Category: Government

Natural disasters must be unusual or deadly to prompt local climate policy change, study finds

Natural disasters must be unusual or deadly to prompt local climate policy change, study finds

By Ali Mustafavi

Natural disasters alone are not enough to motivate local communities to engage in climate change mitigation or adaptation, a new study from Oregon State University found.

Rather, policy change in response to extreme weather events appears to depend on a combination of factors, including fatalities, sustained media coverage, the unusualness of the event and the political makeup of the community.

Climate scientists predict that the frequency and severity of extreme weather events will only continue to increase in coming decades. OSU researchers wanted to understand how local communities are reacting.

“There’s obviously national and state-level climate change policy, but we’re really interested in what goes on at the local level to adapt to these changes,” said lead author Leanne Giordono, a post-doctoral researcher in OSU’s College of Public Health and Human Sciences. “Local communities are typically the first to respond to extreme events and disasters. How are they making themselves more resilient — for example, how are they adapting to more frequent flooding or intense heat?”

For the study, which was funded by the National Science Foundation, Giordono and co-authors Hilary Boudet of OSU’s College of Liberal Arts and Alexander Gard-Murray at Harvard University examined 15 extreme weather events that occurred around the U.S. between March 2012 and June 2017, and any subsequent local climate policy change.

These events included flooding, winter weather, extreme heat, tornadoes, wildfires and a landslide.

The study, published recently in the journal Policy Sciences, found there were two “recipes” for local policy change after an extreme weather event.

“For both recipes, experiencing a high-impact event — one with many deaths or a presidential disaster declaration — is a necessary condition for future-oriented policy adoption,” Giordono said.

In addition to a high death toll, the first recipe consisted of Democrat-leaning communities where there was focused media coverage of the weather event. These communities moved forward with adopting policies aimed at adapting in response to future climate change, such as building emergency preparedness and risk management capacity.

The second recipe consisted of Republican-leaning communities with past experiences of other uncommon weather events. In these locales, residents often didn’t engage directly in conversation about climate change but still worked on policies meant to prepare their communities for future disasters.

In both recipes, policy changes were fairly modest and reactive, such as building fire breaks, levees or community tornado shelters. Giordono referred to these as “instrumental” policy changes.

“As opposed to being driven by ideology or a shift in thought process, it’s more a means to an end,” she said. “‘We don’t want anyone else to die from tornadoes, so we build a shelter.’ It’s not typically a systemic response to global climate change.”

In their sample, the researchers didn’t find any evidence of mitigation-focused policy response, such as communities passing laws to limit carbon emissions or require a shift to solar power. And some communities did not make any policy changes at all in the wake of extreme weather.

The researchers suggest that in communities that are ideologically resistant to talking about climate change, it may be more effective to frame these policy conversations in other ways, such as people’s commitment to their community or the community’s long-term viability.

Without specifically examining communities that have not experienced extreme weather events, the researchers cannot speak to the status of their policy change, but Giordono said it is a question for future study.

“In some ways, it’s not surprising that you see communities that have these really devastating events responding to them,” Giordono said. “What about the vast majority of communities that don’t experience a high-impact event — is there a way to also spark interest in those communities?”

“We don’t want people to have to experience these types of disasters to make changes.”


This article was originally posted on Oregon State University Newsroom.
Cover photo by Brigitte Leoni on Climate Visuals.
NAP Global Network releases new toolkit on private sector engagement

NAP Global Network releases new toolkit on private sector engagement

A new toolkit has been released to support country efforts to engage the private sector in the National Adaptation Plan (NAP) processes. The toolkit, released by the NAP Global Network, is aimed at national governments and other practitioners who are engaged in developing and implementing NAPs. Featuring examples of best-practice from around the world, and a wide range of tools including several developed by Acclimatise, the toolkit acts as a guide to encourage the appropriate support of the private sector in facilitating countries’ NAPs.

