Tag Archives climate change

‘Important and urgent’: this decision-making matrix shows that we need to act now to fight climate change

Climate change was first flagged as a global risk several decades ago, but warnings were not taken seriously. Now that climate change is part and parcel of our daily lives, the need for immediate and concerted action to limit its effects is increasingly being recognized, but there is also strong resistance to the radical change required to do this. In this blog article, ISS Professor of Pluralist Development Economics Irene van Staveren contemplates how the well-known Eisenhower decision-making matrix can help us take climate change seriously. We are already in the ‘important and urgent’ box, she argues — an understanding that should drive us to act.

Image Source: Asana.

Some years ago, when I was receiving training in time management, I was introduced to the Eisenhower matrix. I am still grateful to the American general for it because I use the two-by-two table every day. The two columns are called ‘urgent’ and ‘not urgent’ and the two rows are called ‘important’ and ‘not important’. And that’s where you plan all your tasks.

The trick is to spend most of your time working on tasks that are important but not urgent. Then you can work wonderfully focused on your core tasks and not under time pressure and with the fear of not meeting a deadline. The latter happens if you have let time slip through your fingers or have not planned properly. Then you suddenly find yourself in the box of tasks that are not only important but also urgent.

Now that I am preparing a course on climate change for the Economics Bachelor at EUR in Rotterdam, I notice that the Eisenhower matrix can also be applied to climate change. When Shell knew more than thirty years ago that fossil fuels could lead to global warming, almost no one saw it as an important problem and certainly not as an urgent problem.

On the contrary, we all happily consumed fossil fuels, regardless of the CO2 increase due to more cars, taking flights and enabling deforestation for our consumption of meat. It was only in 1995, with the first international climate conference (held in Berlin), that policymakers seem to realize that it could become an important problem.

But it was not until twenty years later that governments worldwide were prepared to make agreements in Paris on a safe limit on warming: 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius. And now, many uncontrollable forest fires, severe floods and droughts, and rapidly melting ice caps later, it has also become an urgent problem.

So, we have all wasted too much time on other things, such as drilling new oil wells, pumping out old gas fields and pointing to other countries that emit even more CO2 or are catching up because their prosperity is much lower than ours. Some even thought it was better to first generate even more polluting economic growth in order to earn the money to invest in sustainable energy.

We now know better, continuing on the old path is expensive: every day that we intervene earlier, the costs in the future will be lower. We need to get to net zero faster as a popular and insightful book argues. And now we are all in the box of ‘important and urgent’. The deadline to stay below 2 degrees is close on our heels.

This means that we, particularly in the Global North, are now forced to take controversial measures, provided they have an effect in the short term. So, no new nuclear power plants or solar shields in space. But CO2 capture and storage underground. And mega wind turbines near nature reserves, because horizon pollution is not nice, but in about 30 years those wind turbines can be taken down again because, hopefully, we will have made the energy transition.

And much stricter regulations for the acceleration of CO2-neutral construction, production and transport, and much more and higher CO2 taxes. In short, now that the climate problem has become not only very important but also quite urgent, there is only one thing left: to reduce CO2 emissions as quickly as possible, as various authors are arguing as well. Eisenhower would have looked at us shaking his head: what a poor planning.


This column appeared in Dutch newspaper Trouw of 5 September 2023.


Opinions expressed in Bliss posts reflect solely the views of the author of the post in question.

About the author:

Irene van Staveren is a professor of pluralist development economics at the Institute of Social Studies (ISS) of Erasmus University Rotterdam. Professor van Staveren’s theoretical interest is in feminist economics, social economics, institutional economics and post-Keynesian economics. Her key research interest is at the meso level of the economy with topics such as social cohesion, social exclusion, inequality and discrimination, as well as ethics and values in the economy and in economics.

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Urban October | The complex present and future of urban centres

As urbanisation continues to surge, especially in the Global South, it is essential to address the myriad issues that contemporary cities face. The recent EADI/CEsA Lisbon Conference provided a platform to consider urban challenges and possible solutions. Tazviona Richman Gambe and Betty Adoch attended three panels, each with thought-provoking discussions on different urban issues.

Image: Baron Reznik under a creative commons licence on Flickr

City growth processes and outcomes

African cities are struggling with political and governance challenges emanating from the scale and nature of urbanisation they are experiencing. Urbanisation in most cities has been rapid and unproductive.  The local municipalities are not able to provide adequate municipal services. On the other hand, the urban poor cannot afford the municipal services. In their desperate efforts to generate livelihoods and become self-reliant, the urban poor adopt solutions that mostly violate the rules and regulations governing cities. This has resulted in widespread contestations for accessing and using urban services, resources and spaces. The emergence and growth of unplanned settlements have become a common feature of African cities. The access to and use of residential or commercial spaces has become a negotiated and fraught process involving various state and non-state actors. An attempt to enforce order in unplanned settlements or business places is met with protests and political battles involving the informal settlers/traders, their unions and state authorities. Owing to this, militaristic policing has become one of the common modes of governance adopted in cities to deal with urban poverty, migration and crime. The ‘attack and retreat’ form of policing adopted to enforce order and harmony in cities has become the normal rhythm of city life and everyday contestations that residents must endure.

The migration-urbanisation-conflict nexus

Political and economic crises are increasing, especially in countries in the Global South. The massive displacements of people caused by these phenomena have mainly shaped the scale of urbanisation unfolding in some cities. Conflicts usually occur between the displaced people and the residents of the receiving urban centres as the two groups fight for access to and use of urban land and other services. For example, armed conflicts are associated with massive displacements of civilians from their villages into urban centres, triggering rapid urbanisation driven by the establishment of numerous internally displaced camps. The displacements, coupled with the influx of international migrants, intensify land ownership disputes in various cities. Besides land disputes, the battle for the control of economic resources is also widespread in cities receiving many migrants. Residents usually dominate their cities’ economic, social and political life but feel threatened when migrants become equally involved. This results in competition for economic resources and opportunities that, in most cases, cause resentment among residents. In some cities, the competition for economic opportunities and resources has led to xenophobic violence, with the residents targeting mainly foreigners. This created divisions based on nationality, undermining the spirit of unity in diversity.

Climate change & urban resilience

Another salient theme focused on how climate change increasingly threatens cities in both the Global North and South, with a rising incidence of heat waves whetting the need for urban resilience and improved responses from citizens, governments and the private sector. Discussions stressed the need to seek interventions for reducing the adverse effects of heat waves, especially among vulnerable urban populations like the elderly, sick and refugees. Although there is still little preparation for extremely hot events in some cities, vulnerable urban groups benefit from bottom-up integrated approaches to improve the understanding of heat waves and adaptation strategies. Some strategies adopted include public cooling centres, green roofing and sunscreen use, although not everyone can access these due to cost or institutional barriers. Experiences have shown that real and speculative possibilities should inform urban resilience strategies. This enables various actors, including citizens, governments, and private sectors, to better prepare for future extreme heat waves. The spatial distribution of cooling centres and accessibility to transport and mobility are vital determinants of citizens’ resilience to excessive heat. However, inequalities (income, race and age) must be addressed to improve citizens’ adaptive capacities.

