Extreme water events affecting water for drinking, cooking, washing and agriculture drive migration all over the world. Earlier this year, cyclone Eloise battered Mozambique, displacing 100,000 to 400,000 people and weakening the country’s infrastructure. People displaced by the storm were in need of food, hygiene kits and personal protective equipment (PPE).
Addressing water-driven migration will require research that crosses borders and research boundaries. As climate change continues to cause serious displacement and socio-political upheaval, governments must take action to minimize the effects on people vulnerable to migration.
The stakes of water-driven migration
Water-driven migration is a crucial challenge for people living in vulnerable and unstable regions. Water stress acts as a direct or indirect driver of conflict and migration. As water and climate extremes become worse, more people will face water crises and be forced to migrate.
For instance, take the famous case of the Aral Sea that shrank to 9,830 square kilometres in 2017 from 55,700 square kilometres in the 1970s. More than 100,000 people migrated due to collapse of agriculture, fisheries, tourism and increased illnesses such as tuberculosis and diarrhea.
Countries that have committed to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals could address water-driven migration through SDG 16 (peace, justice and strong institutions). Policy can be aligned with SDG 16 along a seven-point strategy:
Understand how water crises influence migration: Causality is important in addressing migration. Land, water and human security issues could serve as a base for outlining a preventative outlook for new and emerging migration pathways.
Integrate diverse perspectives in water migration assessments: Water co-operation treaties must integrate under-represented, marginalized and racialized migrant voices. The United Nations University’s Institute for Water, Environment and Health has developed an approach to aggregate the causes and consequences of water-driven migration. This framework can help policy-makers interpret migration in diverse socio-ecological, socio-economic, and socio-political settings.
Assess water, migration and development practices through participatory, bottom-up and interdisciplinary approaches: Research should be participatory, applicable between disciplines and socially inclusive to complement scientific, descriptive methods. Nuanced facts of the diverse influences that shape migration can provide understanding to build resilience among vulnerable populations.
Manage data, information and knowledge: Researchers need updated data to examine how water crises are linked with human migration. To close the gaps, the UN has pointed to the need to improve capacity for data analysis within and between countries. Also, there must be stronger co-ordination at the state, regional and international levels to share best practices.
Policy-makers must prepare for the consequences of water crises by adopting improvements that address the concerns of those vulnerable to migration. The seven-point strategy calls for policy-makers to use strategic and integrated approaches between disciplines. Research that maps causes, risks and impacts at the local, regional and global levels can strengthen water migration policies.
Maintaining food, protection, homes for wildlife, and improved air quality is our gift to future generations. These acts of preservation are apt metaphors when thinking about the impact our actions have on the climate around us.
The trees we wander past each day provide us with many more benefits than we give them credit for. Take a walk through any city, and you’ll see that trees can sprout anywhere at any time.
The problem is that unless a city cultivates deep roots of community and citizen participation and sets the right conditions for young shoots to emerge, or tends to plants as they mature, then the city will not develop a dense, strengthened canopy for sustained climate futures.
Just like the tree, cities and regions also need to create spaces for climate resilience to take root.
Inclusive spaces, where opinions from a diverse range of actors can be meaningfully heard, and complex challenges that governments cannot tackle alone can be collectively addressed.
Most importantly, cities and regions need to create environments with strong collaboration roots and where citizen participation can bloom and, just like the trees, improve a city’s long-term climate resilience, creating a healthy, clean future for everyone.
However, the problem is that sometimes you need to take a pretty long walk, through several cities, to find such well-rooted collaboration.
A new Democratic Climate Model highlights how democratic principles can lead cities and regions to respond differently to climate change.
The Model is underpinned by meaningful participation and legitimised by continuous community consent. A vital feature of the Model is that it strengthens democratic institutions in the long term through citizen participation.
Herein lies the democratic climate conundrum.
Despite this type of famed citizen participation, it is currently on a distant and abstract level, with very few citizens involved.
Participation is still a very long, long walk away from most interested citizens and their daily lives.
The UN and the EU are famed for leading the way to include citizen voices during climate negotiations.
From the 1992 Rio Declaration to the 2020 European Climate Pact as part of the European Green Deal, citizens have had some form of a voice in climate-related decision-making.
What about involvement closer to home?