The document Toolkit for Engaging the Private Sector in National Adaptation Plans (NAPs) is designed to accompany the UNFCCC Technical Guidelines for the NAP Process. It includes links to useful tools to engage the private sector, such as a research paper written by Acclimatise’s Virginie Fayolle and Caroline Fouvet, and others for DFID’s Action on Climate Today (ACT) programme. The paper, “Engaging the Private Sector in Financing Adaptation to Climate Change: Learning from Practice”presents a comprehensive framework for identifying the key enabling factors for private sector actors to invest in climate change adaptation, signalling approaches that public policy-makers and donors can take to engage the private sector.

The toolkit also includes links to resources that help governments to integrate climate change into decision-making processes such as the Caribbean Climate Online Risk and Adaptation tooL – CCORAL – an online support system for climate resilient decision making, developed by Acclimatise for the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre (CCCCC).

Webinar

The NAP Global Network and the UNFCCC Adaptation Committee are hosting an interactive webinar about the toolkit this Wednesday 24th June 2020. Learn more and sign up below.

Engaging the Private Sector in National Adaptation Plans: A toolkit to guide effective strategies

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

14.00 – 15.00 CEST (8.00 – 9.00 EST)

Online: Microsoft Teams

Ask yourself, which business should be engaged in your climate change adaptation planning processes: the smallholder farmer or the big banker? Or when should you engage them: in the planning or implementation stage of the National Adaptation Plan (NAP) process?

In this interactive webinar, your decisions will guide the story!

Our policy advisors will ask for your input at five important junctures of a case study. The majority votes made by participants will impact the direction of the story, as you collectively play the role of a government worker responsible for the NAP process in a sunny and totally made-up island nation.

And don’t worry, we have a just the right guiding document to help with your decisions! This webinar is all about demonstrating the applicability of our new toolkit designed to help governments develop strategies to effectively engage private sector actors in their country’s NAP process:

Toolkit for Engaging the Private Sector in National Adaptation Plans (NAPs): Supplement to the UNFCCC Technical Guidelines for the NAP Process

Register online for the webinar now

Climate change, pandemics, biodiversity loss: no country is sufficiently prepared

Climate change, pandemics, biodiversity loss: no country is sufficiently prepared

By Gabriel Recchia & Haydn Belfield

There’s little that the left and the right agree on these days. But surely one thing is beyond question: that national governments must protect citizens from the gravest threats and risks they face. Although our government, wherever we are in the world, may not be able to save everyone from a pandemic or protect people and infrastructure from a devastating cyberattack, surely they have thought through these risks in advance and have well-funded, adequately practiced plans?

Unfortunately, the answer to this question is an emphatic no.

Not all policy areas are subject to this challenge. National defence establishments, for example, often have the frameworks and processes that facilitate policy decisions for extreme risks. But more often than not, and on more issues than not, governments fail to imagine how worst-case scenarios can come about – much less plan for them. Governments have never been able to divert significant attention from the here and happening to the future and uncertain.

recent report published by Cambridge University’s Centre for the Study of Existential Risk argues that this needs to change. If even only one catastrophic risk manifests – whether through nature, accident or intention – it would harm human security, prosperity and potential on a scale never before seen in human history. There are concrete steps governments can take to address this, but they are currently being neglected.

The risks that we face today are many and varied. They include:

The ‘Baker’ Explosion, part of Operation Crossroads, a US Army nuclear test at Bikini Atoll, Micronesia, on July 25, 1946. Wikimedia Commons

Each of these global catastrophic risks could cause unprecedented harm. A pandemic, for example, could speed around our hyper-connected world, threatening hundreds of millions – potentially billions – of people. In this globalised world of just-in-time delivery and global supply chains, we are more vulnerable to disruption than ever before. And the secondary effects of instability, mass migration and unrest may be comparably destructive. If any of these events occurred, we would pass on a diminished, fearful and wounded world to our descendants.

So how did we come to be so woefully unprepared, and what, if anything, can our governments do to make us safer?

A modern problem

Dealing with catastrophic risks on a global scale is a particularly modern problem. The risks themselves are a result of modern trends in population, information, politics, warfare, technology, climate and environmental damage.

These risks are a problem for governments that are set up around traditional threats. Defence forces were built to protect from external menaces, mostly foreign invading forces. Domestic security agencies became increasingly significant in the 20th century, as threats to sovereignty and security – such as organised crime, domestic terrorism, extreme political ideologies and sophisticated espionage – increasingly came from inside national borders.

