During the recent World Water Week in Stockholm, Sweden’s King Carl Gustav presented the city’s prestigious Water Prize to John Briscoe, a former water manager at the World Bank. After many years spent in the international water bureaucracy, Briscoe says he is “controversial and proud of it”. Indeed, the jury’s choice raises contentious questions about dams and their alternatives.

agriculture, ecosystems, and environment journal cover

Poverty alleviation in rural areas is a top priority for social and economic development, particularly against a backdrop of rising populations up to 2050 and to meet growing food demands in a rapidly urbanizing world. Sustainable intensification of agricultural techniques are therefore required, such as water management practices that result in higher agricultural production without causing severe environmental impacts, whilst at the same time improving resilience to drought and dry spells.

Experts working on behalf of international development organisations need better tools to assist land managers in developing countries maintain their livelihoods, as climate change puts pressure on the ecosystem services that they depend upon. However, current understanding of livelihood vulnerability to climate change is based on a fractured and disparate set of theories and methods. This review therefore combines theoretical insights from sustainable livelihoods analysis with other analytical frameworks (including the ecosystem services framework, diffusion theory, social learning, adaptive management and transitions management) to assess the vulnerability of rural livelihoods to climate change. This integrated analytical framework helps diagnose vulnerability to climate change,whilst identifying and comparing adaptation options that could reduce vulnerability, following four broad steps: i) determine likely level of exposure to climate change, and how climate change might interact with existing stresses and other future drivers of change; ii) determine the sensitivity of stocks of capital assets and flows of ecosystem services to climate change; iii) identify factors influencing decisions to develop and/or adopt different adaptation strategies, based on innovation or the use/substitution of existing assets; and iv) identify and evaluate potential trade-offs between adaptation options. The paper concludes by identifying interdisciplinary research needs for assessing the vulnerability of livelihoods to climate change.

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