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Bridging the gap between policy and practice: Implementation of climate change adaptation measures in Quito

The impacts of climate change are evident and that is the reason why governments at different levels have been framing policies (from local to global) in order to tackle them. However, some policies adopt a top-down approach and when it comes to implementation they face rejection, mainly due to lack of information or lack of coordination among different actors.

In this case we present an example of how different actors (public, private, communities, scientists) were able to find a common “language” and reach agreement on what the impacts of climate change were in rural areas of the Quito metropolitan district as well as the best options for adapting to these impacts while helping the communities to transition to a low-carbon, climate-resilient future.

The changes in climate in the district of Quito have been evident for the last 10 years. The district has experienced increased temperatures, increases in rainfall, droughts and floods, landslides and forest fires. Several studies show that temperatures in the area will increase by 2.5°C by 2050.

Since 1992, the municipality has framed several policies in order to facilitate territorial and environmental management; these include climate change as an important factor. Through the Climate Change Strategy, the municipality has initiated a planning process to build resilience to climate change that focuses on mitigation and adaptation. Health, ecosystems and biodiversity are some of the strategic sectors identified as priorities to assess how they interact with climate change. However, lack of data and systematic research in certain areas makes it difficult to develop strategies for the short term (next five years) and long term.

In this context, and in order to contribute to accurate data generation on the level of vulnerability of the District of Quito, the Department of Environment of the municipality and Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN) prepared a study titled: Metropolitan District of Quito: Integrated analysis of threats related to climate change, natural and socio-economic aspects. Based on this study, a new project was developed on “Climate change governance model for Quito Metropolitan District (QMD) and implementation of pilot adaption measures”.

The objectives of this project are to validate the concepts, generate technical and methodological information and make this available to policy makers in order to contribute to the municipal policies that seek the creation of a resilient city. In addition the project will  pilot the implementation of adaptation measures for climate change that can later be extrapolated to other areas.

The implemented adaptation measures addressed, on the one hand, sustainable food production, water management, agricultural supply chains and community engagement through work with local farmers and, on the other hand, an agro-forestry nursery was set up, which aims to restore native tree and plant species and vegetation cover to prevent further erosion and landslides. The measures implemented were the following:

  1. Sustainable agriculture and improvement of irrigation systems in three parishes of DMQ (Perucho, Chavez Pamba and San José de Minas).

This measure was designed based on the climatic problems affecting productive activities. The objective was to improve local production systems. For the three integrated model farms, the following activities were carried out: irrigation systems (for efficient water use); agroforestry and silvicultural systems (for proper introduction of fruit and forest trees on farms associated with minor crops and cattle); organic gardens and small animals (to promote food security).

  1. Restoration with native species, with emphasis on areas of ecological importance and improvement of forest nursery.

With this measure, two areas that supply water to two villages in the parish of Perucho and which had been degraded by agricultural activities were restored. To make this measure sustainable, the forestry nursery located in the parish of San José de Minas was strengthened, allowing it to work on restoration activities with students for 15 years.

As stated by CDKN: “In association with this initiative, farmers and students have attended a combined practical and theoretical course, and have taken part in exchange trips to witness ‘best practice’ climate adaption projects. Project participants and their families say they now have the tools and knowledge to develop new responses to emerging climate challenges”. Additionally, the work with pilot sites raised the interest of other local actors who have contacted the municipality for technical advice and started activities in their territories. Moreover, the pilot sites are local learning spaces where the owners are responsible for sharing information related to climate change and implemented adaptation measures. The municipality of Quito will replicate this project in other parishes during the following years.

Among the conclusions derived from this project, the main one is that approaches and actions need to be developed on a smaller scale and validated by the community as a basis for local action plans. Policies and studies on a large scale should be strengthened and get feedback from local communities. This was particularly important because in the vulnerability study conducted for Quito, the scale of the study did not reflect completely the local reality. Consequently, some inaccuracies were generated in the results. This failure hindered implementers on the ground in designing concrete adaptation measures.

The empowerment of actors and inter-sectoral coordination are key for the proper implementation of the project. It is a constant challenge that requires political will, effort and perseverance, plus the development of innovative methodologies and joint coordination, which, in this case has contributed to the participatory integration of different actors.

The participatory nature and the positive impact of this project were some of the reasons why it was selected among the 500 best projects (from a total of 1,407 from 25 countries) in the Green Latin-American Awards, which publicly recognize the work of those who through their professional or personal labour contribute to the preservation of the environment in the region.