Climate games: how beans means adaptation

The ingredients for a climate game: a few dice, some red stones and  a handful of beans. With these simple tools, the Netherlands Red Cross team gave a great simulation yesterday of the choices smallholders face in a highly uncertain environment. “As climate scientists we realised that only spreading climate change models was not very useful to the people most affected. You need to inform people on what they can do to protect themselves from climate-related disasters. How can they deal with climate risks with incomplete information?” said Maarten van Aalst.

The Red Cross Climate Centre has trainted many development agencies and has even worked with members of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on climate games.

“It was interesting to see how scientists started to calculate risks and tried to include complex calculations in their decision making process” adds van Aalst.

At IFAD’s first ever Global Staff Meeting, it was up to our staff to see if they could adapt to climate change and prevent for the impact of disasters.

How to play? In order to make the game not overly complex, rainfall variability is considered as the only manifestation of climate change. Our biggest worry is therefore that the village we live in, part of a larger region, faces floods. There are two ways to invest our resources (represented by beans):  in development work (resulting in economic development for our own village) or in disaster risk reduction (safeguarding assets in case our village faces floods). You roll two dice to find out whether you are hit by a flood, or if your village has been spared. In the beginning of the game you can invest in an early warning system. If you opt for this, you receive a transparent cup so the number on one dice is visible. If you don’t protect your region against floods and a flood hits, you face a great loss of beans. If all your beans, run out – the price your village pays is a crisis. 

The frustration caused by running out of beans is real! After 10 rounds, most villages did not have any more resources to invest and had to leave the future of their villages to blind chance.

The question of how donors allocate money also came up. Are they willing to invest in advance or only after a disaster? In the  case of the game, donor money only became available when it was already too late.

The game showed in a fun and interactive way that climate change adaptation is full of challenges and uncertainties. Even though the participants all knew that floods may have large impacts on their villages – they  wondered why invest in risk reduction, when they did not know if a disaster would actually hit their village. It was therefore quite attractive to spend money on short term benefits: you could only spend your money once. 

 “Although this game is a simplified version of reality, it sheds light on some of the factors that play out in our real-world project portfolio” said Gernot Laganda, Programme Coordinator for IFAD’s Adaptation for Smallholder Agriculture Programme (ASAP). “Some of our investments are carried away by floods, and project budgets need to be reconfigured to accommodate repair and restoration efforts. Being aware of climate risks before investing allows us to programme more resilient rural development projects.”

“Through ASAP, we introduce disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation measures into IFAD-supported development projects. These measures range from landscape-level interventions, such as watershed afforestation and the restoration of coastal greenbelts, to communal investments in early warning systems, more robust storage infrastructure and salt- or heat-tolerant crop varieties”.

The Red Cross game showed that decision making in relation to climate change and risk management, is quite a difficult task. Even when the will and knowledge to act is there: risks are complex to deal with in a world where money is scarce.