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Bolivia inherited arrangements that dispossessed its indigenous peoples, and this system persisted through decades of military rule and discord until a civilian government sought decentralisation in the mid-1990s. This attracted Danish support through Danida and, as it involved indigenous peoples to whom restoration of land rights was of critical concern, Danish efforts to secure these rights became a key theme. This grew into a community land-titling process that matched the aims of a movement which swept indigenous leader Evo Morales and the Movement Towards Socialism to power in 2006. Denmark’s support for community land titling was a central priority of the new government, and the effect of its 1995–2010 programme was to transform the map of Bolivia in favour of Indigenous peoples. Their forest territories largely survived the later onslaught of plantation development, preventing the release of billions of tonnes of carbon while saving immeasurable biodiversity and ecological and cultural resources. Danida may not have fully appreciated its contribution and it left the community land sector prematurely, but Bolivia is now in a much stronger position than before to resist climate chaos, with a viable plurinational constitution and many relatively safe territorial forests and empowered Indigenous peoples.
The peoples of Nepal have long sought to free themselves from fatalism, in striving against feudal systems and entitlement myths that disable hope and resist purpose. Many things influenced this process, including a 25-year partnership with Denmark and its aid agency Danida, which offered steady encouragement through some critical moments. Of key importance were Danida’s efforts to promote community-based forest management in the mid-hills districts, by enabling the legal establishment of Community Forest User Groups and training Nepalese foresters in how to help those groups take charge of their own biophysical resources. These community forestry arrangements had the unplanned effect of maintaining traditions of participatory democracy during a protracted civil emergency, and when peace was restored they decisively shaped the emerging national constitution. Danida may not have fully appreciated its contribution and it left the forest sector prematurely, but Nepal is now in a much stronger position than before to resist climate chaos, with a viable democratic constitution, large areas of regenerating forests and a more confident population.
The forward-looking significance of the 2015 Paris Agreement is explored in the context of the global ecological crisis and its local manifestations. The agreement is considered as an experimentalist treaty that depends upon overarching goals, autonomous actors and iterative learning processes. It originated in efforts by UNFCCC parties, enabled by the EU, to find a way to make collective progress on climate change in the absence of a global ‘hegemon’, while being bedevilled by issues surrounding power, competition and willingness to pay. The implications of the global mitigation (temperature) and adaptation (process) goals are explored, and the systems established for attempting and reporting on them are explained. The design and content of the rest of the book are outlined.
To talk about climate change needs ideas of systems and chaos, but also the conceptual vocabularies of physics, law, socialism, capitalism, economics, religion, anthropology and ecology. Ecology offers the most useful reference language, but there are similarities between ecological systems that depend on webs of life, biodiversity and functional integrity, and human social systems that depend upon forums, culture and resource-tenure security. Climate change is most clearly directional and its effects most predictable at the ‘macro’ (continental and global) level, and its effects are most chaotic and least predictable at the ‘micro’ (local and landscape) level. People depend on ecological conditions at the micro level, where strong ecological and social systems are better able than weak ones to withstand any impact. Thus, preserving and restoring the strength of systems at the micro level is a key to adaptation, and algorithmic principles for this depend on understanding and sharing knowledge, envisioning the future, choosing good leaders and leaving no one behind. The latter requires collective security based on small groups in which people know each other well enough to identify and protect the vulnerable.
Cities aggregate people, industry and capital, so they are influential but vulnerable. They depend on distant sources of food, water and energy, have fragile drainage and waste systems, are prone to health risks from pollution and disease and are mostly coastal and exposed to sea-level rise. In the late 1990s Danida began a spectacular demonstration in the urbanising, heavily polluted Kathmandu Valley of how to build environmental awareness, set environmental standards, and encourage cleaner production and energy efficiency in partnership with business, and how to improve air quality. A ‘palace coup’ ended it in 2005, with terrible consequences for air quality, but it had already shown that it was possible to respond to an environmental emergency through many interlocking actions that must all be done at once or none will work – a model for the climate change response. The experience offers insights that are explored in other cities, highlighting the importance of self-organising neighbourhood networks in seeking and planning for liveable cities, and in disaster preparedness. These networks have immense value to local governments in making urban systems stronger and more resistant to climate chaos.
