Understanding socio-ecological vulnerability to climatic change through a trajectories of change approach: A case study from an Indigenous community in Panama

2019 May 13

Li, A. and Ford, J.D. (2019). Understanding socio-ecological vulnerability to climate change through a trajectories of change approach: A case study from an Indigenous community in Panama. Weather, Climate and Society, article online.


This paper identifies and characterizes vulnerability to climatic change in the Ngöbe-Buglé Indigenous community of Playitas, Panama, using a trajectories of change approach. Playitas is a community composed of swidden forest farmers that is undergoing rapid rates of change due to demographic shifts, regional development, and climate change. Working in collaboration with a community organization, various methods were used to identify and characterize livelihoods, social-ecological dynamics, environmental change, and behavioral responses to change, with the aim of informing future planning in the community. Qualitative methods included semi-structured interviews (n=26), community workshops, and participant observation. Causal-loop diagrams based on field data and the perceptions of community members were created to model trajectories of change. The research reveals that change is driven by both internal and external factors and the responses of community members create both reinforcing and balancing feedback loops that overall generate increased stress in agricultural systems, social structures, and environmental components. While community members historically relied on social relationships, Indigenous knowledge, and remoteness as sources of resilience to external disturbances, climate change is acting as a ‘multiplier’ of their existing vulnerabilities, undermining their capacity to adapt to current and future climatic changes.

Turning science on its head: putting Indigenous knowledge first in climate change research

2019 May 13

Ford, J.D. (2019) Turning science on its head – putting Indigenous knowledge first in climate change research. Nature Climate Change – Behind the Paper: article online.


“Can we trust Indigenous knowledge?”

It’s a question I am often asked by my natural science colleagues when reviewing evidence of climate change and the impacts it’s having.

“It’s just anecdotal, right?”

Actually …. no, it’s a complex and detailed body of knowledge acquired through repeated observation, experience, and reflection accumulated over generations.

“But we can’t trust it to the same degree as science.”

Well, if you go to the Arctic and have the opportunity to travel on the sea ice, who would you rather go with, an elder well-respected for their Indigenous knowledge or a scientist with multiple publications in Nature? When put this way, and ‘trust’ suddenly comes down to personal safety, people have a lot more faith in Indigenous knowledge!


Angus presents at ‘A Hostile Climate’ Conference

2019 April 8

On the 8th April, Angus presented the progress of his PhD project (Tooniktoyok) at the University of Leeds’ A Hostile Climate Conference. Along with a number of other presenters in Panel 3, Angus was able to provide an overview of the conceptual and methodological basis for his work, and disseminated some preliminary results. These included an up-to-date map of the project’s real-time vulnerability tracking component.














Angus will return to his study area at the end of April to collect further data on the economic component of the study. For more on Tooniktoyok, please see the project webpage on the University of Leeds’ website.

Adaptation financing for projects focused on food systems through the UNFCCC

2019 March 23

Conveska, A., Ford, J.D., Lesnikowski, A. and Harper, S. (2019). Adaptation financing for projects focused on food systems through the UNFCCCClimate Policy19(1), pp. 43-58.

Investments in adaptation are required to reduce vulnerability and strengthen the resilience of food systems to the impacts of climate change. For low-income nations, international financing plays a central role in supporting adaptation. In this article, we document and examine adaptation projects targeting food systems financed through funding bodies of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). We find that between 2004 and 2015, 3% (n = 96) of adaptation projects supported through the UNFCCC explicitly focused on the production, processing, distribution, preparation and/or consumption of food, with US$546 m mobilized through funding bodies directly and US$1.44bn through co-financing. Agriculture is the most common sector supported, with extreme weather events the primary climate change-related impact motivating nations to apply for adaptation financing. The majority of actions are documented to adapt the food production component of food systems, with limited focus within projects on the full range of food system vulnerability and the implications on food security.

Changing access to ice, land and water in Arctic communities

2019 March 19

Ford, J.D., Clark, D., Pearce, T., Berrang-Ford, L., Copland, L., Dawson, J., New, M. and Harper, S.L. (2019). Changing access to ice, land and water in Arctic communitiesNature Climate Change, article online.


Arctic climate change has the potential to affect access to semi-permanent trails on land, water and sea ice, which are the main forms of transport for communities in many circumpolar regions. Focusing on Inuit Nunangat (the Inuit homeland in northern Canada), trail access models were developed drawing upon a participatory process that connects Indigenous knowledge and science. We identified general thresholds for weather and sea ice variables that define boundaries that determine trail access, then applied these thresholds to instrumental data on weather and sea ice conditions to model daily trail accessibility from 1985 to 2016 for 16 communities. We find that overall trail access has been minimally affected by >2 °C warming in the past three decades, increasing by 1.38–1.96 days, differing by trail type. Across models, the knowledge, equipment and risk tolerance of trail users were substantially more influential in determining trail access than changing climatic conditions.