Coalition Spotlight: ND-GAIN

by Opportunity Nation   •  

This is a monthly feature that shines a light on the work of one of Opportunity Nation’s Coalition members. This month we’re highlighting ND-GAIN.

What are guiding principles for your work?
The University of Notre Dame Global Adaptation Initiative’s (ND-GAIN) mission is to enhance the world’s understanding of adaptation and facilitate public and private investments in vulnerable communities. ND-GAIN is part of the Notre Dame Environmental Change Initiative (ND-ECI), an interdisciplinary Strategic Research Initiative focused on “Science Serving Society.”

ND-GAIN is driven by this presiding principle: striving to translate robust research into action that improves the well-being of humans and their environment now and into the future. ND-GAIN’s Country Index and Urban Adaptation Assessment (UAA) demonstrate this commitment to improving lives and livelihoods by having vulnerable populations at the heart of their implementation. Climate change is ending lives and disrupting livelihoods across the globe, but there is great opportunity to build more resilient communities and mitigate this destruction. ND-GAIN strives to highlight these opportunities.

What are your current priorities?
Aiming to prompt actions that save lives and improve livelihoods, ND-GAIN focuses on sectors crucial to human well-being. As people, governments and corporations are increasingly impacted by droughts, superstorms, civil conflicts and other disasters, ND-GAIN helps solve problems by providing assets that transcend risks across sectors—including elements of water, health, food, infrastructure, security, governance, economy and social structures. ND-GAIN prioritizes meaningful collaborations throughout the public and private spheres to build dynamic platforms for change as well as implement data-driven efforts to address social inequities, both domestically and globally.

The world’s population is increasingly consolidating into cities, making urban areas particularly important for climate adaptation efforts. As economic hubs and centers of innovation with complex and crucial infrastructure, cities are particularly at risk to climate hazards, yet these local governments have a unique opportunity and responsibility to care for their communities yet often operate on tight budgets and carefully prioritize decisions. ND-GAIN is prioritizing urban adaptation with its newest research.

How are you engaging stakeholders and communities in your work?
As a free and open-source tool, the ND-GAIN Country Index continues to engage decision-makers from across the world, supporting dialogue around providing resources and assistance to the communities most at-risk. As a data-driven assessment, the Index also attracts academics, facilitating further research aimed at answering wide-ranging questions about vulnerable communities and involving a variety of stakeholders.

To ensure that we create an assessment that aligns with the needs of our stakeholders, we have engaged an Advisory Committee in every step of the UAA process. The committee, comprised of over 30 city officials, NGO leaders and equity experts, has provided feedback on the UAA’s indicator list, helped us refine the social equity component and will continue to provide input as we shape the end-user experience around the needs of our stakeholders.

Through the Urban Ambassadors Program, we are harnessing the resources of Notre Dame and the passion that students have for their hometowns.

What are you working on?
ND-GAIN’s flagship asset is the free and open-source Country Index, the world’s leading index showing how countries are prepared to handle global changes brought about by overcrowding, resource-constraints and climate disruption. It ranks countries based on their vulnerability and how ready they are to adapt, and prompts corporate and development leaders to manage risks and unlock real-world adaptation solutions to save lives and improve livelihoods.

The Urban Adaptation Assessment (UAA), funded by the Kresge Foundation, is a 24-month project that aims to create a vulnerability assessment of more than 270 U.S. cities with populations over 100,000. Based on a set of indicators, the UAA will provide data and interpretation on the vulnerability of U.S. cities to the climate change hazards of extreme heat, cold, flooding, drought and coastal flooding and the cities’ readiness to adapt.

The UAA will also include sub-city level data to explore the spatial distribution of adaptive resources and frontline populations, helping to highlight adaptation options for all residents. The UAA is intended to spark conversation around equitable adaptation and better inform municipal government officials, community leaders, residents and the private sector about adaptation actions in cities.

ND-GAIN recently piloted its Urban Adaptation Ambassador Program in January 2017, working with five undergraduate students who are conducting research and outreach in their hometowns across the nation, currently in: Atlanta, GA; Boston, MA; Cleveland, OH; Grand Rapids, MI and Irvine, CA. The purpose of this program is to educate each city about the need for climate adaptation in a way that is specifically applicable to its citizens, while also providing the ND-GAIN team with insight about the needs and concerns in particular cities. Our current ambassadors come from diverse disciplines, including: anthropology, economics, energy studies, engineering, environmental science, political science, sustainability and Spanish language studies.

What is something you wish more people knew about your organization and its work?
ND-GAIN promotes adaptation by identifying the places most vulnerable to climate hazards and identifying real-world solutions. Our accessibility encourages interaction with broad audiences, sparking adaptation action and dialogue on the level of country and city governments, corporations and community members.

Zeroing in on the UAA, many frameworks exist to measure vulnerability to the changing climate at the city level. However, current literature lacks assessment of cities’ capacity to take on adaptation action and to reduce losses and damages arising from climate hazards. With a focus on positive action, the UAA takes the vulnerability assessment a step further, emphasizing opportunity by examining actionable indicators and helping cities prioritize adaptation efforts.

What are some recent collaborations or partnerships that you’re most excited about?
Through the development of the UAA, we have been engaged in a number of collaborative efforts with Headwater Economics, C40, Carbon Disclosure Project, Community Systems Foundation and many more to share and align resources, catalyze forward thinking and build out our collective networks. We are very excited to continue to explore these collaborations in hopes of creating positive and lasting change.

What’s the best way people can find out more about your work and follow your progress?
More information on ND-GAIN’s Country Index and the UAA can be found on our website and by subscribing to our newsletter. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook for more current updates and check out our Global Adaptation YouTube Channel!

If you’re a part of the Opportunity Nation Coalition and you’d like to be a part of our Coalition Spotlight, please contact Juanita Tolliver.

Opportunity Nation Opportunity Nation is a bipartisan, national campaign comprised of more than 350 cross-sector organizations working together to expand economic mobility and close the opportunity gap in America. Opportunity Nation envisions the United States as a nation where everyone – regardless of where they were born – has equal access to opportunity, economic mobility, and success at all stages of life.

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