Category: Features

How can the biodiversity and climate crises be tackled together?

How can the biodiversity and climate crises be tackled together?

By Natalie Sauer

Ecologists have long conceived of the earth as a living organism where every plant, animal, river and cloud are interconnected.

In the political sphere, however, the climate and biodiversity crises have more often than not remained solidly bunkered away from each other. That could be changing.

A series of major meetings are pushing the governments of the world to address both crises as one. Experts hope they could lead to a major shift in the way we think about tackling climate change.

On Monday, a new blockbuster report revealed that up to one out of eight million known plant and animal species could be at risk of extinction.

Global warming is the third biggest factor driving species extinction after changes in land and sea use and the direct exploitation of organisms, according to the report by the UN’s biodiversity science body IPBES. A hike in temperature of just 1C has impacted life from the level of ecosystems to that of genetics. At 1.5C to 2C of warming – the goals of the Paris climate agreement – the report warns the ranges of most of the world’s species on land will shrink significantly.

But this relationship, as scientists and politicians increasingly note, isn’t only negative: often – though not always – conservation efforts bolster the climate too. Healthy ecosystems are imperative for the earth’s capacity to mop up C02.

“We know that ecosystems are currently absorbing 25% of emissions. Another 25% of our emissions are going into the oceans, which is causing ocean acidification,” Guy Midgley, a coordinating lead author of the report, said on Monday. “Together, that’s half of our emissions not ending in the atmosphere because of the health of our ecosystems.”

Though some ecosystems act as better sponges than others. Coastal habitats, such as mangroves, sea grass and salt marshes can soak up carbon up to 40 times faster than tropical forests. Peatlands, which cover 3% of the land surface, represent the largest terrestrial carbon store.

Meanwhile, evidence of the critical role of certain animals in the maintenance of these ecosystems continues to stack up. Known in zoology as cornerstone species, the beaver is vital to wetlands through dam construction, the scaly pangolin protects forests from termite ravages, while by stomping vegetation, African forest elephants encourage the growth of larger trees capable of absorbing more carbon.

It is estimated that so-called ‘nature-based solutions’, which benefit climate and biodiversity, could provide 40% of the carbon emissions cuts needed by 2030 to give a decent chance of limiting warming below 2C. Yet they receive less than 3% of climate funding.

Conservationists familiar with diplomatic negotiations on biodiversity and climate change complain of bureaucratic ghettos. The two UN programmes, the Convention on Biodiversity (CBD) and UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), don’t really talk to each other, Beatriz Luraschi, a researcher on climate change and biodiversity at the UK nature charity RSPB, told Climate Home News.

While “the CBD has always been more inclusive of other issues, including climate change,” Luraschi said, citing a decision passed at the CBD in 2018 in Egypt calling on states to slash emissions through ecosystems, “the same level of interest in biodiversity has never been reflected in the same formal setting in the UNFCCC. Even though there is some language in the Paris Agreement on maintaining environmental integrity, it just isn’t as explicit.”

This is changing. Frances Seymour, a senior fellow at the World Resources Institute (WRI), notes that there is growing appetite within the UN for literature on the crossovers, with a major report by the think tank due to be released in September.C

“It’s great that people are connecting the dots,” Seymour told CHN.  Forest and land emissions have long been a “stepchild in the broader climate world”, she said, which has focused on energy and other fossil fuel sources. The proximity of the IPBS report to a recent major release from the UN’s climate science panel has helped focus attention on the crossover.

The momentum to bring the two issues together is set to pick up at a flurry of critical gatherings in the next 18 months. UN chief Antonio Guterres will be calling on governments to present plans to slash emissions at a climate action summit in September. In December, climate talks in Chile are expected to focus on the importance of ocean health.

In autumn 2020, China will host a landmark summit on biodiversity in Kunming. The meeting is set to define new biodiversity targets, with expectations running high after governments failed to meet goals (2011-2020) formulated during the CBD in Aichi, Japan in 2010. Many hope this to be biodiversity’s Paris moment.

“People can’t help but see them as milestones in one roadmap towards either disaster or redemption,” Seymour said.

Overall, diplomatic initiatives aimed at tackling both crises are on the rise. With the meeting of G7 environment ministers coinciding with the publication of the IPBS report, heads of state issued the Metz Charter on Biodiversity. The non-binding document called on the group to recognise the vital role of biodiversity in contributing to climate regulation and helping communities combat natural disasters.  The group also committed to deploy “nature-based solutions… which can also enhance climate change mitigation and ecosystem restoration.”

Meanwhile, China (alongside New Zealand) is heading a UN working group on nature-based solutions, in the run-up to September’s climate action summit in New York. The aim is to encourage states to incorporate nature-based solutions in their climate pledges to the Paris Agreement.