Unfortunately, these traditional threats are no longer the greatest concern today. Risks arising from the domains of technology, environment, biology and warfare don’t fall neatly into government’s view of the world. Instead, they are varied, global, complex and catastrophic.

Global and local. Maksim Shutov/UnsplashFAL

As a result, these risks are currently not a priority for governments. Individually, they are quite unlikely. And such low-probability high-impact events are difficult to mobilise a response to. In addition, their unprecedented nature means we haven’t yet been taught a sharp lesson in the need to prepare for them. Many of the risks could take decades to arise, which conflicts with typical political time scales.

Governments, and the bureaucracies that support them, are not positioned to handle what’s coming. They don’t have the right incentives or skill sets to manage extreme risks, at least beyond natural disasters and military attacks. They are often stuck on old problems, and struggle to be agile to what’s new or emerging. Risk management as a practice is not a government’s strength. And technical expertise, especially on these challenging problem sets, tends to reside outside government.

Perhaps most troubling is the fact that any attempt to tackle these risks is not nationally confined: it would benefit everyone in the world – and indeed future generations. When the benefits are dispersed and the costs immediate, it is tempting to coast and hope others will pick up the slack.

Time to act

Despite these daunting challenges, governments have the capability and responsibility to increase national readiness for extreme events.

The first step is for governments to improve their own understanding of the risks. Developing a better understanding of extreme risks is not as simple as conducting better analysis or more research. It requires a whole-of-government framework with explicit strategies for understanding the types of risks we face, as well as their causes, impacts, probabilities and time scales.

With this plan, governments can chart more secure and prosperous futures for their citizens, even if the most catastrophic possibilities never come to pass.

Governments need to look further into potential futures. FotoKina/Shutterstock.com

Governments around the world are already working towards improving their understanding of risk. For example, the United Kingdom is a world leader in applying an all-hazard national risk assessment process. This assessment ensures governments understand all the hazards – natural disasters, pandemics, cyber attacks, space weather, infrastructure collapse – that their country faces. It helps local first responders to prepare for the most damaging scenarios.

Finland’s Committee for the Future, meanwhile, is an example of a parliamentary select committee that injects a dose of much-needed long-term thinking into domestic policy. It acts as a think tank for futures, science and technology policy and provides advice on legislation coming forward that has an impact on Finland’s long-range future.

And Singapore’s Centre for Strategic Futures is leading in “horizon scanning”, a set of methods that helps people think about the future and potential scenarios. This is not prediction. It’s thinking about what might be coming around the corner, and using that knowledge to inform policy.

But these actions are few and far between.

We need all governments to put more energy towards understanding the risks, and acting on that knowledge. Some countries may even need grand changes to their political and economic systems, a level of change that typically only occurs after a catastrophe. We cannot – and do not have to – wait for these structural changes or for a global crisis. Forward-leaning leaders must act now to better understand the risks that their countries face.


This article was originally posted on The Conversation.
Cover photo by aladdin hammami on Unsplash.
New project supports climate adaptation and resilience for Pacific Islands

New project supports climate adaptation and resilience for Pacific Islands

By Will Bugler

Fifteen Pacific island countries are part of the newly launched Pacific Adaptation to Climate Change and Resilience Building (PACRES) project under the Intra-African Caribbean Pacific (ACP) Global Climate Change Alliance Plus (GCCA+) Programme funded by the 11th European Development Fund’s (EDF). The EUR 12 million project aims to strengthen adaptation and mitigation measures at the national and regional level and support partner countries in climate negotiations and in implementing the Paris Agreement on climate change.

Jointly implemented by the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP), the Pacific Community, the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat (PIFS) and the University of the South Pacific, the project will also have a disaster resilience component. Some of the activities of the project, according to SPREP, include knowledge sharing, strengthening of networks, and trainings and research opportunities.

An inception and planning meeting for the project was held from 1-3 April 2019 at the SPREP Campus in Samoa.

The Cook Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), Fiji, Kiribati, Niue, Nauru, Palau, Papua New Guinea (PNG), the Marshall Islands, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Timor-Leste, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu participate in the project.


