End of Week Wrap-up: Adaptation

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Source: UNFCCC

The first week of COP 22 wrapped up today. Throughout the week I tracked a number of adaptation items under the UNFCCC. This post summarizes the developments of a few of these items. In all, Parties were engaged and prepared to move forward towards implementation. Regarding several agenda items, developing countries stressed the inclusion of support (capacity-building, finance, and technology transfer). Despite differences, overall countries appeared to be determined to move swiftly and developed draft decisions with relatively few disagreements.

National Adaptation Plans (NAPs)

The SBI approved a draft decision of agenda item 9 on National Adaptation Plans. There are a few items worth mentioning. First, the decision noted that up to $3 million USD is available to each Party via the Green Climate Fund (GCF) for support in planning or formulating their NAPs. Additionally, several of the developing countries emphasized the importance of strengthening the relationship between the Adaptation Committee and the Least Developed Countries Expert Group and the GCF. Accordingly, a provision was added requesting the two groups report on their engagement with the GCF by SBI 47. Finally, several developing countries were concerned about access to adaptation funding, particularly from the Least Developed Countries Fund (LDCF). In the draft decision Parties noted with concern that 12 funding proposals seeking to implement NAPs were cleared by the Global Environment Facility but had not received funding under the LDCF.

Report of the Adaptation Committee

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Participants mime implementation actions during an interactive session at the 10th Focal Point Forum on Health and Adaptation. Source: www.iisd.ca

There were joint informal consultations discussing SBI agenda item 10 and SBSTA agenda item 4 on the report of the adaptation committee. Overall, the Parties managed to easily reach a draft decision on the Adaptation Committee. Per a request by the COP, Parties included a decision to review the progress, effectiveness, and performance of the Adaptation Committee at COP 27. Moreover, the decision noted a shortfall in resources available to the Adaptation, and it called for Parties to make available resources for the implementation of the adaptation three year work plan.

Nairobi Work Programme on Impacts Vulnerability and Adaptation to Climate Change (NWP)

SBSTA agenda item 3 covered the NWP.  First, the draft decision made a call to expand partnerships with diverse stakeholders, including local governments, the private sector, scientific organizations, academia, organizations representing indigenous and traditional communities, spiritual and religious groups, gender constituencies, and youth organizations, among others. This demonstrates the strong commitment the NWP has to expand its knowledge base. This provision reflected Australia and Canada’s call for more engagement with indigenous cultures. Next, the decision includes three paragraphs on the 10th Focal Point Forum on Health and Adaptation that was held in conjunction with SBSTA this week. The draft decision requests the Secretariat to prepare a synthesis paper with submissions by the Parties issued before and during the Forum to be considered at SBSTA 46.

During the Negotiations, the G77 +China and the Arab Group proposed including text on economic diversification. A co-Chair and the United States opposed including this language in the final text, arguing that it was already included in a previous decision. After a number of rounds of informal and informal informal consultations, the final draft decision did not include text on economic diversification.


Gender and Climate Change Update

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon conducts Swearing-in Ceremony: Ms. Patricia Espinosa Cantellano, Executive Secretary, United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Source: United Nations

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon conducts Swearing-in Ceremony: Ms. Patricia Espinosa Cantellano, Executive Secretary, United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Source: United Nations

After the United States’ election results, there is a heightened sense of awareness about gender. As mentioned earlier this week, gender and climate change is on the agenda at the COP. After three days of negotiations, the Parties approved a draft decision on gender and climate change, which will be submitted to the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI) for approval next week.

In the draft decision, the Parties extended the Lima work programme. By doing so, the Parties demonstrated their commitment to continue efforts to increase the participation of women delegates. The program helps female delegates build skills to effectively participate in the UNFCCC process. Extending the Lima work programme shows the world that the UNFCCC is committed to incorporating women’s perspectives in the negotiation process.

