An innovative action research project in Mexico has created a gender-sensitive, local climate change strategy, which recognises how women and men are affected differently by climate change impacts and everyone has a role to play in creating climate solutions. It could provide inspiration for integrated approaches to building resilience in other small and medium-sized cities. In Part 1 of this blog, below, we explain how climate change is affecting local populations and how they explored adaptation solutions. In Part 2 of the blog (forthcoming), we detail why a gender dimension is critical to the strategy.
This blog provides an English summary of Coyuca Resiliente al Clima – Reporte de Investigación by Hector Becerril, Anna de la Parra, Rocio López Velasco and Maria Jose Pacha (April 2019) and further extensive materials published online by the Resilient Coyuca research team. English editing by Mairi Dupar.
Coyuca de Benitez: The context
The Coyuca resiliente al clima (‘Coyuca: Resilient to the climate’) initiative is based in Coyuca de Benitez, a medium-sized city on the Pacific coast of Mexico’s Guerrero state. Known for its sheltered lagoon and islets – an attraction for eco-tourists – and its sandy beaches, Coyuca is a mere 35 km from its famous neighbour: the long-established resort and port city of Acapulco.
The Climate-resilient Coyuca initiative was conceived by a multidisciplinary research team comprising: Tecnosistemas y Peaje, S.A. de C.V. (Tecnopeaje), Universidad Autónoma de Guerrero, México (UAGRO), Cátedra CONACYT- UAGRO, Instituto de Tecnología de Acapulco (ITA), Prabha Khosla Consulting, Dirección de Protección Civil del Municipio de Coyuca de Benítez and Consorcio para el Estudio de Zonas Metropolitanas (CENTROMET).
Climate change, local governance and gender: An integrated approach
The partners joined forces to address climate risks, local governance challenges and gender inequality, in a single integrated approach:
- Climate risks: There is an increasingly urgent need to manage climate risks in the Coyuca municipal area. Mexico as a whole has experienced warming: winter temperatures have increased by 1.3 C above historic averages. The overall outlook is for a hotter, drier climate. However, bursts of more intense rainfall also figure in long term projections. Modeling of future climate risks shows that the Pacific coast of Mexico on which Coyuca is located is at ‘very high risk’ of intense cyclone activity, heavy rainfall and flooding. Already, from 2001-2013, the Municipality of Coyuca de Benítez declared a cyclone or flood-related emergency six times.
- Governance: The role of the state in designing and implementing climate-resilient solutions is ripe for re-assessment. This is the right time, say the project team, for civil society to carve out new roles to work with government in addressing the shared challenge of climate change. When recent extreme weather events occurred, they say, the municipal authorities failed to protect people and assets. Local government could be empowered with knowledge and training to do much better – and local people could also learn better how to help themselves.
- Gender: Social development and environmental protection in Coyuca de Benitez is at low levels. It includes poor access to sanitary waste disposal and safe water and inadequate education. Water and waste problems are set to worsen in a future climate characterised by hotter, dry spells and more intense rainfall, flooding and storm events. Rising sea levels are also expected to have some negative impacts on farming in the coastal area. These trends have a gender dimension: because women and men, girls and boys could be differently affected depending on their hygiene needs, household roles and roles in the labour force. The project sought to integrate a gender perspective defined – from UN Women — as “the process of evaluating the consequences for women and men of any planned activity, including laws, policies or programmes, in all sectors and at all levels”. Project activities have aimed to promote women and girls as equal partners in development, throughout.
Mapping vulnerabilities and adaptation actions
The project worked with residents to identify climate-related risks and vulnerabilities in the Coyuca Lagoon Urban Area (in Spanish: Sistema Urbano Lagunar de Coyuca – SULC). Residents documented their household and community assets and the impacts of severe rainfall, flooding and sea-level rise on these.
They also documented actions they are already taking to protect their families and property from harm. Having been recently battered by a series of intense tropical storms, including Tropical Storm Manuel (2013), weary residents are becoming accustomed to taking precautionary – and reactive – measures.
In neighbourhoods where people live in houses of solid construction with two storeys or more, they move belongings from the ground floor to higher floors of the building when heavy rain or a storm surge is imminent. During extreme events, family members move to higher floors and keep children under close supervision. In another neighbourhood where housing is of very poor construction, residents may move belongings out of the house completely and evacuate to hostels. The use of low-cost building materials on the one hand makes them prone to damage; but on the other hand, it makes reconstruction cheaper and easier after a disaster.