Photo Credit: Gemma Longman

US Senators introduce ‘Climate Security Act’ to understand climate impact on national security

US Senators introduce ‘Climate Security Act’ to understand climate impact on national security

By Will Bugler

Senators on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee have introduced a bill designed to increase the U.S governments’ understanding of the relationship between climate change and national Security. Brought forward on the 12th of March, The Climate Security Act of 2019 is wide ranging, examining the economic, environmental, and geopolitical impacts fuelled by climate change.

The Climate Security Act of 2019 was cosponsored by Senators Ben Cardin (D-Md.); Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.); Chris Coons (D-Del.); Tom Udall (D-N.M.); Chris Murphy (D-Conn.); Tim Kaine (D-Va.); Ed Markey (D-Mass.); Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.); Cory Booker (D-N.J.); and Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii).

If adopted, the Act would create a new Climate Security Envoy within the Department of State. The role would address climate security vulnerabilities and serve as the primary federal contact for climate security issues. The Climate Security Envoy would:

  • Work with climate scientists and security professionals to conduct analysis and risk assessments of the socioeconomic, geopolitical, and security risks associated with climate change.
  • Design climate security policies derived from those findings.
  • Develop and coordinate the application of climate security strategies that integrate climate policy seamlessly within the Department of State and across U.S. Embassies.
  • Develop and maintain relationships with other nations to address international climate security issues.

The Climate Security Envoy would also advise the President of the complexities and dynamics of global security threats exacerbated by climate. In addition, the bill would re-establish the Special Representative for the Artic.

The bill comes at a time when the security risks of climate change are gaining national attention. The previous week, more than 50 former senior military and national security officials  security officials, including former Secretary of State John Kerry and former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, penned a letter to the President emphasizing the need to include climate change in national security planning.


Cover photo by David Everett Strickler on Unsplash.

The global law firm Clyde & Co. launches climate change liability risks report

The global law firm Clyde & Co. launches climate change liability risks report

By Nadine Coudel and Dr Richard Bater

In March 2019, Clyde & Co. launched its climate change report Climate change: Liability risks, a rising tide of litigation‘. The report explores the liability risks that organisations have faced and continue to face as plaintiffs attempt to use the courts to further their cause or sue for damages.

The report provides a broad overview of the evolving litigation risk landscape arising from the effects of climate change, identifying some of the key themes, controversies and legal hurdles.

The authors suggest that the significance of this trend should not be underestimated, with over 1200 climate change cases having been filed in more than 30 jurisdictions to date. As both litigation approaches and scientific evidence evolve, litigation increasingly represents a powerful tool in the hands of those who seek to attribute blame for contributing to effects of climate change or failing to take steps to adapt in light of available scientific evidence.

In as much as the physical risks of climate change raise both direct and indirect implications for a diversity of sectors, so too do the associated legal risks. As Clyde & Co Partner Nigel Brook remarks, “As the volume of climate change litigation grows and legal precedents build, new duties of care are emerging and the liability risk landscape is undergoing a shift which is likely to affect a wide range of commercial sectors”.

The authors classify litigation which has been emerging over the last two decades into three broad categories:

1. Administrative cases against governments and public bodies;

2. Tortious claims against corporations perceived as perpetrators of climate change;

3. Claims brought by investors against corporations for failing to account for possible risks to carbon-intensive assets or for failing to account for or disclose risks to business models and value chains in financial reporting.

The report also addresses novel approaches that claimants are adopting when bringing climate litigation, as well as the practical and legal considerations that these give rise to.

Finally, the report looks at global trends in climate litigation and their implications for businesses in different industries around the world, highlighting the issues which should be on companies’ radars over the months and years to come. The authors indicate that climate change litigation has already been deployed against companies beyond the oil and gas majors and suggest that this trend is likely to continue.

Litigation has advanced far from being targeted at first line ‘emitters’ to being used as a means of holding companies accountable for how they respond to the physical and financial risks of climate change. Clyde & Co. plans to explore these liability risks in greater depth in future reports.