The good news is that cities and regions are mostly aware of the importance of addressing climate change. City leaders are starting to reimagine city life without chronic congestion, polluting buildings, and shrinking green spaces.
The bad news is that too many cities and regions have their efforts hampered by low-levels of citizen participation.
Dialogue, however, is fading away, critically when residents need to adjust to new climate laws, and more importantly, have a say in shaping legislation.
The call for greater citizen participation in climate decision-making processes is far from a new suggestion.
What we see now, though, is a massive disconnect between the enthusiasm of climate-opinionated residents and the engagement of such communities in participatory processes that can create more climate-friendly ways of living, working, and playing in a city.
Why is there a disconnect?
In short, it seems that the old ways of working, through narrow dialogues, a homogeneity of voices, and technocratic, short-term solution-based thinking, are stunting the process.
Citizens are fatigued by being told what to do by those in power and want agency and ownership over decisions that impact their quality of life. They wish to do away with top-down decisions where citizen participation is an afterthought or box to tick.
Cities and regions are coming around to this idea and want increased community acceptance and support for climate measures. They are also aware that investments in this process will yield new insights based on lived experience, local knowledge, and expertise. However, the road is not easy.
Meaningful participation requires the transformation of the usual systems to create lasting structures that address complex challenges, such as climate change.
Citizen participation for climate resilience is needed now.
EIT Climate-KIC Healthy, Clean Cities Deep Demonstrations
Democratic Society also wanted to use this experience to develop a scalable model that could be experimented with in any city, anywhere.
The project brought together experts from financing, innovation, carbon accounting, and citizen participation to design and conduct strategic work programmes with cities.
Crucially, Democratic Society also employed Local Connectors in each city, skilled practitioners with expertise in policy and civic engagement, social innovation and design for sustainability, and locals in the cities they worked in.
They collaborated with city leaders and consortium design partners and joined the dots between the diverse actors involved. They worked towards a good transition that included government bodies, civil society organisations, grassroots groups, journalists, and businesses.
The locations for these programmes? The 14 European cities of Amsterdam, Edinburgh, Kraków, Križevci, Leuven, Madrid, Malmö, Maribor, Milano, Niš, Orléans, Sarajevo, Skopje and Vienna.
With the facilitation in place, the Deep Demonstrations were then designed to achieve systematic change in a range of climate resilience priority areas.
These were mobility, logistics, housing, building environment, waste and the circular economy, energy, and urban greening.
The participatory elements of the Deep Demonstrations as led by Democratic Society utilised the concepts of community placemaking conversations, hyperlocal governance, climate assemblies, opportunities for co-production and co-ownership, different models of collaboration between city governments and citizens, and embedding participation in transition governance.
Learnings about meaningful collaboration
Looking back at 18 months of reimagining quality of life in 14 European cities, a lot is to be learnt.
One message is clear: city leaders can better address climate challenges by embedding democratic principles, such as collaboration, power-sharing, and transparency in their climate resilience work.
More in-depth and broader citizen participation can help to reimagine life in cities and generate buy-in for policies.
Introducing our Climate Democratic Model
Here we present the first iteration of a Democratic Climate Model based on our learnings from the Deep Demonstrationsproject. We would also like to invite you to provide your feedback and engage us in a discussion.
The Model is illustrated through the tree analogy. While trees come from seeds, the seeds themselves do not contain the resources needed to grow them.
Instead, the seeds that sprout from the conditions around them and the roots that provide the tree with a sound footing to draw in nutrients create stability and grow towards the surface.
The nodes of connectivity between the roots broaden the possibilities of a nurtured and nourished canopy above. Just like the tree, climate resilience needs deep roots in communities that policies serve.
The Model features three parts: Rooted vs. Weak collaboration, The City Canopy, and an Actor Framework.
Rooted vs. Weak Collaboration
Rooted vs. Weak Collaboration visualises the degree to which strong or weak collaboration roots unlock climate resilience in cities, now and for future generations.
‘Rooted collaboration’ shows the benefits of cultivating deep roots of community and citizen participation so that cities develop a dense, strengthened canopy for sustained climate futures.
Conversely, ‘Weak collaboration’ is what happens without firm roots, where lack of citizen participation risks collapsing the city into a non-inclusive and non-sustainable climate future.
The City Canopy
The ‘City Canopy’ is a tool for mapping the scales of climate resilience developed through rooted collaboration.