Seymour hopes governments will put their money where their mouths are. “We haven’t seen a shift yet in financial resources… We’re off by an order of magnitude,” Seymour said. If countries update their climate commitments to include serious efforts on nature it “will really embody whether we’re serious about this or not”.

But this effort is not without obstacles, Li Shuo at Greenpeace China told CHN. “I think one challenge that this track faces is that the topic of nature-based solutions was sort of overlooked by the climate community. There wasn’t much diplomatic groundwork done on this issue.”

With land-use, agriculture and nature-related sectors contributing less than 10% of Chinese emissions, “energy and transportation-related issues are traditionally perceived as our climate issue”, Li said. “It’s a new learning process for government officials who are chairing this track.”

“The challenge for China is twofold: it has to start the action domestically. In the context of the the UN Climate Action Summit, China’s job is about inspiring the entire membership of the UN on this particular topic,” Li said.

When it comes to biodiversity, China and France are developing their own visions of leadership. The Chinese government is “now paying very close attention to the negotiations” leading to next year’s CBD meeting, with “the entire bureaucracy mobilised to deliver a good outcome”, Li told CHN.

But France, the host of the Paris Agreement, is pursuing a grander vision – a new overarching global treaty for nature. Back in 2017, Emmanuel Macron floated the idea of a treaty that would aid cooperation on environmental blights, such as plastics, but also the biodiversity and climate crises.

Next year, the port city of Marseille is set to host the World Conservation Congress. President of International Union for Conservation of Nature Zhang Xinsheng described the event as “central in mobilising the international community ahead of critical decisions to be taken later that year regarding global efforts to tackle biodiversity loss and climate change”.

Cover photo by Johnny Chen on Unsplash.
This article originally appeared on Climate Home News.
Video: Our changing fisheries: voices from Montserrat

Video: Our changing fisheries: voices from Montserrat

By Acclimatise News

A new video, “Our Changing Fisheries: Voices from Montserrat”, shines a light on the climate challenges being faced by Island nations’ fishing industries. The video, created by the Caribbean Natural Resources Institute (CANARI), highlights climate change impacts highlighted include rough seas, changing currents and more extreme hurricanes and storms that affect ability to fish and cause damage to fishing grounds and gear.

The video features local voices and perspectives from fisherfolk and other coastal and marine resource users on changes being experienced in Montserrat’s fisheries sector in the context of climate change, and ideas for building their resilience.

The video was developed as part of the Darwin Plus project, Climate change adaptation in the fisheries of Anguilla and Montserrat. This project is being implemented by CANARI in partnership with the Fisheries and Ocean Resources Unit – Montserrat, Department of Fisheries and Marine Resources – Anguilla and the Centre for Resource Management and Environmental Studies (CERMES) – University of the West Indies.

CANARI and the Fisheries and Ocean Resources Unit – Montserrat are continuing to work with the Montserrat fisherfolk and other coastal and marine stakeholders to disseminate the video and enable knowledge exchange to adapt and build resilient fisheries and related livelihoods.

Cover photo by Zhan Zhang on Unsplash.
Climate poses direct risk to real estate investment says ULI report

Climate poses direct risk to real estate investment says ULI report

By Will Bugler

The known and growing risks posed by climate change to large-fixed asset investments, has done little to put off some lenders from financing real-estate in some of the world’s most vulnerable areas. Such actions are coming under increasing scrutiny, with many investors and forecasters calling them ‘insane’. In a recent report, the Urban Land Institute and real-estate investment management firm Heitman assess the potential impacts of climate change on real estate assets and give some direction as to what investment managers and institutional investors might do to understand and reduce their climate risk exposure.

The report shows that while although many assets held by real estate investors are in cities vulnerable to the effects of climate change, most still rely on insurance to guide their risk decisions. However, as premiums are based on historical events, they are not a robust guide to climate change risk to investments. The report shows that physical risks from catastrophic events and chronic climate risk from slower changes to weather patterns, pose direct risk to real estate investments.

Derived from a series of interviews with leading institutional investors, investment managers, investment consultants and others, the report also shows that a growing group of investors and investment managers are exploring new approaches to find better tools and common standards to help the industry get better at pricing in climate risk in the future. These include:

  • Mapping physical risk for current portfolios and potential acquisitions;
  • Incorporating climate risk into due diligence and other investment decision-making processes;
  • Incorporating additional physical adaptation and mitigation measures for assets at risk;
  • Exploring a variety of strategies to mitigate risk, including portfolio diversification and investing directly in the mitigation measures for specific assets; and
  • Engaging with policymakers on city-level resilience strategies, and supporting the investment by cities in mitigating the risk of all assets under their jurisdiction.

Such tools and methods are becoming necessary to reassure institutional investors and other lenders that their investments are secure. The report points to a series of resources, standards and guidelines that form part of a rapidly developing toolkit that can be used to better understand and manage climate risk.

