Climate resilience and social assistance in protracted crises online discussion, Wed 29 June - Fri 1 July 2022

Welcome to a two day online discussion about climate resilience and social assistance in protracted crises, co-facilitated by Lars Otto Naess, Institute of Development Studies (IDS) and Jan Selby, University of Sheffield and BASIC Research researcher.

This online discussion is the final in a series of four, which have been running throughout June, as part of the Better Assistance in Crises (BASIC) Research programme and kindly co-hosted by This final e-discussion on climate resilience and social assistance will be structured and moderated around three topic areas:

  • Topic one: What do we know about vulnerability–social assistance linkages in contexts of protracted crises?
  • Topic two: How can social assistance help making livelihood pathways climate-resilient?
  • Topic three: What are the programmatic and financial challenges?

On Wednesday 29 June, we will also have a one-hour informal hangout at 2pm (GMT +1), where we continue our online discussion looking at climate resilience and social assistance. For more information see attached e-discussion guide.

To participate in this e-discussion, please make sure you have registered on the platform (see instructions in attached guide). You will then be able to add comments/replies to the thread below. If you have any difficulties please reach out to the moderator of the discussion, Tina Nelis, via email at: [email protected]. We kindly ask all participants to be respectful of the views of others.  


Tomorrow (Wed 29 June), we will kick off with Topic one: What do we know about vulnerability–social assistance linkages in contexts of protracted crises? … watch this space!


Good morning, looking forward to this week’s discussion on climate resilience and social assistance in protracted crises. We’re interested in your views and experiences on these linkages, organised around three broad themes – first, the link between social assistance and vulnerability to climate shocks and stressors, second, the role of social assistance in strengthening livelihoods resilience, and third, the programmatic and financial challenges involved.

What we know is that climate change poses increasing, and changing, risks to people and livelihoods, and also that contexts of protracted crises (such as conflicts and displacement) host some of the world’s most vulnerable populations. Over recent years, social assistance – such as cash transfers and voucher programmes – has been seen as a way of reducing the impacts of climate-related shocks and stressors, and of increasing the resilience of recipient households and communities. It has been seen as a mechanism for delivering adaptation funding, and showing promise in tackling short-term shocks as well as longer-term adaptation to climate change.

Yet challenges and questions remain. One of the things we have identified from BASIC Research so far (Naess et al., 2022) is that there is still a lack of understanding on underlying drivers or root causes of vulnerability and their implications for social assistance. By this we mean the political, economic and environmental causes of vulnerability, including gender inequities and social difference, and the implications it has for social assistance programming. By their nature, most social assistance programmes aim to strengthen coping and adaptive capacities within the current structural constraints, and we know less about whether and how social assistance can help tackle the same structural causes of vulnerability.

So today we’ll be interested in exploring these two questions in particular:

1. What do we know about the historical and recent drivers of vulnerabilities among populations exposed to conflict and displacement? And,
2. To what extent have social assistance programmes been addressing drivers of vulnerability, including factors of social difference (e.g. political identity and affiliation, age, gender, attributes of social networks and institutions through which people access knowledge, resources and support)?

Such an interesting topic to start this online discussion with. It is really crucial that we look at social protection and its role in climate risk management with the lens of addressing underlying drivers of vulnerability in target communties. For instance, in the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre's work across Asia and Africa, we have noticed how pre-exisiting vulnerabilities shape an individual's access to and usage of social asistance. This in turn also shapes long term outcomes of social assistance programmes. Going forward, it can be expected that the compounding effects from climate and conflict might further exaccerberate vulnerabilities. This makes it all the more important that the design and implementation of social assistance programmes are tailored to suit the needs of specific vulnerable groups. 

Hi colleagues! Great to have this online discussion. One main challenge about this agenda is that with very few exceptions,  social protection systems do not normally include climate risk data on their registries and proxies, therefore the potential of supporting climate vulnerable groups through social protection diminishes.  Therefore, combining socioeconomic data with climate risk data provides more accurate criteria to target climate-vulnerable and poor people. This applies to routine social protection provision (including identifying the socio-economic, political, geographic markers that might affect vulnerability and poverty- in WFP we are developing a social protection intersecting inequalities framework to better understand how this approach looks like, also from an operational perpective )  but also to its potential on responding to climate-related shocks and stressors. Coordination, therefore, is key to achieve this cross-sectoral approach.

