Where does the COMPASS point on climate change and poverty reduction?


Woman farmer in Bolivia

The environment has changed. Now stronger rains come, the land collapses, and just stones are left behind. It is now three years that we have had this bad weather. Before there were just showers and the rain did not destroy the crops. Now it comes with hailstones and it takes the land away. It brings all kinds of diseases for the plants and does not let them produce well. There are more thunderstorms now and that kills sheep, men… before, this was not happening’ (Source: Artisan workshops, Yamparáez, Bolivia, COMPASS).


 COMPASS puts a human face on the intensifying costs of climate change and environmental degradation. The participants’ experience reinforces the view that climate change is a ‘threat multiplier’ amplifying existing stresses, and offers important insights for would-be planners of “climate smart” development paths.

Its – depressing – key finding is that for most of the 1,420 people taking part, things have got worse in the last 15 years.  This is down to a combination of different factors, but among the most significant are resource stress, natural disasters and conflicts.

Changing climatic conditions and weather impacts – such as the increased droughts and flooding described by people in Bolivia, Uganda and the Philippines – often play their part. Communities in Kormatan, Philippines give us a glimpse into how conflict and environmental degradation can be mutually reinforcing. Farmers with livelihoods impacted by disputes between armed groups turned to illegal logging – which leads to further environmental stress. 


 ‘We make some progress but then, every 10 years, something happens that brings us back to where we were or worse than before. All the work done, the efforts and sacrifices are lost. This could be due to violent conflict or a severe drought.’ (Vicar General, Diocese of Soroti, Uganda).


Communities also describe the devastating and long-lasting impacts of conflict and natural disasters, resulting in emotional and cultural as well as material loss. This echoes the experience of poor people globally, who are bearing the brunt of global warming caused by the rich world.  In fact, climate change is the poster child for COMPASS participants’ awareness of ‘increased interconnectedness [and] how decisions and actions in one country have global implications’.

All this points to a shared responsibility to limit global warming and increasing environmental degradation – with the onus for action on rich countries, whose unsustainable economic paths are its root cause.  Otherwise the deterioration in poor people’s well-being so eloquently articulated by COMPASS participants will continue, and their ability to build viable livelihoods – their central demand – will be further undermined.

Poor communities and vulnerable groups must be supported to build resilience to unavoidable climate impacts, which requires national and local governments integrating resilience and climate change adaptation into development planning, plus adequate financial and technical support from rich countries. As CAFOD’s DRR adviser Kate Crowley puts it, ‘fair, local-level and participatory’ planning, supported by the right international frameworks is critical. And as COMPASS has found, meaningful participation of poor people in such processes takes time, resources – and political will on the part of elites.

This brings me to the participants’ fundamental goal: control over their own well being and self-reliance.  To support them to achieve this, “climate smart” development must be built around the varying needs and wants of people living in poverty, and respond to their varied circumstances and local contexts. It cannot be top-down or “one size fits all”.

This is the bottom line for any truly “bottom up” approach. CAFOD and IIED are exploring how to apply this insight to designing sustainable energy services for people living in poverty.

‘In the community of Rogongon [in the Philippines], the school has a computer lab but the computers are falling into disrepair since the area has been without electricity for more than a year. Even if they had electricity, there are no other computers in the area, and so IT skills may not be very relevant to local life.’ (COMPASS)

 1.3 billion people still have no electricity and 2.7 billion cook over open fires so increasing access to modern energy is a hot topic in the post-MDGs debate. This is a potential “win-win” for poor people and tree huggers, since to reach universal access, 55% of new electricity must come from decentralized sources – 90% of them renewable.

However, energy needs must be understood holistically, within people’s broader development needs. For instance, more and better quality education is identified as a crucial need by COMPASS participants. This will not be met by providing electricity alone. It also requires books, computers that work, classrooms, well-trained teachers and so on.

CAFOD and IIED have developed an approach to designing energy delivery models that starts by building a holistic understanding of people’s energy needs and wants and the interests of other stakeholders, using a participatory process. It then analyses the local context in which a service will operate- which for us includes socio-cultural factors, such as local preferences, as well as the more formal enabling environment.

All these factors are built into the design with the aim of producing an “energy delivery model” with a greater chance of being financially, socially and environmentally sustainable. We have begun to test our approach with partners on the ground. Watch this space for more news, including a forthcoming paper.



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2 Responses to “Where does the COMPASS point on climate change and poverty reduction?”

  1. Bolivia Climate Change Monthly: August 2013 | Development Roast Says:

    […] Where does the COMPASS point on climate change and poverty reduction? CAFOD Policy Blog, August 23. […]

  2. Designing models to deliver energy services for people living in poverty | Serpents and Doves: A development policy blog Says:

    […] trailed in my previous blog on what COMPASS says about climate change impacts on our partners, we are today launching a paper […]

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