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Sustainable Livelihoods Approach (SLA) to Assess Climate Change Impacts

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Environmental Studies
Wordcount: 3718 words Published: 23rd Sep 2019

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Recently, the increasing intensity of climate change is putting a negatively pressure on the human life, ecosystem, and socio-economic factors leading to a devastation on rural livelihoods (Burton et al., 2016, pp.152) that live and rely on activities in precarious environments (DFID, 2004, pp.1). Several researchers, such as Elasha & Zakieldin 2005, Iwasaki & Shaw 2009, and institutions, such as FAO, UNDP, CARE and DFID, apply Sustainable Livelihoods Approach (SLA) to assess vulnerabilities and contribute strengths of community to tackle with the effects of climate change (Baumann, 2000, pp.4).

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The approach attempts to involve communities in planning process to deals with human capabilities, to attain ways of living, and to improve the well-being and that of the future generations (Clay, 2018, pp.2). SLA diversifies activities to build resilience to shocks associated with climate change, recognising the stakeholders that experienced the impact of changing in climate to design ways based on community’s capability as a preparation to combat the effects of climate and environmental vulnerability (Shankland, 2000, pp.6). Although SLA offers comprehensive and useful insights to cope and adapt the vulnerability, the standalone approach cannot attain the SLA goal as the analytical framework is unclear (Carney and Neefjes, 1999, pp.11) .

In a nutshell, this paper argues that the using SLA together with other frameworks as adaptive capacity is useful to tackle climate change, particularly in community-level. The paper emphasises on the fruitfulness of SLA by providing the relevancy of using SLA in the context of climate change, illustrating a case study of the AIACC project in Sudan (Elasha & Zakieldin, 2005, pp.2-26) drawing some limitations and then a conclusion.

Sustainable Livelihood Approach (SLA) has been evolved from the notion of intentional development as a response to the failure of top-down development (Morse and McNamara, 2013, pp.17-18). The integration of SLA into policymaking is the one of the grounds to assert the claim that the concept is absolutely relevant in tackling the problems of climate change (Reed & Ritsema, 2013, pp.67). Specifically, SLA addresses the projects related to human development targeting to eliminate vulnerabilities of poverty (Smithers & Smit, 1997, pp.130).

 There are five principles underpinned in SLA including people-centred, holistic view, dynamic, use of micro-macro links, sustainability and developing strengths of community aiming to understand the needs and experiences of stakeholders, to contribute stakeholder’s ability achieving their own objectives as well as to bridge the gap between macro decision and micro needs leading to preserving long-term productivities of natural resource (Kollmair and Gamper, 2002 pp.3-4).

Based on these principles, the approach is coherently applicable in the case of environmental management that tries to address the impacts of climate change and to maximise the efficiency of development programmes or policies (Thomas & Twyman, 2005, pp.123). Since climate change policies should be developed in a sustainable way, SLA fundamentally capture the significant factors affecting human livelihood (Krantz, 2001, pp.7) and illustrate the interconnection between community and national levels.

The livelihood assets (or capitals, including human, natural, physical, economic and finance) and entitlements (a capability to use assets) are also considered in SL framework, Figure 1, (Ziervogel & Calder, 2003, p. 3; Elasha & Zakieldin, 2005, pp.3). In the case of climate change, SLA does not include the only emphasis on environmental factors but also focuses on the development of strategies that will facilitate an effective response to environmental mitigations to reduce negative impacts of climate change (Thomas & Wiggs, 2005, pp.11). The SLF helps communities to design ways of responding to environmental emergencies which might not be anticipatory (Elasha & Zakieldin, 2005, pp. 1218).

