Disclaimer: This is an example of a student written essay.
Click here for sample essays written by our professional writers.

Any scientific information contained within this essay should not be treated as fact, this content is to be used for educational purposes only and may contain factual inaccuracies or be out of date.

Effectiveness Of Bottom Up And Top Down Environmental Sciences Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Environmental Sciences
Wordcount: 3928 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

Reference this

Urban poor communities are becoming increasingly vulnerable to the effects of climate. This is due to many reasons, such as densely populated cities and poor housing structure. There are many ways to reduce the vulnerabilities of the urban poor to climate change. One of the key ways to deal with the impacts of climate change and thus increase resilience to climate change, is to adapt to these changes. This essay will focus on adaptation rather than mitigation, to enable a more detailed analysis of top-down verses bottom-up approaches. This is not to say that mitigation is not important or that adaptation should replace mitigation strategies. Rather that adaption is solely explored to better analyse which approach is best. This can be achieved either through bottom-up approaches or top-down strategies. Top-down usually refers to management at the city and national level such as municipal authorities. Bottom-up approaches are self-protection efforts made by households and communities themselves, based on local knowledge (O’Brien et al 2006). However, there is no clear definition and often it can be uncertain where top-down starts and bottom-up begins.

Get Help With Your Essay

If you need assistance with writing your essay, our professional essay writing service is here to help!

Essay Writing Service

The aim of the essay is to evaluate whether a top-down or bottom-up approach is more effective to deal with the impacts of climate change on urban poor communities. In order to achieve this aim, the essay will be split into three main parts: part one will outline arguments that a top-down approach is most effective for dealing with the impacts of climate change, looking at approaches from within disaster risk reduction. However the second part will challenge this and explore debates that a bottom-up approach is more successful, through asset-based adaptation. On the other hand, the third part will argue that there is a need for a more participatory approach that incorporates local communities within top-down strategies, referred to as ‘collaborative planning’ (Healy .

The analysis will be supported by examples from current and past practices in the Global South. The conclusions reached are…

Part one: top-down

“The adverse effects of climate change are already evident…and developing countries are [the] most vulnerable.”

(World Bank 2003)

Urban settlements in the developing world are beginning to face increasingly severe weather events as a result of climate change. Urban poor communities will be increasingly forced to cope with higher incidents of flooding, air and water pollution, and heat stress. Cities in developing countries are particularly at risk due to their high density populations, expansive informal settlements, poor land management and lack of infrastructure, such as adequate drainage channels (Tanner et al 2008). Thus, urban poor communities are one of the most vulnerable to the changes in climate. Bohle et al (1995) argues that to reduce vulnerability there needs be a reduction in the exposure of potentially harmful effects of climate change, an increased ability to cope with disasters and the process of recovery needs to be strengthened (Wilbanks and Kates 1999).

One of the key ways of achieving all three of these aspects to reduce vulnerability is to adapt to the changes in climate and reduce the risk of disaster. This can be done through top-down approaches at the city or national level. In general, efforts to improve the ability of whole populations to recover from disasters are usually tackled through public policy intervention at the national scale. Thus, top-down approaches are needed to direct and implement adaptation strategies to increase resilience (Adger et al 2005b). The concept of resilience refers to the ability to persist and adapt in the face of climate shocks and stresses (Tanner et al 2008). This can be achieved through disaster risk reduction (DRR) which increases the resilience of local communities through reducing the vulnerability of people and property, better land management practices and improvement in preparedness. DRR includes hazard reduction, such as improving drainage, and preparedness for response and recovery such as insurance schemes. DRR involves building response capacity and managing climate risk (Sutanta et al 2008).

National governments take the lead in identifying the dangers to communities and in developing strategies to cope with, and adapt to, changing circumstances. One of the ways to deal with the impacts of climate change is through disaster risk management (DRM). DRM refers to both disaster risk reduction (prevention, preparedness and mitigation) and humanitarian and development action (emergency response, relief and reconstruction). For example Tanner et al (2008) states that in Bikol region in the Philippines, there was access to safe land which reduces the disaster risk and increases the resilience of poor communities to climate change. This can only be achieved through top-down processes as city and municipal governments in developing countries are usually primarily responsible for infrastructure and service provision that is essential for the reduction of vulnerability to many environmental hazards (Tanner et al 2008). For example, Dodman and Satterthwaite (2008) point out that actions in Durban, one of South Africa’s largest cities, illustrate how top-down initiatives can increase the resilience of the urban poor in cities. The municipality has incorporated climate change into long-term city planning, addressing the vulnerability of key sectors in coastal infrastructure and disaster management (DRR). Furthermore, early warning systems are essential to reduce the impact of disasters and these are developed from the top-down, increasing the resilience of the urban poor to climate change related disasters. For example the Ningbo government in China, have established early warning systems using high-tech instruments. Tanner et al (2008) states that in 2005, when typhoon Kanu hit Ningbo, the government was able to reduce damage to the city by taking action earlier and evacuating thousands of people avoiding thousands of casualties (Tanner et al 2008).