Urban futures: can cities offer solutions to global challenges?

The future of cities is a complex and evolving landscape shaped by numerous factors, including technological advancements, demographic shifts, environmental concerns, and social changes. To thrive in the coming decades, cities must address many challenges by improving service provision, enabling resource sharing, and improving local infrastructures. For example, cities will need to prioritise green spaces, urban forests, and sustainable transportation systems to mitigate the effects of climate change and improve air quality. Transitioning to renewable energy sources and improving energy efficiency will be crucial for reducing carbon emissions and, ultimately, the cities’ environmental footprint. The Internet of Things will enable cities to optimise traffic management, reduce energy consumption, and enhance public services through real-time data and connectivity. High-speed, reliable connectivity will be essential for smart city initiatives, enabling autonomous vehicles, telemedicine, and improved communication. Apart from that, advanced energy distribution systems will enhance grid reliability and support the integration of renewable energy sources. Addressing housing affordability through policies and innovative construction techniques is necessary to ensure diverse populations thrive in cities. Equally important are entrepreneurship and innovation hubs that can attract talent and drive economic growth, especially in the Global South. Cities need to plan for resilience against natural disasters through investing in flood protection, early warning systems, and disaster recovery plans. However, all these initiatives will not be easily achieved. There is a need for careful planning and improvement of urban governance through an approach that integrates diverse urban stakeholders to achieve liveable, resilient and sustainable cities.


This article was first published by EADI Debating Development Blog.


ImageBaron Reznik under a creative commons licence on Flickr


Opinions expressed in Bliss posts reflect solely the views of the author of the post in question.

About the authors:

Tazviona Richman Gambe is a postdoctoral fellow at the Centre for Development Support in the Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences at the University of the Free State, South Africa. He is an emerging researcher working under the NRF Chair on City-Region Economies. His research interests include Africa’s urbanisation trajectories, regional economic resilience and urban planning and development.

Betty Adoch is a doctoral student at the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences (CAES), Department of Geography, Geoinformatics and Climatic Sciences (DGGCS), Makerere University, Uganda. She is an Assistant Lecturer at the Faculty of Education and Humanities, Department of Geography, Gulu University. She is also a researcher at the Urban Action Lab-Kampala Makerere University. Her research interest include Conflicts, Migration, Urbanisation trajectories, Natural resource management and Climate change in the global South.

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Academics must have a voice in social affairs, too, no matter their affiliation

The current wave of protests on the A12 highway in The Hague against government subsidies for fossil fuels have been both applauded and condemned. Several scientists have joined the protests in their professional capacity, which has led to questions of whether their activism threatens their independence as scholars. In this blog article, Dorothea Hilhorst responds to the argument of Dutch scientist and writer Louise Fresco in an NRC column last week that academics have no place in protests. All academics/scientists should be wary of their place in society and should use their positions of expertise to advocate for better outcomes, she writes.

Last Sunday, on 1 October 2023, I was standing on the highway of the A12 in The Hague, together with about 600 activists from Extinction Rebellion, until we were taken away by the police. I was fascinated by the colourful collection of activists with their original slogans chalked on cardboard and enjoyed the cheerfulness of the chants and the music. Many of the activists were here for the twentieth time in a row. Extinction Rebellion has been blocking the highway on a daily basis, starting 9 September, and aims to return every day until the Dutch government stops subsidizing fossil fuels.

As I was sitting on the road, I had serious conversations about why I was there as a scientist and whether my presence was at the expense of my independence. What struck me most is that the question of independence is so strongly linked to activism and taking action to the street. Scientists constantly interact with social groups. In fact, this is encouraged. Scientists who entrench themselves in their ivory towers have an increasingly smaller chance of obtaining scientific funding or promotions. Science is part of society, and the issues we deal with are largely determined by societies. And often enabled by societal actors, too, a lot of research is in fact financed by commercial companies.

It is very common for scientists to be active in politics in addition to their work and, for example, to serve on behalf of a political party in the Senate or on municipal councils. Scientists also often sit on supervisory boards or are attached to a company as supervisory directors. This often leads to additional income, which must be properly reported, for example on university websites, for reasons of propriety and transparency.

The social involvement of scientists regularly leads to questions about the independence of science, especially when it can be demonstrated that the scientist takes the interests of a company into account in the scientific work or — as is currently the case — if the question is raised whether it is ethically responsible to have companies such as the fossil industry, the tobacco industry, or alcohol producers help pay for research. Except in these specific cases, social involvement is seen as a must and is not considered to be in conflict with the independence of the academe. But strangely enough, it does when it comes to involvement in an activist organization — a clear double standard.

Take for example Louise Fresco, who recently argued in a column for the NRC that scientists and academics have no place in a protest, is an example of a socially involved scientist. In the past, she was a supervisory director of Rabobank, a major Dutch bank, and, as a scientist, she was co-director of Unilever in addition to her scientific work. She is currently a supervisory director at agriculture company Syngenta. In her column, though, Fresco says that scientists should not demonstrate . With that argument, scientists should also not be involved in an industry or political party. These organisations are not exclusively based in their actions by scientific evidence, and their agendas are always encompassing more that the scientist’s field of expertise can oversee.

I am happy that the activists of Extinction Rebellion are open to listening to my research findings about the consequences of climate change for poor people in poor countries — people who have never been on an airplane, yet who are paying the highest price for climate change. I think that with my scientific attitude, which is used to questioning and critically observing (like all scientists), I can contribute to the movement, and I notice that my questions about the action strategy are taken seriously, whether or not they are taken up. Above all, I am convinced that being on the A12 will not prevent me from remaining true to my independent research methods.

Is criticism of the alleged loss of independence of demonstrating scientists perhaps a veiled rejection of the method of civil disobedience that Extinction Rebellion has adopted? In that case, I advise Louise Fresco and other concerned colleagues to delve into the positive contributions to the world history of civil disobedience for, for example, the abolition of slavery, decolonization, or the fight for women’s suffrage. Scientists that remain in their ivory towers, or indeed continue to sit around glass-topped boardroom tables, can fail to engage with the full spectrum of society. This, surely, is to the benefit of no-one.


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Opinions expressed in Bliss posts reflect solely the views of the author of the post in question.

About the author:

Dorothea Hilhorst is professor of Humanitarian Studies at the International Institute of Social Studies of Erasmus University.

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Climate change governance: Why a Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) approach is vital for preventing extreme weather events from turning into disasters

Climate change reports and scenarios paint a bleak picture of the present and the future — one filled with extreme weather events such as heatwaves, floods, hurricanes, storms, and droughts that could result in the loss of lives, threaten livelihoods, and exacerbate existing problems. But it is too simple to blame climate change for the increase in the number of disasters and for their effects. Today, as we celebrate Disaster Risk Reduction Day, disasters and humanitarian studies scholar Rodrigo Mena argues that a Disaster Risk Reduction approach to governing climate change could be essential for preventing extreme weather events and other climate-related phenomena from becoming disasters.

Image by Rodrigo Mena (Flood mitigation project, Afghanistan, 2017)

Watching the news these days, it is impossible not to hear about disasters: from floods in Greece and Sri Lanka to fires in Australia and Tropical Storm Philippe in Antigua and Barbuda. Climate change is often mentioned as an important factor driving these disasters and, what is more, thanks to climate change, we can expect more and more intense disasters in the future. Is all this true? And is there anything we can do? Can we mitigate some of the worst consequences of a disaster before it has occurred? In this article, written on the occasion of Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) day, I discuss the relationship between disasters and human-caused climate change and emphasize the importance of DRR as an approach to mitigating and adapting to climate change.

 

Disasters and hazards aren’t the same

While fires, droughts, storms, and earthquakes are often perceived as disasters, experts stress[1] that these are just natural events that can possibly cause harm to people or property. For instance, a thunderstorm can be seen as a hazard due to its lightning and heavy rain, but it doesn’t always cause significant harm. A disaster on the other hand is said to occur when a hazard actually causes a serious disruption of the functioning of a community or a society, like floods that destroy homes or  hurricanes that leave many people injured.

 

Vulnerability turns hazards into disasters

Which conditions turn hazards into disasters, then? The key factor behind the occurrence of disasters is the vulnerability of people to specific hazards.[2] For instance, if a city is designed to withstand heavy rainfall or earthquakes, these events are unlikely to lead to disasters. This explains why earthquakes of similar intensity can have completely different impacts in Chile compared to Haiti, for example.

And this social vulnerability is shaped by political choices, resource allocation, funding availability, and cultural heritage. This is why the concept of a “natural disaster” is now considered a misnomer by the UNDRR, academics, and other actors, as it places more emphasis on the natural event than on the social and political conditions that truly explain a disaster. It is now also recognized that through the effective and timely use of DRR strategies, it is possible to prevent hazards from progressing to disasters.

 

It’s too simple to say that climate change leads to disasters

In brief, climate change mostly refers to long-term shifts in average weather patterns and conditions attributed directly or indirectly to human activity.[3] These shifts can result in variations in the frequency and intensity of weather events like hurricanes, heatwaves, and heavy rainfall, as well as changes in overall weather patterns. In other words, it does affect the weather, but as noted before, the development of disasters is often better explained by people’s vulnerability rather than the intensity or frequency of weather events alone.

Saying that climate change will result in more disasters is, therefore, imprecise (or at least not that simple), and we need to acknowledge some important nuances and exceptions. Ilan Kelman’s post on Pulse presents a good overview of these arguments with several scientific sources being referenced. An important takeaway, also seen in the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, is that climate change may not always lead to more disasters if our societies take adequate action to reduce their risk of occurrence and impact — in short, if DRR measures are in place.

The problem seems to be, however, that we are not doing enough, nor are we doing it fast enough. Therefore, climate change is already and will continue to contribute to more disasters, but not because of more (or more frequent and extreme) natural events occurring. We as a society are not doing enough to curb carbon emissions that drive climate change, nor are we taking sufficient measures to reduce our vulnerability to climate-related hazards. In other words, we (or more precisely, some people in power) are deciding to have more disasters. DRR can and must play a critical role here.

 

Why to adopt a DRR approach in mitigating and adapting to climate change

DRR involves the steps and plans we make to prevent disasters from happening and ensure that when disasters occur, they cause as minimum harm as possible to people.[4] In addressing climate change, mitigation and adaptation remain the two primary measures. Climate change mitigation aims to cut greenhouse gas emissions, slowing climate change and so indirectly reducing the severity of climate-related disasters. Climate change adaptation on the other hand involves adjusting to current and new climate conditions to address related risks, for example through city design, food systems adaptation, or managing coastal and river delta infrastructure.

While DRR is not yet seen as an important measure to combat climate change, it’s vital in addressing the complexity of the crisis. How? DRR is an approach that can be applied in various situations:

As we emphasize the importance of DRR measures and strategies today, the invitation is then to avoid simplifying disasters as consequences of climate change (which also brings us to the complex world of attribution) and, as scientists Emmanuel Raju, Emily Boyd, and Friederike Otto plead, to “stop blaming the climate for disasters.” Instead, we should emphasize their complex nature as social and political phenomena, engage in broader discussions about DRR, and consider the measures that could be taken but are not effectively implemented to reduce the risks and impacts of disasters.


[1] See The Routledge Handbook of Hazards and Disaster Risk Reduction and Mapping Vulnerability Disasters, Development and People

[2] Including exposure as part of vulnerability

[3] https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/chapter/glossary/

[4] https://www.undrr.org/terminology/disaster-risk-reduction


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Opinions expressed in Bliss posts reflect solely the views of the author of the post in question.

About the author:

Rodrigo Mena is Assistant Professor of Disasters and Humanitarian Studies at The International Institute of Social Studies, Erasmus University Rotterdam. Dr. Mena has studied and worked in humanitarian assistance, disaster governance, and environmental sociology for twenty years, especially in conflict-affected and vulnerable settings. He lectures on humanitarian action, disaster risk reduction, methodology, and safety and security for in-situ/fieldwork research.

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Humanitarian Observatories Series | A humanitarian observatory for discussing heatwaves in South Asia was recently launched — here’s how it wants to improve responses to heatwaves

The heightened vulnerability of the South Asian subcontinent to heatwaves can be ascribed to several interacting characteristics — but these have not been adequately examined and discussed. The Humanitarian Observatory Initiative in South Asia (HOISA) was launched earlier this year in an attempt to bridge this gap by charting the particular risks and vulnerabilities of the region, observing the state of current humanitarian governance processes, and based on ongoing discussions providing recommendations for more effective responses to heatwaves. This article details some of the main dynamics of heatwaves in South Asia considered during HOISA’s first panel discussion, including specific governance challenges that the observatory will focus on.

A street vendor in Ahmedabad adapts to heat on hourly basis using his own resources, technology, and design. 2022.

A heatwave is a climatic process and a period of abnormally high temperatures — higher than the normal maximum temperature that occurs during a particular season.[1] While they have always occurred, their frequency and severity have rapidly increased due to climate change caused by the industrialisation of modern economies and increased carbon emissions.[2] The WHO considers heatwaves to be one of the most dangerous natural hazards because of their destructive effects, which are severe: from 1998 to 2017 alone, more than 166,000 people have died globally due to heatwaves,[3] and the impact on livelihoods has been just as immense. Yet, heatwaves rarely receive adequate attention because of their delayed effects that moreover are not always easily to pinpoint.

 

South Asia is particularly vulnerable to heatwaves

While heatwaves are global phenomena that know no national boundaries, their manifestations and impact vary from region to region, depending on various characteristics such as demographics and geography. From this viewpoint, South Asia is known to be one of the most vulnerable regions in the world. First, it has a high-density population numbering close to two billion people. Second, the region has immense variations in its geographical features, social structures, built environments, socio-economic means, and much more. The interaction of these characteristics makes it particularly complex to govern — and the complexity increases even more when heatwaves occur.

 

And the subcontinent is set to face even more heatwaves

Moreover, a recent report of the WMO claims that heatwaves are 30 times more likely to take place on the subcontinent than before, with massive damage to livelihoods and wellbeing, ecosystems, economies, and infrastructure expected to occur in the coming decades. In one of the latest examples, February this year was observed as the warmest month since 1901. Thus, not only are heatwaves already affecting South Asia badly — it’s going to get much worse.

 

A humanitarian observatory to better understand heatwaves in South Asia

It is in light of this that the HOISA, the Humanitarian Observatory Initiative of South Asia, was launched in April this year. Its objective is to monitor humanitarian governance processes, with a focus on responses to heatwaves. Considering the urgency of the matter, HOISA organized a first panel discussion on April 7th, which brought together about 30 actors working on heatwaves. Panel discussants included Dorothea Hilhorst (International Institute of Social Studies — ISS), Prabodh Chakrabarti (Swami Vivekananda Chair and Professor of Environment and Disaster Management, RKMVERI, Kolkata), Keya Saha Chaudhary (International Council of Voluntary Agencies — ICVA), Nimesh Dhungana (Humanitarian and Conflict Response Institute of the University of Manchester — HCRI), Delu Lusambya (PhD researcher at the ISS) Mihir Bhatt (All India Disaster Mitigation Institute — AIDMI), and Khayal Trivedi (HOISA Project Lead).

The panel focused on the increasing risk of heatwaves, the uniqueness of this occurrence in the region, existing humanitarian systems, and the first steps towards measuring and planning for the effects of heatwaves. This is because although South Asia has suffered the most due to heatwaves and also has found many ways to adapt to it, relatively limited humanitarian and governmental action has been observed and recorded. Some of the main observations made by participants and action points are discussed below.

 

South Asia’s characteristics make heatwaves more intense and dangerous

At the launch, we discussed how the abovementioned characteristics such as population density, infrastructure, and geographical features such as altitudes affect and sometimes aggravate the effects of a heatwave. For example, recent research on ‘wet-bulb temperatures’ in South Asia reports that parts of the region on the subcontinent are much closer to the threshold limits of human survivability than the African and Gulf regions. The depth and range of vulnerability and exposure of the population and economy of the region to heatwaves are also much more intense and complex here. In light of these and other observations, we argue that the current humanitarian approach to heatwaves in South Asia needs to be revisited.

In such a context, we must accelerate the implementation of heatwave action plans at all levels and in key sectors driving development, starting with employment, health, education, and so on. The built environment and supporting infrastructure in their current form, for example, are simply not capable of withstanding severe temperature shifts and is making it harder to adapt, Nimesh Dhungana, one of the key panel members from Nepal, stated at the discussion. A comprehensive study is required to ensure that these are adapted sufficiently and rapidly.

 

Mobilizing funding for adaptive measures is a key priority

Another important parameter in planning for and mitigating this natural hazard is the mobilization of funding. Across the humanitarian sector, current funding is simply not sufficient to meet the growing needs, particularly when it comes to taking adaptive measures. At the panel discussion, we agreed that more holistic and less siloed approaches to securing funding are needed to address the impacts of climate change. In the case of heatwaves, this means funding modalities that consider both the immediate and long-term consequences of heatwaves to ensure not only immediate responses but also the improved resilience of communities to heatwaves over time. Therefore, increased investments and integrated funding should form part of heatwave management strategies and plans in South Asia.

As part of this, attention should be paid to the meaningful locally led involvement of communities and local and indigenous solutions to addressing heatwaves. What makes this challenging and even more urgent is that the heatwave-affected population in South Asia is hardly protected by a social safety net, leading to massive losses and damage. Resolving or forming sustainable practices that ensure uniform funding will protect these populations therefore becomes critical. Furthermore, the coming together of researchers and operational experts to study and pilot heatwave safety nets, both formal and informal, is overdue in South Asia.

 

Heatwaves must be placed on the global political agenda

In the wake of increased risks associated with heatwaves and the distinct ways in which it affects the region and its people,[4] this phenomenon must be placed on the global political agenda. Governments, the United Nations, academics, and activists together must aim to draw a global heatwave compact signed by all stakeholders — including those affected — that stretch beyond the current climate policy community.

 

A joint plan of action for South Asian countries should be formalized

Moreover, as a phenomenon that exceeds borders to affect an entire region, a joint plan of action between countries in South Asia must be formalized. And humanitarian actions must take place simultaneously in a cohesive manner for a positive impact, which is in fact the agenda of the several humanitarian observatories forming across the globe. The formation of a global movement to address the effects of heatwaves worldwide is therefore vital.

 

Increased trust in science is a key pillar for effective interventions

But such a joint effort and action across South Asia requires a grasp of the state of South Asia’s heatwaves. Unfortunately, the increasing distance between science and society, between evidence and knowledge, and the fragmented use of data and tools for adapting to heatwaves have also been observed lately in the region. More research, knowledge, and evidence is needed, as well as interdisciplinary knowledge exchanges and the transfer of technology, tools, data, and key concepts. Unlocking private and public data on heatwaves and related phenomena that are currently difficult to access is an important first step.

 

Interdisciplinary heatwave workforces needed

Moreover, we need a locally led comprehensive, multi-level, and multi-directional approach with multiple stakeholders to plan and mitigate the dire effects of heatwaves in the region. Building interdisciplinary heatwave workforces with the knowledge, skills, and capacities to prevent, manage and reduce losses, and to evaluate how to improve things, can help strengthen existing humanitarian systems.

To summarize, South Asia is undoubtedly one of the most complex of the heatwave-affected regions and requires the urgent attention of researchers, policy makers, humanitarian leaders, and other stakeholders to chart local actions and observations and make changes to these to ensure that effective interventions will make a direct impact. Partners of HOISA must and will continue observing, reflecting on, discussing, and recommending actions humanitarian actors and other stakeholders should take.


[1] NDMA India: https://ndma.gov.in/Natural-Hazards/Heat-Wave

[2] IPCC Report: https://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar6/wg1/downloads/report/IPCC_AR6_WGI_SPM_final.pdf

[3] WHO: https://www.who.int/health-topics/heatwaves#tab=tab_1

[4] The Guardian view on an Indian summer: human-made heatwaves are getting hotter.



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About the authors:

Khayal Trivedi is the Project Lead, Humanitarian Observatory Initiative of South Asia.

 

 

 

 

Mihir Bhatt. All India Disaster Mitigation Institute (AIDMI) India.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Prabhod Chakrabarti. Swami Vivekananda, Environment and Disaster Management India

 

 

 

 

 

 

Keya Saha Chaudhary. Regional Representative for Asia and the Pacific at ICVA

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Fighting fossil subsidies: why professors are protesting in their gowns on the highway

The recent occupation of the A12 highway in The Hague to protest fossil subsidies has dominated news headlines as protestors blocked the highway en masse for several days in a row. ISS Professor of Pluralist Development Economics Irene van Staveren was one of several academic researchers who joined the protests. In this article, she explains why they decided to appear in academic gowns and refutes several counterarguments scientists, politicians, journalists, and others use to deny climate change or the need for climate action. Neutrality is no longer an option, also for scientists, she writes.

About a week and a half ago, I also stood on the A12 highway alongside Extinction Rebellion (XR) to protest against fossil subsidies. I wore my academic gown, along with about thirty other professors, to make it clear that we were there as scientists. Science has been demonstrating for decades that the Earth is warming, and we have increasingly more evidence that this is due to our economic behaviour.

However, there were some counterarguments. For example, an economist who has held numerous leadership positions in the public and private sectors wrote, to my astonishment, that “there is no way to deduce from climate science that ‘fossil subsidies’ should be abolished.” While economic science convincingly demonstrates that price incentives lead to behavioural change. Economists who specifically focus on climate (climate scientists, in other words) emphasize that a price tag on CO2 emissions helps to reduce them.

The new leader of the political party CDA (Christian Democratic Appeal) also reacted sceptically to our resistance, suggesting that companies would relocate abroad, and emissions would continue while we would have fewer jobs. As if job retention in polluting sectors should be a priority in these times of labour market tightness. We actually need a lot of hands for the production and installation of solar panels, heat pumps, and insulation. In line with this short-sighted point, there is also the well-known comment at social gatherings, “what about China?” If you genuinely believe that, you should stop buying goods that are produced cheaply there. China is not idle; it’s the country that installs the most solar panels.

Let me now address those subsidies. There was some sour commentary from an investigative journalist claiming that the term is incorrect and that the calculation is based on assumptions. The term does not refer to government expenditures but rather to tax breaks for large companies in the oil, gas, and coal industries. But by now, doesn’t everyone who follows the news know this? They are disguised subsidies. And yes, when you calculate a cost advantage, you cannot avoid making assumptions. The research that XR is based on is transparent about this and calculates the tax benefits compared to the fossil taxes that households pay. Meanwhile, the government has just admitted that the amount is even higher: at least 40 billion euros.

Finally, some university boards had reservations about us being there in our academic gowns. Fortunately, my dean and board supported us wholeheartedly. And rightly so. The academic gown does not belong to the university but symbolizes science. When politics claims to want to achieve the goals of Paris but simultaneously ignores scientifically substantiated arguments that this means we must significantly reduce fossil energy much faster, then we have a responsibility to reinforce these arguments.

Because, as the writer Elie Wiesel said, “Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim.” If our country does not stop fossil subsidies very quickly, we are contributing to millions of climate victims. Especially in the Global South, more and more people are already facing shortages of drinking water and food, as University of Amsterdam colleague Joyeeta Gupta, the recently awarded Spinoza Prize recipient, mentioned in her speech at the A12.


This blog article is based on a column first published in Dutch in the newspaper Trouw on 19 September 2023.


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Opinions expressed in Bliss posts reflect solely the views of the author of the post in question.

About the author:

 

Irene van Staveren is professor of pluralist development economics at the Institute of Social Studies (ISS) of Erasmus University Rotterdam. Professor van Staveren’s theoretical interest is in feminist economics, social economics, institutional economics and post-Keynesian economics. Her key research interest is at the meso level of the economy with topics such as social cohesion, social exclusion, inequality and discrimination, as well as ethics and values in the economy and in economics.

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Extinction rebellion

On Saturday 9 September, thousands of activists joined Extinction Rebellion in a blockage of the A-12 highway in The Hague, to protest against the 37 billion Euro annual subsidy of the fossil fuel industry in the Netherlands. The amount was established by research collective SOMO and consists of direct subsidies and tax exemptions. On the highway and at the support demonstration organised by several Dutch NGOs there were dozens of professors, wearing their gown joining the protest, among them several professors of ISS. Joyeeta Gupta of the University of Amsterdam and winner of the Spinoza price 2023 spoke at the support demonstration. Here is her speech.

Good morning all!

I am here today because I take every opportunity to call for climate justice. My argument today is: Living within Earth system boundaries requires a just approach. There are system boundaries on Earth. from local to global level. Boundaries must be safe and just. Safe – to ensure that the system does not collapse. Just to ensure that damage to people and nature is kept to a minimum.

Globally, we have crossed seven of the eight boundaries. At a local level, at least two boundaries have been crossed on 50% of the land area, affecting 80% of the world’s population. Boundaries relate to climate change, water, nitrogen and phosphorus, biosphere, air pollution.

Climate change is also part of this. The Paris climate limit of 1.5-2 degrees Celsius is not just enough. Already at 1°C, tens of millions of people are exposed to very high temperatures; much more for sea level rise. Extreme weather events are already costing lives and damaging infrastructure. Furthermore, climate change affects all other Earth systems. By not demanding stronger targets, we accept that these millions of people will be affected by our actions. I repeat, by not demanding stronger targets, we accept that these millions of people will be affected by our actions.

Global boundaries determine what we do in each country. Every country must try to reduce its emissions. But rich countries that have emitted heavily in the past must do more. Instead, in the Netherlands we subsidize our fossil fuel sector with 37.5 billion euros annually, while we only provide hundreds of millions in climate aid. That’s mopping with the tap open. And with a very small mop, and a very large tap. We have no blueprint for phasing out fossil fuels, even though we led the world on climate change in 1989. The global fossil fuel sector is worth between $16 and $300 trillion. We must make this sector responsible. A first step, which should have been taken thirty years ago in the Netherlands, is to abolish fossil fuel subsidies in a fair manner, so that it does not affect access to energy for the poorest.

Boundaries mean that we have to share environmental utilization space. This seems painful because we have to produce and consume less. But perhaps that has no influence at all on our well-being, our happiness. We need to redesign our societies to ensure that what we do here does not harm anyone else far away. We must adopt the ‘no harm’ principle. Boundaries mean that we have to share the environmental utilization space. But if we let the market do that, the price of scarce resources will rise and only the rich will be able to buy them. Ensuring that the world’s poorest have access to water, food, energy and housing will put additional pressure on the boundaries we have already crossed. This may sound like the problem is that there are too many poor people. But to meet the minimum needs of the poorest, their additional pressure on the environment is equal to that imposed by the world’s top 4%. And we are among the richest countries in the world. Boundaries mean that we have to share environmental utilization space. Indigenous people and local communities protect at least 22 percent of the world’s most important biodiversity areas – where 80 percent of biodiversity is found. We should support them, not marginalize them. Climate change could even cause the Amazon to become a net emitter of greenhouse gases, further increasing climate change.

We have crossed boundaries on climate change, biodiversity and water. This means we need to use less and share better. We need Earth System Justice – to ensure that we are held accountable for the harm done to others and to ensure that resources are distributed fairly. We need a global constitution. We must mobilize all actors. If governments are unwilling to take action, social movements may have to use their civil rights to convince their governments to do so with peaceful demonstrations. We must get rid of fossil subsidies. We must get rid of fossil fuels. Thank you.

Opinions expressed in Bliss posts reflect solely the views of the author of the post in question.

About the author:

Professor of Environment and Development in the Global South, Faculty Sustainability Professor, Governance and Inclusive Development (GID), Department of Geography, Planning and International Development Studies, Amsterdam Institute for Social Science Research, University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

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EADI Conference 2023 | From sunbathing to sunstroke: How should we personally respond to the risks of (severe) heat and heatwaves?

This summer, several weather records have been smashed, with the hottest week ever recorded occurring last week. The heat is becoming a serious problem; some may argue that climate change is on our doorstep and no longer an unimaginable future. But while heatwaves are particularly dangerous, leading to a loss of lives and health risks, above-average temperatures are also risky, even when a heatwave hasn’t been declared officially. In this article, ISS PhD researcher Lize Swartz asks whether we should also be taking action when there are no heatwaves and what role we can play in protecting ourselves—and those around us—from the heat.

Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash

We watched as a young woman upend a jug of iced water over her head. “That’s the absolute worst thing you can do when you show signs of heat stroke,” my friend commented. It was a hot day, the temperatures reaching 32°C, and we were sitting at a beach restaurant. We’d been on the beach for a few hours but as it became progressively hotter, we decided to take a break, sitting in the shade at the restaurant until the sun would lose its sting. The woman had turned pale shortly before, moving to the shade after sitting in the full sun. She had been in the sun for too long and showed signs of heat exhaustion.

All around us, we saw people lying or sitting in the full sun–on towels, on lounge chairs restaurants rented out, at the restaurants themselves. Irresponsible, I was telling myself, but these days not only because of the risk of getting skin cancer from enduring exposure to the sun. It was irresponsible because it was hot and because staying in the sun all day causes the body to heat up and not cool down unless measures are taken. Particularly in that kind of heat. You know, the one that’s not pleasant and that there seems to be no relief from. And it seemed that people were not taking these measures, staying in the sun until they were already starting to feel sick, relishing the heat, like lizards, without realizing that they were being scorched.

That got me thinking about whether the risks associated with heat and heatwaves are adequately understood. Granted, it wasn’t that hot, 32°C being a bit hotter than usual, but not the blistering 38°C we’d had in July last year when a heatwave swept across the country. Still, the body’s ability to cool itself down given the type of heat that we were exposed to that day was already reduced. I could feel myself struggling, with the sweat pooling up all over my body instead of evaporating. It wasn’t enjoyable. I needed to drink liters of water to rehydrate, and ultimately, only a lukewarm shower provided relief.

This heat, accompanied by humidity, is the worst type. It doesn’t cool down at night; the air remains hot and sticky. Houses stay warm. We wake up the next day and it would be a continuation of the previous day’s heat. Our bodies don’t regulate our temperatures as well, though they try to. There are only a few things we can do: stay in the shade, stay inside, cool ourselves down with water. Yet the people on the beach weren’t doing that, oblivious to the heat.

Local and national authorities have a mammoth task of creating awareness about the risks of heatwaves and heat in general, for example by issuing a heat warning in advance. A question that arises is when they should start taking action: When there’s an official heatwave? When it’s above 35°C? Clearly, longer exposure to the sun, even at 32°C, can make people ill. Should the government be circulating information on heat-related risks even when it’s a normal summer’s day when there’s a risk of the body not being able to cool itself due to the level of humidity and the lack of the circulation of air? Or should we have enough common sense to be doing it ourselves?

I think that when leaving ourselves to be the judge, we can make poor decisions based on a lack of relevant information to make an informed choice, or out of wilful ignorance. There are tons of people who don’t heed the warning to seek shelter when it’s hot, who still engage in normal activities without realizing that their bodies are overheating. Could it also be a matter of not being able to discern that our bodies are getting too hot? Do we need more education about that, so that we know that when we perspire heavily and remain sticky, it’s a sign that we need to cool ourselves down?

In a year that’s already marked the two hottest days on earth, ever (!), these questions are becoming urgent. The underlying question is, of course, who is responsible for ensuring that we are protected from the heat: the government, or us? It’s a combination, I believe–where we cannot do it ourselves, or do not do it, it should be taking steps to protect those who cannot or will not do it themselves. Through heat plans or awareness campaigns. And by ensuring that vulnerable groups have the necessary means to shade and cool themselves.

But it is also clear that we need to take action individually, and the first step could be to take responsibility for our own bodies—to self-govern our bodies in times of heat by understanding the risks of heat and how it can affect us, and by acting cautiously, especially if we don’t know how our bodies react to the heat. I don’t know how we can start doing this, but reading more about the risks of hot temperatures can be a start.

A second, related step could be to help each other understand the risks of exposure to heat by creating opportunities for social learning and acting on what we’ve learned, including helping each other understand or access information on the effects of heat. And we can act to assist those requiring help. In the U.S., for example, cooling centers are organized by the U.S. government and cooling stations by individuals or organizations acting together for others in their community who suffer from the heat and who don’t have the means to adequately cool themselves.

This remains a big issue among people who live in dwellings inadequately designed to remain cool or who don’t have the financial means to cool themselves, such as through a sun screen or aircon. Often, these are also more vulnerable segments of the population, in particular the sick, disabled, and/or elderly.

The inspiration for my post is the seed panel on urban resilience to heatwaves that THUAS and ISS researcher Sylvia Bergh and I are organizing at this year’s EADI Conference. We’ll be looking at citizen, government, and private sector responses to heatwaves, and I’ll probably want to discuss individual responses.

The panel takes place on Thursday July 13, 2023 at 10:00 CET. Topics range from integrated heat planning in the Netherlands to measuring the accessibility of cooling stations and urban heat hazard exposure in Kampala, Uganda. If you’re a registered conference participant, you can join in person or online. If you haven’t registered, we’re writing up the key takeaways and observations after the conference. Stay tuned!

Opinions expressed in Bliss posts reflect solely the views of the author of the post in question.

About the author:

 

Lize Swartz is a PhD researcher studying how changes in urban water availability affect human-water relations. She has co-authored a book called Bron on how residents of Cape Town navigated the near-collapse of the city’s water system. She has been editor of Bliss since 2017.

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Earth Day Series | How spending time in urban green spaces can counter our children’s biophobia and improve the wellbeing of older adults

In a recent BLISS blog, we argued that outdoor nature education programmes in primary schools can help combat eco-anxiety among children. As young people have fewer and fewer direct encounters with nature, they come to fear or misunderstand it. Spending time learning through nature outdoors can help prevent this from happening. But adults can also benefit from being outside: an ongoing project shows that spending time in urban green spaces can enhance the well-being of  older adults. To ensure that urban green spaces are suited for intergenerational use, they may need to be adapted.

Photo taken by the author

Sir David Attenborough famously stated that “noone will protect what they don’t care about, and no-one will care about what they have never experienced”. This is certainly the case for how we experience and relate to nature: nurturing curiosity and a sense of wonder for the living world is not (only) about experiencing the remote wilderness and having sufficient expertise to know enough about it – it is much more about becoming comfortable with, becoming aware of, and developing a sense of unity with nature in our daily lives and through our daily practices.

However, our experiences teaching and raising children have shown us that there is quite a long way to go. The ‘environment’ we aim to save has been reduced to a set of outside factors we can ignore; our walls and virtual reality keep us separated and ‘safe’ from it. When adults have a rare contact with it; the same applies to children.

And so, on a daily basis, we meet children and young people who claim with all their heart that they love trees and that they want to plant new ones “because they allow us to breathe”. But do they care about the old tree in the square which they never climbed, hugged, or raced around? And can they help understand their deep value for human beings and solve environmental problems without having the intimate experience of the living world? In other words, is experiencing nature instead of reading about it in books or learning from others how to protect it necessary for children to truly understand it, love it and act for it?

 

Good intentions, but too little interaction

Experience Aurélia has had with primary students show that the same who proclaim that they want to save Planet Earth, are also afraid to walk through ivy leaves because they believe they are dangerous,  or cannot touch earth with their bare hands (“too dirty”). They want to “fight for the climate”, but freeze in the face of the weather variations of a temperate climate (“it’s rainy”). They want to save pollinators, but run away from each striped insect, winged or not. They dream of saving biodiversity, but want to “kill” weeds and fungi, as they might be dangerous. They are passionate about fighting plastic pollution, but offer plastic goodies at every occasion.

These children are simply scared because the reality of nature is different from what they see trough television or on the internet. They are scared of nature because it provides them with sensations that have become unusual. Their exposure to weather variations, unexpected events, or different subtle sensations has dramatically decreased with the limited ecosystems they actually access, which leads to disgust and fear. This phenomenon is called biophobia, and it is now deeply anchored in the minds of adults and educators alike,[1] who spend 93% of their lives inside buildings or vehicles, and is so well reproduced by the younger generations we raise indoors. They think love and they feel repulsion.

But this can be countered: research shows that children engaged in outdoor activities on a daily basis develop more pro-environmental behaviours, with positive effects on attitudes towards biodiversity and natural ecosystems.[2] Aurélia’s experience working in nature education in Amsterdam confirms this: by developing programmes of regular experience of nature, a virtuous loop in the relationship between humans and living things is quickly established. Children wonder about the old tree that was cut down and the woodpeckers that used to nest there. With students regularly learning outdoors, the green area next to the school has become part of their daily life and identity. The school organises regular clean-up actions to preserve the outdoor learning opportunities.

This committed attitude towards nature then spreads from the children to their families and to the wider community. One community for example is now fiercely trying to protect a neighbouring park from further land artificialization projects, thereby affirming that the patch of nature they enjoy should not serve as a dumping ground for waste or a place for drug addicts – they see it as a place for families, children, and teachers to enjoy. Hence, when we invest in outdoor education – when we foster authentic human-nature connections in our daily urban lives – we show the city’s policy-makers that we value the ecosystem we belong to.

 

Young and old alike can reconnect

This observation stretches beyond the biophobia of children: we believe that not only children need to reconnect with urban nature, but also (older) adults. A desk review carried out as part of the ongoing AFECO project in which Sylvia is involved shows how urban green spaces benefit older adults. The project aims to empower older adults to apply affordable, age-friendly, and eco-friendly solutions to their own living environments to help them ‘age in place’, i.e. to keep living in their own homes and in their own local environment and community. The project will develop an open e-learning platform aiming to raise awareness and educate older people, (in)formal caregivers and social workers on the practical adjustments and subsidies that exist (e.g. to install a stair-lift, insulate the home to save energy), and the benefits of and ways of caring for the natural environment, for example by having the tiles removed in their gardens, or getting involved in community gardens.

The benefits are shown to be multiple: urban green spaces yield many health benefits, including a longer life expectancy, fewer mental health problems, improved cognitive functioning, and a better mood.[3] Studies have shown that such benefits are particularly important for older adults who often do not have satisfactory alternatives to exercise, socialize, or enjoy nature.

However, the design of parks have long neglected the needs and preferences of older adults.[4] Barriers that prevent older people from using green spaces include poor maintenance, littering, and perceived safety issues. They may also have concerns about inadequate toilet facilities, a lack of seating, and shelter from weather conditions.[5] We believe that these concerns can be addressed by adopting intergenerational design features in which both children and older adults at the very least can enjoy green spaces – preferably together.[6]

To conclude, during this Earth Week 2023, let’s reflect on how each of us can help to ‘invest in our planet’, this year’s theme, by advocating for more and better urban green spaces, especially for children and older adults.

 


References

Bixler, R. D., Floyd, M. F., & Hammitt, W. E. (2002). Environmental socialization: Quantitative tests of the childhood play hypothesis. Environment and Behavior, 34(6), 795-818.

Bjerke, T., & Østdahl, T. (2004). Animal-related attitudes and activities in an urban population. Anthrozoös, 17(2), 109-129.

Eagles, P. F., & Muffitt, S. (1990). An analysis of children’s attitudes toward animals. The Journal of Environmental Education, 21(3), 41-44.

Loukaitou-Sideris, A., Brozen, M., & Levy-Storms, L. (2014). Placemaking for an Aging Population: Guidelines for Senior-Friendly Parks. UCLA: The Ralph and Goldy Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies. Retrieved from https://escholarship.org/uc/item/450871hz

Nieuwenhuijsen, M. J. (2021). New urban models for more sustainable, liveable and healthier cities post covid19; reducing air pollution, noise and heat island effects and increasing green space and physical activity. Environment International, 157, 106850. Doi:10.1016/j.envint.2021.106850

Soga, M., Gaston, K. J., Yamaura, Y., Kurisu, K., & Hanaki, K. (2016). Both direct and vicarious experiences of nature affect children’s willingness to conserve biodiversity. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 13(6), 529.

Soga, M., Evans, M.J., Yamanoi, T., Fukano, Y., Tsuchiya, K., Koyanagi, T.F. and Kanai, T. (2020). How can we mitigate against increasing biophobia among children during the extinction of experience? Biological Conservation, 242, 108420.

Zhang, W., Goodale, E., & Chen, J. (2014). How contact with nature affects children’s biophilia, biophobia and conservation attitude in China. Biological Conservation, 177, 109-116.

van Hoof, J., Marston, H. R., Kazak, J. K., & Buffel, T. (2021). Ten questions concerning age-friendly cities and communities and the built environment. Building and Environment, 199, 107922. Doi:10.1016/j.buildenv.2021.107922

[1] See Soga et al. (2020).

[2] See Bixler et al. (2002), Bjerke & Østdahl (2004), Eagles & Muffitt (1990), Soga et al. (2016), and Zhang & Chen (2014).

[3] see Nieuwenhuijsen (2021) for an extensive review.

[4] See Loukaitou-Sideris et al. (2014).

[5] van Hoof et al (2021).

[6] See Loukaitou-Sideris et al. (2014).


Opinions expressed in Bliss posts reflect solely the views of the author of the post in question.

About the authors:

Aurélia Chevreul-Gaud develops change management strategies to implement outdoor learning on a daily basis. She is a mentor in nature-based education, creator of the 7 Connection Gateways Pedagogy© and holds a master’s degree in change management. She is also a public speaker – see her TEDx performance. Her current project based in The Netherlands, focuses on integrating outdoor learning into urban teachers’ practices and linking it with the International Baccalaureate Primary Year Programme.

