On November 16, 2023, the socialprotection.org platform hosted the webinar "Rethinking Social Protection and Climate Change - Implications of Climate Change for Social Protection Policy and Programming in the Asia-Pacific Region" in partnership with the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT). Climate change will deeply reshape socio-economic impacts for people and their ability to meet basic needs, significantly increasing poverty and vulnerability in the Asia-Pacific region and globally. These changes will bring the need to transform the current orthodoxies of the social protection sector to respond to the impacts of climate change.


The full webinar recording is available here and the slide presentation here.




Sayanti Sengupta, Technical Advisor at the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre, Advisor to the Climate Change and Social Protection Research Initiative (CCASP), and Independent Consultant in Poverty and Inequality Practice.

Sengupta started the presentation by introducing a report by Cecilia Costella and Anna McCord "Rethinking Social Protection and Climate Change: The Medium-term Implications of Climate Change for Social Protection Policy and Programming in the Asia-Pacific region" published in November 2023 and now available on DFAT’s publications page.

This report draws on the sixth assessment Report produced by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2022. This report aims to support a shift in vision around social protection and climate change in the Asia Pacific region by improving understanding of the socio-economic challenges likely to arise from climate change in the medium to long term, and how social protection can be used to manage them.

The report provides a framework which goes beyond the more usual analysis – focused on climate extremes, shocks and disasters – to conceptualise the wider set of risks arising from climate change, and the potential role of social protection to address them. It then explores the projected medium-term socioeconomic impacts of climate change in the region and their implications for social protection. Next it provides a brief overview of climate-resilient social protection globally and maps current policy and practice on linking social protection and climate change in the Asia-Pacific region. Finally, the report critically assesses how social protection needs to be reconceptualised to meet the challenges arising from climate change, and provides policy, practice, financing, and learning recommendations to take forward the climate and social protection agenda.  The report has a focus on the Asia-Pacific, but the analysis is of global relevance.

Sengupta highlighted the compounding impacts of climate change in the Asia-Pacific region, which are expected to result in significant social, economic and political disruption.  Climate change will have major implications for the economy, labour markets, access to basic resources, and sustainable livelihoods, as schematised in Figure 1.


Figure 1: Key socio-economic impacts of climate change

Source: Climate Change and Social Protection Research Initiative (CCASP) presentation


Health-related impacts are expected to reduce income and increase poverty in the Asia Pacific region. In Southeast Asia, already reduced crop yields are causing direct impacts on food security. In the upcoming years, crop yields are expected to further decline. Moreover, heat-related mortality, air pollution, and respiratory diseases will increase – and put people's lives and livelihoods at risk. Extreme weather events such as cyclones are going to become more common and climate-induced migration in South Asia alone is expected to see the movement of up to 40 million people by 2050.

Social protection needs are projected to increase and become more complex over time. Shocks are going to be experienced more frequently and with more intensity. This scenario demands urgent change in the way social protection systems are built – and coordinated with other policy areas.

Sengupta highlighted some key areas for change, including:

  • Scale: referring to an extended need for social protection with large-scale increase in the size of populations projected for the next years;
  • Type and duration: highlighting changes in need in terms of coverage to new groups and the duration of support as more complex and dynamic risks emerge; and
  • Spatial distribution: referring to increased need to protect people in the context of mobility and displacement, due to increase in climate-induced migration.

Sengupta concluded by presenting a framework with five main potential functions of social protection for climate change, outlined in Figure 2. She highlighted that while change in social protection systems development is underway in some countries, there is still, however, limited operationalisation of climate related social protection and few large-scale programs.


Figure 2: Social Protection Functions for Climate Change

Source: Climate Change and Social Protection Research Initiative (CCASP) presentation


Anna McCord, Co-founder & Lead of Climate Change and Social Protection Research Initiative (CCASP), Independent Consultant in Poverty and Inequality Practice, and Senior Research Associate of ODI

McCord discussed the need for a reconceptualisation of social protection orthodoxies in the areas of institutions, policy alignment, coverage and targeting, instrument and programme design, operational systems, and financing as a consequence of climate change´s implications for social protection demand, linking back to Sengupta´s presentation (figure 3).


