

    • Low level of urbanization but rapid rural-to-urban migration

    • Dominance of informal sector

      • Informal sector jobs are i) low skill, ii) low productivity, iii) self employment, iv) lack of complementary inputs particularly capital, v) small scale measured in terms of sales, assets, employments etc, vi) favored by recent migrants, vii) ease of entry for employers and workers, and viii) lack of formal contractual agreements.

      • Underdeveloped labor, financial, and other markets

    • Asymmetric Information: Auto Repair, Health Costs (Costs with no stated or unknown cost).

Developed, Developing, Industrialized, Oil rich?


  • Classical economists were mostly preoccupied with what is now termed economic development in the sense of sustained increases in per capita real income.-IMF Classification of Countries based on their level of development by Nielsen.

  • With an absolute development threshold, the share of developed countries will tend to increase in line with general economic and social progress, but not necessarily so with a relative threshold. While the three organizations use very different development thresholds, there is a lack of clarity around how these thresholds have been established in all organizations.-IMF Classification of Countries based on their level of development by Nielsen.


  • Development Taxonomy: A classification system ordering country based on their level of development.

  • Development Threshold: The criteria used to assess a countries stage of development.

  • United Nations Development Programmed Country Classification System (UNDP)

    • Built around the Human Development Index (HDI).

    • The HDI is a composite index of three indices measuring countries achievements in longevity, education, and income.

      • HDI Income: GNI/n with local currency estimates converted into equivalent US dollars using PPP.

      • Longevity is measured by life expectance at birth.

    • Formula: X=(Xactual- Xmin)/(Xmax-Xmin).

      • Max Values are set to the actual observed maximum values over the 1980-2010 period. The minimum value for education is set at zero, for longevity at 20 years and for income at US$163.

    • The construction of the aggregate HDI is a straightforward geometric averaging of the three sub-indices. The HDI is therefore also bounded between zero and one.

  • World Bank’s Country Classification System

    • The worlds bank International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) has a statutory obligation to lend only to credit-worthy member countries that cannot otherwise obtain external financing on reasonable terms. This obligation required the IBRD to designate a subset of its membership as eligible borrowers.-IMF Classification of Countries based on their level of development by Nielsen.

    • World Bank considers GNI/n to be the best single indicator of economic capacity and progress.

    • 1978: the World Bank, for the first time, constructed an analytical country classification system. The occasion was the launch of the World Development Report (WDI). The first economic classification in the 1978 WDI divided countries into three categories: 1) developing countries, 2) industrialized countries, and 3) capital-surplus oil-exporting countries. Developing countries were categorized as low-income (with GNI/n of US$250 or less) and middle-income (with GNI/n above US$250).-IMF Classification of Countries based on their level of development by Nielsen.

  • IMF

    • Determines eligibility based on criterion relating to per capita income, market access, and vulnerability.

    • Member countries of the IMF are obligated to provide economic and financial data to the fund, which in turn is charged with acting as a center for the collection and exchange for information.

    • May, 1980: the IMF published for the first time its World Economic Outlook (WEO).

  • UN, World Bank, IMF Comparison

    • Developed Countries

      • IMF: Advanced

      • UNDP: Developed

      • World Bank: High- Income

    • Developing Countries and subcategories

      • IMF: Emerging and Developing

        • Low income developing and Emerging and other Developing

      • UNDP: Developing

        • Low HD, Medium HD, High HD

      • World Bank: Low and Middle Income

        • Low Income and Middle Income

    • Development Threshold

      • IMF: Unknown

      • UN: 75% HDI

      • World Bank: USD $6000 GNI/n in 1987 prices

    • Threshold Type

      • IMF: Absolute

      • UN: Relative

      • World Bank: Absolute

  • Climate: The regular pattern of weather conditions of a particular place (Oxford). Classical period for climate is 30 years (IPCC).

  • Climate Change:

    • IPCC: A change in the state of the climate that can be identified by changes that persists for an extended period, usually decades or longer. It refers to any change in climate over time, whether due to natural variability or as a result of human activity.

    • UNFCC: A change in climate which is attributed directly or indirectly to human activities that alters the composition of the global atmosphere and which is in addition to natural climate variability observed over comparable periods.

Livelihood: A means of securing the necessities of life. Comprised of the capabilities, assets (material and social resources), and activities for a means of living. Livelihood is sustainable when it can cope with and recover from stress and shocks and maintain or enhance its capabilities and assets both now and in the future, while not undermining the natural resource base.-Livelihood by UNDP ISDR.

  • Livelihood Assets

    • Natural Capital: Forest, Water, Land, Fisheries.

    • Social Capital: Networking, Membership in Group, Institutional Affiliations, Public Relations.

    • Physical Capital: Land, House, Equipments, Road, Infrastructure.

    • Financial Capital: Access to banks, credit, income, remittance.

    • Human Capital: Health condition, training, knowledge, skills.

  • Livelihood Vulnerabilities: Resilience to shocks, seasons changes and trends.

    • Shocks might include natural disasters, wars, and economic downturns, availability of resources, income- generating opportunities, and demand for certain products and services may fluctuate seasonally.-Livelihood by UNDP ISDR.

    • Trends in politics and governance, technology use, economics, and availability of natural resources, can pose serious obstacles to the future of many livelihoods. People must adapt existing strategies or develop new strategies to survive.-Livelihood by UNDP ISDR.

Livelihood Framework

Adaptation: Adjustment in natural or human systems to a new or changing environment.