During my time at COP 22 I have witnessed first hand the results of these efforts. In the adaptation arena, most of the negotiations I attended had a strong female delegate presence, and all of them had at least one female co-facilitator. Increasing the number of women leading the world on climate change efforts can result in more dynamic decisions and more complete decision-making.

Despite the benefits of having more gender-balanced climate change negotiations, a recent study looking at 881 environment sector ministries from 193 countries found that only 12 percent were women. As the recent election shows, there is still a strong glass ceiling waiting to get shattered in many parts of the world. Without women’s larger participation at the national level, a true balance at the UNFCCC will not be possible. However, for the countries that do have women in higher positions, the concerted effort to bring women to the negotiation table is important.

In all, much work has been done and much is left to do. As long as Parties continue to put gender on the agenda, they will be sending a message to the world that women’s voices are valid and necessary in the fight against climate change.


Human Health and Climate Change

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Source: New York Times

Yesterday, the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) held the 10th Focal Point Forum on Health and Adaptation under the Nairobi Work Programme. The meeting was an opportunity for UNFCCC national focal points, Nairobi Work Programme (NWP) focal points, and health experts to discuss emerging health issues resulting from climate change. Discussions also highlighted new adaptation actions to respond to climate impacts on human health. The meeting is part of a growing global interest to examine the links between climate change and health.

Climate change has profound effects on human health across the globe. Climate change can change the severity and frequency of health problems as well as decrease the predictability of where issues will occur. Health problems resulting from climate change are widespread and varied, ranging from water-borne diseases caused by flooding to malnutrition from unprecedented droughts. Other issues include respiratory disease from pollution, cardiovascular issues from extreme heat, and mental illness from disasters. The problem is complex and cannot be linked to an isolated factor. This means that the health community, climate scientists, governments, and financial institutions cannot solve the problem alone. Instead, the problem calls for a multidisciplinary approach. For doctors, researchers, lawyers, and scientists who are accustomed to working within the comfort of their field this means taking risks. Last night, the message at the Focal Point Forum was for climate experts to step out of their comfort zones and begin to engage across disciplines to develop innovative solutions for this complex problem.

Source: World Health Organization

Source: World Health Organization

Lower-income populations, children, pregnant-women, older adults, and certain occupations are among the most vulnerable populations. Some examples of health concerns include emerging vector-borne diseases like Zika for women, diarrheal diseases for children, and heatstroke for older populations. However, just like climate change the issues are not limited to specific populations. Changing ecosystems and temperatures are changing the geographical distributions of disease. Diseases like malaria and Lyme disease are moving northward, and it is increasingly important for the health community to be able to react and respond as quickly as possible in order to be prepared for unexpected outbreaks.

Global leaders are taking note. The World Health Organization (WHO) is raising awareness about the issue and inform health professionals on how to respond. Earlier this year the Obama Administration published a report on the impacts of climate change and health.

In responding to climate-related health problems, the UNFCCC can support Parties seeking to address climate-related health problems. Under the Paris Agreement, the preamble recognizes the right to health. In developing adaptation actions, parties can include health in their national adaptation plans (NAPs). This could help Parties leverage support in terms of funding, capacity-building, and technology. Moreover, Parties can utilize programs like the NWP to share best-practices in order to develop policies and programs to respond to increasing health threats.

However, more still needs to be done. Globally, there is a lack of stable funding to ensure adequate local implementation measures. Likewise, there is a lack of early warning systems, which can help medical professionals be prepared for unexpected events. And, turning back to the need for an interdisciplinary approach, more needs to be done to connect climate science with health professionals. This could include incorporating climate change into medical school curricula. Until real progress is made towards achieving a global energy balance, health problems resulting from climate change will get worse before they get better. Climate change experts must take risks and work collectively to provide adaptive solutions to emerging climate-related health problems.


