National narratives and past traumatic experiences: the political nature of adaptation policy

Authors: Laura Kuhl*, Northeastern University
Topics: Hazards, Risks, and Disasters, Global Change, Development
Keywords: climate adaptation, narratives, disasters, policy, Ethiopia, Honduras
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/13/2018
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Napoleon A3, Sheraton, 3rd Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The political nature of prioritizing risks and vulnerabilities is often unacknowledged in the climate adaptation policy process. Technical inputs, such as climate projections, are frequently used to mask the political nature of adaptation policy-making. This paper argues that narratives are critical in shaping the direction, scope, and approach to adaptation, with implications for whose resilience is privileged and whose vulnerability remains invisible. This paper explores the role that national narratives and historical experiences play in shaping adaptation policy, and the implications for who is considered “at risk” in Ethiopia and Honduras: two countries that have experienced significant “focusing events” that have shaped their adaptation policy-making. Using a comparative approach, and based on over 100 interviews with government officials, and stakeholders in multilateral organizations, bilateral donors, NGOs and academia in the two countries, conducted as part of a larger project on innovation for adaptation between 2012 and 2015, this paper identifies the critical role that past traumatic experiences, namely Hurricane Mitch in Honduras and the famine of the late 1980s in Ethiopia, play in shaping national narratives around adaptation and the blindness that this causes regarding other sources of vulnerability. Evidence of ways that current adaptation initiatives build on these historical experiences and the path dependency of adaptation policymaking are presented, as well as examples of approaches taken by actors to shift this path dependence and broaden the national narrative to ensure that more people’s visions of resilience are addressed in the policy-making process.

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