  • Adaptation (AR5): the process of adjustment to actual or expected climate and its effects.

    • Anticipatory Adapatation: Response that takes place before impacts are perceived.

    • Reactive Adaptation: Response after the initial impacts are already evident.

    • Planned Adaptation: Response done through a detailed laid out strategy to mitigate impacts.

    • Autonomous Adaptation: Adaptation that does not constitute a conscious response to climatic stimuli, but is triggered by ecological changes in natural systems and by market or welfare changes in human systems.

    • Adaptation Needs: circumstances requiring information, resources, and action to ensure safety of populations and security of assets in response to climate impacts. The gap between what might happen as the climate changes and what we would desire to happen.

    • Incremental Adaptation: refers to actions where the central aim is to maintain the essence and integrity of the existing technological, institutional, governance, and value systems, such as through adjustments.

    • Transformational Adaptation: seeks to change the fundamental attributes of systems in response to actual or expected climate and its effects, often at a scale and ambition greater than incremental activities (Green New Deal).

    • Adaptation deficit: the gap between the current state of a system and a state that would minimize adverse impacts from existing climate conditions and variability that is, it is essentially inadequate adaptation to the current climate conditions.

Natural System Adaptation

  • Natural systems have the potential to adapt through multiple autonomous processes (eg: phenology changes, migration, compositional changes, phenotypic acclimation, and/or genetic changes), and humans may intervene to promote particular adjustments such as reducing non-climate stresses or through managed migration.

Human/Social Adaptation

  • There are individuals and groups within all societies that have insufficient capacity to adapt to climate change. The capacity to adapt is dynamic and influenced by economic and natural resources, social networks, entitlements, institutions and governance, human resources, and technology.

  • Adaptation involves reducing risk and vulnerability; seeking opportunities and building the capacity of nations, regions, cities, the private sectors, communities, individuals, and natural systems to cope with climate impacts, as well as mobilizing that capacity by implementing decisions and actions. Vulnerability is the “propensity or predisposition of a system to be adversely affected.


  • Vulnerability at the national and subnational levels is affected by geographic location, biophysical conditions, institutional and governance arrangements, and resource availability, including access to technology and economic stability. At the macro-level, two broad classes of determinants of vulnerability are recognized; biophysical determinants and socioeconomic determinants.

  • Key Factors determining vulnerability are Gender, age, health, social status, ethnicity, and class.

Who is Vulnerable?

  • Climate change is expected to have a relatively greater impact on the poor as a consequence of their lack of financial resources, poor quality of shelter, reliance on local ecosystem services, exposure to the elements, and limited provision of basic services and their limited resources to recover from an increasing frequency of losses through climate events.

  • Sectors where businesses considered they face the greatest climate- related risks. In order of perceived importance, the core risks were regulatory, physical, reputational, and litigation risks.

  • While companies are well used to managing business risk, they have yet to integrate the long term risks of climate change into these systems.

  • Most of the businesses interviewed appeared to be unsure of the scale of the threat and opportunities for their businesses or are awaiting further guidance and action by governments. They have trouble in accessing and applying information on the extent of the threats and impacts from climate change and have yet to engage in the detailed cost-benefit analysis of adaptive actions or inaction.

Actions Required

  • Urgent need for appropriate ecosystem monitoring.

  • Little collaborative work or research has so far focused on the nature and dynamics of individual-level coping and adaptation processes and how they influence response.

  • Often the focus falls on the role of the private financial sector in providing risk management options including insurance and finance for large projects.

  • Need for finance to reach the most vulnerable people.


Sustainable Social-Ecological Systems: An Impossibility? By Elinor Ostrom. 

  • Summary: There is no Panacea- simple solution to these complex problems and we should stop looking for one. 

  • I hope to counteract the sense that it is impossible to achieve sustainability as well as the presumption that scholars have the tools to make simple, predictive models of linked SES and deduce the universal solutions- a panacea- to problems of overuse or destruction of resources. 

  • Experimental and field research has consistently found that individuals overtly faving the same situation vary substantially in their behavior. 

  • Panacea proneness is a diluted form of fundamentalism. 

  • Von Weizsaecker (2005) challenge the view that privatization is always the best option for delivering public services and present 50 case studies on best-case vs. worst-case experiences of efforts to privatize water, transport, and energy as they potentially impact climate change. 

  • Avoid adopting standardized blueprint solutions and search to find the appropriate types of solutions for specific niches and help to adapt these tp articular situations. 

  • Humans have a preference for simple solutions to complex problems. 

  • We should stop thriving for simple answers to solve all complex problems. 

  • Problems tend to be systems problems, where aspects of behavior are complex and unpredictable and where causes, while at times simple (when finally understood), are always multiple. They are non-linear in nature, cross-scale in time and in space, and have an evolutionary character. 

Livelihood by UNDP ISDR

  • Summary: The importance of prioritizing the rebuilding of livelihood vice infrastructure (following a disaster, people want to get back to their order as quickly as possible). 

  • Livelihoods are also shaped by the changing natural environment. The quality of soil, air, and water; the climatic and geographic conditions; the availability of fauna and flora; and the frequency and intensity of natural hazards all influence livelihood decisions. 

  • People constantly emphasized the need to restore livelihoods rather than receive relief and expressed some frustration that outsiders did not listen to them on this point. 

  • Address not only the replacement of physical assets, but the restoration of crucial social networks, the provision of financial services, and the development of markets.