Early Warning to COP

Aftermath HD

Climate change is causing an increase in natural disasters while vulnerable countries lack the proper infrastructure to counter them. To tackle this issue, vulnerable countries have been working on implementing early warning systems (EWS). In addition to saving lives, EWS provide reliable risk information which allows sound investments into a country’s infrastructure. However, these vulnerable countries often lack the capacity to install EWS and require cooperation from the international community to implement them.

IAftermath Bridgendonesia’s recent struggle with its EWS exemplifies the lack of capacity building. On September 28, 2018, a 7.5 magnitude earthquake created a series of tsunamis that devastated the Indonesian island of Sulawesi. Over 1,200 people were killed and over 61,000 displaced. A network of 22 buoys connected to seafloor sensors float off Indonesia’s coast, intended to warn the Indonesian Agency for Meteorology, Climatology, and Geophysics of tsunami activity. This high-tech EWS was installed after the 2004 tsunami that killed nearly 150,000 people. However, the detection buoys were defective, leaving thousands of people helpless in the wake of the disaster. The agency did issue a tsunami warning, but lifted the warning after 34 minutes because  the tsunami detection system did . According to Indonesia, the EWS has been malfunctioning since 2012 because it did not have the funding to repair or perform routine maintenance on EWS.

PaluSulawesi

The UN has stressed the importance of implementing EWS since the World Conference on Disaster Reduction in 2005. However, the UNFCCC did not address early warning systems until COP16 created the Cancun Adaptation Framework in 2010. Nonetheless, the talks were important to build momentum to have EWS explicitly included into the Paris Agreement (PA) under Article 7(7)(c). This provision reads that Parties should strengthen their cooperation on enhancing action on adaptation by “strengthening scientific knowledge on climate, including research, systematic observation of the climate system and early warning systems, in a manner that informs climate services and supports decision-making.”

The inclusion of EWS in the PA–a binding treaty–is crucial in helping vulnerable countries develop early warning systems to reduce the impacts of disasters. According to the WMO, 54% of surface stations and 71% of atmospheric weather stations emit no data. To address this issue, decision 1/CP.20 invited Parties to consider including an adaptation plan in their INDCs, and a majority of the Parties defined EWS as a priority for adaptation.

COP24 is especially important for the implementation of EWS because this COP will finalize the implementation rules for the PA. With the fifth anniversary of Warsaw International Mechanism (WIM) being held in Poland, loss and damage will likely be a prioritized negotiation which relies heavily on EWS. The 2018 Report of the Excom of WIM recommends cooperation to support preparedness through EWS — a hopeful sign for aiding vulnerable countries to maintain functional EWS and prevent another incident like Indonesia’s from happening again.


Al Gore’s Global Turning Point

OIMG_2260nce again, Former Vice President Al Gore made an impactful appearance at the COP. He forewarned the crowd that the first half of his presentation may be rather disheartening, but that the second half would bring to light the points we must truly focus on to move forward. Scientists and politicians alike have emphasized at COP23 that the world is facing some of the most frequent and devastating ‘natural’ disasters since the recordation of history. Gore stated that the UN has determined this time the “worst humanitarian crisis since 1945.”

While Gore remained upbeat and lighthearted with his inclusion of slides such as flooding in England having little effect on the operation of a local pub, or the presidential implications of a wildfire in Wyork-floodsashington having no effect on a game of golf: his speech was impassioned. He decried the subsidization of fossil fuels in comparison to renewable energy. And his voice nearly roared on the cost climate change has wrecked on the global economy. He stated that the amount is “unacceptable and cannot be maintained.”

But once his speech reached the dismal humanitarian crisis in Syria, he skillfully lightened the crowd’s mood with different countries’ initiatives to curb the negative impacts of climate change. He spoke of India’s commitment to introduce only electric cars in 2025; of Germany’s commitment to wind power; and the unilateral transition from coal and fossil fuels to renewable energy.

oregon wildfireGore emphasized that “we’re at a tipping point on a global basis.” The world can choose to move forward with clean initiatives, implementing the world’s commitment to the Paris Agreement; or we can sit in our big houses and tweet about it.


