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Understanding POPClimate

The POPClimate community is the most important part of this platform and is integral to building the Manual. Conducting climate change and environmental analysis with census data will require techniques and methods to be developed. Researchers and practitioners attempting this analysis or just beginning to plan their work can ask questions, share answers, and contribute their experiences within POPClimate. Contributors with less experience can start by asking questions, while experts can begin by sharing their successes and hurdles they have faced. Your participation in POPClimate contributes to a body of knowledge around population dynamics and climate change adaptation that will benefit people globally.



The Manual Sections

These are the five broad content sections of the Manual. The Manual is be separated into content related to each of these sections.

  1. Methods: sets of steps to produce a relevant result, whether in data processing, analysis, visualization or application of these to policies and programs.
  2. Case studies: analyses of a particular place or set of places. These studies should be focused on climate or environmental vulnerability as related to climate geography and the characteristics of the people and places within exposed areas. These studies could be sectoral (i.e. water infrastructure) or cross-cutting (i.e. poverty, development, general vulnerability).
  3. Indicators: a variable or combination of variables that provide information on an underlying concept. We are particularly interested in indicators that can be created from a census and refer to relevant underlying concepts like exposure, adaptive capacity, human capital, social capital, for example.
  4. Visualizations: graphical representations of issues relevant to adaptation or vulnerability. Submissions will often be maps, but could also be graphs, charts, or tables of high/low adaptive capacity and high/low exposure, for example. Any example of representing data/information visually is relevant.
  5. Data sources: links to datasets that other members can obtain, descriptions of data used in a case study or methodology, or other discussion about specific datasets.

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The UNFPA's Population Dynamics and Climate Change Adaptation Manual

UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, has continually supported innovative uses of population data by member states to develop solutions for problems such as poverty, infant mortality, access to reproductive health, and HIV/AIDS. Recently, UNFPA has begun to integrate new population data with other data and methodologies designed to assess climate change vulnerability in selected member states. These population data can shed light on the vulnerability and risk populations face due to climate change impacts, providing information about housing and population from the country level to down to small enumerated areas. Some census data can be directly applied to environmental problems, such as water and sanitation, while other variables that describe the population, such as age, sex, and education, can provide proxies for sustainable development indicators. Vulnerability to climate change can be assessed by mapping census data and derived sustainable development indicators with environmental and hazard data for a region or city.

While entire countries, regions, and cities may experience increased incidences of floods, landslides, and extreme weather due to climate change, certain segments of their populations will be most vulnerable due to their age, sex, education, housing, and other population factors. For example, coastal areas and inland waterways will experience significantly more frequent and severe floods as a result of climate change. Floods represent a broad range of risks, such as exposure to sewage, drowning, and loss of housing. Flooding puts certain segments of the population at significantly higher risk than others and these populations can be characterized by variables such as age and gender. This illustrates the need for planners to be able to assess vulnerability with a range of population, infrastructure, and environmental datasets across flood-prone areas.

The most powerful way to identify and describe these vulnerable populations is by spatially analyzing census data with environmental and hazard data, defining new methodologies for performing these analyses. To date, these data and methods have been underutilized by planners preparing climate change adaptation strategies due to the expense of analysis tools, lack of knowledge about spatial analysis methods, and lack of awareness of how to account for environmental and natural hazards within enumerated areas.

Based on these new data, knowledge and methods, UNFPA is currently constructing a detailed manual to aid UNFPA’s partnering national statistical offices (NSOs) and others in the appropriate use of census data with respect to climate change vulnerability analysis and the creation of climate change adaptation strategies. This new climate change adaptation census manual has the potential to reshape the way NSOs gather and analyze census data as well as engage academics, research NGOs, and UN subject experts in creating new methods to assess vulnerability and develop alternative adaptation strategies.


