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Treading Water While Sea Levels Rise

Rachel Kyte's picture
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At the UN climate talks that ended wearily on Saturday night in Warsaw, negotiators showed little appetite for making firm climate finance commitments or promising ambitious climate action. But they did succeed, again, in keeping hope alive for a 2015 agreement.

The final outcome was a broad framework agreement that outlines a system for pledging emissions cuts and a new mechanism to tackle loss and damage. There were new pledges and payments for reducing deforestation through REDD+ and for the Adaptation Fund, however the meeting did little more than avoid creating roadblocks on the road to a Paris agreement in 2015. In one of the few new financial commitments, the United Kingdom, Norway, and the United States together contributed $280 million to building sustainable landscapes through the BioCarbon Fund set up by the World Bank Group.

At the same time, COP19 was an increasingly emotional Conference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. The overture to this round of climate drama was provided by Typhoon Haiyan. Haiyan added, sadly, more to the mounting evidence of the costs of failure in tackling climate change. The language is inexorably moving towards one of solidarity, of justice. But for the moment, this framing is insufficient to prevent emission reduction commitments from moving backwards.

And yet again, as was the case in the climate conferences in Cancun, Durban, Doha, and now Warsaw, outside the official negotiations, there is growing pragmatic climate action driven by climate leaders from every walk of life.

The sense of urgency and opportunity is building, it just fails to translate into textual agreement.

On the passing of Wangari Maathai

Warren Evans's picture

Yale Club, New York City, 2002. Photo by Martin Rowe

I came to the World Bank in 2003 with 25 years developing country experience − but all in Asia. I knew that I needed to quickly become familiar with other parts of the world, particularly Africa. So I went on a 10-day immersion “course” to Kenya, led and managed by Professor Wangari Maathai’s daughter, Wanjira. 

I first met Prof. Maathai in one of her District villages − she was serving as a Member of Parliament and Vice Minister of Environment at the time. I was greeted at that first meeting the same way she greeted me in all subsequent meetings −with smiling eyes showing warmth and true joy in meeting me, and her embrace sending a signal of graceful strength.  Our friendship was quickly solidified when she asked me where I was from. Kansas, I had said − and she smiled and told me that she had gone to university and received her bachelor’s degree in biology from Kansas!

At that first meeting, she was surrounded by villagers who loved and honored her. I thought that I was going to see trees and hear about the way the Green Belt Movement engages women to replant degraded and denuded hillsides with indigenous tree seedlings which they raise in village nurseries. Of course that was one part of the day but the primary focus of the Professor was on helping the village deal with the struggle against HIV-AIDS.

She had arranged for the construction of a small shelter for villagers suffering from the disease, and perhaps more importantly, was teaching them to grow nutritious food in the adjacent garden that would help give strength to those who could still lead a reasonably productive life. It was a community effort in an already-impoverished community that was hard hit by HIV-AIDS. Her love for the people and theirs in return was evident at every turn and in every place where initiatives were underway to improve the quality of the lives of the villagers, in part by improving the productivity and services of the surrounding ecosystems. Prof. Maathai was thus a pioneer in applying the concept of protecting and restoring ecosystems as a fundamental element of reducing rural poverty.