A Caffeine Constrained World

At the 23rd Conference of Parties (COP 23), Denise Loga, Co-founder and Managing Director of the Sustainable Food Academy, brought to light the issue of food security in changing climate. She recognized that the earth cannot sustain humanity’s current food systems. Unsustainable patterns of human consumption paired with climate change lends kindling to an already robust fire.

Climate change is resulting in sea level rise, increased extreme weather variability, and fluctuating temperatures. These characteristics of climate change affect crop yields and survival, threaten the livelihoods of farmers, disrupt economic production and supply chains, and threaten food security within vulnerable countries. According to State of Food Insecurity in the World (SOFI), approximately 815 million people are undernourished. This number is likely to rise as climate change decreases food security, which puts pressure on government food security strategies.

For example, coffee is a particularly climate-sensitive plant and is already experiencing decreased yield due to climate change. In a joint study by the the International Center for Tropical Agriculture under the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security, coffeedownload production in Brazil is predicted to see a drop by 25% by 2050 and Indonesia production is likely to drop by 37% by 2050. The loss of the valuable coffee trade is likely to impact developing countries disproportionally as coffee as a key export of developing nations. These countries are also tend to have the highest malnourishment and poverty rates. Adding economic pressure to countries in this position would further exacerbate domestic issues. This is one example among many in which the loss of a food resource has drastic impacts upon humans.

Loss of food security is an natural consequence of a rapidly changing climate. Due to the disproportionate impact upon developing countries, measures should be taken to ensure food security within those countries most vulnerable. This requires countries to take action to mitigate the effects of climate change and provide relief and aid to those countries in need. Without action on a significant scale, impacts on food security will be felt globallymap_c3_a3_50map_c1_a1_50


The Rising Need to Address Climate-Induced Displacement

Fiji’s role as a developing island state and President of the COP brings Loss and Damage (L&D) into sharper focus at COP23. At negotiations thus far, differences have emerged between developing and developed countries. Developing countries generally want the Warsaw International Mechanism on Loss and Damage (WIM), established at COP19, to have a broader scope, increased capacity, and more international cooperation on addressing L&D. Developed countries, on the other hand, are satisfied with the work of WIM and requested that WIM be given a chance to carry out its three functions: enhancing knowledge around comprehensive risk management of L&D; strengthening cooperation between relevant stakeholders; and enhancing action and support, including finance, for addressing L&D.

Screen Shot 2017-11-08 at 3.11.19 PML&D is an especially important issue to developing countries and one noneconomic form of L&D is human displacement by climate change. On average, sudden onset disasters (i.e. extreme weather) displace around 25 million people per year and slow onset events will displace many more. Moreover, people in low and lower-middle income countries are five times more likely to be displaced than people in high-income countries. Mandated by the COP21 Paris Decision, the Task Force on Displacement was created under WIM to recommend ways to address, avert, and minimize displacement. These recommendations will be delivered to the Parties at COP24 in 2018.

The many extreme weather events that have affected communities worldwide in 2017 frame the current conversation on climate change-induced displacement. This conversation requires discussions on many questions including: what to call environmental migrants (the term “climate refugee” as largely been rejected); how can countries prepare for inevitable displacement; and, what rights and resources will displaced peoples have?

At the side event “Uprooted by Climate Change: Responding to the Growing Risk of Displacement,” His Excellency Anote Tong, former President of Kiribati, expressed his concern for the future of Kiribati. He explained that Kiribati will inevitably be destroyed by climate change, despite mitigation efforts, either by extreme storms or eventual sea level rise. His call is to prepare these future climate migrants through training and education programs so they can easily be assimilated into a new country. He called this strategy “Migration with Dignity.” The former President does not like the term refugee – in this case, people would have choice and agency in how they move.

Today’s side events on displacement highlighted the swath of agencies working on this issue including the UN Refugee Agency, UN Migration Agency, the Platform on Disaster Displacement, and even the UN Food and Agriculture Organization and World Meteorological Society, among many others. Collectively, speakers from these agencies highlighted the need to put protection of people at the center of displacement discussions, especially concerning legal rights, and that internal displacement will continue to strain governments. Forced relocation was emphasized as a last resort for communities.

