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Climate Change, Complex Crises and Household Resilience

Complex crises produce impacts that cascade across space and time in unpredictable ways, and create severe hardship among vulnerable groups in developing countries. This paper uses the food crisis of 2008 as a basis for...

The Difficulty of Defining Adaptation Finance

While working on tracking adaptation finance for our Adaptation Finance Accountability Initiative project, we often get the question “What is adaptation finance?” or “What counts as adaptation finance?” To our embarrassment, we still don’t have a clear answer to either question, other than “Well… finance that funds efforts to adapt to the impacts of climate change qualifies as adaptation finance.”

We aren’t the only ones who struggle to define the very issue on which we work. Even some of the definitions that the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and multilateral development banks are developing do not provide a complete answer to the question of what types of investment are considered to be adaptation finance.

We decided to do some soul-searching on this subject. While it’s still too complicated to provide a cut-and-dry definition of adaptation finance, we identified three common traits surrounding the issue: Adaptation finance is context-specific, dynamic, and not just about finance.

Coastal Communities in Virginia Lead the Way on Local Climate Action

“The time to act is now… We cannot afford to do nothing.”

This was the message of Mayor Will Sessoms from Virginia Beach, VA, delivered last Friday at a conference on "Adaptive Planning for Flooding and Coastal Change." Like so many cities along the Atlantic coast, Virginia Beach is at the frontlines of climate change, experiencing impacts like sea-level rise and recurrent coastal flooding. But as we learned at the event, the city and its surrounding communities are emerging as leaders in engaging in initiatives to address these issues.

“We are not as well prepared as we need to be to address the full scope of projected realities in the year 2100” Mayor Sessoms stated, “and we can, and must, make continued improvements.” His message was echoed by a group of bipartisan mayors and state delegates, city planners, legal experts, and university scientists. They stressed that while state and federal governments often struggle to move beyond the political debate of whether manmade climate change is happening, residents of the Tidewater area of Virginia are focused on developing a robust response to rising seas and recurrent coastal flooding.

Mayor Sessoms’ sentiments paralleled the earlier statements of Democratic Mayor Paul Fraim from Norfolk, VA that "[t]his is one of the greatest threats of our lifetime,” and “a threat that we can no longer afford to ignore."

Lessons from Florida: How Local Adaptation Efforts Can Complement National Climate Action

As I prepare to take part in an event on hurricanes and extreme weather in Miami, Florida later today, it’s clear just how much climate change threatens the state’s local communities. Florida is the most vulnerable U.S. state to sea-level rise, with seas projected to rise along the state’s coast by as much as 2 feet by 2060--threatening valuable infrastructure, homes, and communities. Even Superstorm Sandy--which had the greatest impacts in New York and New Jersey--caused significant damages along Florida’s east coast while centered miles offshore. Rising seas contributed to Sandy’s storm surge and tidal surges, causing flooding throughout Miami-Dade County and sweeping away portions of State Road A1A in Fort Lauderdale.

But as overly concerned as I am of the climate change impacts Florida faces, I’m also encouraged. Florida has something that few other states have: A bipartisan collaboration to address global warming’s disastrous impacts.

Reducing the vulnerability of local communities exposed to climate change by increasing the volume and effectiveness of finance directed towards adaptation.

Turning Climate Action into a Reality

This post was written by Ricardo Lagos, former president of Chile and a member of the high-level advisory panel for the Climate Justice Dialogue. The Climate Justice Dialogue project is a joint initiative between WRI and the Mary Robinson Foundation-Climate Justice. This piece originally appeared on Reuters Alertnet.

Global emissions just crossed 400 parts per million, an ominous threshold for the climate. Despite this marker, there are signs of new life for international climate action, including during the recent United Nation’s climate meeting in Bonn, Germany.

It’s become abundantly clear that in order for the world to reach an international climate agreement by 2015, the usual approach isn’t going to work. World leaders need to find common ground and work toward solutions. They need to engage their citizens and infuse new passion into the issue. Climate change is not just an environmental issue – it is one of the great moral tests of our times.

In Chile, we know all too well the impacts of climate change, marked in particular by more frequent droughts and increasing water scarcity. This affects people and our economy across sectors, from agriculture and manufacturing to mining and energy. Sadly, the people most affected by climate change are the poorest and most vulnerable members of society.

In the face of this challenge, we need a new narrative that engages people and presents the issue as a social and economic story rather than as just an environmental one. We need to create a world in which people prosper but without increasing pollution. This is not a distant dream, but a real possibility.

On Climate Change Adaptation, Put Local Communities First

How can we make climate change adaptation measures more effective? I recently traveled to Dhaka, Bangladesh to discuss ways to address that very question.

