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Climate Solutions Need Strong Decision-Making

Kanya D'Almeida

WASHINGTON, Oct 18 2011 (IPS) - The year 2010 endured 950 natural disasters, 90 percent of which were weather-related and cost the global community well over 130 billion dollars.

From wildfires in Brazil to record rainfall in the United States to the severe drought and famine in the Horn of Africa, it has become clear to many that quick and radical decisions need to be made about the world’s future.

One of the biggest advocates of this position has been the Washington-based World Resources Institute (WRI) which, in partnership with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Bank released a report here Tuesday calling on decision makers to enact quick and efficient resolutions to multiple and chronic environmental crises.

Pulling input from 100 experts in 35 countries, “Decision Making in a Changing Climate”, or the 2010-2011 World Resources Report (WRR) presents case studies of creative, sustainable responses to climate change in the developing world.

It also maps the major problems facing decision makers, namely the unprecedented pace of global warming, rising sea levels and melting ice-caps; trade-offs between so-called “short-term” and “long-term” solutions; and the incredibly uneven distribution of access, wealth, skills and information across the world’s population, which forces the burden of climate change onto already oppressed, impoverished or marginalised populations.

Kelly Levin, research director and lead author of the WRR, told IPS, “There are two reasons we believe this report is groundbreaking. Firstly, because the inclusive research approach ensures the quality of our recommendations. And secondly, we focus less on what needs to be done and instead detail how it can be done.”

“By focusing on the process, rather than dictating solutions, we hope to ensure a fundamental change in the way governments integrate climate change into everyday practices, so that decision making can actually work better in this changing climate,” she said.

An integrated, “ecological” approach

“Climate change is not solely an environmental issue,” Olav Kjorven, director of the Bureau for Development Policy at UNDP, told a media teleconference Tuesday.

“Governments must start now to incorporate climate risks into plans and policies across all sectors, including urban development, coastal planning, agriculture, water and forestry management, and electricity production,” he said.

In this endeavour, “The WRR strongly advocates public engagement,” Kaveh Zahedi, climate change coordinator of the UNEP, told IPS. “Involving the communities most affected by climate change can help define adaptation needs and priorities, ultimately ensuring the sustainability of projects.”

Zahedi pointed to the example of government investment in mangrove restoration in Vietnam, where coastal populations are locked in a bitter battle against storms and sea-level rise.

In the North, mangroves were planted for coastal protection, without due consideration of local inhabitants’ land rights. This exacerbated conflict over coastal wetlands and disproportionately affected women dependent on access to the coast to harvest non-cultivated seafood, such as clams and crabs.

However, mangrove restoration in the South was designed as a multi- functional solution to poverty alleviation and the diversification of livelihoods. Coupled with capacity building, training for local populations and increased access to schools and health services, mangroves in the South have provided both ecological goods and services and livelihood benefits.

Meanwhile, South Africa – one of the planet’s 17 mega-diverse countries, home to three biodiversity “hotspots” and nursery of 15 percent of the world’s coastal and marine species – has incorporated biodiversity information into a national strategy for building “ecosystem reliance”.

This includes centuries-old farming techniques that reflect and respect the importance of relationships inherent in any thriving ecosystem.

The WRR notes, “Biodiversity sector plans are being used in seven of the country’s nine provinces to guide land-use planning and decision- making by all sectors that impact biodiversity such as housing, agriculture, conservation and industry.”

China has also benefitted by taking its development cues directly from the environment.

After nearly a millennium of “hard engineering” flood-control efforts in the Yangtze River basin through the use of dikes and polders, the notorious floods of 1998 prompted the Chinese government to adopt a radical new solution: a “soft path” approach that restored several thousand square kilometres of floodplains to safely hold and slowly release peak floodwaters.

According to the report, “The environment has benefitted through improved water quality, recovery of flora and fauna, conservation of threatened species and designation of nature reserves. While 2.4 million people were relocated from the most flood-prone lands to adjacent, higher ground, in general their livelihoods and resilience have improved.”

Zahedi added, “Climate change requires long term solutions – it does not fit well with short term or stop gap measures. CO2 lasts in the atmosphere for a hundred years, so emissions today will lock us into certain pathways many years ahead.”

“Our research shows that there is a gap between where science says we need to be heading (temperature rise of less than two degrees Celsius) and where our global policies are taking us,” he said.

He told IPS that current country pledges in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) process would take us less than 60 percent of the way towards keeping a global temperature rise under two degrees Celsius. However that would leave a gap of five gigatonnes (Gts) of CO2 equivalent – equal to about 10 percent of current global emissions – that needed to be filled by greater action and faster decision making.

Overall, he was hopeful that cross-sector efforts, such as those highlighted by the report, would yield positive results.

“The multiple crises of rising food prices, climate change and financial failure are providing an opening for transformative solutions,” Zahedi said.

“There is also an opportunity to reverse the under-investment in smallholder agriculture. A massive scaling up of investment is needed in building resilience, restoring the natural resource base upon which agriculture depends, and supporting farmers, especially the half a billion small holder farms, to enable them not only to feed their families but also be part of the solution for feeding nine billion people by the middle of the century,” he concluded.

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