Concerning climate impacts, it is expected that human beings will be significantly affected by variations in a climate whereby their livelihood and activities related environmental aspects will be highly vulnerable (Morse & Acholo, 2009, pp.17). The impacts of climate change on human beings are linked to fundamental factors like freshwater, food security and energy that can be reflected in SLF. Since the assets and entitlements are identified and built-up, the livelihood capital becomes deeper and more diverse that can buffer impacts from climatic shocks leading to livelihood security (Bebbington, 1999, pp.2030). In addition, the experiences of repeated shocks and sustained stresses enhance short-term coping strategies towards long-term adaption. SLF thus can be effectively used to manage outcomes of climate change based on its principles as highlighted by the DFID (Elasha & Zakieldin, 2005, pp.3).

Noticeably, in the occurrence of climate variability, communities do suffer from various shocks such as drought which attributes to lack of fresh water and a decline in food production. In this case, the use of SLA becomes vital in planning and implementing projects to improve human capacities in advance (Ford. & Smit, 2004, pp.395) and help human to cope and adapt to the abrupt changes caused by extreme variation in climate (Thomas & Twyman, 2005, pp.120). Based on the Sudan case study, SLA is used to measure the capability and strategies to build community resilience on current climate fluctuations and to show how effective the implementation of SLA strategies can positively support human livelihood during adverse effects of climate change. Precisely, the researchers used SLA to frame the assessment to understand and capture stakeholder’s perception along the process of data collection community involvement. This is also expected to enhance environmental management policies and develop resilience to climate variability (Solesbury, 2003, pp.7).

Using the AIACC case from Sudan illustrates the effectiveness of SLA in planning and implementing projects that can respond to future shocks brought by environmental problems (Elasha & Zakieldin, 2005, pp.13). Change in climate has shown that there are inherent problems that will negatively impact on human lives if not well managed or planned for before their occurrences. As indicated in the case study, whenever there is negative climate change, the common problems that will face communities and future generation is food security and water crisis or energy due to drought (Smithers & Smit, 1997, pp.137). However, the case study indicated that application of SLA in anticipating the occurrence of such environmental problems could be attained by effective planning and implementing projects that will provide avenues to sustain lives during such harsh environmental conditions (Berman & Paavola, 2015, pp.80). Some of the standard approaches highlighted in this case are the implementation of projects that focus on conservation of water, irrigation and controlling exploitation of natural assets to help in sustaining livelihoods (Chambers & Conway, 1992, pp.5). In this scenario, the use of the SLA in climate change in the aid planning and implementation of projects to support copping and adaptive mechanisms during the calamities arising from climate change is absolutely relevant (Berman & Paavola, 2015, pp.75).

The case of Sudan’s rural and other African regions illustrate that SLA can be used in climate change by focusing on different facets of the environmental effects on human development (Elasha & Zakieldin, 2005, pp.11). This is demonstrated by the focus of the research on distinct ecosystem sub-types or the agricultural systems or projects that can sustain life during drought. Additionally, using the structure of the research in which every case study concentrated in a particular community with its ecological agricultural systems, it can be noted that SLA aids planning and implementation process based on the strengths of every structure whereby projects are implemented based on the ecological system of every region (Füssel, 2007, pp.165). In this regard, the SLA dictates that human development agenda during climate change must be implemented based on the climatic conditions of every region. For instance, areas that can support pastoralism or those with capacities to support crop farming will attract appropriate projects that will help communities to adapt and cope with sudden environmental changes in future, as well as reducing chances of extreme poverty level among the affected societies (Ford. & Smit, 2004, pp.193).

SLA is highly applicable in addressing climate change as it aids in an assessment of projects and design policies necessary for combating negative impacts of environmental degradations (Smit & Wandel, 2006, pp.183). While developing projects necessary to improve human capacities either in food production, environmental management or for resource conservations such as water and exploitation of resources, the experts make use of SL in need assessment to come up with the best copping and adaptive strategies for local people’s livelihood (Munang & Rivington, 2013, pp.73). Further, the concept of environmental management requires a collaboration of both communities, non-governmental organisations and government or political and administration will implement such policies (Sing & Cheatle, 2003, pp.12). The use of SLA in climate change advocates for the integration of local communities’ effort towards addressing environmental management issues such as food security (Paavola, 2008, pp.644). In this context, the SLA provides the framework or guidelines and dynamics upon which the various institutions impinge to achieve the stated goals. The SL model highlights sustainable livelihood assets that must be put in place to implement a viable project that will help the community to mitigate the effects of climate change in future (Lemos & Johns, 2013, pp.440).

