People experience the impacts of climate change differently. This is because climate change impacts intersect with people’s existing vulnerabilities, which are themselves a function of multiple socioeconomic factors, such as differences in livelihood strategies, resource access, and decision-making abilities. Given that these differences exist even for people living in the same communities, when developing climate change adaptation policies it is important to first understand where vulnerabilities are greatest, who is most affected, and the ways that different people are and aren’t able adapt to these circumstances.
What, where and how?
In the semi-arid, Upper West region of Ghana, where changes in rainfall patterns affect crop yields, climatic impacts are most keenly felt by agrarian communities, who already deal with non-climate related uncertainties around food and water availability.
Working in the Jirapa, Nandom and Lawra districts of this region - where poverty rates and income inequality are high - the authors of this paper (Ahmed Abubakari, Elaine Lawson, Adelina Mensah, Chris Gordon and Jon Padgham) sought to better understand the vulnerabilities and adaptation strategies of three different groups of people in agrarian societies: able-bodied men and women, and disabled people. Using group discussions and one-on-one interviews they listened to the stories that people from the same communities told of differences in exposure, vulnerability and adaptation mechanisms.
The authors found that culture, socio-economic dynamics and existing levels of poverty strongly affect the abilities of different groups to adapt to the same climatic circumstances. For example:
The cultural systems of the three agrarian districts give power and access to different groups of people based on their social class, status and gender. As a result, women, disabled people, migrants and pastoralists have limited access to land and reduced decision-making power, and consequently are more food insecure and more vulnerable to climate change impacts.
Migration patterns are not just linked to climate-related factors, but are also influenced by socio-economic factors. For example, women tend to migrate to access land because they cannot own land and have limited decision-making power, and not because climate change impacts are driving their need to find new land.
The study demonstrates that both climatic and non-climatic stressors shape the kind of adaptation responses that groups adopt. So, in order to be effective, efforts to improve local-level adaptation practices to future climate change must give attention to all the factors that produce a particular adaptation practice in a given place.