It is becoming increasingly likely that investors will be expected, and indeed required, to ensure appropriate risk management measures are in place to protect investments from climate risk exposure, and to encourage more robust practices in real-estate construction and development.

A copy of the ULI report “Climate risk and real estate investment decision-making” can be found here.

Cover photo by Chuttersnap on Unsplash.
CIF and GDI host first joint learning event

CIF and GDI host first joint learning event

By Acclimatise News

On June 6th and 7th The Climate Investment Funds (CIF) and Global Delivery Initiative (GDI) will host a two-day learning event at World Bank headquarters aimed at sharing lessons from their findings across Latin America, Asia and Africa. Acclimatise’s Virginie Fayolle will be a part of a panel speaking on how to rapidly drive private sector investment in climate adaptation in developing countries.

In 2017, CIF and GDI joined forces to better understand the operational challenges that constrain climate finance projects. The collaboration led to the development of six delivery cases, each mapping how practitioners working on climate finance projects are embedding adaptive management to address questions such as:

  • What are the inherent risks of private climate financing, and what instruments make projects bankable?
  • How do governments manage competing interests in climate-smart regulatory reform?
  • What beneficiary-selection strategies are most effective for managing collective action problems and maximizing welfare outcomes?

The cohort of speakers draws from diverse institutional perspectives – multilateral development banks, bilateral organisations, governments, the private sector, and civil society – thereby creating a well-rounded discourse that aids practitioners to deliver ground-breaking projects within challenging contexts.

Click here to register for the event.

Cover photo by Daniele Levis Pelusi on Unsplash.
‘Powerful evidence’ of global warming’s effect on seasons found in troposphere

‘Powerful evidence’ of global warming’s effect on seasons found in troposphere

By Daisy Dunne

Scientists studying the troposphere – the lowest level of the atmosphere – have found “powerful evidence” that climate change is altering seasonal temperatures.

A study published in Science finds that climate change has caused an increase in the difference between summer and winter temperatures across North America and Eurasia over the past four decades.

This could be the result of summer temperatures warming at a faster rate than winter temperatures in these parts of the world, the lead author tells Carbon Brief.

The findings show the “substantial human influence on Earth’s climate, affecting not only global averages, but also local and seasonal changes”, another scientist says.

Most of the world’s weather originates in the troposphere, a second scientist tells Carbon Brief, meaning that changes to seasonal temperatures could be affecting the likelihood of extreme weather events, such as flooding and drought.

Sky high

Evidence shows that the seasons are changing. In Europe, for example, analysis of the first-emergence dates of more than 500 plant species shows that the first day of spring has advanced by six to eight days in the past three decades.

Moon with orange-coloured troposphere band, the lowest and most dense portion of the Earth's atmosphere. The troposphere ends abruptly at the tropopause, which appears in the image as the sharp boundary between the orange - and blue - coloured atmosphere. Credit: NASA Photo / Alamy Stock Photo. D7KRFX
Moon with orange-coloured troposphere band, the lowest and most dense portion of the Earth’s atmosphere. The troposphere ends abruptly at the tropopause, which appears in the image as the sharp boundary between the orange – and blue – coloured atmosphere. Credit: NASA Photo / Alamy Stock Photo.

However, working out to what extent seasonal changes can be explained by climate change – rather than natural climate variability, caused by phenomena such as El Niño– presents more of a challenge.

To quantify the influence of climate change versus natural variability, scientists often carry out “attribution” studies.

The new study is the first to assess how climate change could be influencing seasonal temperature changes in the troposphere – a layer that covers roughly the first 17km of the atmosphere above the Earth.

Writing in their research paper, the team, led by Dr Ben Santer, a scientist at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, says:

“Our results suggest that attribution studies with the changing seasonal cycle provide powerful evidence for a significant human effect on Earth’s climate.”

Satellite sentinels

For the study, the researchers analysed atmospheric temperature data recorded by satellites throughout the summer and winter months from 1979-2016. (Carbon Briefhas published an explainer on how satellite temperature records compare with measurements at the Earth’s surface.)

The map below shows how the difference between summer and winter temperatures, expressed as an average per decade, has changed across the world.

On the map, dark red indicates where the difference between summer and winter temperatures have grown larger, while dark blue shows where the difference has grown smaller.

Temperature difference between summer and winter months (per decade) from 1979-2016. Red shows a large temperature difference between the seasons, while blue shows a small temperature difference.
Temperature difference between summer and winter months (per decade) from 1979-2016. Red shows a large temperature difference between the seasons, while blue shows a small temperature difference. Source: Randel (2018) Data source: Santer et al. (2018)

The map shows that the difference between summer and winter temperatures has increased the most in mid-latitude regions, particularly in the northern hemisphere.

