Financing Loss and Damage from Climate Change

Loss and Damage (L&D) encompasses both sudden and slow onset events and is an incredibly important issue to developing countries at COP23. Although the economic costs of slow onset events have yet to materialize, sudden onset events have proved deadly and costly for developing countries. It is estimated that hurricanes wipe out 1% of the Caribbean’s GDP each year. From Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017, the devastation has been so extensive on islands such as Barbuda and Dominica that many people cannot return or have lost their homes. This displacement adds to countries’ L&D from climate change.

Financing for L&D has overshadowed COP23’s discussions around the slow but steady work of the Warsaw International Mechanism on Loss & Damage (WIM) Executive Committee. According to Julie-Anne Richards with the Climate Justice Program, the WIM has a “clear mandate” to enhance Action and Support for loss and damage but as yet, the WIM has largely focused on financial instruments, like insurance, rather than finance mobilization. Richards posits that while insurance mechanisms for sudden onset events may assist developing countries in addressing L&D, insurance mechanisms simply cannot address slow onset events (SOEs).

Causes-and-Effects-of-DesertificationDavid Simmons of Willis Towers Watson risk management company explains that the insurance industry currently focuses on short-term risk – the only type of insurance that deals with long-term, inevitable risk is life insurance. However, for this reason, Simmons argues that insurance could be reconfigured to address SOEs. Julie-Anne Richards, on the other hand, argues that other instruments such as funds or levies are more appropriate ways to finance SOEs. An example of a fund working on an SOE is the Land Degradation Neutrality Fund, which pools capital from the public and private sector to finance projects that both prevent land degradation and support revitalization of degraded land. The UN Convention on Combating Desertification estimates that 12 million hectares of land are degraded each year, which is around a third of Germany’s land area. This adds to the bank of 2 billion hectares of already degraded land, which is around the size of the South American continent. Desertification, soil degradation, and the loss of ecosystem services that comes from degraded land are all considered slow onset L&D.

Julie-Anne Richards and the Climate Justice Program are currently working on a new form of finance for L&D – the “Carbon Levy Project.” A tax would be placed on the extraction of fossil fuels, which would then be distributed based on the level of development of the country. If the fossil fuel is extracted by a developing country, the money from the tax would be kept for use domestically. However, if the tax is collected from a developed country, a large percentage of the funds would be placed into a global L&D Fund managed by the WIM.

There is general agreement that L&D needs to be addressed and that this will take money. However, there is divergence on how to finance L&D. From insurance mechanisms and global funds to more innovative approaches, there is momentum behind this issue.


Ecological Migration and Migrating Towards Ambitious Climate Change Commitments at COP22

In 2011, the UN projected that the world will have 50 million environmental refugees by 2020. These are people who need to resettle due to climate change impacts such as drought, food shortage, disease, flooding, desertification, soil erosion, deforestation, and other environmental problems. This past week the New York Times released two stories about the plight of “ecological migrants” in the deserts of northern China. The first is a visual narrative about people living in the expanding Tengger Desert. The second article highlights the world’s largest environmental migrant resettlement project, in Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region.

“Ecological migrants” are the millions of people whom the Chinese government had to relocate from lands distressed by climate change, industrialization, and human activity to 161 hastily built villages. China has already resettled 1.14 million residents of the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, where the average temperature has risen 3.8 degrees Fahrenheit in the last 50 years (more than half of that increase occurring from 2001 to 2010) and annual precipitation has dropped about 5.7 millimeters every decade since the 1960s.

China is only one example of a region where people have had to relocate due to climate change. Where will everyone go? This is a problem that all countries need to figure out quickly because, if the UN’s prediction is accurate, the current system of asylum, refugee resettlement, and Temporary Protected Status (TPS) may prove inadequate.

The Marshall Islands need to figure out where their people will go as their island nation is quickly disappearing underwater. Predictions of dangerous tropical storms and rising salt levels in their drinking water may force citizens to flee even before the entire island is lost. In Bangladesh, about 17% of the land could be inundated by 2050, displacing an additional 18 million people.

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Road leading to Isle de Jean Charles often floods, cutting off the community.Credit: Josh Haner/The New York Times.

Climate change relocations are not limited to small, developing nations. The United States has begun preparing for its own. In January, the Department of Housing and Urban Development announced grants up to $1 billion in 13 states to help communities adapt to climate change, including the first allocation of federal money to move an entire community due to the impacts of climate change: a $48 million grant for Isle de Jean Charles.

Other than the overcrowding of cities and uprooting and destruction of rural lifestyles, the global refugee crisis presents a larger concern: national security. Last year at COP21 in Paris, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry tied the conflict in Syria and the resulting global refugee crisis to climate change. Secretary Kerry linked Syria’s drought and resulting urban migration—first domestic, then international—as a key factor to the civil war. This was a relevant example of how climate change can exacerbate existing political turmoil within a country.

Thus, all countries must stay committed to climate change goals, not only for maintaining millions of people’s lives and homes, but for national safety throughout the world. Whether they consider it a focus or not, many countries are currently facing the problem of creating new domestic policies on immigration. While it may be too late for some vulnerable areas to completely avoid the need to relocate its people, every climate change action helps mitigate the problem. Hopefully the issue of relocation and climate change refugees or “ecological migrants” will push countries to be more ambitious about their climate change actions at the upcoming COP22.


Is Climate Change a Threat to National Security?

paris-peace-signCOP21 began Monday with a moment of silence for victims of the November 13 terror attacks in Paris, and the tragedy served as a touchstone for world leaders urging unity and action. Nearly every speaker at the daylong Leaders Event expressed condolences for the Paris attacks, and some, including the Prince of Wales who opened the event, highlighted the connection between climate change and national security.