The vulnerability of the urban poor also depends on many factors that influence the amount of damage that a particular hazard can cause. There are different types of vulnerability, such as socio-economic fragility, which affect how resilient urban communities are to climate change (Cardona et al 2004). Assets held by individuals and households are influenced by external factors, such as government policies. Therefore, the efficiency of land administration and management can help build the adaptation capacity of poor people in urban areas. If land policies and management are simple and compatible with the urban poor, so the urban poor can access affordable land, then this will be one of the most effective ways to deal with the impacts of climate change (Moser et al 2010). Stern (2007) argues that to develop resilient cities there needs to be an improvement in urban planning and provision of public services and infrastructure, which can only be achieved from the top-down (O’Brien et al 2006). For example, in Indonesia, DRR has been integrated into spatial planning which has resulted in a reduction of vulnerability to natural hazards (Mitchell 2003).

Moser et al (2010) also identifies politico-legal vulnerability, such as a lack of tenure rights. A lack of tenure rights means that communities face a lack of services and infrastructure, increasing their vulnerability to disasters. This relates to climate change-related issues as it means inhabitants have weak incentives to increase the resilience of the housing structures and as mentioned above, often live in the most hazardous sites. This can only be solved from a top-down perspective as programmes to secure tenure are not possible without government support. Thus, sustained political support is needed, as well as adequate urban planning methods and a substantial commitment of financial and human resources, which all come from the top-down. Moser et al (2010:56) argues that “from a policy perspective clarifying tenure rights and developing coherent urban land policy frameworks is of the utmost importance for building resilience of the urban poor to negative climate change impacts”. This also provides long term solutions to the impacts of climate change (Dodmam et al 2010).

Linked to this, urban poor communities are vulnerable in that many live in extreme poverty. There are important linkages between urban poverty and vulnerability to disasters and climate change (Dodman and Satterthwaite 2008). Carraro et al (2007) argues for the importance of considering climate concerns in the development context. Thus, one of the most effective ways to deal with the impacts of climate change is to include adaptation and DRR within development goals, which can only be done from the top-down. Poverty eradication will increase the resilience of local communities to extreme climatic changes, while also addressing the underlying factors which may lead and/or have led to a disaster (Sutanta et al 2008). In Latin America, it has been common for some time to define disasters as ‘failed development’ (O’Brien et al 2006:70). As Schipper and Pelling (2006:29) argue, measures to mitigate the risk of disaster need to focus on reducing vulnerability within the context of development, thus “the most effective way of addressing the risks posed by climate change and disasters is to lessen the underlying factors causing vulnerability to these phenomena”. DRR is often given a low priority by national and international organisations and so for top-down strategies to be effective then measures to address climate change should be integrated with national development programmes (Wamsler 2009). Consequently, poverty reduction as well as adaptation from the top-down would be the one of the most effective ways to deal with the impacts of climate change (Stern et al 2007, Tearfund 2008).

However, the second part of the essay will go on to explore arguments that bottom-up approaches are needed.

Part two: Bottom-up

On the other hand, top-down responses are often only seen through the lens of disaster. DRR only responds to disasters and does not take other climate change related issues into account. This presents a very partial picture of predominant patterns of weather changes and the sources of resilience of local communities. This is a key flaw Moser et al (2010) identified that urban populations in Kenya and Nicaragua were increasingly experiencing smaller, micro-level severe weather problems. These problems are not considered ‘disasters’ by the major national institutions. Therefore, the adaptation needs of such communities are often ignored by national and international policy communities as the impacts are slow and incremental, but still have serious negative impacts for the majority of the world’s urban poor (Moser et al 2010). Dodman et al (2010) argue that DRR, driven from the top-down, alone is not effective to respond to climate change as it does not take into account the longer climatic changes. Thus community-based adaptation is an effective way to reduce the vulnerability of low-income groups. Bottom-up approaches are often seen as the most effective way to deal with the impacts of climate change because adaptation also responds to the slower changes in weather patterns.