Photo by Robert Bye on Unsplash

Punjab’s PACT on climate resilience

Punjab’s PACT on climate resilience

In August of 2018, members of the Energy Department in Punjab, Pakistan, investigated potential climate-related risks to a number of their projects using the beta version of a new online screening tool, the first of its kind in the country. While screening a project to install solar panels in schools across Punjab, officials realised that water stress and drought, projected to worsen with climate change, pose a serious risk to the successful implementation of the project. For one, they would not be able to properly clean the panels if no water was available. Additionally, as noted by Mr Sadaf Iqbal, Manager (Environmental and Social Safeguard), Energy Department, “poor water quality which could have destroyed the solar panel performance over the long term was not considered. The tool [could help project officers] to incorporate these key considerations in the design at the planning stage.”

Members of the Energy Department testing the Punjab Adaptation to Climate Tool (PACT)

While a number of national and sub-national governments have sought to mainstream climate change in development planning, Punjab is arguably the first provincial government taking steps to proactively manage climate risks by screening for water-related climate risks on a project-by-project basis, using an online tool. The Punjab Adaptation to Climate Tool (PACT) is designed to help departments identify and integrate climate considerations into project design, ultimately making their investments more sustainable and resilient to a changing climate. Hosted by the Punjab Planning and Development Department (P&DD), it is currently used by 3 departments: agriculture, irrigation and energy.

A PACT for what?

A highly flood prone country, Pakistan has experienced heavy floods every other year since 1992 (8 incidents in the period between 1992-2015). In 2010, the country recorded its worst ever impacts from heavy flooding due to extreme monsoon rains, incurring losses of 10 billion rupees (PKR) (US $71 million), with at least 1900 deaths and around 160,000 square km of land inundated. The short and long-term impacts of the 2010 floods made the government sit up and take notice of a growing problem.

Like many countries, Pakistan has climate policies and plans; the 2012 National Climate Change Policy was followed by a Framework for Implementation in 2013. But a lack of on-ground implementation led to the 2015 Lahore High Court judgement, in which Judge Syed Mansoor Ali Shah stated: “For Pakistan, climate change is no longer a distant threat – we are already feeling and experiencing its impacts across the country and the region. The country experienced devastating floods during the last three years. These changes come with far reaching consequences and real economic costs.”

In a legal precedent by national and international standards, the judgement directed all of the main federal ministries and provincial level authorities to plan for managing climate change impacts (internationally termed climate change adaptation), paving the way for PACT. 

Climate change no longer a distant threat in Punjab

Climate change is already a reality in Punjab (see box). The High Court’s judgement provided political momentum for government officials to respond to climate change – yet they don’t always know how to respond. PACT is a step toward meeting this need, a first-of-its kind tool which systematically considers water-related climate risks in the project development process, enabling departments to proactively plan for the future. 

Climate impacts in Punjab

Floods are not the only climate-related threat in Punjab and Pakistan. In spite of being drained by 5 rivers, Pakistan has the lowest per capita water availability in South Asia. The country is the 4th largest abstractor of groundwater globally; groundwater depletion and drought are its top-ranking climate-related risks. These are only set to worsen with projected temperature rise, altered precipitation patterns and river flows, coupledwith increasing demand for water to grow crops. Agriculture, which uses 88% of the country’s total water supply, will be especially hard-hit. In 2007-08, heavy rains, rising temperatures and water shortages reduced Pakistan’s agricultural sector growth rate from 4% to 1.5%. Extreme heat is another top climate concern. During the heatwave of 2015, around 1300 people lost their lives. On 30th April 2018, for the first time ever, Pakistan recorded a temperature of 50°C, the highest recorded in the month of April. Within Pakistan, Punjab is particularly vulnerable to the vagaries of a changing climate, facing long periods of drought, interspersed with flash floods, riverine floods and urban flooding. Punjab is Pakistan’s most densely populated province and the second largest in terms of area. Its land is predominantly floodplain, which has helped the province become an agricultural hub, accounting for 77% of Pakistan’s total area under agricultural production. On the other hand, this has greatly increased its vulnerability to flooding, particularly in the summer monsoon period when the volume of water in all five rivers rises. Floods lead to loss of human life and destruction of crops and land, with knock-on economic impacts.

