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.
Bangkok is a vibrant, cosmopolitan city, home to more than eight million people. However, a new report released by the World Bank today paints a grim picture for the Thai capital. It notes that, without adaptation, a predicted 15cm sea-level rise by the 2030s coupled with extreme rainfall events could inundate 40% of the Thai capital and almost 70% of Bangkok by the 2080s. While I certainly hope it doesn't happen, words cannot describe the impact this would have on the lives and livelihoods of people residing in this city. And Thailand isn’t the only country that could be affected by rising temperatures.
The report - Turn Down the Heat: Climate Extremes, Regional Impacts, and the Case for Resilience - was commissioned by the World Bank’s Global Expert Team on Climate Change Adaptation and prepared by a team of scientists at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and Climate Analytics. It looks at the latest peer-reviewed science and with the aid of advanced computer simulations looks at the likely impacts of present day (0.8°C), 2°C, and 4°C warming across three regions – Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and South East Asia. It focuses on the lives and livelihoods of people in the developing world by analyzing the risks to agriculture and food security in sub-Saharan Africa; the rise in sea-level, bleaching of coral reefs and their impact on coastal communities in South East Asia; and the impact of fluctuating rainfall patterns on food production in South Asia. The poor and the vulnerable are the ones that will be most affected by the impacts of climate change.
Last week, I had the honor of speaking to the UN Security Council about an increasingly dangerous threat facing cities and countries around the world, a threat that, more and more, is influencing everything that they and we do: climate change.
World Bank President Jim Kim was in Russia talking with G20 finance ministers about the same thing – the need to combat climate change. Every day, we’re hearing growing concerns from leaders around the world about climate change and its impact.
If we needed any reminder of the immediacy and the urgency of the situation, Australia Foreign Minister Bob Carr and our good friend President Tong of Kiribati spoke by video of the security implication of climate effects on the Pacific region. Perhaps most moving of all, Minister Tony deBrum from the Marshall Islands recounted how, 35 years ago, he had come to New York as part of a Marshall Islands delegation requesting the Security Council’s support for their independence. Now, when not independence but survival is at stake, he is told that this is not the Security Council’s function. He pointed to their ambassador to the UN and noted that her island, part of the Marshall Islands, no longer exists. The room was silent.
Photo: Mduduzi Duncan Dlamini, Minister of Tourism and Environmental Affairs, Kingdom of Swaziland, providing the closing keynote for Agriculture, Landscapes and Livelihoods Day.
The final rounds of Forests Day and Agriculture Day wrapped up at the UN Climate Change Conference in Doha this week under a new shared banner: Living Landscapes Days.
Both Days have become annual events on the sidelines of the UN climate change conferences, meant to bring together scientists and policy makers and, originally, to bring forests and farming onto the Conference of Parties (COP) agenda. Forests have largely achieved this objective with the the emergence of various agreements about REDD+.
Agriculture has slipped down the list of priority issues tackled by the COP, which has been struggling to figure out what to do about extending the Kyoto agreements and a range of other issues, but is certain to re-emerge. The agriculture discussions this week at Doha aimed to identify scalable solutions to specific mitigation and adaptation challenges which can benefit farmers; gaps where there are limited existing solutions or limited available knowledge; and potential trade-offs in implementing existing, known solutions.
This year, the two worked together to build on the themes of climate-smart agriculture, which became prominent in Durban in the last COP: farming which builds soil carbon, increasing food security, and enhancing resilience to climate shocks.
Ninh Binh Province was hit by severe flooding two weeks ago, like many other regions in Vietnam. It was yet another sharp reminder that Vietnam will increasingly be facing the effects of climate change. However, as we were visiting the region a few days later, activity had returned to normal, and people were busy working in rice paddy fields or cooking meals for their families (with biogas produced from livestock waste).
Ninh Binh Province has shown remarkable resilience to flooding, thanks in part to an innovative program set up by local authorities called “living with floods.” It consists of stepping up the number of staff (military, policemen, civilians) on duty during the flood season and reinforcing physical infrastructure – dikes have been upgraded with more than 2,700 cubic meters of rocks, and about 2 million cubic meters of mud have been dredged to assure water flow in the Hoang Long River.
This field trip to Thanh Lac Commune during the 2nd Global Conference on Agriculture, Food Security and Climate Change illustrated some examples of what resilient agriculture could be and how adaptation, productivity, and mitigation should be considered in an integrated manner. Ensuring the resilience of the country’s agricultural sector will be essential, not only to its own food security, but to the world’s—it is the world’s second largest rice exporter.
Ever wonder what the subway map of Seoul, Korea has to do with social resilience? A group of policy makers, insurance experts and development practitioners wondered the same thing as they mapped risk management strategies and political economy issues onto the subway line maps of different cities. While it seemed absurd, the exercise forced them to think about connections and relationships they may not have considered before. The exercise was part of a retreat recently held at the Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Center to advance a study led by the Social Resilience Cluster on Financial Innovations for Social and Climate Resilience (FISCR). The FISCR initiative is assessing the impacts of index insurance on the welfare and risk management strategies of poor households (for more details on the study, see here).