Thanks Sayanti and Ana for very useful comments, and thanks also to those who joined the Zoom hangout earlier today. We welcome more comments on your experiences of social protection and climate change - whether critical concerns, gaps, things that have worked - or not - and what you see as possible ways forward.


Hello and welcome to day 2 of this e-dialogue. We’ll continue from the discussion yesterday, focusing more in on the question of how social assistance can help making livelihood pathways climate-resilient.

From our work so far, and also in the hangout discussion yesterday, we have seen that short term responses tend to  trump longer-term concerns, including how to improve the ability to strengthen resilience over the long term. While there is extensive evidence that social assistance can contribute to anticipating and absorbing short-term climate-related shocks, there is less evidence and emphasis on building longer-term adaptive capacities through social assistance. One rising concern here is that a focus on short term, shock-responsive approaches may lead to negative coping strategies and in the long term, maladaptation.

For example, some studies we reviewed found that when long-term impacts of climate change are not considered in design and planning phases, social assistance may create incentives to stay and invest in locations and livelihoods that may become unviable in the future under increased climate risks. Ultimately, it is also about the connection – or gap – between people’s livehoood aspirations –and what assumptions social assistance programmes make about what they want.

So the main question we'd like to focus on today is how social assistance programmes can help efforts to build climate-resilient livelihoods for the long term, overcoming challenges such as the ones identified above? As before, we very much welcome examples and experiences from your work. 

Interesting observation from your studies. In places where the long term impacts of climate change has not been considered in the design and planning phases, what is the major bottleneck you observed? Is it because the systems themselves are at a nascent stage? Or are there limitged coordination efforts between Climate Change and Social Protection national agencies? In my experience, it is a combination of both, with coordination being a major challenge in most areas. 

Also one can always argue that traditional SA schemes have mostly been designed for targeting poverty, and it is understandable in that sense that climate information hasnt been plugged into its design. 

Yes, the challenge of coordination was an important one that emerged from the studies that were reviewed (as part of the background working paper). This included challenges associated with different forms of technical expertise, different concepts and terminologies, and different government structures/systems between climate change and social protection sectors. Strengthening alignment between key sectors would be crucial to build climate-resilient livelihoods for the long term via social assistance programmes!

Thanks for kicking this off Lars Otto. You pose an important question, and you are right in identifying this tension. However, there are also to my mind important tensions in how we approach long-term adaptation. Approaches which focus on the long-term - which, as you say, most social assistance currently does not - could easily have maladaptive consequences too. For example, programmes which on the basis of climate projections identified certain areas as likely to become unviable in the long-term may 1) shift resources outside of these areas or towards resettlement, while 2) being based on climatic and other assumptions which are misplaced or at least highly uncertain. So in the example you give, it may be equally risky to change social assistance programmes away from a short-term to a long-term focus. The uncertainties are obviously far greater in relation to the long-term. Deciding funding priorities based on long-term projections also raises questions about which knowledge counts in social assistance planning, and about how to integrate climate model projections with other forms of knowledge about what is needed including, most importantly, the views and priorities oif recipients. Put simply: to what extent should social assistance priorities be informed by readings of long-term climate models, especially given their very many limitations? 

Hello all! It's been so interesting to read these posts and responses!

The connection or gap between people’s livelihood aspirations and assumptions underpinning social assistance programmes is a critical focus point – and raises questions about which livelihood pathways are being acknowledged and addressed. What very quickly became apparent in the review of existing literature on climate change and social assistance (in preparing the working paper) was the focus on agricultural livelihoods and rural areas in existing social assistance analyses and programmes. This is crucially important but raises important questions about resulting gaps - especially important given the impacts of climate change in urban centres, including in ‘informal settlements’, where residents and infrastructure face the greatest risks. I’ve recently been involved in some research on environmental and climate-related changes and migration in Sudan and Mali, which also highlighted a need to expand support for coping and adaptation initiatives beyond the agricultural sector (notably to respond to young people’s wide-ranging aspirations).