In this model, the denser the canopy that covers a city, the more likely its structures and processes support rooted collaboration, shifting the city or region towards strengthened citizen participation and climate policy governance that will stand the test of time.
Our findings across the 14 Deep Demonstrations cities suggested that four elements are central to ensuring a city can progress towards climate resilience: 1) Diversity of actors; 2) Participatory culture; 3) Subject matter expertise; 4) Resources. Each of these elements has several characteristics that we use to calculate a City’s Canopy.
The presence of these four elements are mapped to three layers: Foundational, mobilising factors, Emerging shifts, and the scale of Future possibilities in the city to increase the density of their canopy for climate resilience.
The Actor Framework helps us explain the types of actors involved in the Democratic Climate Model, what roles they play, and how their roles must evolve to bring about just and sustainable climate futures. Types of actors include artists, activists, researchers, grassroots groups, civil society, companies, governments, and journalists.
In every city and region, different actors participate to different degrees. How much and how actors come together has a bearing on the degree of rooted collaboration for climate resilience. We also use the actor framework to calculate the diversity of actors element in the City Canopy.
Like all parts of the Democratic Climate Model, this framework will continue to evolve. We invite your feedback.
Let us take a closer look at how the Deep Demonstrations played out in Orléans Métropole, France. This city saw the opportunity to bolster its participatory culture and question old ways of working.
The vision for our Democratic Climate Model is that it can be used to inspire more collaborative engagement, more profound thought about who and what we value, and embed democratic principles for just climate transitions in thousands of cities and regions.
The ultimate goal is for an interconnected, international network of climate-resilient cities and regions – liveable areas, where citizens are engaged and live their best lives within vibrant, inclusive, and socially-just communities.
If there is one message you should take away from this article it is this:
Yes, cities and regions need to find new ways to involve citizens in climate decision-making. Still, they cannot do this without city leaders, funders, and active citizens in the climate space, reflecting on how they need to act differently.
The Democratic Society can help with that.
Democratic Society, through strengthening governance, participation, and civil society, can help you make the best use of the Model outlined in this article.
Across East and West Africa, IIED and partners have been developing and testing approaches to strengthen women’s voices in local land governance. Philippine Sutz reflects on the role and impact of local governance frameworks as these approaches are implemented in different contexts.
Since 2016, IIED has been working with local partners across East and West Africa to strengthen rural women’s voices in local land governance.
The assumption underpinning this work is that when local women actively participate in land governance, related structures are more likely to recognise and defend women’s interests. This leads to fairer land relations and women having greater control over their livelihood options.
While tailored to address local contexts and needs, the approaches developed in each country share similarities: None of them ‘reinvent the wheel’ but build on existing governance arrangements; they are bottom-up and participatory, involving community dialogue and capacity building exercises; and they all seek to ensure that decision-making bodies on land include a minimum number of active women members and promote local dialogue.
But the approach design was different to recognise the opportunities and gaps associated with each country’s land governance framework.
Tanzania and Ghana: local level governance fosters local ownership
In Tanzania, the law establishes local authorities with power to administer land at the lowest administrative level: the village. The village council and village assembly play a key role in local land governance – they have the power to allocate land and make decisions on land use.
In Ghana, land is governed customarily by traditional authorities, and land governance rules vary from one area to another. In the area where our project was implemented – the Nanton Traditional Area – community chiefs are given power to administer land.
In both countries, the local governance systems enabled our partners to embed their approaches directly at the community level and ensure local ownership.
In Tanzania, the Tanzania Women Lawyers Association (TAWLA) worked directly with village authorities to support the adoption of gender-sensitive village by-laws promoting the participation of women in village level decision-making processes. The process received good support from local communities.
In Ghana, NETRIGHT and the Grassroot Sisterhood Foundation (GSF) worked with local community chiefs – the lowest traditional administrative unit – to establish Community Land Development Committees (CLDCs). These committees are designed to support chiefs in making decisions on land and ensure that such committees had women members.
The authorities administering land are the municipal council through the land commission – a local body supporting the council’s decision-making process.
Our partner IED Afrique worked in Darou Khoudoss to support the inclusion of women in the land commission and the adoption of a local land charter promoting women’s participation in land governance.