Bottom-up approaches to increase the resilience of poor communities by reducing the risk of disaster and adapting to changes in climate at the community, household and individual level. Dodman et al (2010) describes how Federations in the Philippines have been successful in working towards community-led saving schemes to improve housing, and thus reduce the vulnerability to disasters. Improving communities’ capacity to deal with climate change through DRR will also improve their ability to cope with future hazards (Tearfund 2008). Furthermore, creating policies to help reduce the risk of disasters will also improve opportunities more generally (Wisner et al 2004).

Another way to increase resilience is to adapt assets such as housing to be more resilient to future weather events. One theoretical approach to respond to climate change is the asset adaptation framework. The framework focuses on asset vulnerability to climate change and identifies climate change adaptation from the bottom-up. These adaptations also work towards the slower changes in climate that affect the urban poor. Moser et al (2010) uses this framework to show how communities in Mombasa, Kenya and Estelí, Nicaragua are vulnerable to climate change in terms of individual assets such as human and social capital, and also in terms of household, small business and community assets such as financial and productive assets. Many poor communities in the Global South live in poorly constructed housing that is often self-built and unplanned, and thus provides little resilience to extreme weather events. Moreover, Yahya et al (2001) argue that in many developing countries, meeting government standards is impossible for many urban poor communities, forcing them to remain in self-built structures. This means urban poor communities often live in areas most at risk to natural hazards, such as flooding, because this is where either the land is cheapest or they live illegally.

Thus, adapting assets to climate change at the community level is effective for dealing with the impacts of climate change. As part of the asset-adaptation framework identified by Moser et al (2010), adapting assets is one of the keys ways to reduce the vulnerability of the poor from the bottom-up, as individual assets, such as housing, were considered the most important aspects to building resilience. “The key to the development of an asset-based adaptation framework therefore is the identification and analysis of the connection between vulnerability and the erosion of assets” (Moser et al 2010:8) Assets therefore have a role in increasing the adaptive capacity of the urban poor. The asset adaptation framework identifies strategies to adapt assets to climate change. These strategies aim to build resilience, protect assets during extreme weather and rebuild them after such events. Moser et al (2010) found a variety of responses to the increasing severity of local weather patterns. For example in the city of Mombasa, inhabitants dug water passages in case of flooding, while small business owners constructed concrete walls to protect against flooding. As extreme weather events increase in frequency and intensity then solidly constructed housing becoming increasingly important. In Mombasa, most of the bottom-up responses to weather events revolved around adapting housing to reduce damage that would be caused by future weather events. They also protect assets during extreme weather events, such as in Mombasa they place sandbags in the doorways of houses during floods to limit the amount of damage. Communities also rebuild after such events, to ensure assets are resilient to future disasters. For example inhabitants in Esteli, replanted trees and plants, to reduce flood damage, while those living in Mombasa accessed weather forecasters which informed people of the occurrence of severe weather. These strategies have proved successful in dealing with the impacts of climate change, as they reduce damage to assets and thus reduce the vulnerability of the urban poor to future extreme weather events. Dodman et al (2010) also stated that asset adaptation at the community level were effective. They used examples from the Philippines, where community-based action is used in post disaster reconstruction of temporary and permanent housing and relocation. These strategies are effective when dealing with many aspects of climate change. Adger et al (2005a) argue that the most effect level of governance is bottom-up approaches.

Find Out How UKEssays.com Can Help You!

Our academic experts are ready and waiting to assist with any writing project you may have. From simple essay plans, through to full dissertations, you can guarantee we have a service perfectly matched to your needs.

View our services

Rayner (2010) also argues that bottom-up strategies are best through improved adaptation to climate change. He argues that climate change policies should be designed and implemented at the lowest level. He also argues that approaches should focus on adaptation, which has the potential to bring real benefits to local communities. Adaptation is local in character and therefore a bottom-up approach.

Part three: both

On the contrary, Rayner (2010) also recognises that climate change is a multilevel governance problem. Therefore some aspects may need to be governed from the top down. However, it can be difficult to define which a top-down is and bottom-up approach and sometimes they overlap. Therefore, for policies to be most effective a combination of both should avoid confusion.