It’s a Small (Virtual) World: Using VR as a Knowledge Sharing Tool

Source: Stanford Virtual Human Interaction Lab

Source: Stanford Virtual Human Interaction Lab

Yesterday, during the Informal Consultation on the Nairobi work programme (NWP) the Secretariat provided an update of progress made since SBSTA 44 back in May. In the report, the Secretariat highlighted the success of social media efforts to-date, which included a video interview series designed to raise awareness on the importance of working with vulnerable communities. What if instead of viewing the interviews on Youtube viewers could virtually experience the experts as if they were in the same room? Or better yet, what if the interviews took the viewer to communities most affected by climate change?

The idea is not that far away. As technology continues to advance, so do our platforms for information sharing. It is likely that virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) will soon become as commonplace as Facebook and Twitter. Who hasn’t heard of Pokemon Go? Virtual reality provides people the opportunity to experience the first-hand effects of climate change. For instance, Party delegates from Canada could experience the aftermath of a typhoon in the Philippines or drought in Sri Lanka. The tool could be an incredibly effective way to both humanize climate experiences and expose people to on-the-ground implementation of new adaptation actions.

Developers are already creating these experiences. Researchers at Stanford recently created a virtual ocean acidification experience. Likewise, David Attenborough has a coral reef VR experience. Not to mention, there are a number of COP 22 exhibits promoting VR technology as a tool for climate change. In an effort to increase awareness and share knowledge, it is not unreasonable to imagine the NWP adding VR and AR to its modalities of communication. Perhaps allowing people step into someone’s world can provide just enough empathy and awareness to generate more effective adaptation actions.


Finding Balance: the Future of Gender and Climate Change Under the UNFCCC

UN gender photoCOP 22 has commenced! With the ratification of the Paris Agreement (PA) coming less than a year after the adoption of the Agreement (and four years before most Parties thought would be possible!) there is a sense of urgency in the air. Parties are scrambling to develop a framework in which to begin implementing the PA, which also means tight deadlines. Today, during the informal consultation on gender and climate change, Parties were reminded that a draft decision on gender and climate change was needed by 13:00 this Friday at the latest. Fortunately, Costa Rica, on behalf of the Independent Association of Latin America and the Caribbean (AILAC), had already drafted a decision. AILAC distributed a draft decision to the Parties, which will be reviewed and discussed in subsequent meetings this week.

Women disproportionately experience the harmful effects of climate change. The majority of the world’s poor are women, and more women rely on climate vulnerable natural resources for their livelihood. Over the past 15 years, UNFCCC Parties have started recognizing the important role women can have in climate negotiations, and the many barriers that prevent them from participating. Since COP 7 in 2001, gender has been formally recognized by the COP. There, Parties approved a decision to improve the participation of women in the representation of Parties in bodies established under the UNFCCC or the Kyoto Protocol. In the following years, negotiation efforts led to a COP 18 decision to promote gender balance and improve the participation of women in UNFCCC negotiations and bodies. Later at COP 20 in 2014, Parties adopted the Lima work programme on gender. The Lima work programme is a two-year program promoting gender balance and gender-responsive climate policy to help guide the participation of women in UNFCCC bodies. COP 22 marks the end of the Lima work programme, which means that this week Parties will be discussing whether and how to extend the programme.

Lorena Aguilar, Costa Rica, at SB 44 in Bonn. Source: iisd.ca

Lorena Aguilar, Costa Rica, at SB 44 in Bonn. Source: iisd.ca

After brief discussions today, it appears that most Parties support the programme and would like to see the work furthered in some capacity. Parties acknowledged the progress made in working towards gender balance. Malawi, on behalf of the least developed countries (LDCs) negotiating group, recognized the impact the Lima work programme has had in enhancing the understanding and awareness of gender and climate change. In moving forward, inclusivity appears to be a common theme. Several Parties stressed the importance of including women at the local or grassroots level to ensure full participation. Australia made a call for the gender and climate change workstream to expand its focus to observe how gender can be incorporated in other UNFCCC workstreams. Additionally, Zimbabwe addressed the importance of ensuring that all Parties use the same definitions when discussing terms such as gender balance, gender-responsiveness, and gender-inclusiveness.

Despite the progress towards creating a more gender balanced UNFCCC, which ultimately will lead to more gender-inclusive policies, much work remains. In reviewing AILAC’s proposed draft, Parties will discuss what this work should look like in the coming years. It is a particularly exciting time because decisions made this week could effectively influence the outcome of how the Paris Agreement is implemented. The mood is optimistic and Parties appear motivated to continue widening pathways to ensure that all women’s’ voices are heard, particularly the most vulnerable.


The New Urban Agenda and the Important Role of Cities in Achieving Climate Goals

Dhaka, Bangladesh Source: UN Phto/Kibae Park

Dhaka, Bangladesh Source: UN Photo/Kibae Park

On October 20th, 167 countries adopted the New Urban Agenda, a document setting global standards for achieving sustainable urban development. The document was adopted at the close of the third United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Development, or Habitat III. The New Urban Agenda calls for equal opportunities, cleaner cities, carbon emission reductions, respect for the rights of migrants and refugees, improved stakeholder connectivity, and accessible green public spaces. Joan Clos, UN-Habitat Executive Director and Habitat III Secretary-General, described the agenda as a “vision for a better and greener urban future, where everyone has access to the benefits of urbanization.” Through the document, city leaders have committed to increase renewable energy, provide greener public transportation, and sustainably manage their natural resources.

Why does sustainable urban development matter? When Habitat I convened in 1976 just over one third of the world’s population lived in cities. Today, half the world’s population (3.5 billion people) live in cities, a figure that is expected to grow to 70% by 2050. Climate change poses a threat to human health and well-being as well as to urban economic and social infrastructures. Additionally, while the world’s cities occupy just 3% of the Earth’s land, they account for 60-80% of energy consumption and 75% of carbon emissions. Rapid urbanization also poses immediate environmental threats by compromising fresh water supplies, sewage systems, living environments, and public health. In light of these risks, cities must leverage urban planning principles in order to develop sustainably.

The New Urban Agenda seeks to bolster international efforts to address the impacts of climate change and to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Cities play a key role in climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts, and as such they will be essential to help countries reach targets set forth in the Paris Agreement. As the first Habitat meeting since the creation of the Sustainable Development Goals and the ratification of the Paris Agreement, climate change was a major concern. Ban Ki-moon, in his opening statements, noted the profound effects urban pollution and urban consumption have on the environment. He stressed the need to transform towns and cities through better urban governance, as well as through planning and design, as ways to transform the world. Likewise, the threat of climate change and the need for mitigation and adaptation measures is woven throughout The New Urban Agenda. The agenda calls for measures to reduce disaster risk, build resilience and responsiveness to natural and man-made hazards, and foster mitigation and adaptation to climate change. Additionally, it supports access to funds, including the Green Climate Fund, the Global Environment Facility, and the Adaptation Fund.

The New Urban Agenda is not without its critics. Criticisms included concerns that the agenda guidelines are too vague and aspirational for cities to implement, that current financing is insufficient to effectively support agenda standards, and that there are not enough mechanisms for monitoring and reviewing progress. Critics also worried that the document does not reflect all voices within the global community. It appears UN-Habitat attempted to address this concern by hosting Habitat III in Quito, Ecuador. It was the first meeting to be held in the global south, which was significant considering the disproportionate impacts climate change has on developing countries in this region and that an estimated 95% of the world’s urban expansion will occur in the developing world. There have also been concerns that the agenda is weakly interlinked with the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement, as it does not directly link any standards to specific targets in either document.

It seems unclear what kind of impact the New Urban Agenda will have on addressing climate change in the coming decades. However, with the momentum of international efforts, including the Sustainable Development Goals, the ratification of the Paris Agreement, and the recent developments under the Montreal Protocol, the New Urban Agenda could provide enough motivation for city leaders to put the environment on their agendas. With the right support, cities could be a driving force in helping the world achieve global climate goals.