Indonesia Man on Boat
© Pexel/Ariful Haque

Social protection as a tool to address climate change and sustainable development

2020 Summer Academy – Online Version

Social protection systems are established in many countries around the world and can protect people against various risks. However, not all population groups benefit equally from them. Further, COVID-19 has shown us how vulnerable societies and their protection systems can be. In the digital 2020 Summer Academy, we examined how social protection is set up worldwide, who it reaches and who it does not reach. And above all, how it can be used to support adaptation strategies to climate change.

What is social protection?

Social protection systems are diverse and influence large areas of our everyday life. Sometimes without us actively noticing. Different organisations define the term differently. However, a common understanding of "traditional" social protection can be seen: it is intended to work in the sectors of social insurance, social assistance and labour market interventions. This can be done through unemployment programmes, healthcare systems, pension systems and much more. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimates that about 20% of the world's population is currently adequately protected through SP programmes. This means that these people can rely on unemployment benefits in case of unemployment, that they will be supported in case of a e.g. disaster or shock and that they are assisted with their reintegration into the labour market if needed. However, this is not true for about 55% of the world population that does not have even a protection minimum. And this is despite the fact that the United Nations call a basic provision through SP programmes a basic right of every human being. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us that often money has been pumped additionally into these systems on various fronts. Sometimes massively, by national governments. The aim was and is to cushion the worst effects of the pandemic. This fact shows that there is room for improvement and SP can be further developed. 
SP is a set of policies and programs designed to reduce poverty and vulnerability by promoting efficient labour markets, diminishing people’s exposure to risks, and enhancing their capacity to protect themselves against hazards and interruption/loss of income.
Asian Development Bank

How is social protection linked to climate change?

So far, there has been too little discussion globally about the extent to which social protection can also be used to support adaptation strategies to climate change- despite the fact that measures could often go hand in hand. And it is obvious that the increasing consequences of the climate crisis make people more vulnerable to livelihood risks, health risks, income loss and much more. Most of these issues also play an important role in the development of social protection instruments. During the Academy, we therefore raised the question how these two strands of action can be better combined. The UN Climate Change secretariat UNFCCC is also trying to better integrate social protection into National Adaptation Plan guidelines, for example.
Social Protection Framework
Source: Matthias Garschagen, LMU Munich (2020), based on ADB (2012)

The role of Adaptive Social Protection

Adaptive Social Protection
© Sönke Kreft, MCII (2020)
Adaptive Social Protection
Source: Sönke Kreft, MCII (2020)

One way of connecting these worlds is the Adaptive Social Protection approach. Soenke Kreft, Managing Director of the Munich Climate Insurance Initiative (MCII), emphasises: „Adaptive Social Protection aims at assuring and promoting people’s resilience in the face of multiple covariant risks induced by natural and climate hazards, through integrating social protection, climate change adaptation and disaster risk management.”

It is therefore necessary to filter out the instruments that are relevant in the areas of adaptation to climate change, disaster risk management and social protection (see chart). We have heard many interesting presentations on this interface, all of which can be found in the Academy's download area:
Summer Academy Download Center

Researcher and Academy presenter Terry Cannon stated in his speech that there will be about 1 billion people worldwide who will need (state) support in the form of Adaptive Social Protection. Based on already existing adaptation programmes, he assumes a necessary investment of 500 USD per person per year, which would require USD 500 billion in sum. Developing and emerging countries will need a large part of these amounts. At the same time, the international community has agreed in the Loss and Damage Programme of the World Climate Conferences (Conferences of the Parties, COP) to make available USD 100 billion per year from 2020 on. This amount will by far not be reached given the promises of different states. And even if the goal was reached, a huge financing gap would remain, which has to be closed by loans. The result is that developing and emerging countries will become even more dependent on strong donors. The question therefore arises whether the commitments made so far at the climate conferences are sufficient? Probably not. There is still a long road of debates and negotiations ahead of us in the future.

Who are important drivers of adaptive social protection?

When thinking of social protection, one often sees national governments as being responsible first of all. However, it often happens that governments are unable to meet their responsibilities for various reasons: unstable political environments, lack of resources, lack of infrastructure, poorly equipped institutions or simply lack of knowledge. In many regions of the world other actors then step in to fill this protection gap. These are often the people at risk themselves, who take protective measures. Also, often employers, NGOs, development aid organisations or international institutions such as the United Nations. The role of the private sector is perceived as increasingly important, too. Insurance has always played an important role in social protection. But the private sector can also become active in many other ways. For example, participants of the Academy reported on their case studies from Vietnam and Indonesia, where small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in particular are becoming increasingly important in their function as "patrons" of their workers. One example: they participate in flood protection measures (construction of a dike) to protect local markets. This is a necessary adaptation strategy because climate change is causing increasingly severe flooding in many regions of the world. At the same time it is a very common Disaster Risk Managing (DRM) tool. And these measures secure jobs and income, which in turn often strongly contributes to social protection.

AtmaConnect, an NGO from Indonesia, represented by Silvia Yulianti during the Academy, presented its work. The NGO plays an important role in adaptive social protection in its country. They have developed an app called "AtmaGo", which is used by over 6 million users in Indonesia. With this app users can take part in DRM trainings. They can inform themselves about diseases and use it as an early warning system in case of imminent disasters. Due to its enormous reach – especially among vulnerable minorities – AtmaConnect can also warn where official agencies may not be able to reach. With its repeated training, risk management functions and extremely efficient networking, the NGO is able to prevent around USD 100 million in damage caused by disasters each year and avoid around USD 4.6 million in health costs. An immense contribution to the stabilisation of the public social protection programme.

What can we learn from COVID-19 when tackling climate change?

COVID-19 struck hard and relatively suddenly, worldwide. Initially with rapidly growing infections and high death rates. What is special compared to other threats is that it is relatively irrelevant for the virus whether it strikes poor, rich, southern, northern, industrialised or agricultural countries. All over the world, disastrous consequences are being seen. Almost all countries affected have then taken countermeasures – some faster, some slower. A few governments initially denied the seriousness of the situation, but were then overwhelmed by reality, so that today the fight against corona is being waged all over the world. Why does this work in this context but not with respect to the climate crisis? This is another question we investigated at the Academy. The climate crisis mostly affects poor countries, and here again, it tends to affect vulnerable people. At the same time, these are the groups that usually have the least power to change things at global level. This may be one explanation for the world's lethargy in combating the climate crisis. But perhaps COVID-19 proves that it is possible to change things almost overnight. This leads to cuts in many areas, but it is essential for the big picture, for the protection of people on earth and the earth itself. With COVID-19, a large majority across all borders has recognised the need to act. This is the momentum we must take on board for solving the climate crisis.
Christian Barthelt, October 2020

About the 2020 Summer Academy

The 2020 Summer Academy was jointly organised by UNU-EHS, LMU Munich, MCII and the Munich Re Foundation in close partnership with UNFCCC. For some events we were also able to win GIZ Indonesia and BAPENNAS, Indonesia. A total of around 500 people took part directly in the seven public webinars, and around 700 followed the events on live streams in social media.