As Tanner et al (2008) point out municipal governments in developing countries often do not have adequate provisions in order to deal with increased climate hazards such as flood management. The financial capacity of these governments is weak and often the division of tasks between different levels of government remains unclear, leading to inefficiencies. Therefore, adaptation at the community level is effective, but it still needs the support from local governments. “The success of a strategy depends not on the scale but on how that action meets the objectives of adaptation, and how it affects the ability of others to meet their adaptation goals.” Thus, the most effective way to adapt to the changes in climate would be a collaboration of both approaches. Developing countries should draw upon what Healey (1997) refers to as ‘collaborative planning’, which is the theory that local communities should be more involved and enlightened in decision making. The urban poor are often excluded from deliberations because of the informal nature of their communities and tenure arrangements, which generally lead to a level of invisibility and lack of voice in relation to all formal planning processes (Moser et al 2008). Nawrotzki and Oluwagbuyi (2008) recommend that combining top-down and bottom-up approaches will increase the effectiveness of policies. Therefore, the best method to reduce the impacts of climate change should be led from the top-down, to address issues such as poverty and politico-legal vulnerability, but should also include the interests of local communities. Involvement of poor and marginalised groups in decision-making will ensure a city can improve the conditions for those living in informal settlements or living in exposed locations (Dessai et al 2001). This has been achieved in Kerala, India, where political consciousness and awareness of rights and responsibilities is high at every level, resulting in a high turnout at elections. Kerala also has neighbourhood groups to represent the poor, which consist of 20-40 people who meet once a week to discuss problems in their communities and seek solutions (Tanner et al 2008).

Schemes that work in isolation can often have negative impacts in the long term, and do not take into account wider effects and process. Dodmam et al (2010) points out that isolated activities in separate communities will be unable to meet broader goals without the support of local officials, and be unable to meet the adaptation needs of a large number of people (Hounsome and Iyer 2006). Combining governmental programs, NGO intervention and adaptation measures by local people to the problem of climate change will decrease the vulnerability of the urban poor (Nawrotzki and Oluwagbuyi 2008). A supportive legal system and local government is also important for supporting locally developed responses to achieve effective climate change adaptation (Dodman and Satterthwaite 2008, Satterthwaite et al. 2007). This will also help to strengthen antagonistic relationships between the urban poor and governments, as often adaptation activities may become perceived as a threat by informal settlers, and an excuse to evict them (Wilbanks and Kates 1999). In Mombasa, there is a lack of trust of governments outside agencies must gain the trust of local communities (Moser 2010, Bicknell et al 2009). Moser et al (2010) argues that if local communities are not involved then government policies will not be full informed as to what is best for the urban poor and may make their situation worse. Moreover, because changes in climate and an increase in extreme weather events will mostly negatively affect the urban poor, their participation in decision making is crucial for building resilience (Tanner et al 2008).

Nour (2011) states that in Egypt, there has been a shift to incorporate local communities in urban upgrading and development interventions, for instance, there has been a community-based maintenance of local drains. There has been a joint responsibility of government agencies, the community and the private sector for garbage collection and the improvement of the environment. Nour (2011) argues that without community participation, attempts to achieve sustainable results are bound to fail. This therefore improves from top-down perspectives which are externally imposed and expert oriented. Roy and Ganguly (2009) state that participatory planning has been a success in West Bengal since the 1970s and this form of planning result in local people feeling ownership of these plans. Furthermore, the Stern Report (Stern 2007) argues that effective adaptation at the community-level, would include deliberation about actions being decided by communities rather than being imposed from above. Therefore climate change adaptation should be in the form of multi-level governance (Bulkeley 2010).

Community based strategies are often in isolation from one another and there is no overarching authority controlling them.


the conclusions reached are that top-down strategies are ultimately necessary, but that these must incorporate local communities’ priorities

The conclusions reached are that a top-down approach that engages with local authorities and communities is the most effective. Top-down approaches need to also include support for local responses such as community-based adaptation. Local communities should be involved in higher decision making. Thus the most appropriate adaptation responses will often be multi-level responses. In effect, the diversity of climate change means that the most appropriate adaptation responses will often be multi-level responses. (Adger 2005: 924)

in the future there needs to be connected between responses at all levels.

DRR should involve a large array of stakeholders, including local communities, NGOs, local and national governments, scientists, school communities, faith groups, private sector institutions, etc.

Schipper and Pelling (2006). Disaster risk reduction is largely a task for local actors, albeit with support from national and international organisations, particularly in humanitarian action. efforts in Sri Lanka in response to the 2004 tsunami indicate that policymakers are not viewing the reconstruction phase as an opportunity to take into account the potential adverse effects of future climate change-induced sea-level rise in their plans,

Reducing vulnerability is a key aspect of reducing climate change risk. . In reality, national governments will take the lead


Cite This Work

To export a reference to this article please select a referencing stye below:

Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.

Related Services

View all

DMCA / Removal Request

If you are the original writer of this essay and no longer wish to have your work published on UKEssays.com then please: