Blog: Social protection in a changing climate – what are the experts saying?

Blog: Social protection in a changing climate – what are the experts saying?
9 December 2020

An expert meeting on Social protection in a changing climate was held virtually in late November to “discuss big ideas for the long term”, the second in the series for 2020 on social protection options in various future-climate scenarios.

Speakers said they recognized that lessons learned from Covid-19 can be transferred to climate-related shocks; many national government responses to the pandemic have shown the need for adaptable social protection in times of crisis.

Flexibility and scalability of national safety nets are essential to address the increasing and compound risks faced by populations, they felt.

But the meeting recognized that transferring these to future climate shocks requires a focus not only on responding to shocks through social protection, but also on the ways it can help reduce risks and vulnerability in the long term.

This translates not only into making social protection more efficient before, during and after a shock, but also dealing with gradual changes to lives and livelihoods arising from climate change.

‘Volatile and surprising’

The meetings, initiated earlier in the year in London, provide a space for experts to step out of their institutional roles and brainstorm bringing the fields of climate, disaster and social protection together.

The future may be “volatile and surprising”, Climate Centre Director Maarten van Aalst told the November meeting, arguing that how our future will look depends a lot on what we do about climate change.

To deal with uncertainties, countries needed comprehensive risk management, both for actually addressing volatility and unexpected events, and to increase our ability to anticipate them.

Valérie Schmitt, the Deputy Director of the Social Protection Department at the International Labour Organization (ILO), discussed how climate change also presents an opportunity to promote more universal and longer-term social protection systems.

Nearly 50 experts from the fields of climate, risk, resilience, and social protection disciplines discussed general themes that included the future of work.

They agreed that many of the challenges facing social protection are specific to countries: those with stronger legal frameworks may have an advantage in extending social security; but political will to invest in a strong social protection system will remain crucial.

The meetings provide a space for experts
to step out of their institutional roles
and brainstorm how to bring the fields of
climate, disaster and social protection together

“It’s interesting to see tools from social protection and climate coming together, even though it has been a while that we have been talking about integrating them,” said one expert.

Among the ways identified to keep these conversations alive, the suggestion of a more regular discussion platform was welcomed.

Three key issues emerged: the transformative role of social protection; coordinated national governance for the interaction with climate change; and placing vulnerable people at the core of decision-making.

With plans for similar regional events, expert groups and knowledge products planned for next year, the Social protection in a changing climate meetings will continue to bring people together.

The November meeting was jointly organized by the ILO, the German Development Institute and Germany’s Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development and GIZ agency, the Agence française de développement, and the Climate Centre.

Social protection in a changing climate. A graphic by the Climate Centre’s Learning Adviser, Rebeka Ryvola, who jointly leads its interactivity team seeking new ways to reach vulnerable people, including visual tools for learning and advocacy. (Image: Climate Centre)