 

 

 

Sylvia I. Bergh is Associate Professor in Development Management and Governance at the International Institute of Social Studies (ISS), Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR), and Senior researcher at the Centre of Expertise on Global and Inclusive Learning and the Research Group on Multilevel Regulation at The Hague University of Applied Sciences (THUAS). Some of her current research  focuses on the governance of heatwaves, and from her position at THUAS and with the Research Group on Urban Ageing, she is currently involved in the EU-funded AFECO project.

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Earth Day Series / Honour thy financial commitments: climate funds promised at COP27 won’t reach vulnerable countries unless these things are done

When the COP27 summit was kicked off in Egypt in November last year, there was hope that some progress would finally be made in financing climate action. But Hao Zhang, who attended the summit, observes that although efforts seem to have been stepped up, there is not yet reason for optimism. In fact, COP27 was marked by the failure of government leaders to truly commit financially to meeting climate goals. While the past year has witnessed devastating disasters, a potential economic downturn and energy crisis, the war in Ukraine, geopolitical unrest, and the aftermath of Covid pandemic, this is not enough to justify the lack of commitment, she writes.

Source: Hao Zhang

While countries have increasingly prioritized the financing of climate action in the last years, talks at recent COP summits seem to indicate that an even greater financial commitment was made to mitigate the effects of climate change. This also seemed to be the case for the recent COP27 summit that took place in Egypt at the end of last year, and which I attended. For example, on November 9 last year, the COP27 presidency explicitly scheduled a Financing Day to emphasize finance as the key to achieving climate policies and increasing climate ambition.[i]

And at the summit, attention was draw to the huge gap between climate adaptation financing and loss and damage commitments, the latter referring to the negative consequences of climate change risks that cannot be or are not mitigated in time.[ii] Thus, at the summit, developing nations banded together to urge wealthy nations to increase their financial commitment to addressing these urgent problems. The somewhat positive news is that parties at the summit in the end agreed to create a specific fund on loss and damage that aims to provide financial assistance to countries most vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

However, even if the issue of loss and damage is now being added to the official agenda and for the first time has explicitly been discussed at a COP meeting,[iii] there is still a long way to go in enacting the commitments. Here are some of the things I have observed while at the COP27 summit showing that at present, it’s still all talk and no trousers when it comes to implementing climate funds:

 

  1. It has not yet been decided exactly “who should pay into the fund, where this money will come from, and which countries will benefit”. [iv] This may raise concerns that negotiations around specific issues related to how the fund will operate are likely to go on for years, with no concrete investments being made. Another central question in the funding of climate action is linked to the allocation of funds: which issues or activities should be allocated funds first, and by whom? Apart from scale-up commitments, national governments should also consider the strategic allocation of funds for climate action. An effective strategy is needed to assess and prioritize different agendas and issues and distribute funds among those countries requiring financial resources.

 

  1. Previous commitments first need to be honoured. It is reasonable to have to somewhat curb our optimism about getting something done when we recall that the financial commitment wealthy countries made in 2009 to mobilize USD 100 billion a year by 2020 for climate adaptation still hasn’t been fully honoured. In fact, COP27 opened with a rallying call for countries who’d previously committed money to pay up.

 

  1. The discussion on climate financing also revolves around how much money we will need to keep global warming within the 1.5°C limit and how countries and people who need the money most can get access to it. On one hand, climate operations seem not to be receiving nearly enough funding. Although at COP27, we witnessed nations constantly announcing new finance plans to close the funding gap, including 10 million euro from the Netherlands for the Africa Adaptation Acceleration Plan upstream financing facility, a USD 150-million package from the US for adaptative measures, 11.6 billion pounds from the UK for international climate finance, and an increase by Germany of its climate contribution to USD 6 billion a year by 2025,[v] to name a few, these are by no means sufficient to keep us on the 1.5°C

 

  1. On the other hand, it appears that access to climate funding remains a problem for those in need all around the world. There are certainly a variety of financial and technical resources floating around in the system given that party representatives from wealthy and developing countries alike have pledged to allocate even more funds. However, how to locate and access funds can be tricky. At the summit, civil society leaders from the developing world pushed for more streamlined access to financial resources. Representatives of NGOs from China, Angola, Bangladesh, and India for example stated at a side event that it is crucial to ensure and provide better access to NGOs and other entities who fully comprehend local needs and priorities and who closely collaborate with the local communities who suffer the most from the climate crisis.

 

What can we learn from this? Although there is increasing pressure on parties to scale up their ambitions, the execution thereof may actually be the bigger problem, as leaders of developing nations have stated that keeping existing promises is more vital than making more pledges. Despite the fact that the Egyptian presidency defined this meeting as the “Together for Implementation” COP,[vi] there are still more promises than a clear implementation strategy for financing aid initiatives.

To this end, I have made a number of suggestions based on my observations, which are detailed below.

 

The private sector should be encouraged to invest

First, it has become strikingly clear that public funds from national governments cannot be the sole source of climate financing, first of all because of their hesitance or inability to commit sufficient funds. Here, the private sector can play a significant role. Governments must develop policies to encourage private sector investment in addition to increasing their own investments in various initiatives. One of the most crucial things governments can do according to Mark Carney, UN special envoy for climate change and finance, is to “provide clear signals on where they want to go in key industries” and supplement these with “targeted and effective incentives”.[vii]

 

Local realities need to be heeded and technical support provided

Second, whether funds for climate action are international, national, regional, or local, it is essential to maintain a flow of information, provide clear application guidelines, and support staff capacity building. However, as the representatives pointed out during the side event, those who engage with local stakeholders targeted by climate action lack clear instructions on how to access these resources, and those negotiating financial packages, are likely to have little understanding of local requirements. It appears that the top politics may already be detached from the bottom-up realities.

 

The climate crisis should not be used as a geopolitical bargaining chip

Lastly, certain issues such as the level of mitigation efforts and NDCs appear still to be overlooked by the parties. Talks on finance cannot dictate the narrative at the negotiations. Moreover, the disconnected offers and needs may serve as a wake-up call for all parties that the multilateral talks are not and cannot be the sole solution to our climate catastrophe. Parties cannot use the climate crisis as a geopolitical bargaining chip; civil society and business actors may not be best served by sitting at the table and talk or shouting some slogans outside the meeting rooms.


[i] Refer to the COP27 website

[ii] Refer to UN Environment Programme

[iii]  Refer to the UNFCCC website

[iv] Refer to UNEP’s website

[v] Refer to the Global Center on Adaptation

[vi] Refer to the UNFCCC Climate Champions website

[vii] Refer to Mckinsey Insights

[vii] Watch the recording on YouTube


Opinions expressed in Bliss posts reflect solely the views of the author of the post in question.

About the author:

Hao Zhang is a PhD candidate at the International Institute of Social Studies (ISS), Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR). Before joining ISS, she was a master’s student majoring in international affairs at School of Global Policy and Strategy at University of California, San Diego. Her current research focuses on policy advocacy of Chinese NGOs in global climate governance. Her research interests lie in global climate politics and diplomacy, and NGO development in China.

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