How does PACT help manage climate risks?

PACT is a web-based climate and water risk screening tool, developed specifically for, and in consultation with the P&DD and the departments of agriculture, irrigation and energy under the Action on Climate Today (ACT) programme, in partnership with climate adaptation advisors Acclimatise and international and national experts[1]. The tool has been designed to fit within departments’ existing processes; Mr. Nusrat Tufail Gill, Chief Environment & Climate Change, P&DD highlights that PACT helps “to mainstream climate change in projects and include adaptation during project development and planning stage.” Considering climate risk becomes just another step in the project development cycle.

Adopting a risk-based approach to climate adaptation, as recommended by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s Fifth Assessment Report (AR5), PACT is underpinned by the best available science on climate change in the region and local stakeholder inputs. It includes 15 climate-related indicators, with a focus on water. Through an intuitive interface, the tool asks project officers to answer a series of questions on the project’s characteristics based on their experience and perception, without requiring climate change expertise. The final result is a risk rating that indicates to what extent achievement of the project’s objectives is at risk due to climate change.

The process of answering PACT’s questions can yield insights into climate vulnerabilities that users may not have previously considered.  For example, officers from the energy department, when testing the same project for solar panels in schools, noted that cloud cover, linked to precipitation, decreases the effectiveness of solar panels. As future climate change may mean more frequent and/or heavy rain in certain areas of Punjab, this needs to be factored into the project design.

For agriculture, PACT can help “identify climate resilient interventions and their sustainability for development of climate smart irrigated agriculture projects in the Punjab,” noted Dr Maqsood Ahmed, Deputy Project Director (Watercourses), Punjab Irrigated-Agriculture Productivity Project (PIPIP), Agriculture Department.

PACT also helps departments make the best use of financial resources; as Dr Muhammad Javed, Director Strategic Planning and Reforms Unit of the Irrigation Department Lahore, noted, “by mainstreaming climate change, the cost of a project could rise initially but in the long run, sustainability of the project would help conserve financial resources.”

Throughout the screening process, PACT points the user toward resources with more detailed information on climate impacts and adaptation solutions. The aim is that over time, departments will develop their own knowledge and capacity on climate change adaptation, in part by using PACT.

On the road to climate resilience in Punjab

Political and legal statements on climate change, like the Lahore High Court judgment, do not always translate into action. There are several factors that have helped PACT become a reality in Punjab. The P&DD took early interest and leadership in adopting a screening tool, providing support throughout the development process. Nominated individuals from the three pilot departments were also actively involved in the process, through testing and providing inputs at each step. Selected officials were trained in the tool’s use from an early stage, which meant they could mentor their own colleagues.

With the finalisation of PACT, P&DD will host it on their website, and has advised all departments to use the tool within their project development cycles. Over time, the aim is that the number of projects which consider climate change from the design phase will increase, ensuring the sustainability and resilience of projects and the communities they serve. While the tool has been designed with the agriculture, irrigation and energy departments, it has the potential to be used by other departments, as well as by non-government and private entities. The tool can also be regularly updated as climate data improves in the region and globally.  

PACT functions as an aid to decision-makers, enabling increased sustainability and resilience in project planning, design and outcomes – a big step forward in terms of proactively and systematically responding to climate change. The Government of Punjab has established itself as a pioneer in the region by investing in building climate change capacity in sectoral departments, setting an example for other national and sub-national governments in South Asia and around the world.

For more information about PACT, please contact Arif Pervaiz (arif.pervaiz@opml.co.uk)


Cover photo from Asianet-Pakistan / Shutterstock.com
Arctic melt spurs geopolitical tensions

Arctic melt spurs geopolitical tensions

By Elisa Jiménez Alonso

With the Arctic heating up twice as fast as the rest of the world, the borders its sea ice once protected are being left exposed. That so-called unpaid sentry is disappearing fast, giving way to not just new shipping routes but also security challenges countries in the region are reacting to.

Sea ice in the Arctic is being lost at a staggering rate of over 10,000 tonnes per second, by 2035 the region could be ice-free during summer. Speaking to The Guardian, Klaus Dodds, professor of geopolitics at Royal Holloway, University of London, explained “The unique Arctic security architecture has shape and form that come from natural extremities. If the Arctic becomes just another ocean, this breaks down. It’s elemental.”