This is because, in these regions, atmospheric summer temperatures are increasing at a faster rate than winter temperatures – causing the disparity between the two seasons to grow larger and larger, the researchers say.

The northern hemisphere has experienced more summertime warming than the southern hemisphere because it contains more land, the researchers say. The presence of land means that less heat can be absorbed by the ocean – leading to amplified atmospheric warming, says Santer and co-author Stephen Po-Chedley, a fellow at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. In a joint statement, the researchers tell Carbon Brief:

“Countries with the largest observed changes include Mongolia and eastern Russia. Parts of the northeast and western US and eastern Europe have also seen substantial increases in the tropospheric seasonal cycle. Changes tend to be small over the UK.”

The map also indicates that the eastern edges of both North America and Eurasia have experienced the greatest amounts of warming. This could be because, during the winter in these regions, warm air masses are carried from east to west – leading to milder winters along western continental margins, the researchers say.

Changes in temperatures are not as pronounced around the tropics because this region is not highly seasonal, the researchers say. Instead, the seasons in tropical regions are typically defined by rainfall (“wet” and “dry”, for example), rather than by temperature.

In contrast, the difference between summer and winter temperatures around the poles has shrunk over the past four decades, the map shows. In these regions, winter temperatures are rising faster than summer temperatures, the research finds.

In the Arctic, this winter warming is partly influenced by the diminishing presence of sea ice during summer months, the researchers say. With less sea ice present, the ocean absorbs more heat – which is later released during the winter, the researchers say.

The reason that winter atmospheric warming may have accelerated above Antarctica is less clear. However, previous research suggests that the presence of polar clouds in the stratosphere (which sits above the troposphere) could be playing a role.

‘Substantial human influence’

To understand to what extent the observed seasonal changes were influenced by human-caused climate change, the researchers compared the satellite results to climate models.

The model simulations, which ran from 1979-2016, included a range of natural factors that can influence tropospheric temperature, including the cooling effect of volcanic eruptions and aerosols. To include the impact of human-caused climate change, the researchers used a “business-as-usual” emissions scenario known as RCP8.5.

The results show that only simulations that include the impact of human-caused climate change could correctly predict the patterns of seasonal temperature change recorded by the satellites. The researchers say:

“The real-world observations are much closer to model simulations that include increases in greenhouse gas concentrations, allowing us to attribute the observational record to human influence using formal climate detection and attribution techniques.”

The results indicate that humans are having a “substantial influence” on the temperatures in the troposphere, says Dr William Randel, a senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, who was not involved in the research. In an accompanying perspectives article, he writes:

“[The] findings provide further markers of a substantial human influence on Earth’s climate, affecting not only global averages, but also local and seasonal changes.”

Weather worries

However, it is not clear how temperature changes in the troposphere could affect conditions at the land surface, he adds:

“The connection between changes at the surface and the free troposphere awaits explanation.”

One possible effect could be changes to the timing and likelihood of extreme weather events, says Prof Neil Harris, from the Centre for Environment and Agricultural Informatics at Cranfield University, who was not involved in the research. He tells Carbon Brief:

“The paper significantly increases confidence that the observed changes in the troposphere – where all our weather is – are consistent with models and that they are of human origin. This gives more confidence in the existing findings of an increase frequency of extreme weather, such as more intense rainfall and more extreme summer hot spells.”

This article was originally published on The Carbon Brief.
Cover photo by Alexander Popov on Unsplash.
Abundant fish need cool seas and protection

Abundant fish need cool seas and protection

By Tim Radford

US and Japanese scientists have worked out how to encourage more abundant fish populations, deliver more food for human consumption and make more profits for the world’s fishermen and women.

The answer is simple. First, the seagoing nations must introduce effective fisheries management practices.

And second, they must limit global warming to the 2°C already agreed by 195 nations in Paris in 2015.

If these two things happen, then in principle global fishing could be sustainable, and oceans could be highly productive for decades to come. In theory global profits could rise by $14bn a year and the global catch by 217 million tonnes a year.

But, the scientists warn, inaction on either option would mean even more dramatic losses of fish, lower incomes for those working in fishing, and shrinking supplies of protein for an ever-hungrier world.

“If we can adopt sustainable fishing policies and keep global warming at no more than 2°C, we can still realise significant benefits to fisheries” 

Right now, the global harvest is 80 million tonnes a year and fish provide 20% of the animal protein for around 3 billion people.

The world’s oceans are warming, and well-established fishing grounds have begun to change as valuable fish migrate to cooler habitats. Researchers have warned that stormier weather promised by climate change could make fishing more dangerous.

The dangerous mix of warmer oceans and greater pressure on fishing grounds could damage the health of the oceans.