Following from Jan’s point above, some (limited) existing research already points potentially risks associated with some approaches to a long-term focus in social assistance programmes. Some studies show how social assistance programmes that include some (even minimal) attention to longer-term impacts of climate change (e.g. with a focus on agricultural development or ‘re-greening’) have themselves been associated with ‘maladaptive’ effects - and this raises questions about what kinds of projections or knowledges underpin these programmes and priorities.

Finally, I think there’s also a need to think carefully about the naming and framing of people’s varied coping strategies in response to changing environmental and socio-economic conditions (specifically when referring to individual, household, or community-level strategies, vs larger-scale ‘developments’). What kinds of strategies are framed as ‘negative’ or ‘maladaptive’? What are the implications and impacts of labelling particular strategies as ‘negative’ or ‘maladaptive’? And how do these shape social assistance responses?

Hello again, and welcome to the third and final day of this e-discussion! Many thanks for your contributions so far. Today we’ll focus on operational challenges – and possible ways of overcoming these – in integrating climate adaptation and resilience concerns in social assistance.

Challenges may include, for example, poor coordination across development-humanitarian assistance, lack of transparency of climate finance support, and lack of involvement of local partners in decision-making or targeting according to local needs and priorities. That more finance is needed is a given, but what about where that finance is prioritised? There may be rules about financial disbursement that presents obstacles to SA being useful (in the past, we’ve seen this in humanitarian programming for example, where finance for short term interventions cannot be easily redirected for longer term resilience strengthening, and vice versa).

So the questions we’re particularly interested in exploring today are:

• What are the programmatic and financial challenges for social assistance to strengthen resilience to climate change?

• How may these challenges be overcome?


Thank you for your contributions to the e-discussion on climate resilience and social assistance in protracted crises, including the informal zoom hangout. Below is a brief (and selective) summary of the discussion, structured around the three main topics we covered. We welcome any further comments – please contact Lars Otto Naess ([email protected]) if so.

1. What do we know about vulnerability–social assistance linkages in contexts of protracted crises?

  • The discussion highlighted that there is still a need to better recognise the particular challenges of conflict settings and the compound effects of climate and conflict in shaping vulnerabilities. At the moment, there is a risk of projects being relabelled or subject to ‘copy and paste’ approach from stable to conflict-affected settings.
  • It was also noted that understanding of linkages is hampered by the lack of relevant climate risk data in social protection registries, reinforcing the need for combining socioeconomic data with climate risk data provides more accurate criteria to target climate-vulnerable and poor people, both for routine social protection as well as programmes specifically aimed at responding to climate-related shocks and stressors.

2. How can social assistance help making livelihood pathways climate-resilient?

  • Participants noted the challenge that a focus on short term, shock-responsive approaches may lead to negative coping strategies in the short term, and maladaptation in the long term. To address this challenge, the way the short-long term concerns are linked matter: For example, there will be risks associated with changing social assistance priorities towards a long-term focus if it means overlooking short term concerns. This points to the need for, among others, to plan for flexibility and acknowledging the uncertainties that exist in climate projections.
  • Questions were also raised about which types of livelihood pathways are being acknowledged and addressed, and which are missing. The need to move beyond the agricultural sector and to put greater focus on youth was highlighted, with gaps identified particularly on informal urban settlements.
  • Participants also shared experiences with ways of bridging the short-long term gap, for example through seeing them as two different pathways, the first looking at protecting livelihoods through an immediate expansion of the capacity of social assistance to respond to climate shocks, and the second to trigger efforts to improve livelihoods in the longer term.
  • Experiences were also shared on stepwise government engagement processes, for example in Nepal. The focus here was first on hazard mapping, followed by a process to understand different vulnerable groups and their needs, working with municipalities to identify those most in need as well as to earmark resources to help them adapt to hazards.

3. What are the programmatic and financial challenges?

  • Administrative challenges remain in humanitarian funding, which can typically only plan for short term response for basic needs. Experiences were shared on efforts to improve alignment between humanitarian funding and (longer term) social protection efforts, harmonising targeting and monitoring across them.
  • The challenge of potential “overburdening” of social assistance programmes was raised by several participants, in terms of either propping up of basic social assistance programmes, increasing the number of households involved, or the amount of cash given to vulnerable groups. As one participant put it, in fragile contexts with weak capacity, if we try to hit many birds with one stone, we risk hitting none, because structures, capacity and governance are so weak.