Seventh Annual AMS Student Conference


Predicting and assessing adaptive capacity of water management to climate variability and change in Northeast Brazil

Nathan L. Engle, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI

In vulnerability studies, adaptive capacity represents the ability of a system to adjust to impacts, consequences, and opportunities posed by climate change. Vulnerability researchers have traditionally focused on understanding the anticipated impacts within a respective region, and the physical conditions that leave systems sensitive and exposed. The unique human component of vulnerability analysis, adaptive capacity, has until recently, been largely under analyzed. The determinants of adaptive capacity are thought to be difficult to quantify because of their latent nature, as well as their perceived specificity to context. As a result, most research to date has focused on qualitative analyses of case studies, or aggregate level indicator assessments. This particular study takes an in-depth look at one of the most influential determinants of adaptive capacity, institutions and governance mechanisms. Although the broader importance of institutions and governance is well understood, in its current stage, adaptive capacity lacks a method for assessing institutions and governance influences that balances in-depth analysis with policy-relevant quantification techniques at scales smaller than the national level.

The recently reformed water management system in Brazil provides the backdrop for a comparison of adaptive capacities between two river basins in the Northeast; the Baixo Jaguaribe and the Pirapama. I develop an adaptive capacity index from previously collected survey data, and explore its findings using qualitative data obtained through in-depth interviewing of key informants in each basin. The interviews indicate that adaptive capacity has generally improved water management's response to climate variability in both basins (i.e., adaptive capacity has increased). The interviews also help to categorize key policy levers that affect adaptive capacity in each basin that were not identifiable from the index quantification alone. The work concludes that although recent institutional factors, such as water governance reforms and international resource support have helped to increase adaptive capacity, there remains a specific need for better institutional coordination within each basin that can identify and address barriers to adaptation that are currently being overlooked. Also, future assessments of adaptive capacity would benefit from a process that accounts for the institutional and governance dynamics within and between various scales; from the local to the global.

Poster Session 1, Student Conference General Poster Session
Sunday, 20 January 2008, 5:30 PM-7:00 PM, Exhibit Hall B

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