But researchers report in the journal Science Advances that they tested possible future outcomes for 915 fish stocks around the world – these constitute up to 67% of present global catch – under alternative scenarios for fisheries management and for climate change.

Positive results

They thought about the impact of a changing climate on fishes’ productivity and range, under climate regimes in which temperatures rose by no more than 1°C (the world has already warmed by 1°C in the past century) to the 4°C predicted under the notorious business-as-usual scenario, in which nations just go on burning fossil fuels at ever greater rates, to load ever more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

“The results from this study are surprisingly positive – if we can adopt sustainable fishing policies and keep global warming at no more than 2°C, we can still realise significant benefits to fisheries across the globe,” said Merrick Burden, senior economist with the Environmental Defense Fund oceans programme and one of the authors.

“But these benefits require action, and this study serves as a wake-up call to governments that they must change the way that fishing takes place or risk losing a crucial opportunity to secure our food supply for generations to come.”

Even if nations co-operate, and save the oceans, there will be losers. Profits in tropical waters will dwindle; equatorial nations – many of them dependent on seafood – will be hardest hit.

Winners and losers

Nearly all species will experience changes in productivity; half of all the species examined will shift their grounds and migrate across national offshore boundaries.

“Even with the right management changes, there will be winners and losers, and we have to tackle this head-on,” said Steven Gaines, dean of the University of California Santa Barbara’s school of environmental science, who led the research.

“Success will require not only emissions reductions but also multilateral cooperation and real changes in fisheries management.

“With our growing global population and the increasing needs for healthy sources of protein, these changes will be critical for meeting the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.” – Climate News Network

This article was originally published on the Climate News Network.
Cover photo by Rafa Prada on Unsplash.
TCFD recommendations are here to stay

TCFD recommendations are here to stay

By Laura Canaveri and Robin Hamaker-Taylor

Whenever a new standard or guideline is released, the question as to whether it will have staying power emerges. The same was probably the case in July 2017, when the Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) published its recommendations. Yet, the outcomes of events held in May 2019, provide strong evidence to suggest that the TCFD recommendations have gained the right momentum among corporates and financial institutions and are here to stay. Acclimatise analyst Laura Canevari attended these events last week, and here she shares her digest on the momentum behind TCFD, how it has sparked a growing wave of regulatory action on climate risk disclosures, and progress made by organisations engaging with it. 

On Monday 13th May, the Green Finance Initiative (together with the City of London, PRI and CDP) held its Second UK TCFD Preparers Forum. Important updates were provided by UK-based government bodies and regulators – including BEIS, BoE, FCA and the FRC – all of which are responding to the TCFD recommendations within the means of their mandates. The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), for example, has defined its role on climate change and green finance, acknowledging the link climate change has to their objective of supporting a healthy financial system. The FCA have also released a Discussion Paper (DP18/8) providing guidance on how the current regime should incorporate climate change considerations. The Financial Reporting Council (FRC) has also committed to fostering climate action, developing a new UK Corporate Governance code, which requires companies to report on risks and opportunities to business sustainability (including climate change). The FRC are also providing updates to their guidance documents such as the ‘Guidance on the Strategic Report’, which encourages firms to consider climate-related risks as part of matters that can affect long term company performance. Central Banks are also starting to practice what they preach: Banque de France, for example, published its TCFD aligned disclosures in March this year (available here – in French). It is expected that others, such as Bank of England (BoE), will soon do the same.

The importance of regulator and government initiatives was further stressed at an event the following day – Tuesday, 14th May, hosted by the Climate Disclosure Standards Board (CDSB) and the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB). At the event, CDSB and SASB officially launched their new TCFD Implementation Guide. As noted by Morgan Deprés of the Banque de France and head of the NGFS Secretariat, “TCFD works only if all actors play the game and agree to report”. Unfortunately, not all actors currently report, or do so without consistent metrics. Hence the importance of establishing a clear government and regulatory environment, reflected in initiatives such as the development of an EU-level sustainability taxonomy, the UK Prudential Regulation Authority’s (PRA) release of a Supervisory Statement  (SS3/19) managing the financial risks from climate change, and the establishment of a Climate Financial Risk Forum by the PRA and FCA.

Russel Picot, HSBC Bank UK Pension fund chair of the trustee board and Special Advisor to the TCFD, supported this sentiment. Picot pointed out during Tuesday’s event that the quickest way to build the enabling conditions for disclosure is to make them mandatory. Views from both events attendees diverged on this point: Sir Roger Gifford, Chairman of the Green Finance Initiative suggested it would be nicer if mandatory disclosures were not necessary. Paul Druckman of the FRC pointed out that practice needs to further evolve before climate risk disclosures can be mandated. Nevertheless, the overall sentiment at the event was that regulatory action on climate risk reporting may be on the horizon.

Another clear message emerged from the two events: companies have the means at their disposal to start disclosing, and investors should not wait until all companies have disclosed to start assessing them. Participants at these events suggested that the lack of perfect data or the multiplicity of other disclosure initiatives are no longer adequate excuses for companies not to respond to the TCFD recommendations. As noted by Meryam Omi, head of sustainability and responsible investment, LGIM, there is a clear path on how companies can start the journey. Omi suggested companies can address the TCFD recommendations in their governance systems and through the adequate allocation of roles and responsibilities. Similarly, Jason Eis, Executive Director of Vivid Economics, highlighted the fact that companies can start working with existing scenarios, in order to learn how the dynamics of both transition and physical risks work, and can move into more personalised and sophisticated scenarios later on.

Since the first TCFD Preparers Forum, held in late 2018, it seems the conversation has shifted from being a conversation on general support of TCFD, to a practical discussion on how to implement its recommendations. Though hard and fast climate risk reporting regulations lack, progress is still being made toward improved climate risk disclosures. During Monday’s event, for example, several banks and investment firms (including Standard Charter, LGIM, UBS and EMEA Invesco) reflected on their journey so far. Similarly, progress was also shared during Tuesday’s event by BNP Paribas and HSBC. Though approaches to TCFD have varied, all organisations emphasised the fact that TCFD aligned disclosures are not an end per se, but rather one component of a much broader strategy to engage both internally and externally on climate change issues; TCFD disclosures are a means to get different people within and between organisations to discuss climate challenges and ways forward.

The conversation around risk has also clearly evolved and, as noted by Helena Viñes Fiestas, Deputy Global Head of Sustainability, BNP Paribas Asset Management), it has shifted from being centred on companies or investments, to a broader recognition of the environmental and societal risks that climate change is posing. In the words of Russell Picot “what we are talking about is profound in terms of societal change. […It entails…] a deep change for decarbonising the world, which puts into question the resilience of business models in terms of scarce resources.”

The TCFD framework, however, seems to have enabled much more action toward engagement with this profound societal change than other similar initiatives. Potentially, as noted by Maria Lombardo (Head of Responsible investment EMEA Invesco), this is because TCFD provides a framework not only to see gaps but also to create a journey within a company. Also, because it is a framework originating within the sector itself.

In practical terms, and in order to move forward, Sarah Breeden, Executive Director for International Banks Supervision, PRA, indicated that disclosures now need to be made more coherent, comparable and comprehensive across the financial system. It will also be important to understand what level of disclosure should be requested from different companies (in proportionality terms). Corporate reporting will have to evolve to what is needed by financial institutions and regulators. But progress is more important than perfection.

Cover photo by Jordan on Unsplash.
‘Participatory’ adaptation plans aren’t working for migrants in cities

‘Participatory’ adaptation plans aren’t working for migrants in cities

By Eric Chu and Kavya Micahel

As cities across the global South grapple with climate change, many are designing plans to deal with escalating climate impacts including erratic precipitation and unpredictable shifts in temperature. And in response to global agendas such as the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement, these plans seek to integrate basic development priorities while improving access to basic services including water, sanitation and health. 

Many approaches encourage decision-makers, scientists, and NGOs to participate in the planning process. However, ‘participatory’ processes often leave marginalised groups out of the picture.

This is particularly true in the global South where high levels of economic inequality, absence of effective leadership, and prevalent political corruption hinders socially accountable and sustainable processes to manage the impacts of climate change. 

Focus group discussions with intra-state migrants in Rachnehalli, Bengaluru
Focus group discussions with intra-state migrants in Rachnehalli, Bengaluru (Photo: Tanvi Deshpande)

Our recent study of migrants in the Indian cities of Bengaluru and Surat (open access) highlights the challenges of promoting climate adaptation in places with long histories of social, economic and cultural diversity. 

Both cities have progressive plans for adapting to climate change and managing growing climate risk. Still, previous research notes that these cities’ plans tend to favour certain politically important groups, and economically important assets such as buildings located in central business districts.

Why are supposedly participatory adaptation plans exclusionary or inequitable? How do we make sense of this contradiction?  

Case study: Bengaluru 

In the southern city of Bengaluru, studied under the Adaptation at Scale in Semi-Arid Regions (ASSAR) project, we explored how migrants living in flood- and diseases prone informal settlements are coping with exposure to climate change. Precarious living circumstances are compounded by exposure to heat stress often experienced during manual labour such as waste-picking.

Added to these climate vulnerabilities, long standing social constructs deepen migrants’ challenges. Given their status as unskilled, landless labourers, migrants are regarded as ‘out-of-state’ citizens. This includes members of the Other Backward Classes (OBC) – a term used by the Indian government that encompasses educationally, economically and socially disadvantaged groups.

These groups do not have access to formal public services such as state-based health schemes and subsidised rations of water, foodstuffs and basic supplies. In the event of a disaster, migrants are the most prone to illness and death. 

Case study: Surat

Surat was one of the first members of the Asian Cities Climate Change Resilience Network (ACCCRN) and the 100 Resilient Cities programmes. Strong political leadership on climate action translated into keen interest from multilateral donors. Local industrialists and business leaders also rapidly learned about the perils of climate change.

However, subsequent plans to implement adaptation programmes focused on the needs of local business, leaving out the city’s migrant population. 

Eventually, plans began to target flood protection for businesses and insulation for formal housing. In the name of ‘urban development’ or ‘climate resilience’, many informal settlements were razed to make way for building flood protection measures and to reinforce embankments.

Having been left out of the plans, migrant communities were forced to relocate. Their increasing exposure to climate risks and lack of political representation led to their displacement, breaking the valuable social and economic networks they need to survive. 

Recognising migrants

Our study shows that city planners persistently fail to recognise migrants in urban adaptation plans and policies. In Bengaluru and Surat, political ideologies, social values, and access to economic opportunities combined work against marginalised groups, excluding them from these plans and processes.

We need a new vocabulary around social justice that recognises the interests, needs and voices of historically marginalised groups.

Adaptation plans must intentionally allow spaces for recognising class, caste, gender and age-related implications of proposed actions. Planning processes must take the inclusion of all urban residents seriously – not only those who are privileged, knowledgeable or powerful. This will help to promote plans that bridge the vast inequalities in economic and political power across the global South.

This article was originally published on the IIED website.
Cover photo of Bengaluru City Lights, from Wikimedia Commons.
Pacific island cities call for a rethink of climate resilience for the most vulnerable

Pacific island cities call for a rethink of climate resilience for the most vulnerable

By Will Bugler

The impacts of climate change are already being felt across the Pacific, considered to be one of the world’s most-at-risk regions. Small island developing states are mandated extra support under the Paris Agreement. Many are classified as least developed countries, allowing them special access to development funding and loans.

Analysis of climate change adaptation projects in the Pacific shows most focus on rural areas, heavy infrastructure and policy development. Climate change planning for the cities and towns has been limited, despite their rapid growth.

Port Vila, for example, has far outgrown the municipal boundary set out when Vanuatu became independent in 1980. Migration to the urban fringe has resulted in the wider metropolitan area accounting for 26.8% of Vanuatu’s population. These areas are growing at an average rate of 6.6% a year.

Port Vila as a share of Vanuatu’s total population 1955-2009

Historical analysis of national census data showing urbanisation around Vanuatu’s capital city

For corresponding spatial boundaries see ‘Governance and agency beyond boundaries: Climate resilience in Port Vila’s peri-urban settlements’ here / Source: Vanuatu National Statistics Office

The capital of Solomon Islands, Honiara, is experiencing similarly rapid growth. More than a third of its residents live in informal settlements on the city fringes, without legal tenure.

There are few rural economic opportunities and climate change is threatening outer island subsistence crops and fisheries. This means Pacific cities are likely to keep growing for many years to come.

‘Not drowning, fighting’

Despite being exposed to extreme weather and rising seas, many inhabitants of Small Island Developing States resist being framed as “climate vulnerable”. High exposure to extreme weather and little responsibility for the emissions that are making such events worse mean these states often regard characterisations of fragility and weakness as counterproductive. Pacific leaders regularly avoid describing their citizens as vulnerable to climate change, even during international negotiations.

As president of the 23rd UN Climate Conference, Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama emphasised that Pacific vulnerability was recognised “not to present our people as victims but to emphasise that their interests are your interests”.

Kiribati’s former president, Anote Tong, recently in Australia advocatingfor stronger climate action, similarly insists that I-Kiribati “must not relocate as climate refugees but as people who would migrate with dignity”.

Communities also focus on their strengths in the face of natural disasters. In March 2015 Tropical Cyclone Pam devastated Vanuatu. In the capital, Port Vila, it destroyed 30% of dwellings. The losses were equivalent to 64.1% of national GDP.

In the aftermath local musician Bobby Shing released a single titled “Resilience”. The song relates the roles of culture, religion and “standing strong”.

“Resilience” echoed a national mood to rebuild and move forward. It also acknowledged the wealth of traditional knowledge for dealing with natural hazards in the world’s most disaster-prone country.

Rethinking climate resilience

Climate change adaptation in Pacific island cities is challenging for a number of reasons.

The United Nations Human Settlements Program, UN-Habitat, focuses specifically on adapting developing cities to climate change. As the UN’s peak body for cities it is responsible for implementing the New Urban Agenda. It is also spearheading Sustainable Development Goal 11, the “urban” SDG.

Working with Australian academics, local government and civil society, UN-Habitat is developing urban resilience and climate adaptation plans in Honiara and Port Vila.

