Throughout 2021, SEI has engaged in a number of online regional and international events highlighting the importance of gathering diverse stakeholders to discuss climate resilience. By bringing together different voices, hearing new stories and considering different ways to make our communities more resilient, we can continue exploring what it means to be truly inclusive and how it will benefit all of us all in the long run.
Over the past year and a half, the Covid-19 pandemic has emphasized the varied needs among socially excluded and marginalized populations. As a result of travel restrictions and other risk mitigation measures, I, like many others, have missed the many opportunities for in-person engagement and attended more online meetings, workshops and conferences than I can count. Although sitting at home in front of a computer screen does not always elicit the same excitement as an in-person forum with friends and colleagues from across the region or around the world, this abrupt change to virtual meetings and conferences has shown us the potential of broader participation and at the same time highlighted the inequities relating to internet access and language barriers. Despite these obstacles, however, there has been a strong focus on inclusion.
Even with the time differences and connection interruptions, this approach to engagement has opened up opportunities to come together to share, discuss and even brainstorm. I have attended a workshop raising the voices of gender and sexual minorities, discussing their unique responses to climate change and particular challenges. I have heard the trauma of losing a community burial ground to sea level rise and listened to stories of youth getting involved with climate action and local adaptation efforts.
While we know that the impacts of climate change are also exacerbated by an individual or community’s characteristics, exposure and vulnerability, we are also hearing more stories of strength and creativity despite social exclusion, not always having reliable access to resources or lacking access to the services and information needed to prepare for and respond to climate impacts.
We know the science. We recognize potential hazards like extreme weather and understand how underlying vulnerabilities can impact preparedness and recovery. We also know that people are impacted differently depending on local conditions, exposure and social characteristics. However, being aware of the risks and using broad policy language to account for the varied impacts is different from hearing the stories of preparedness, response, loss and resilience, and understanding the needs and strengths of different groups and communities. Most importantly, the more we hear, the more we are called to act. This is where inclusion starts, bringing in affected and at-risk communities from the beginning to share experiences, response mechanisms and challenges, in order to tailor action plans and policy measures to the context and needs of a group or community.
At SEI, knowing what is happening on the ground drives us to push harder in the work we do. Once we know what is happening and who is impacted, we can move towards ensuring our research, policy engagement and ultimately actions keep inclusion at the centre.
This year at the 7th Asia Pacific Adaptation Network (APAN) Forum, inclusive resilience was prioritized as a key theme. Through the platform, we worked with a number of partners to organize events highlighting key enablers of inclusive resilience, including policy, planning, science, technology and finance. To discuss these themes, we heard from a variety of women, youth and other advocates of marginalized or minority groups from across the region, underlining the importance of inclusive resilience in climate action. While this is a step in the right direction, we are still at the beginning of making sure that everyone has a seat at the table to ensure no one is left behind in climate action and sustainable development.
In addition to the APAN forum, we have engaged in other regional events that have also highlighted inclusion as a prerequisite to resilience. Without an understanding of what is happening on the ground, climate action has the potential to exacerbate inequalities. Local knowledge and practices can also contribute to environmental conservation, disaster risk reduction and climate action while building on strong cultural bonds. Similarly, it is important to look beyond the traditional roles and skills associated with climate action to bring more people into the conversation.
As we navigate engagement in online events, we must keep thinking about how to meaningfully include those often under-represented in decision-making, knowledge sharing and implementation actions. Providing space for more voices means that we can all have a better idea of how climate impacts are felt differently depending on exposure, social characteristics and even personal circumstances. Hearing these stories, we can highlight a few important lessons and future actions as we work towards not only providing more airtime for a greater diversity of people, but also supporting broader inclusion in all elements of action.
Important lessons and future actions:
- There is no resilience without inclusion. How can increasing inequalities support the ability to resist, adapt to and recover from the effects of a hazard? Community resilience needs the support of the community, but in order to do so, more tools, training and an understanding of the talents and skill different groups have to offer are needed to promote an all-of-society approach.
- Take advantage of the virtual space. In this new virtual environment, we can utilize and create more opportunities to continue making space for everyone.
- Keep building. Women leaders, indigenous peoples, people with disabilities, farmers, fishers and people stigmatized due to their occupations are already leading a range of adaptation actions. We need to hear from and work with these groups to foster resilience practice that is truly inclusive and adaptive. This means that inclusion in online meetings is just the first step.
- Get the word out. Not only do we need to keep the conversations going amongst those already advocating for inclusive resilience building, we also need to step outside of our traditional discussions to pull more people in. Let’s see what we can do to get others involved, learn and lead by example.