Social protection, climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction

This rapid literature review presents and synthesises the conceptual underpinnings and evidence on the relationship between social protection, climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction.

Social protection instruments have been shown to be effective mechanisms for coping with shocks. The recent growth of social protection systems has shown that having systems in place before a shock hits can produce an effective response. Social protection is thus well-aligned with the goals of addressing the impacts of climate change. However, it may also be possible for social protection to contribute to longer-term adaptation.

Evidence on whether social protection interventions have built resilience and adaptive capacity is lacking. These concepts, while reasonably well conceptualised, suffer from difficulties in measuring and demonstrating impact. The best evidence comes from weather-indexed insurance programmes and public works programmes. The evidence on impacts is mainly drawn from case studies.

All three disciplines of CCA, DRR and social protection attempt to address vulnerability. The adaptive social protection framework argues that interventions must be integrated in order to successfully mitigate vulnerability to climate shock. CCA and DRR cannot address root causes of poverty and vulnerability, while social protection cannot change climate-dependent livelihoods.

Key findings

  • Although resilience is emerging as a new paradigm for development, it is unclear what it means, and whether and how it can be measured. There is no agreement on how to measure resilience, which means there is a scarcity of evidence on the impact of programmes which aim to ‘strengthen resilience’. There is hardly any evidence on how and why social protection programmes contribute to resilience against climate shocks.
  • The link between cash transfers and climate change adaptation has not been made clear and is not well-evidenced. DFID’s literature review on cash transfers suggests there is little evidence that CTs can reduce and mitigate the impact of environmental shocks. CTs’ impact on climate change effects is poorly understood, and there is a strong need for further empirical analysis of this specific pathway.
  • There is a considerable literature on indexed insurance schemes, and a clear assumption that these can play a strong role in supporting climate-resistant livelihoods. They are increasingly advocated for by governments and development agencies as a means to address market shocks. Insurance appears to reduce risk for farmers, improve livelihoods and resilience, and schemes are financially viable for governments. The evidence base on indexed insurance is drawn mainly from case studies, without clearly generalisable conclusions. As yet, none of the existing index-based schemes have experienced a wide-ranging catastrophic event, and most schemes are in a pilot stage.
  • There are case study examples of Public Works Programmes in India and Ethiopia showing strong promise for climate change mitigation and adaptation. The literature reflects an understanding that PWP community projects have good potential to reduce environmental vulnerability. However, there is no body of evidence on this.
  • There is strong evidence that social protection can help build and improve livelihoods. This indirectly contributes to CCA and DRR through reducing vulnerability and increasing livelihoods resilience. However, the chain of causality from social protection, through livelihoods, to DRR and CCA is difficult to establish. There is a gap in the evidence about how livelihoods theory links to social protection and climate change theory. Literature on sustainable livelihoods clearly complements this line of analysis, but was not reviewed in depth for this report.

Suggested citation

Browne, E. (2014). Social protection, climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction (Rapid Literature Review). Birmingham, UK: GSDRC, University of Birmingham.