Recently published research reflecting on these two projects sheds light on the ways that “climate-resilient development” in Pacific cities needs to be done differently.

1) Target those who need help most

Informal settlements are the most vulnerable parts of Pacific cities. These vulnerability hotspots often occupy hazardous land such as floodplains where formal development is prohibited. They usually lack basic services such as piped water and electricity. When disaster strikes, the impacts are worst for these communities.

A lack of formal recognition can also stand in the way of disaster relief, voting rights and access to facilities such as health clinics. This further reduces the capacity of these communities to recover from disaster.

A spatial assessment of Honiara’s climate vulnerability shows the overlap between ‘hotspots’ and informal settlements.Honiara Urban Resilience & Climate Action Plan (UN-Habitat 2016)

Climate change planning should therefore prioritise the most vulnerable settlements at a sub-city scale. Initial efforts to understand the most vulnerable can then provide a baseline for wider city planning. This can ensure scarce adaptation resources are distributed more equitably.

2) Take land tenure into account

“Informal” encompasses many different ways of urban living beyond the renter/owner norms of developed nations.

Some households informally subdivide their land for extended family members. Other communities hold collective leasehold. Some have arrangements with traditional owners, renting through cash or customary payments.

Each type of informality modifies which climate adaptation options are feasible. For instance, communities might share sanitation facilities or water sources, making communal infrastructure preferable. Customary owners might restrict the “permanence” of structures built in an area.

3) Allow for ‘bottom-up’ resilience

Formal and informal communities in the Pacific often rely heavily on their own networks and capabilities when hit by a natural disaster. Without understanding these systems, international development efforts can undermine “bottom-up” resilience.

Participatory approaches ensure communities can determine their own adaptation needs. This also prevents outside actors from imposing their own assumptions and worldviews about how Pacific cities work.

Sovereignty, agency and aid

Much has been made of Australia’s Pacific “step up”, with a bipartisan commitment to supporting the region’s adaptation efforts. Nonetheless climate change remains a major point of tension between Pacific island states and the region’s largest fossil fuel exporter.

A starting point for development partners like Australia should be recognising the importance of sovereignty and identity to Pacific Islanders. Calls for “constitutional condominiums” with low-lying countries serve only as reminders of Australia’s 20th-century colonial past.

Helping communities with engineering, geographic information systems (GIS) and climate analysis can enable them to make their own informed adaptation decisions. Support to train construction specialists, urban planners and climate scientists will provide a platform for resilience building.

The cities of the Pacific are sometimes referred to as hybrid spaces. They blur traditional culture and customs with the global opportunities that lie beyond the “Sea of Islands”.

As Pacific Islanders urbanise, so too should adaptation efforts and finance. But, first, climate resilience must be understood as the most vulnerable understand it.

The authors’ research, Leveraging endogenous climate resilience: urban adaptation in Pacific Small Island Developing States, was published as part of a Special IPCC Cities Edition of Environment and Urbanization, which will be open access from April 15 to May 15 2019.

Cover photo is of Port Vila market / taken from Wikimedia Commons.
GIZ Report Highlights Practical Aspects of Mainstreaming Ecosystem-based Adaptation

GIZ Report Highlights Practical Aspects of Mainstreaming Ecosystem-based Adaptation

By Will Bugler

A new report from the German development agency GIZ, provides practical advice on how to integrate ecosystem-based adaptation (EbA) measures into policies and planning. Using practical case studies from Mexico, Peru, South Africa, Philippines, and Viet Nam, the report highlights the benefits of EbA approaches for building resilience to climate change and other environmental shocks.

The report, ‘Emerging Lessons for Mainstreaming Ecosystem-based Adaptation: Strategic Entry Points and Processes,’ also stresses that more needs to be done to improve awareness and understanding of EbA approaches, to ensure that they are employed more widely.

The benefits of EbA are well covered in the case studies, showing that such approaches can prove more cost-effective than hard infrastructure approaches, while being just as effective at reducing climate risk. The report also stresses the EbA approaches also often come with many co-benefits, such as improved environment, space for leisure activities and cleaner air.

However, EbA approaches are still overlooked in favour of hard infrastructure development. The report notes that there has been progress towards EbA mainstreaming in many countries, several barriers to its wide adoption remain. Chief among these is a general lack of understanding of EbA approaches and when it is appropriate to use them. There is also a lack of good evidence of their efficacy either as stand-alone solutions or used in combination with hard infrastructure.

The report highlights several entry-points where EbA approaches can be integrated into policies and planning through:

  • influencing policy processes;
  • strengthening institutional collaboration;
  • engaging multiple stakeholders;
  • improving effectiveness of communication; and
  • increasing capacity.

A copy of the report can be downloaded here.

Cover photo by Elke Karin Lugert on Unsplash.