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Climate change and the need for the Manual

Climate change is increasingly recognized as a major challenge facing households and communities, local and national governments, and international agencies and organizations. The earth’s climate has already been altered to an extent that mitigation, or efforts to reduce the concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, alone will be inadequate, and therefore adaptation, or responding to the impacts of climate change, is increasingly necessary. Budgets for adaptation are multiplying, programmes are expanding, and political infrastructure is being negotiated and implemented.

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Changes to census data

Despite their potential uses for environmental studies and climate change analysis, censuses have not been sufficiently exploited as key data sources. As the techniques and approaches to investigate the linkages between environmental changes and the socio-economic and demographic conditions of the population have expanded in recent years, the increased availability of census data at higher resolution can thus make a significant contribution. Censuses collect information on all households, which allows for the production of statistics for small areas that can then be analyzed for specific objectives using tailored methodologies. The 2010 Census round, which included significant build-up in the use of geographic information systems, can be one of the most important sources of data for environmental analysis and, particularly by helping in the identification of the populations vulnerable to environmental risks caused by climate change, thus providing better evidence base for adaptation policies. In order to allow for a more in-depth analysis of census data, the information must be processed for very small areas in such a way it can be directly linked to areas exposed to environmental risks.

By the end of January 2012, 77% of the countries had already conducted their 2010 round of census, meaning that 87% of the population of the world had been enumerated. Over the past 50 years, the United Nations (UN) has contributed in significant ways to the successful implementation of national censuses. The United Nations Statistical Division has coordinated the development of principles and standards. These are important and fundamental standards to ensure the quality and consistency of data across time and place. Among the key documents produced, the most relevant for this guide are the Principles and Recommendations for Population and Housing Census-Revision 2 (United Nations, 2008), the Handbook on Population and Housing Census Editing-revision 1 (United Nations, 2010) and the Handbook on Geospatial Infrastructure in Support of Census Activities (United Nations, 2009).

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) has provided significant support to countries in the census undertaking, mainly in the area of technical assistance. Today, most developing countries conducting a census receive some support from UNFPA.

Not only do almost all countries of the world undertake their own censuses, but these censuses are becoming more and more georeferenced. That is, some information on the location of each household is recorded by the census taker (in the census questionnaire) and that information is that reported in administrative units that can be rendered to show the boundaries of those units. The manner in which this information is recorded varies, as does the use of this information, other than to generate a comprehensive census count. While individual locations are never publicly revealed by census takers – since census taking upholds the principals of confidentiality – censuses combine locational information into a variety of reporting units. These units vary widely by country with some reporting or making available only the coarsest levels of aggregation – national boundaries and/or first-order subdivisions such as regions, provinces or states – but other make available the very finest units of aggregation necessary to maintain the confidentiality of census respondents such as enumeration areas (EA). These very fine units are sometimes called ‘building blocks’ (Champion and Hugo, 2003) because they can be nested to create a variety of coarser administrative units.

In the past 10-20 years, the spatial capacities of national censuses have improved dramatically. Nevertheless, there is huge variability in what is reported or available within and outside of countries to spatially render their censuses. One difficulty that sometimes arises when trying to map population data by small areas is the lack of digitalized maps, or the fact that when these digitized maps exist they may contain errors. That said, spatial information is imperative for adapting to and preparing for climate change related hazards, and few national censuses have put their censuses to use in this context either in format or by rendering the content relevant. Climate hazards – storm surges, cyclones, flooding, and drought, among others – will occur in specific localities and may disproportionately affect only some population subgroups. While these localities belong to larger administrative areas – such as states or provinces and, of course, countries – often these hazards are very limited in the geographic distribution. To be useful in this context, therefore, population data must also be available in very small geographic units in such a way that they allow for meaningful analysis. This is true regardless of whether persons live in a city or a village, though increasing emphasis should be given to the challenges of urban areas since that is where most future population growth is likely to occur (Montgomery 2008, UN 2009), and because the demographic characteristics of cities are not as well understood.

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