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The effect of any environmental degradation falls on both physical and biological resources in which there is need to assess how the communities respond or cope to such changes and their resilience to such events (Shankland, 2000, pp.13). SLA is applicable in determining the community’s resilience to climate change and how various approaches can be developed to improve adaptive capacities, as well as designing strategies to climate change (Scoones, 2009, pp.179). The assessment on the impacts of climate change and development of mitigation strategies include evaluating the ability of the communities to cope and recover from environmental stresses, ecological integrity, assessing economic efficiency and social equity that involves the intergenerational use of natural resources without depleting the resource base for future generation (Ashley, 2000, p. 4). Also, the use of SLA in solving problems of climate variation is useful for development practitioners and researchers as it provides a systematic guideline to draw a work plan that helps in planning and practicing the viable project (Below & Sieber, 2010, pp.2).

Using the principles of the SLA like being people-oriented, strength-based and partnership justifies that the approach provides the framework for implementing projects that take into consideration the ecological systems and people’s needs (Burns & Machado Des Johansson, 2017, pp.7). Evaluating climate change requires project managers to conduct initial scoping (Burton & Schipper, 2002, pp.9). This approach requires that SL assesses various climatic events based on historical or past data to help in designing the appropriate plan for effective implementation of SL strategies (Eriksen & Brown, 2011, pp.5). Generally, SL acts as a source of information for the past strategies or responses that have been used in addressing drought vulnerability based on recent events (Füssel, 2007, pp.158). For example, to the case study, the SL helps in detailing climatic events and the related data surrounding environmental issues such as water resources, food security and agriculture, as well as specifying specific actions that have been applied to rescue the situations (Fraser & Termansen, 2011, pp.6). Based on this, the use of SLA provides environmentalists with insight information of how to address relating to resource conservation, water harvesting, and how to partner with various agencies to benefit the intended communities such as farmers and pastoralists (Hahn & Foster, 2009, p. 2). Therefore, SLA is highly applicable in negotiating with institutional structures, researches, planning and implementing rehabilitation measures, as promoting community development in pre and post climatic variability (Kelly & Adger., 2000, pp.334).

However, limitations of the SLA framework include its unclarity, hence the need to its reconceptualization of mediation process as different people applies different strategies and decision-making process to address environmental issues (Scoones, 2009, pp.180). Challenges of SLA lies within its conceptualisation and the neglect of inequalities of power which affects social relation power and the implementation of projects in the communities (Baumann, 2000, pp.76). Therefore, reconceptualisation will help in streamlining rational individualistic thinking affecting decision-making towards allocation of resources which is a great challenge facing the framework (Scoones, 2009, pp.184). Consequently, by addressing these failures of livelihoods practices, the SLA thinking interventions can be improved to impact on global economic and climate variation (Scoones, 2009, pp.185).

Adjusting to climate change remains a challenge to both developed and developing countries as this indicates the gap in sustainability. As a result of this, the application of SLA together with other specific frameworks to tackle climate change will be the milestone towards closing the gap in climate change sustainability. Likewise, the community and institutional involvement bridge the gap between top-down interventional decision and community demands. In a broader sense, it will be necessary for the environmentalists to conceptualise and implement policies based on the values of the SLA to create the sustainable development with a coherent framework to promote intergenerational equity, fairness and promote environmental integrity to reduce poverty and improve efficient use of environmental resources. Therefore, the study realised that SLA framework together with other approaches could help in addressing and solving climate change can enhance exploitation of livelihood resources towards sustainability.


Figure 1: Sustainable Livelihood Framework by DFID 2002 (used in Kollmair and Gamper, 2002, pp. 4)


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