This is also the reason why military activity in the Arctic is increasing: the prospect of a completely open water body is cause for concern among countries that until recently relied on sea ice for securing their northern borders. However, it should be emphasised that an increase in military activity does not imply imminent conflict. Comparing the situation to that in the South China Sea – where nations compete not through combat but by demonstrating presence – former Norwegian defence minister Espen Barth Eide said “It’s not because there is an immediate threat, it’s that, as an area becomes more important, it’s natural to have a heightened military presence.”

With national security concerns also comes an increased sense of competition for the growing business interest in the region. The Northern Sea Route from Asia to Europe can save ships up to 20 days travel time as opposed to the Southern Sea Route (Suez Canal passage). Parts of the northern passage historically have only been ice-free for two months each year. However, as mentioned above, that is rapidly changing. Remote places like Tromsø in Norway are becoming bustling tourism and business hubs. “Now we have a historically strange situation with political and economic activity in the Arctic. So many people are knocking on our door, including business and state representatives from China, Pakistan, Singapore and Morocco,” said Tromsø mayor Kristin Røymo.

The receding ice is a massive game changer, especially for Russia. Not only does the country have the largest border in the Arctic region but must of the Northern Sea Route currently extends across Russia’s exclusive economic zone. As long as the ice doesn’t recede beyond that zone, Russia will get paid by anyone who uses that shipping route. But as sea ice recedes further, ships will be able to travel in international waters. China, an observing member of the Arctic Council since 2013, is one of the countries exploring this possibility and the potential for infrastructure investments in a “Polar Silk Road”, threatening the exclusive position Russia has been in historically.

In addition to the growing interest in the Arctic for its shorter shipping routes, oil & gas companies are sniffing their chance at exploring new oil and gas fields. Norway came under fire earlier this year for having approved over 80 new exploration licenses. At the Arctic Frontiers conference in January, environmentalists highlighted the dual role of oil as both a driver of climate change, which is heavily impacting the Arctic, and as a driver of increasing resource extraction in one of the most fragile and pristine environments on this planet. These tensions and the growing competition are also putting into question peaceful cross-border cooperation efforts that held up even during the cold war and regulated fishing, scientific research and even reindeer herding.


Cover photo by Menglong Bao on Unsplash
Climate change main component of systemic collapse risk

Climate change main component of systemic collapse risk

By Elisa Jiménez Alonso

A new study by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) finds that human-induced environmental change is occurring at an unprecedented scale and pace. At the same time, the window of opportunity to avoid catastrophic outcomes and manage the resulting risks is closing fast. According to the researchers, politics and policies are failing to recognise this urgency, eroding the foundations that enable socioeconomic stability and threatening systemic collapse of 2008-proportions if not worse.

The climate is one of six main global systems that are being altered by human activity. The increase of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is causing ocean acidification, melting ice sheets and sea ice, rising sea levels, and large-scale ecosystem changes. The ‘safe’ CO2-concentration boundary of 350 parts per million (ppm) has long been breached with levels currently fluctuating between roughly 405-410 ppm – the highest since the Pliocene 3-5 million years ago when average temperatures were about 2°-3° C higher and sea levels about 10-20 metres higher. And change is clearly already happening: the 20 warmest years on record since 1850 happened in the last 22 years. Last year’s devastating IPCC report highlighted this even more, emphasising large-scale change needs to happen now by reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 45% by 2030 from 2010 levels in order to avoid catastrophic warming.

The other systems being altered include ocean acidification, biodiversity, land-use, the nitrogen cycle, and different forms of pollution. Together with climate change, the human impact on these systems has created an explosive new domain of risk. In the report, researchers write “this new risk domain affects virtually all areas of policy and politics, and it is doubtful that societies around the world are adequately prepared to manage this risk.”

The deterioration of natural systems significantly amplifies and interacts with existing socioeconomic issues. The study compares the potential risk of systemic collapse to the subprime mortgage crisis that led to the 2008 financial crisis – the deepest recession since the Great Depression in the 1930s. However, given that in this case we are talking about the very environment we depend on for living as a species, the ramifications of systemic collapse would be much more dramatic.