In the words of His Excellency Anote Tong, “What do we do for whom it’s too late” and displacement from climate change is inevitable? COP23 has continued the discussion on displacement yet, much more needs to be done to ensure that when people relocate, they can call a new place home.


Climate Change “Refugees” in Hot Water

Direct effeBlog Photo 3cts of climate change such as droughts, floods, rising sea levels, and hazardous weather events have immediate and lasting impacts upon displacement of communities. For example, five reef islands in the remote Solomon Islands have already been deemed uninhabitable due to sea level rise and erosion. Since 2008, approximately 22.5 million people have been displaced by climate or weather-related events. Charles Geisler, a sociologist at Cornell University, predicted a worst case scenario of up to 2 billion climate change migrants by 2100.

Traditionally, a sovereign state is responsible for the protection of its people, which includes relief from natural disasters. In situations where domestic states do not have the ability to provide adequate protection, relief, or relocation, international law offers possible avenues for addressing this issue. Unfortunately, there is no current international legal framework in place to respond to the impending climate change migrant crisis. There are a number of possible protective instruments available, but they all present different barriers to practical application.

First, the United Nations Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement (UNGPID) recognize internally displaced persons (IDPs) who have been forced or obligated to flee “to avoid the effect of armed conflict, situations of generalized violence, violations of human rights, or natural or human-made disasters.” However, this only applies to people displaced within their own state, effectively requiring state legislation to enforce IDP rights. Thus, the UNPGID lacks the ability to effectively protect cross-border climate migration. 

Second, the UN RefugBlog Photo 2ee Agency (UNHCR) requires an individual be persecuted against to qualify as a refugee under the Refugee Convention. As a result the “[e]nvironmental factors that cause movements across international borders are not grounds, in and of themselves, for the grant of refugee status.” Climate migrants might be recognized as refugees if the respective state government “persecuted” them by intentionally failing to give protection or aid. This claim would be extremely difficult to prove, however, as international law recognizes that “no individual government is primarily at fault” for the consequences of climate change.

Third, a climate change migrant could qualify as a “stateless” person under the Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons (CSSP). This status is also limited as it would only be available to migrants whose home state no longer exists. In addition, the CSSP offers only limited rights to stateless individuals and has only been signed by 66 of 165 states.

migration-1

Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre depiction of human movement in 2015.

While the UNHCR is unable to provide legal relief and refugee status for climate migrants, it is supporting the Platform on Disaster Displacement (a continuation of the Nansen Initiative on cross-border displacement). UNHCR has also developed planned relocation guidance that identifies vulnerable areas and gives instructions for disaster response migration mechanisms.

The UNFCCC establishes and recognizes the need for adaptation and mitigation, but fails to address migration strategies under adaptation. On May 19, 2016 the UN Climate Change Conference in Bonn confirmed a clear link between environmental and climate changes, migration and vulnerability.  As a result, the UN is taking steps to assess this connection and shape adaptation policy that protects the most vulnerable populations. While climate migrants do not have an identified legal status as climate change refugees, there is international movement towards addressing this issue under the UNFCCC.


Seeing is believing

cat 5 stormThe poll numbers on the U.S. electorate’s perceptions of climate change have changed over the years. After the most recent spate of tropical storms out of the Atlantic, a new poll by Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research finds that 68% of Americans think weather disasters seem to be worsening.  Moreover, almost all of this 68% attribute this increase in extreme weather events totally or mostly (46%) to human-induced climate change or at least in combination (39%) with natural variability.  According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the US has experienced 15 weather disasters that cost $1 billion or more. The Associated Press’s analysis of 167 years of federal storm data concludes that “no 30-year period in history has seen this many major hurricanes, this many days of those storms spinning in the Atlantic, or this much overall energy generated by those powerful storms.” Having experienced the recent storms first-hand, Greg Thompson, a retired pest control researcher in New Orleans, sees it this way: “When so many things are happening and so many of them (storms) are intense and so many of them are once-in-500-year levels and they’re all occurring, it’s a pretty good sign global warming is having an effect.”