The format and structure of the Bellagio retreat and was co-designed by the Bank team and by faculty and a student from the trans-disciplinary design program of Parsons the New School for Design. The study team’s partnership with Parsons is a key innovation that integrates design thinking throughout the study’s design, implementation, and dissemination in order to increase its impact. Index insurance and social resilience are complex topics that are challenging to communicate. Working with designers from the beginning of the study allows us to view the issues in different ways and consider the ways to engage and empower the target audience throughout the entire process of the study.
The FISCR study is unusual as well in that it examines insurance through a social lens. Index insurance schemes (mainly targeting poor farmers and in a couple of cases herders) have been piloted in a number of countries for more than 10 years now, as a way to help the poor protect their livelihoods. Its proponents speak of great promise: engaging the private sector in the protecting the assets of the poor from climate shocks; enabling the poor to make more productive investments, and encouraging investments in disaster prevention. With these promises, index insurance and other market-based risk financing mechanisms have received a great deal of attention in the global discussion on adaptation financing, including the possibility of developing a climate risk insurance facility (see related Cancun agreement).
A tiny green oasis stands out amidst acres of dry arid land. As many as 12 different crops—including a wide variety of pulses, fruits, vegetables, and flowers—as well as a farm pond constructed through the Employment Guarantee Scheme and a vermicomposting pit are all seen on this one acre farm in the drought-ridden village from Warangal district of Andhra Pradesh. Suhasini, a young Dalit woman who decided to experiment with the only acre (0.4 hectares) of land she owned, asserts confidently “Next year, most of this surrounding land would be green as well—the other farmers will definitely follow me.”
Suhasini is one among over 1.2 million farmers across 9000 villages that are practicing a cheaper and more sustainable method of agriculture across 1.2 million hectares in the state, even as more farmers are becoming part of what is termed a farmers’ movement for sustainable agriculture in Andhra Pradesh. The program named Community Managed Sustainable Agriculture (CMSA) is essentially an alternative to the conventional-input intensive-agriculture model. It promotes the use of locally available, organic external inputs—including cow dung, chickpea flour, and palm sap—and the use of traditional organic farming methods such as polycropping and systems of rice intensification (SRI).
One of those small but important agreements that would mean that Durban had moved the ball forward in the search of an international, comprehensive approach to climate change is a forum to discuss trade issues.
As countries seek lower emissions development, and plan out pathways to greener growth, they are considering introducing different forms of “green subsidies”, border tax arrangements, embedded carbon footprint standards which many in the developing world feel will be exclusionary.
A new generation of new tariff and non-tariff barriers is feared.
This is complicated by the question of where to resolve this - in the WTO or the UNFCCC. So, in order to move forward, start looking at the issues in a practical way, learn lessons from different approaches: the idea of a forum.
The success of such a forum could be an important input to the growing body of work around how to make greener growth for all, or as Ban Ki Moon said today at a meeting of heads of UN agencies and minister of environment, “sustainable green growth.”
We are keeping up the pressure for inclusion of language that would allow a work program on agriculture to start up. While some delegations object to agriculture’s inclusion for fear it dilutes the agenda, others fear the carbon content of agri-products and green standards, on top of existing phyto-sanitary standards and other aspects of agriculture trade.
While today only 15% of the global food supply is subject to international trade, that is expected to double as the world population rises from 7 to 9 billion.
Follow Rachel Kyte's tweets (@RKyte365) at her liveblog from the COP17 conference in Durban
After Agriculture Day, comes Forest Day for about 1,200 scientists, donors, NGOs, policymakers, journalists and climate negotiators gathered in Durban, with its own well-oiled choreography of plenary sessions and discussion forums.
My assigned role during these two days is to act as a go-between and help break down the silo mentality that can affect expert communities working on narrow themes. Many people already seem to be reading from the same music sheet –there is growing recognition that the fate of forests and agriculture are intricately linked.
Agriculture (large and small) is one of the main drivers of deforestation and forest degradation in many parts of the world. And growing needs for food, energy and income will continue to exert tremendous pressure on the forest “frontier” in the future.
Forestry and agriculture experts concerned by climate change seem to be reaching for broadly symbiotic solutions at the landscape level – climate-smart programs based on a more complete understanding of the carbon and water cycles that sustain both agriculture and forests.
Forest Day, now in its fifth year, always timed to coincide with UNFCCC talks, can take great credit for publicizing carbon emission research and putting forests on the map of climate change negotiations.
Over 500 farmers representatives, scientists and development practitioners were out in force today at the third Agriculture and Rural Development Day (ARDD) in Durban. They are determined to put agriculture on the COP 17 agenda.
Their arguments are clear: Any serious effort to reduce green house gasses must include agriculture. And COP 17 is the chance for Africa to shape the agenda and establish an agriculture work program that is informed by science and covers adaptation and mitigation. And even for some `No agriculture, No deal'.
And today these voices are being heard.
Three years ago there was very little discussion around agriculture and climate change…this year agriculture events are everywhere around the COP.
Climate-smart agriculture – that’s agriculture that combines proven conservation agriculture techniques with the latest technologies like drought and flood tolerant crops, better weather forecasting and risk insurance for farmers – is gaining momentum.
People are paying attention because climate-smart agriculture delivers a triple win – increased productivity, increased adaptation and mitigation benefits.
Agriculture is being reimagined.
Africa stands to benefit most from climate-smart agriculture because of the vulnerability of rural people to climate change and the dependence of so much of the population on agriculture. And for Africa, adaptation is key.