For example, migration from the Middle East and central and northern Africa is likely to increase as a result of longer droughts and extreme heat. In 2015, when migration caused by the Syrian war reached its highest numbers ever, European politicians found themselves completely overwhelmed by an arguably foreseeable situation of manageable proportions (there are roughly 1 million Syrian refugees in Europe, a continent of close to 750 million, with EU citizens making up roughly 70% of that). Climate change could increase refugee numbers tenfold and displace tens of millions of people. Laurie Laybourn-Langton, lead author of the study, said “There would be repercussions in Europe. Right-wing groups use the fear of migration, as we saw during the EU referendum in Britain. What is that going to look like when far more people are forced from homes due to environmental shocks? What does that mean for political cohesion?”

The report states that current policy efforts to grapple with these problems are not adequately focussed on all the different elements of environmental breakdown and completely miss the mark to provide transformational change to key socioeconomic systems. Societies are not robust enough to deal with the increasingly dire consequences of a breakdown.

The IPPR study is just the beginning of a larger project that, using the UK as a case study, will assess what progress has been made toward responding to environmental breakdown and develop policies that can help create a sustainable, just and prepared world by seeking to understand how political and policy communities can develop the sense of agency needed to overcome environmental breakdown.

Access the report by clicking here.


Cover photo by Josh Zakary/Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0): Syrian Refugees in Vienna, 2015.
Climate action needs to be inclusive of women’s diverse voices

Climate action needs to be inclusive of women’s diverse voices

By Elisa Jiménez Alonso

Structural and cultural discrimination of women make them more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, however, they also lack systematic representation as decision makers. Gender equality is essential for transformational climate action, thus the involvement of women in it is key.

Women are disproportionately affected by climate change impacts in a number of ways. For example, a study from 2007 showed that the socially constructed gender-specific vulnerability of women that is built into everyday socio-economic patterns led to higher mortality during and after disasters compared to men. Surviving extreme weather events can leave women with a lack of resources to rebuild their lives, this can range from a lack of legal assets to not having rights to property. The less extreme day-to-day struggles of having to collect water or food also come with their own set of gendered challenges as women often get threatened and abused.

Framing climate change as a human rights imperative, a global security threat, and a pervasive economic strain, a Georgetown University study from 2015 looked specifically at the gendered dimensions of climate impacts and how women systematically suffer more severe health, economic, social, and physical consequences. The report also recognised women as critical agents of change who provide both creative and localised solutions for climate mitigation and adaptation, but who are, at the same time, systematically excluded from decision-making processes.

The UNFCCC is trying to counteract this systematic exclusion through a number of measures like, for example, the Gender Action Plan (GAP). Established at COP23, the GAP recognises that “there  is  a  need  for  women  to  be  represented  in  all  aspects  of  the  Convention  process  and  a  need  for  gender  mainstreaming  through  all  relevant  targets  and goals in activities under the Convention as an important contribution to increasing their effectiveness.” The Paris Agreement also mentions the importance of gender equality and women’s empowerment several times calling, for example, for gender-responsive adaptation and capacity building. Increasing women’s participation at the political level results in greater responsiveness to citizen’s needs, increasing cooperation across party and ethnic lines, and delivering more sustainable peace.

Finally, it is important to keep in mind how intersectionality adds fuel to the fire of gender inequality. Intersectionality, a term coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw, describes the way in which institutions of oppression (sexism, racism, ableism, classism, xenophobia, homophobia, transphobia, etc.) are interconnected and cannot be examined separately from each other creating very unique experiences for different people. For example, a wealthy white woman and a wealthy black woman can both experience sexism, but the black woman will in all likelihood experience racism on top of that, or even gendered racism; similarly, a disabled woman encounters completely different challenges than a non-disabled woman. But also, the examples outlined further above do not apply to all women, illustrating why the representation of women in decision-making processes needs to reflect their diverse experiences making sure we are creating solutions for all, not just the few.


Cover photo by Arièle Bonte on Unsplash.