Climate Change, Environment, International Policies

Let the Human Face of Climate Change Emerge in Copenhagen

As the Conference of Parties (COP) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) convenes in Copenhagen for its 15th  meeting, all eyes are  on targets to reduce carbon emissions.  At the same time, the irony of climate change is that people in countries that have had the least to do with growing emissions are likely to experience the greatest difficulties in adapting to the impacts of climate change.  Discussions and agreements in Copenhagen will include how best to plan for and fund long term adaptation strategies for countries affected by changes in climate.

Experience with short term adaptation plans, embodied in National Adaptation Programmes of Action (NAPA) developed over the past decade, offers lessons to the negotiators and shows that the world needs a new paradigm for addressing adaptation and development that puts people at the core. Under a 2001 agreement at the 7th meeting of the COP of the UNFCCC, forty-nine least developed countries and small island states have been eligible to develop NAPAs, which are meant to address immediate and pressing adaptation issues.  Nearly a decade later, most NAPAs have been prepared, but few projects have started.  Funding for NAPAs by the international community is woefully inadequate.  Furthermore, the projects do not reflect the complexity of people’s lives, nor the need to address human and social capital to help make people more resilient to changes in their environments that are resulting from climate change.  The NAPA process was designed to be participatory, yet the inclusion of women in the process, let alone young people, was lacking in most countries.  The social sectors were underrepresented to say the least.  The NAPA process in most countries was squarely housed in ministries of meteorology and environment, with predictable outcomes. 

NAPAs mostly propose single sector projects that are in 12 categories given by the UNFCCC. Half of the projects fall into three sectors – food security, terrestrial ecosystems and water resources.  Those sectors are clearly critical, but so are social sectors, including health and education to promote human capital and community participation to promote social capital.  The only social sector under the UNFCCC architecture is health and that is among the least well represented sectors.  Only 7 percent of projects proposed through NAPAs are in the health sector.  Education, particularly girl’s education, which is widely understood to improve people’s lives, is not a sector under the UNFCCC. Thirty-seven of 41 prepared NAPAs note population pressure as exacerbating the effects of climate change, yet there are no projects underway to promote family planning, let along women’s rights and empowerment or education which could help bolster resilience and ameliorate population pressure and safeguard the most vulnerable from the adverse impacts of climate change.

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NAPAs should be linked with relevant national strategies- a process that requires the collaboration and input of a wide range of policy stakeholders.  Unfortunately, in most countries, a lack of effective coordination between ministries has meant that the majority of NAPAs were developed without linking to broader national priorities.   Only a quarter of NAPAs, for example, link to national development strategies.  Improving coordination around adaptation at the national and global levels to ensure a set of policies that comprehensively address the needs and rights of the most vulnerable individuals,  remains a pressing issue.      

As the world meets to decide how to move forward on climate change, getting adaptation planning and funding right is critical.   We must examine the global and national architecture to make sure that considerations to improve people’s lives form the basis for any plans, short or long-term, to address the complexity of adaptation.   Development and adaptation priorities, including links with reaching the Millennium Development Goals, need to be more closely linked in policies and programs.  This includes community-based, participatory approaches to providing education, expanding livelihoods, improving health, giving couples the means to have the number of children they want to have, and empowering women.  It also means providing developing countries with adequate, predictable funds that are additive to already existing development dollars to promote this coordination. Those are proven development strategies that, in the long run, will help people cope with what UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has called the greatest challenge facing humanity. 

One Response to “Let the Human Face of Climate Change Emerge in Copenhagen”

  1. Steven Earl Salmony

    Dear Karen Hardee,
    Some day soon, I hope you and other splendid commentators will find adequate ways to directly acknowledge the global challenges of our times by helping us “connect the dots” between human overconsumption, overproduction and overpopulation activities on one hand and climate destabilization, natural resource dissipation and and environmental degradation on the other.
    It seems to me that any “truth” about Earth’s ecology and climate science need to be coupled with the best available science about human population dynamics and the human overpopulation of our planetary home.
    When the moment of ‘throwing out life preservers’ occurs, it will probably be too late for human action to do anything meaningful about the human-forced global threats that once loomed ominously before the human family. Time will have been wasted. We will have been fiddlin’ while Earth’s environs were destroyed for human habitation and its resources were being recklessly depleted. Father Greed will have effectively ravaged Mother Nature. Although global threats had called out to leaders for global interventions, there were no transformational leaders (except Barack Obama) and international institutions (including the United Nations) empowered with adequate authority to promote necessary change.
    At bottom, while there was still time to make a difference, many too many leading environmentalists, politicians, economic powerbrokers, talking heads in the mass media and other public opinion shapers colluded in stony silence and did not speak out loudly and clearly about the colossal threat that is posed to the family of humanity by the gigantic scale and skyrocketing growth of human population numbers now overspreading the surface of Earth.
    Threats to human wellbeing and environmental health cannot be reasonably addressed and sensibly overcome until the root causes of the threats are acknowledged, validated by science, and widely shared in the human community, I suppose.
    Very best regards,
    Steve Salmony

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