Responding to Climate Change

Making Tough Choices

David Plumb

CBI uses tailored role-play simulations to assess and address climate risks in Ghana and Vietnam.

Countries across the globe make development decisions every day that impact their exposure to risks from a changing climate. Today’s choices around infrastructure and economic development will shape a country’s vulnerability, or resilience, in the face of changing precipitation patterns, temperatures, and sea level.

Policy makers from Africa to Southeast Asia are struggling to find a meaning­ful way to incorporate these hard-to-define climate risks into today’s decisions. Nowhere is the challenge more acute than in developing countries, where the crushing weight of poverty creates a short-term imperative to pur­sue immediate economic gains, even when today’s invest­ments may be highly vulnerable to climate risk within the next 20-30 years.

Mekong River delta In 2010, CBI and the World Resources Institute (WRI) engaged government officials and a diverse range of stake­holders in Ghana and Vietnam in innovative conversations around climate risks. The two countries have potentially significant climate vulnerabilities. Ghana gets the major­ity of its power from hydroelectric plants on river systems that may suffer from intensifying extremes of drought and flooding. Vietnam’s Mekong Delta, home to millions of people, is ideally suited to rice cultivation and has enabled the country to become a major rice exporter. However, much of its terrain lies less than a meter above sea level.

CBI developed and facilitated one-day multi-stakeholder workshops in Ghana and Vietnam to explore the chal­lenges of factoring climate risks into decision making on long term investments. The workshops used tailored role-play simulations offering realistic, but fictional­ized scenarios to prompt participants to consider climate variables as part of their decision making.

In Ghana, the role-play asked policy makers and other relevant actors to advise the Prime Minister whether to proceed with a new hydroelectric dam in the face of a report describing potentially significant climate risks. In Vietnam, the role-play asked government officials, sci­entists, a farmers association, and other stakeholders to recommend the best use of donor funds earmarked for climate adaptation measures.

Role-Play Simulation in VietnamIn both cases, the participants’ experiences produced criti­cal insights and modeled a different kind of process for incorporating climate risks into government decisions. In Ghana, the exercise made clear the overpowering perceived need to promote immediate economic development, even when such action involves significant risk. Yet at the same time, participants experimented with identifying “no re­grets” options for addressing those risks more wisely.

Participants in the Mekong Delta workshop had never experienced a structured, multi-stakeholder conversation around government policy or taken on the role of an­other stakeholder in a role-play exercise. They found the experience so impactful that during the facilitated debrief conversations, a senior leader at the Mekong Delta’s prestigious Can Tho University, urged government of­ficials in the room to undertake similar exercises as the country prepares to make tough decisions around climate adaptation.

The insights from these workshops are being captured as part of the World Resources Report, a bi-annual publica­tion by WRI, the UN Development Programme, the UN Environment Program and the World Bank.

For more information, contact David Plumb, Senior Associate at CBI.

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