In April, Jeni and I traveled to Haramaya University, in the dry eastern Ethiopian highlands. Haramaya’s College of Law invited us to present on the work of Three Degrees, and organized a Saturday climate justice workshop. Over 100 people attended, joining us for our talk and the conversation—the first of its kind in the area—that followed for hours afterward.

Many participants in the Saturday workshop challenged us to convince them how adaptation fits into a climate justice agenda, especially when adaptation enables continuance of the status quo by rich developed countries emitting carbon dioxide with little to no consequence at home. Yes, that is true, and that is one primary reason why mitigation is so critically important.

Except that some level of climate change and its impacts is already unavoidable. So think of adaptation in a slightly different way: When trying to cure a disease that may be incurable, isn’t it irresponsible to neglect those suffering from the disease while others seek to find a cure? (Thanks to Andrew Kenefick for the analogy.) Given that in this analogy, the “disease” (climate change) is caused by developed countries, these same developed countries should be held responsible to fund adaptation—in addition to foreign aid for development—in climate-impacted communities around the world suffering climate-related damages.

Adaptation strategies can help manage unavoidable climate impacts on the region. And unlike with mitigation policy, which must be committed to via a binding international legal agreement, adaptation policy can begin now, be developed locally (with funding and appropriate support from the developed world), and must be mainstreamed into development policies abroad. In this way, adaptation can be seen as an opportunity to not only manage climate risks. But also, if it’s done right, is rights-based, and decision-making authority is driven from the bottom up at the local/regional levels, adaptation can be another means of accommodating peoples’ rights and aspirations for the future. That’s a big “if”. But that’s what Three Degrees is all about.

During our visit, we attended a government-sponsored meeting on the controversial Grand Millenium dam, which upon construction would become the 10th largest dam in the world; walked across the ploughed lake bed of dried-up Lake Haramaya, formerly a 9-mile-wide, 25-foot-deep lake that has completely receded over the last few decades; visited communities that live along the former lake who farm the lakebed; visited hilltop communities wealthy from chat, the mildly narcotic stimulant that comprises one of Ethiopia’s main export crops (and which is extremely water intensive to grow); and met with several faculty of the university to discuss ways to establish a Three Degrees satellite project based at Haramaya University.