Mitigation and adaptation pose different challenges to thinking, but hope or purpose are always needed to prevent despondency. Signs of a Zeitgeist shift on mitigation offer hope, while the goal of peace with nature is an emergent source of purpose. Take-home messages are offered to potential reader groups. For the UNFCCC Secretariat, to consider practical yet holistic ways to monitor progress towards a sustainable human–biosphere relationship. For governments, to validate community-based and ecosystem-based adaptation and their co-benefits, and the use of community networks to build country-wide and city-wide strengths. For aid institutions, to use a systems approach in designing and evaluating adaptation investments, while promoting local system strengthening and networking. For students, researchers and teachers, to focus on and understand complex systems where the life and social sciences overlap, using adaptation communications as a knowledge resource, and appreciating the birth of the Anthropocene as an extraordinary moment in human history. And for people everywhere, to act knowing that small groups, partnerships and networks are potent and necessary to everyone for surviving climate chaos. With these sources of purpose, hope and realism, we can perhaps adapt to an unstable biosphere and survive climate chaos.
The first-generation Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) and other adaptation communications after the Paris Agreement are a huge knowledge resource. They report diverse and detailed insights on how governments and their advisers think about vulnerabilities, trends and future hazards, and their priorities and coping strategies. From them it is clear that community-based and ecosystem-based adaptation approaches are widely recognised as effective, and as sources of diverse co-benefits. These apply especially at the local and landscape level of national societies, and comparing earlier and later communications reveals that this awareness is increasing. This matches the idea that local action to promote resource tenure and management capacity, plus help with mapping, planning and networking with other communities, is key to strengthening local systems against climate chaos. That local people are capable of rising to this challenge is evident from many government accounts, and from the case studies here. These directions of travel will become clearer as second-generation NDCs become available in the lead-up to the global stocktake in 2023.
Like many tropical islands and coastlines the low-lying equatorial archipelago of Zanzibar faces sea-level rise, salt-water intrusion, coastal erosion and competition for land, fresh water and coastal and marine resources. A Finnish project sought to build capacity for spatial mapping and planning for climate change adaptation and knowledge sharing among local government institutions, supported by the State University of Zanzibar’s research and the Mwambao Coastal Community Network’s participatory planning. This built on earlier Finnish and other digital and imaging projects, and coincided with other programmes to drone-map, research and teach about Zanzibar’s environment in the context of climate change. The result was to build enthusiasm among diverse stakeholders for a technical process that involved research to support planning, and digital mapping to visualise its findings. This was helped by its obvious usefulness in making it easier to avoid and reconcile conflicting demands on resources. The sense that the social systems of Zanzibar were ‘ready’ for this particular approach is important, since learning to recognise ‘adaptation-readiness’ will help to prioritise adaptation efforts in some locations, while also accelerating and focusing preparatory work in other places.
Both mitigation and adaptation are essential parts of the climate response, yet they have very different underlying mechanisms and implications for designing actions and judging progress. Rio Climate Markers for mitigation were agreed early, but how to assess adaptation remained elusive despite mixed methods, participatory procedures, qualitative narratives and theory of change-based or realist attempts before the Paris Agreement. After Paris there was an explosion of research on adaptation, as global knowledge about development was re-evaluated from the point of view of what climate change threatens to disrupt, how and what can be done about it. By 2020 it was felt that the whole process had reached an impasse, with too much detail and not enough synthesis or insight. The practices of adaptation aid had also become troubled by the entanglement of mitigation and adaptation institutions, funding envelopes and investments. By separating the two priorities the Paris Agreement validated a focus on exactly how particular societies are threatened by climate change and how they intend to survive climate chaos.
Small ‘Dunbar’ groups are the basis for all larger-scale societies, and how they work dictates social responses to change and stress. Entropy is an ever-present threat to all complex systems and is opposed by the regeneration of relationships between the entities that comprise them, represented by their information content. Genocide and wildfire are extreme examples of system dissolution, but the piecemeal erosion of integrity is more usual and can be coped with at low-enough rates. But social and ecological stresses now often exceed these rates, and ways to buffer change and accelerate system regeneration are needed. Determinants of fragility and strength include trophic structure, keystone species, co-evolved dependencies, physical structure and water (for ecological systems), and peace, war, resources, livelihoods, meaning, demoralisation, roles, alienation and language (for social ones). In human-ecological systems these combine into factors such as ‘profitability of sale’ and social and ecological ‘sustainability of production’. Knowing how systems become weaker and stronger yields guidance on the design of investments that will reliably promote strength at all levels of society and the biosphere.