Figure 3: Need for Reconceptualization of Social Protection Orthodoxies

Source: Climate Change and Social Protection Research Initiative (CCASP) presentation


Starting with Institutions and Mandates, McCord proposed that current arrangements are inadequate to deliver the kind of social protection required to face the expected labour market disruptions. With climate-included migration, this challenge will be even greater, as governments will be articulating and delivering social protection during a time of high international and internal human mobility. There is also a need to revise the international architecture and the adequacy of existing institutions’ provision of social protection and disaster response, at both national and international levels. Furthermore, it is crucial to create regional frameworks for social protection provision and to consolidate the activities of multilateral agencies, INGOs, and government entities currently operating in the social protection and humanitarian sector.

In terms of Policy Alignment, McCord discussed the lack of alignment between climate change and social protection policies. To comprehensively face the challenging impacts of climate change, it is urgent to integrate food security, livelihoods, poverty reduction, labour market, social protection, climate change mitigation, just transition, and disaster risk management policies.

When it comes to Coverage and Targeting, McCord highlighted the low social protection coverage in the Asia Pacific. With the growth of chronic poverty, there will be a need to change current targeting approaches, and to address the needs of groups who are not traditionally targeted, including urban populations and the working age. Furthermore, it will be necessary to rethink program eligibility criteria – and to consider extending eligibility to not only national citizens but also migrants, anticipating future changes to the patterns of climate-induced migration. McCord proposed that coverage, eligibility, and targeting will need to change to accommodate changing vulnerabilities.

In terms of Instrument and Programme Design, organisations will need to revisit the types of social protection instruments they select, and also program design options, including the choice of cash or in-kind benefits, in order to address resource constraints and ensure programs do not incentivize maladaptation or persistence of non-viable livelihoods.

Operational Systems will also need to be improved to accommodate extended provision in response to climate needs, including national identification systems, national social registries, and payment delivery systems. In addition interoperability and cross-border functionalities will need to be incorporated into these systems.

Lastly, both domestic and international Financing will be crucial for the provision of extended social protection. There is a growing need to accelerate the integration and consolidation of humanitarian, crisis response, and social protection financing and to develop long-term financing models for social protection based on consolidated international financing flows. Appraising the future viability of domestic financing is crucial, as is examining the role of pooled financing in terms of contributory social protection and international insurance-based financing models.

McCord finished by sharing that today, climate change and social protection policy integration remains low globally.


Peter Elder, Director, Climate Resilience and Finance Branch, Climate Diplomacy and Development Finance Division, Australian Government/Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT)

Firstly, Elder explained that climate change will drive different impacts in different regions. There is no one-size-fits-all formula. Organisations will need to develop context-specific responses. Moreover, the impacts are cross-sectoral, highlighting the need to adapt policy and programming for climate change across different sectors and policy areas. Elder suggested the need to change the idea that climate change represents the creation of another sector. Instead, climate change must be integrated into existing sectors.

Lastly, Elder explained that the lessons and policy recommendations of the report also apply to high income countries, including Australia. Elder concluded by highlighting the importance of financing for social protection.


Lisa Hannigan, Senior Adviser – Social Protection,  Australian Government/Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT)

Hannigan started by reflecting on the contributions made by previous presentations. She then focused on the importance of intentionally and adequately incorporating climate concerns, without which the systems will not be fit for purpose; people will not be able to cover their needs. Climate change is not a passing shock. Therefore, responses must be intentional and fully committed to addressing its impacts.

Hannigan spoke of requiring particular intentional action in three areas: 1) a focus on the new risks and needs that climate change will trigger and that social protection systems will have to address; 2) more attention to drawing the various relevant sectors together such as humanitarian, disaster risk reduction, and food security sectors; and 3) a greater incorporation of intersecting vulnerabilities given we know that those who will bear the brunt of the impacts are likely those already more vulnerable; those who have less control of assets and decision making.

Hannigan finished the presentation on a positive note by highlighting that climate change has the potential to bring attention to the importance of social protection. The available climate finance can help fund the necessary social protection system strengthening and expansion. Furthermore, just the existence of climate finance can speed the establishment and higher coverage of social protection systems.


Q&A Session

The Q&A session started with questions on the main challenges of integrating social protection objectives with climate change adaptation and mitigation. Lastly, the audience asked Sengupta a question about poverty measures and the fact that they tend to not incorporate the socio-economic impacts of climate change. Watch the full Q&A Session here.

Social Protection Building Blocks: 
  • Policy
  • Programme design
Social Protection Approaches: 
  • Adaptive social protection
  • Shock-responsive social protection
  • Social protection systems
Cross-Cutting Areas: 
  • Climate change
  • East Asia & Pacific
The views presented here are the author's and not socialprotection.org's