In his speech, President Obama declared “what greater rejection of those who would tear down our world than marshaling our best efforts to save it.” Later, in a press briefing room at COP21, President Obama doubled down on this sentiment stating that “in some ways, [climate change] is akin to the problem of terrorism and ISIL.” Both threats, President Obama said, require a long, sustained effort by the United States to assess and neutralize them.

French Foreign Minister and COP21 President Laurent Fabius has called climate change “a threat to policepeace,” describing a world where floods, desertification, and droughts will intensify conflicts over
ever-scarcer resources and spark a massive wave of environmental refugees. “Terrorism is significant, but naked hunger is as significant as terrorism,” he said. “And the relationship between terrorist activities and naked hunger are obvious. If you look at the vectors of recruitment into terrorist cells, most of the most vulnerable are hunger-prone areas.”

Also vocal on this issue is presidential hopeful Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders who stated publicly during the First Democratic Presidential Debate that climate change is the single greatest threat to the U.S.’s national security. Understandably, debate moderators revisited this question just one day after the Paris attacks during the second debate on November 14, asking Senator Sanders if he stood by his previous statement in light of the growing security threat from ISIS. “Absolutely,” said Sanders. “In fact, climate change is directly related to the growth of terrorism.” Like Fabius, he explained that climate change impacts will increase international conflicts as people struggle over limited amounts of water and land to grow their crops.

Criticizing this correlation to terrorism, an Op-Ed published in the New York Times soon after the Paris attacks called out climate change advocates, among others, and asked incredulously, “must we instantly bootstrap obliquely related agendas and utterly unconnected grievances to the carnage in Paris, responding to it with an unsavory opportunism instead of a respectful grief?”

However, recent reports suggest that this correlation is warranted. In July, a report by the U.S. Defense Department called climate change an “urgent and growing threat” to national security, and this October NATO’s parliament demanded stronger action by member states to tackle a warming planet. The repeated discussion of the nexus between climate change and national security Monday makes clear that this is no longer a political question – it’s a fact.

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The Secret Weapon Against Climate Change? Family Planning

2_evidencebased_programming_2Family Planning may be the most cost-effective weapon against climate change. At least according to a new report from the University of California, San Francisco’s Bixby Center for Global Reproductive Health. According to the report, family planning could provide between 16 and 29 percent of the needed greenhouse gas emission reductions.

Additionally, last year the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recognized for the first time the benefits of family planning for impacting climate change. The IPCC report recognized the importance of family planning in areas with a high vulnerability to climate change, including the Sahel region of Africa, as well as in rich countries like the United States. Increasing access to family planning not only helps reduce human suffering, especially in extremely vulnerable areas, but also decreases overall consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.

PopulationToday the world population is over 7 billion, a number that is relatively recent in the history of human civilization. Between 1900 and 2000 the world population increased from 1.5 to 6.1 billion. That is, in just 100 years the population increased three times more than it had during the entire history of human kind. The effects of this astounding increase in human beings on the environment is staggering. Increasing populations threaten the survival of plant and animal species around the world, reduce air quality, increase energy demands, effect groundwater and soil health, reduce forests, expand deserts, and increase waste. And these effects will only get worse, as the United Nations predicts that the world population will reach 9.6 billion people by 2050.

According to the report from the Bixby Center, family planning programs are dollar-for-dollar the most effective way to avoid some of the worst impacts from climate change. There are currently 222 million women in the world with an unmet need for modern family planning methods. To meet this demand for family planning it will take $9.4 billion a year, an increase from current family planning spending by about $5.3 billion a year. Despite this high dollar value, family planning spending is still a relatively cheap option. According to the report, “For every $7 spent of family planning, carbon emissions would be reduced more than [one metric ton]… the same emissions reductions from low-carbon energy production technologies would cost at least $32.”

MTI5NTI2Mzc5NzgyOTE2MTA2Despite the cost-effectiveness, family planning still remains a contentious issue. But things may be looking up. As part of their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) countries must consider their population size and its potential growth in order to envision how per capita emissions may change in the future. The new UNFCCC synthesis report of INDCs takes into account different population growth scenarios for the next fifteen years, and suggests that some governments may not be using the best population data for calculating business as usual emissions scenarios. Additionally, in the report some governments state that population density and growth within their countries remains a constraint on their ability to adapt to climate change.

What this means is that family planning is necessary. Not only is it necessary on a human level (family planning is one of the best ways to improve education and quality of life for women around the globe), it remains one of the most effective tools at our disposal for combatting climate change.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Are deserts carbon sinks?

Can arid regions – specifically deserts – act as carbon sinks?  This study, led by Professor David Evans of Washington State University and published in the current edition of Nature Climate Change, offers this conclusion:  “Results provide direct evidence that CO2 fertilization substantially increases ecosystem C storage and that arid ecosystems are significant, previously unrecognized, sinks for atmospheric CO2 that must be accounted for in efforts to constrain terrestrial and global C cycles.”desert

Good news in terms of potential progress on reducing CO2 in the atmosphere and global warming.  But Christopher Field, who directs the department of global ecology at the Carnegie Institution for Science at Stanford University, runs a project where similar experiments are conducted on grasslands, and is the lead author of the new IPCC report, puts it into perspective:   “It is worth noting that, although the sink in this experiment is significant, it is … about a hundredfold less than typical sinks in young forested ecosystems not exposed to elevated carbon dioxide, so the bottom line is that deserts will not save us from climate change.”