Following a major storm or inundation, residents throw themselves into a concerted clean-up: a great deal of household cleaning is required, and community members band together to remove rubbish from common areas.
The social and political factors that turn extreme weather in Coyuca into disasters
The researchers found that these household and community efforts before, during and after an extreme weather event are taken almost in isolation of local government. Rather, residents adopt a self-help approach.
Scrutiny of the local government’s role revealed:
- The state of Guerrero has had a Climate Change Law in place since 2015, committed to ‘establishing public policies and actions for the mitigation and adaptation of climate change’ and designating the state and its municipalities to create and implement these actions (State Government of Guerrero 2015: art. 2 para. 1) – but since the law was passed, there has been no follow-up action on the ground.
- Coyuca’s urban plans are not focused on environmental sustainability: the urban plans include a range of projects but they miss the opportunity to embrace environmental sustainability and resilience. In fact, these concepts could guide and bind together urban infrastructure and service projects.
- Even worse, the way that infrastructure projects are currently being pursued is increasing vulnerability to extreme weather events. For instance, paving and drainage projects are being constructed in ways that will augment flooding and sanitation problems in the event of extreme rainfall and floods.
- Coyuca’s democratic process is fragile: Decisions tend to be made in a non-transparent way and decision-makers are overwhelmingly male. There have been, until now, few entry points for civil society to engage with local decision-makers and enhance the quality and openness of public debates.
Multi-stakeholder platform gets behind a local resilience strategy
The project formed a multi-stakeholder platform to forge a common understanding of these problems and devise a smarter, joined-up approach to tackling them. The platform is made up of representatives from local government, academia and communities.
The platform was launched in mid-2018. Its first step was to weigh up and validate the research findings.
Its next step was to define a vision and strategy to make Coyuca more climate-resilient: “The aim of the strategy is to encourage governance and urban policies that support climate change adaptation in the Coyuca Lagoon Urban Area — while reducing gender inequality and reducing the isolation of public policy from people’s real-world problems,” said the authors in a recent report. (original in Spanish)
The Climate-Resilient Coyuca Strategy proposes:
- Compiling further knowledge on climate-smart urban development in the Coyuca Lagoon Urban Area – and building local capacity to do so. This will include collecting gender-disaggregated data and encouraging postgraduate students to investigate these issues. An intersectoral committee would guide the production and monitoring of evidence.
- Encouraging collective public action for climate resilience. This will require much improved coordination among organisations (including the public sector) working in the Coyuca Lagoon Urban Area, including special efforts to boost women’s participation. The proposal is to create more coordinated and sustainable urban development, civil protection and land use policies and plans. Flood risk management at the municipal and community levels will be a key component: with priority for the most climate-vulnerable people. The idea is that the multi-stakeholder platform will be linked to delivery organisations. The platform will keep feeding in new evidence about the impact of public policy measures on communities’ vulnerabilities.
- Communicating climate change, gender inequities and urban development processes. This is a proposal to raise the awareness of both public policymakers and the public about the causes and local impacts of climate change. It will include training workshops on the gender dimensions of climate change and resilience, for public officials, associations and universities. Public communications will highlight the areas at high risk of sea-level rise and flooding, and will alert the public to actions they should take in a weather-related emergency.
Two and a half years from the start of the initiative, the project team can point to a major new evidence base on gender inequalities, urban development, disaster risks and climate change – and the interaction among them. The new municipal government of Coyuca (2018-2021) and representatives of the State Congress have expressed their interest in deepening their knowledge of the project and its results and incorporating its recommendations in their initiatives.
The project has created more peer-to-peer exchange and space for dialogue among local government, communities and academia. It has raised the capacity of local actors to tackle climate challenges and especially those local professionals enrolled in the Master of Management for the sustainable development of the Autonomous University of Guerrero (UAGRO).
“Too often, the narrative around climate change and cities in Latin America focuses on the megacities such as Sao Paulo and Mexico City,” say the researchers.
However, in reality, hundreds of millions of Latin Americans live in a network of small and medium-sized cities. In this way, the climate-resilient solutions pioneered in Coyuca could pave the way for others to follow.