Knowledge Sharing for Climate Change Adaption

Adaptation to climate variability in the coastal zone

Adaptation to climate variability in the coastal zone

Associated Organization: CORDIO East Africa

The project combines expertise from coral bleaching work and meteorology to develop a Coastal Climate Outlook to forecast climate hazards to which coastal communities are vulnerable. Social vulnerability to climate change will be measured, and tools refined, for broader use in Eastern Africa. Combined with ecological vulnerability work, these will be integrated into climate response strategies for coastal communities dependent on marine and coastal resources.

Themes: Agriculture, fisheries and food security, Poverty and vulnerability

Regions: East Africa

Countries: Kenya, Tanzania

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Coastal societies are particularly vulnerable to climate change, and their ability to adapt will be critical to their future and to that of the marine systems upon which they rely. One of the principal effects and indicators of climate change, increased levels of short term climate variability, is affecting people on a daily basis. Since 1997 East Africa has suffered multiple severe climate fluctuations (temperature, floods, and droughts, with consequences such as coral bleaching and livestock disease outbreaks), some of which were intensified by progressive climate change. These variations particularly affect the poor, who lack the resources to prepare for and recover from changes. For the poor, it is unrealistic to plan for the long-term impacts of climate change until strategies for dealing with short-term climate variability are in place.

On an ecosystem basis, coral reefs are one of the first global systems to be impacted by climate change, both long term warming and intensified short term variability. In 1997-8 alone, 16% of the world’s coral reefs were severely impacted by a combination of a strong El Niño and the warmest year on record. Since then, scientific understanding of the dynamics of coral bleaching and mortality influenced by warming sea surface temperatures is well enough advanced to enable predictions of bleaching risk on time scales from 3 months to weeks, and from regional to local levels.

The goal of this project is to develop tools for building social adaptation to climate change, on time scales relevant to peoples’ daily lives (weeks to seasons), based on predictions of the risk of climate impacts on this time scale. We focus on coastal communities in southern Kenya and northern Tanzania, stretching from the Tana River in the north to Tanga District in the south. This region is consistent geomorphologically, and the coastal climate outlooks developed for the Kenyan coast will be relevant to the adjacent coast in Tanzania. The coastal settlements and communities are similar, with a mix of fishing, farming and small business livelihoods.



Predicting risk – from a foundation of existing seasonal climate predictions (quarterly) and coral bleaching alerts (weeks to months) the project will develop a “coastal climate outlook” for key indicators of climate variability (e.g. sea surface temperature, coastal rainfall) that impact on ecosystems, resources and rural communities in the coastal zone.

Assessing social vulnerability – vulnerability assessments of coastal people and their livelihood systems to climate and other threats will be conducted, focused on short-term seasonal risk. We will use existing and tools, and identify a package that that can be replicated more broadly among East African coastal communities in the future.

Opportunities for adaptation - actions for building adaptive capacity will be identified, and tailored to the livelihood and socio-economic settings of the study sites, identifying those that can be implemented locally without additional investment vs those that may need significant government or external support. 

Supporting adaptation – the coastal climate outlook and adaptation recommendations will be incorporated into a coastal climate adaptation response plan focused at the local level, that will include actions before, during or after a severe climate event. Supportive policy and institutional issues will be identified to enable this, and will include national and local level institutions for natural resource and ecosystem management, disaster preparedness and risk reduction, sectoral ministries and other relevant offices.