Climate Change Adaptation Strategies for the State of Oaxaca, Mexico

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Vansant, Jerry

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Policy Question: What policy strategies should the government of the state of Oaxaca implement to adapt to climate change?

The Mexican government and the international community have identified climate change as one of the most difficult challenges of the century. This is especially true for developing countries and their poor populations, since climate change impacts will be a constant threat to achieve international and national development goals. Although climate change mitigation strategies are essential to reduce these impacts in the future, the historic and present emissions level will have impact in the short, medium, and long term. Therefore, adaptation strategies are critical to overcome these impacts and to be able to achieve development.

The World Bank in Mexico, through the Latin America and Caribbean Regional Environmental Unit, is working with the Mexican federal and state governments to develop climate change adaptation plans. Together with the World Bank, the government of the state of Oaxaca is creating a climate change adaptation plan that will be an instrument to face the challenges that climate change will have in the state. As part of that project, this policy paper provides a broad perspective of climate change impacts for the state of Oaxaca, with a specific focus on problems for urban areas. It provides recommendations on different adaptation measures that should be included in the state’s adaptation plan, all of which can be applied for the state’s urban areas.

The first part of this policy paper includes an analysis of the different problems that the state of Oaxaca will have as a consequence of climate change. After defining the problem, the following section presents a set of criteria which where considered in defining the alternatives. The analysis section focuses on weighing the alternatives against the criteria, which sets the ground for the final recommendations.

Problem Definition

Oaxaca is one of the poorest states in Mexico. It lacks economic opportunities and education and human development remains behind compared to the rest of the country. People’s strong dependence on agriculture increases the possible threat of climate change on their livelihoods, but the lack of economic resources and investments in other sectors make it a state that has been left behind.

Urban areas in the state are growing. Population growth is a main cause, but the disorganized growth increases the challenges in urban areas. There is a lack of planning and future vision of the needs for organized and sustainable urban systems. The impacts of climate change in these areas, especially those lying in the coasts, are likely to be significant and in many cases devastating. Poor infrastructure in transportation and communications increases the threats of extreme weather events and climate related disasters. Likewise, the significant impacts on water availability, accessibility, and quality will have important impacts on health, economic activities, and social welfare.

One of the main challenges is the complexity of actors and stakeholders involved in the issue. While everyone will assume the consequences of climate change, the implementation of adaptation strategies is highly dependent on government policies, actions, and cooperation. International organizations have played, and will increasingly play, an important role in the application of these plans and on helping the governments lead toward climate change actions. The private sector, on the other hand, is key to encourage economic growth and support through investments, but its participation has been poor, especially in the state of Oaxaca.


The alternatives analyzed in this paper are divided in two groups: building adaptive capacity and delivering adaptation actions. The first group is based on generating the necessary information and conditions that will support climate change adaptation. These alternatives include increasing knowledge on the impacts of climate change, promoting education and understanding of the impacts, achieve economic development, encourage economic diversification, encourage multilevel governance and cooperation across actors, and promote insurance and financial mechanisms. The second group of alternatives is focused on reducing the vulnerability of the damages caused by climate change: investing in physical infrastructure, such as transportation or water, and improving urban planning.


The paper shows the important role that all of the alternatives play in achieving adaptation to climate change, and how all of these meet to a certain extent the main criteria: encouraging achievement of development goals, feasibility, cost-effectiveness, implementation in the near future, reducing long-term vulnerability, and scalability. Therefore, the recommendations include all of the alternatives but should be implemented in three different stages.

The first stage is can be implemented within the existing policy frameworks and will have a positive impact in achieving the rest of the alternatives. These alternatives include:

• Increase knowledge of the impacts of climate change at the local and state levels • Promote education and understanding of the impacts of climate change • Encourage multilevel governance and cooperation across actors in different sectors

The second stage includes strategies that need more investment from public and private sources and that are necessary in order to achieve the last stage. These include:

• Improve urban planning • Invest in physical infrastructure (transportation, water, and communications) • Promote insurance and financial mechanisms

For these strategies to be successful, the government needs to establish the necessary conditions, which can result from the improved cooperation between the private and public sectors, as well as a multilevel governance framework.

Investments in urban planning, physical infrastructure, and insurance and financial mechanisms can lead to more sustained economic development and diversification. Therefore, the last stage of alternatives includes both:

• Achieve economic development • Encourage economic diversification

Economic development and diversification are key strategies and play a very important role in climate change adaptation. Since both of the strategies are a consequence of education, human development, infrastructure, competitive urban spaces, and efficient governance, they should be seen as alternatives that will be developed throughout the process rather than addressing them independently in the far future.

All of the alternatives are applicable in urban areas in the state of Oaxaca. Improving knowledge on the local impacts that climate change will have on Oaxaca’s cities will allow for a more accurate design of policies and instruments for climate change adaptation. Community participation through education and communication is even more important in urban contexts, where there tends to be fragmentation between social groups and where the impacts of climate change are imbalanced for different population groups. Coordination between different levels of government is highly needed in cities; urban sprawl has increased the complexity of the cities’ jurisdictional structure and the daily interaction of different actors brings more complex challenges in the urban context.

Urban planning is becoming a priority for development and climate change. It should include investments in infrastructure for water service provision, transportation, and communications. Although this requires high investments and mobilization of financial resources, there are possible opportunities to access those resources. In this matter, the active participation of the World Bank plays a crucial role. The organization can invest in projects, but also act as intermediary with the private sector to attract more investments into the state.

The insurance market needs further development especially in Oaxaca. Designing good insurance mechanisms can increase private sector investments and participation, encouraging economic growth and development. In this case also, international financial institutions can play a vital role in designing and implementing these mechanisms and they can help the local and state governments create an inviting environment.

Finally, due to the socioeconomic conditions in Oaxaca, economic development and diversification become a central issue regarding climate change adaptation. In the case of urban areas, economic diversification becomes very important.. In the past years Oaxaca has attracted attention for its natural resources and cultural richness and has gained national and international notice. This is an important opportunity to foster entrepreneurship that promotes social welfare and environmental sustainability, to put Oaxaca as a national example. This can help achieve economic growth and development, but also increase awareness on the needs to preserve natural resources and therefore adapt to and mitigate climate change.

Active participation and cooperation between the local, state, and national governments is necessary to implement every strategy. The role of the World Bank is significant and should be considered as such in the implementation process. The World Bank has an important position for advising governments on the design of policies, but also to set the stage for active private sector participation. In designing the policies, the World Bank can act as an intermediary between the different levels of government to ensure that there is cooperation and that the application of the strategies is consistent. Likewise, the World Bank’s participation designing and investing in specific projects, like transportation or water infrastructure, can promote private sector’s participation because they can be confident that the there is more likely to be clear spending and accountability for each of the projects.

Development is a key issue for governments and a constant and important challenge. Climate change and its consequences will make this challenge even more complicated, especially in places where there is a lack of economic development or capacity building. Oaxaca already has several challenges regarding development, but it is also a place that is highly vulnerable to climate change. Therefore, the application of clear and well-designed adaptation measures is necessary to reduce the threats of climate change for the people, the ecosystems, and the economy. These strategies should be a priority for the government and development agencies working in the state, so as to increase people’s well-being and achieve local, national, and international development goals.





Muñoz, Sofia (2012). Climate Change Adaptation Strategies for the State of Oaxaca, Mexico. Master's project, Duke University. Retrieved from

Dukes student scholarship is made available to the public using a Creative Commons Attribution / Non-commercial / No derivative (CC-BY-NC-ND) license.