Date of Award

Spring 5-23-2021

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Public Administration


McPeak, John


climate change, climate change adaptation, food security, gender, social capital, social safety nets

Subject Categories

Environmental Policy | Public Affairs, Public Policy and Public Administration | Social and Behavioral Sciences


Climate change is one of the defining challenges of the present era, bringing new risks and exacerbating existing vulnerabilities across the world. While there is a broad recognition that solutions around climate change will require coordination and support across borders and governments, a large body of scholarship has focused on the local-level realities of climate change and the disproportionate impacts on the most vulnerable populations. The climate vulnerable poor do not have the privilege of waiting for global policy and commitment to emission reduction targets. They need planned and proactive adaptation support to build resilience to the changing climate and to address the threat on their livelihoods. However, the conditions that render populations vulnerable are the same factors that constrain their ability to adapt to climate change through autonomous actions. Acknowledging the need for pro-poor support, there is an increased focus on funding and supporting climate action and adaptation. In this dissertation, I evaluate both government and development practitioners' interventions to help vulnerable populations adapt to the changing climate. More specifically, I evaluate a bottom-up community driven approach to climate change adaptation funded by the United Kingdom Department for International Development in Senegal and Mali, and a social safety net program implemented at a national scale in Ethiopia.

In the first chapter, I evaluate the Decentralized Climate Funds (DCF) project in Senegal and Mali. DCF aims to support locally led climate change adaptation, encouraging participatory processes at the community level to identify and prioritize public goods investments in adaptation. This chapter explores the impacts of the DCF project on household-level social capital, one of the goals of the project and a necessary condition for strengthening household's overall adaptive capacity. I take advantage of a unique panel dataset in Mali and Senegal that was gathered from surveys conducted through the four years of the project. I use propensity score matching to compare treatment and control households on a broad range of household characteristics and social capital measures. Further, I leverage the household panel data collected before and after the first cycle of the project to analyze whether changes in the social capital measures can be attributed to DCF through a difference-in-differences approach, controlling for time-invariant unobservables. The results suggest that the DCF project led to increases in household level social capital. The findings indicate that receiving funding through the project increased the likelihood of participating in collective action and providing help to other community members in Mali, with mixed results in Senegal.

In the second chapter, I further examine the results from the first chapter by conducting a qualitative study to gain insight into who benefits from a bottom-up, community driven project. I draw on semi-structured interviews and focus group discussions to explore the involvement and inclusion of women in participatory spaces in community-based adaptation, using the DCF pilot project in Senegal as a case study. The analysis and findings demonstrate that women's participation in decision-making about community adaptation and development varies in levels and depends on a complex, interlinked set of factors across community, household, and individual levels. The findings suggest that the participatory approach to adaptation only encouraged active and empowered participation of women in sites where there was an existing precedent for women's participation, encouraged by social capital and networks, recognition of women's role in income generation, and favorable intrahousehold power dynamics. The chapter concludes that even gender aware community-based adaptation initiatives struggle to engage with issues of unequal power relations, failing to ensure that women's voices are actively considered and included in community decisions.

In my final chapter, I use panel data from the 2011 to 2015 Ethiopia Socioeconomic Survey to evaluate whether low-income households, when faced with a positive income shock through the public works or direct support components of the Productive Safety Net Programme (PSNP), feel more food secure and improve the quality of their household's food consumption. I utilize propensity score matching and difference-in-differences estimation to evaluate whether the beneficiaries of the program are benefiting relative to non-beneficiaries who have similar socio-economic characteristics. I find that that being a beneficiary of the PSNP has different effects on a household's food security depending on the type of cash transfer. For those participating in the public works component of the program, PSNP increased the likelihood of households reporting that they do not have sufficient food to meet their household's needs through the year. For the direct support component, the results suggest that recipients don't experience a statistically significant change in their food security outcomes relative to those who did not receive PSNP. However, for both components, if PSNP payments were coupled with agricultural extension services, households realized a statistically significant increase in the number of unique food groups consumed. The contradictory findings that indicate that PSNP public works recipients are more likely to report food insecurity suggests that there may be concerns of biased strategic reporting to remain in the program. The chapter concludes that the program may not be sufficient by itself to benefit participants and help shift them out of food insecurity.


Open Access