Working at the municipal level – rather than directly in villages – has proved more challenging in terms of local ownership. IED Afrique developed additional activities to ensure buy-in at village level. In particular, they collaborated with local women’ groups to make sure that the project was reaching women in villages.
In Tanzania and Senegal, land being governed by national laws makes it easier to replicate and scale up approaches. In Tanzania, TAWLA was able to reach all 64 villages in the Kisarawe District. Replicating the approach across different regions in Ghana would have meant adapting it to each regional context, which would have been cumbersome and resource intensive.
Takeaways for policymakers
Comparing land governance frameworks (PDF) in the three countries shows how their nature – and in particular the existence (or lack) of heavily decentralised power on land – determines, to a degree, the administrative level where the intervention takes place. This impacts how easily participatory and inclusive bottom-up approaches can be implemented.
Local authorities having power over land at the village or community level – as in Tanzania and Ghana – is a real advantage, as it allows approaches to be embedded in the very communities they’re trying to support. When land is governed at a higher administrative level – as in Senegal – additional efforts and resources are often needed to ensure local ownership of the approach.
In wider terms, my sense is that the more decentralised a land governance framework, the better for democratic, participatory processes to take place and ultimately, for how local women’s voices can be reflected in decisions made on land administration. This should be kept in mind by governments undertaking land governance reforms.
Wales has pledged to reach zero carbon emissions by 2050. So it plans a Welsh national forest with thousands more trees.
A year ago the first minister of Wales, Mark Drakeford, announced a big step forward towards a more verdant and accessible country: a scheme for a Welsh national forest.
Inspired by the Wales Coast Path, the idea is to create a woodland system that enables visitors to walk uninterrupted throughout the country.
As well as protecting and improving existing forest sites, the scheme will fund tree-planting across the nation by farmers and local communities.
Wales is part of a global movement. In Africa’s Sahel, the Great Green Wall programme has been running for a decade and is about 15% complete. Once finished, the 8,000 km-long wall will be the largest living structure on the planet, three times the size of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.
“Through the National Forest we can restore, enhance and create woodlands and habitats across the length and breadth of Wales”
These schemes, and many others, are supported by millions of campaigners and small organisations who drive the demand for tree-planting. Trees have an undeniably positive effect on the planet, absorbing from the atmosphere carbon dioxide and other climate-heating emissions produced by humans.
But care is needed. An existing forest is more effective than a new one, as mature trees are better than young ones at absorbing emissions, and are more resilient to storms and drought.
Tree loss of this sort is happening in Africa too, putting pressure on already threatened ecosystems. Kevin Juma, one of the founders of the Africa Forest Carbon Catalyst, says: “Africa has one-fifth of the planet’s remaining forests but is losing them faster than anywhere else. Protecting and restoring these forest landscapes is not only critical for Africa, but for the entire world.
Better than planting
“This forest protection model is among the most cost-effective natural defences against climate change, in addition to helping maintain biodiversity, and providing economic opportunity for hundreds of thousands of people in the region.”
The World Resources Institute says protecting tropical tree cover alone could provide 23% of the climate mitigation needed to meet the goals set in the 2015 Paris Agreement. Schemes which focus on tree protection and forest restoration are more likely to provide climate mitigation than tree-planting.
Initiative 20X20 aims to restore existing forests in Latin America and the Caribbean. So far, it has secured commitments from 17 countries to protect and restore 50 million hectares (124m acres) of degraded land by 2030.
The region contains some of the most diverse ecosystems on the planet, and restoring them will help their animal inhabitants, as well as contributing to a global effort to reduce emissions.
The Welsh government has been pledging a move towards a more sustainable future for some time. Since 2008 the Plant programme has planted a tree for every child born or adopted in Wales. For the last seven years, this has been matched by planting an additional tree in Uganda for every Welsh birth.
Carbon cuts too
The programme has led to 300,000 new trees being planted in Wales, with 140 hectares of new woodland created. In Uganda, the scheme has supported 1,600 families in 30 villages, and five Fairtrade coffee plantations. Through the Size of Wales programme, the Welsh government also funds projects in Kenya, Borneo, the DRC, Peru and Guyana.
The Welsh wildlife broadcaster Iolo Williams said: “Through the National Forest we can restore, enhance and create woodlands and habitats in a connected way across the length and breadth of Wales, with the right species of tree planted in the right place.
“It will also inspire well-being through creating a love for the outdoors in future generations.” − Climate News Network
The desert locust outbreak requires several levels of response from national and regional governance structures.
We know that environmental disasters are a function of our disregard for the environment we have been entrusted to steward. The current desert locust plague is a timely reminder that the consequences of climate change enables environmental disasters beyond just extreme weather. The warming of the Indian Ocean, caused by anthropogenic heat, has helped increase the frequency and intensity of tropical cyclones, creating favourable conditions for desert locust breeding and mutation.
In 2019, the North Indian Ocean experienced its most active cyclone season ever recorded. This created ideal locust breeding and survival grounds across the Arabian Peninsula. Desert locusts (Schistocerca gregaria) occur in swarms due to a particular combination of weather, soil and vegetation conditions that complement their reproduction and mutation from an otherwise solitary creature into one that matures and develops into speedy swarms (gregarisation) of up to 150 million locusts. This mutation makes the desert locust one of the most destructive insect groups when met with cropland.
The very nature of a desert locust disaster calls for a policy approach that must intersect with many levels of governance. Disaster risk management (DRM) for desert locusts requires early reaction, efficient control and monitoring and, fundamentally, a prevention approach. What makes desert locusts such a devastating pest is their ability to rapidly develop into swarms, migrate across regions and states, quickly destroying cropland. A swarm the size of Paris can eat as much as half the population of France in one day. East Africa is currently experiencing the worst desert locust outbreak in decades. The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) estimates that over 42 million people are facing acute food insecurity in the ten affected countries.
Despite early warning by The Desert Locust Watch agency during the 2019 cyclone season, the invasion could not be stopped in time. Knowledge on the ecology of desert locusts has developed considerably over time, but without international policy and implementation cooperation, understanding the species is not enough. National governments must domesticate the procedures and strategies agreed upon at the regional level. In 1962, the Desert Locust Control Organisation for Eastern Africa (DLCO-EA) was established to unify cooperation between the governments of Ethiopia, Somalia, Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda. The DLCO-EA hoped to ensure cooperation in the control of desert locust plagues across the region. Despite having the necessary scientific understanding of how to deal with the locusts, the organisation has struggled to deal with the magnitude of the current outbreak.
The desert locust disaster is an example of the disconnect between the actions of regional organisations and the preparedness of national locust control units. Ria Sen, Disaster Risk Reduction expert with the World Food Programme, asserts that although quantitative risk modelling is an important aspect of preparedness, grasping the context-specific scenario within affected states will ultimately determine the success or failure of a disaster risk management plan.
In the case of Ethiopia, policies do exist to ensure preparedness and risk management planning for disasters affecting the country. The federal agency responsible for their implementation has lagged and only half of the districts across the country have obtained the DRM plans and profiling since 2009. Coupled with the current political disputes between the Tigray Region and the federal government, the ability of the Plant Protection Division and Crop Protection Departments to support the implementation of local-level systems is highly constrained. Ethiopia continues to battle the recent upsurge of swarms in the north. If tensions continue to escalate between Tigray and the national government, the impact of the locust invasion will worsen.
Like most other environmental disasters, the desert locust outbreak requires several levels of response from governance structures both regional and national. Transnational governance response to environmental issues cannot act as a substitute for strong state-based governance. Strong national environmental policies create incentives for state and non-state actors to cooperate. The DLCO-EA should be complemented by member state investment into national and local level locust control policies so that they can work in synergy.
Countries and regional bodies must invest in further research and technology to improve the ability to predict and potentially prevent desert locust disasters.
Improve the early warning communication pathway between regional bodies like the FAO’s Desert Locust Watch and the affected countries.
Strengthen cooperation and engagement between the member states of the DLCO-EA, the Central Desert Locust Commission and the regional environmental centres.
Enhance coordination and prioritisation at a local and national level of prevention and control actions.
Increase resource allocation for disaster risk management bodies in advanced to avoid costly emergency response actions.
The implementation of these recommendations will help align existing regional and national governance structures to avoid prolonging the current outbreak and help prevent future related environmental disasters.
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.”
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
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).
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.
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
In this interactive webinar, your decisions will guide the story!
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.
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 toolkitdesigned
to help governments develop strategies to effectively engage private sector
actors in their country’s NAP process:
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.
A 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:
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.
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 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.
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.
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.