I took part in the 7th annual Community-Based Adaptation Conference (CBA7), hosted by the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) and the Bangladesh Center for International Studies. The conference provides a forum for organizations working on climate change adaptation to come together, learn from each other, and identify shared interests and needs. The organizations involved mainly work at the grassroots level with poor and vulnerable people in the developing world, but the conference also attracts a growing number of government representatives.

One of the conference’s main themes was that stakeholders at the local and national levels must work together to foster locally grounded, community-based adaptation efforts. I elaborated on this theme in a video interview with IIED. Check it out below.

Are Developed Nations Falling Short on Their Climate Finance Commitments?

UPDATE 4/11/13: After this blog post was published, the OECD released updated figures for 2010 and 2011. The data still shows a decrease in commitments for adaptation, mitigation, and climate finance, as this blog post states. However, adaptation expenditures were 3 percent higher in 2011 than in 2010, as opposed to unchanged. (View updated figures.) The changes in the numbers are a result of donors entering new data for previous years or updating their old data. Preliminary data for 2012 shows that aid to developing countries continued to fall. Detailed figures for 2012 will be released in June 2013.

At the 2009 U.N. climate change conference in Copenhagen, developed nations committed to provide a collective $100 billion per year by 2020 to help developing countries mitigate greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to climate change’s impacts. Recently, the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) released some surprising new data on this pledge. The figures indicate that developed nations’ recent climate finance contributions have fallen rather than risen toward the level of their 2020 commitment.

A Look at the New OECD Data

The OECD is a consortium of 34 wealthy countries. Among other joint initiatives, it provides a platform to monitor and share statistics on aid flows and climate finance contributed by its members. Most OECD members report both their climate finance expenditures and commitments using the “Rio Markers” (see text box), and the OECD secretariat periodically makes these numbers public. OECD members’ climate finance contributions represent a significant portion of the collective $100 billion commitment, so the numbers reported by the OECD give a good indication of developments in the climate finance field.

Surprisingly, new OECD numbers show that while adaptation expenditures in 2011 remained the same as in 2010, expenditures for mitigation activities decreased. Plus, the total commitment for climate finance decreased from $23 billion in 2010 to $17 billion in 2011.

While a “commitment” refers to the total amount of money a country will spend on an adaptation/mitigation project over a multi-year period—which is reported at the beginning of a project—an “expenditure” refers to the amount a country spends in a particular year on adaptation/mitigation activities. In January 2013, the OECD updated its data for 2011. It is difficult, of course, to predict or analyze trends based on only two years of data (the only data that’s currently available on OECD climate finance commitments). But given developed nations’ agreement to scale up climate finance significantly by 2020, this decrease is surprising—and could be concerning.

What Do We Need to Know in a Changing Climate? A Research Agenda to Support Adaptation

As the world continues to feel the effects of drought, sea level rise, and more volatile weather, it’s clear that adaptation efforts have never been more imperative. These initiatives are critically important in order to protect communities—especially in impoverished places—from the worsening impacts of climate change.

WRI’s Vulnerability & Adaptation team has been working to ensure that adaptation is a central component of the international development agenda. Over the past few years, WRI and its partners have conducted practical research and analysis on three continents across a broad spectrum of adaptation topics, including monitoring and evaluation; case studies on information use for adaptation; the role of national institutions; and a broad set of decision-making principles for a changing climate. But what have we learned from the results of these efforts? And how can we ensure that global adaptation efforts are conducted effectively and efficiently?

We recently stepped back and evaluated the work we’ve done to try and answer these questions. One of our clearest conclusions is that much remains to be learned about “what works” in adaptation. The results of our efforts point toward five areas of long-term, practical, applied research that could help provide a foundation for effective adaptation moving forward: adaptation success, critical thresholds, adaptation options, information systems, and institutions.

A Time for Leadership on Climate Justice

I spent the recent U.N. climate negotiations in Doha trying to reconcile two injustices. The first is captured by Nicholas Stern’s “brutal arithmetic.” This is the simple, unavoidable fact that bold greenhouse gas emissions reductions will be needed from all countries to hold global temperature increase to 2°C above pre-industrial levels, thus preventing climate change’s most dangerous impacts. Developing nations, many of which are battling crippling poverty and inequality at home, are being told that the traditional, high-carbon pathway to prosperity is off-limits, and that they, too, will need to embrace aggressive mitigation actions. This is a glaring injustice – the product of two decades of missed opportunities in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), inadequate domestic action in industrialized countries, and substantial geopolitical changes in major emerging economies.

But the second injustice is even greater – one that is manifest and which must be avoided. As the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has illustrated, breaching the 2°C threshold would seriously degrade vital ecosystems and the communities who depend on them. This, itself, is an issue of justice, as climate change undermines the realization of human rights, including the right to food, health, an adequate standard of living, and even the right to life. Those same developing countries who are home to the poorest and most vulnerable members of our global community—and who are now compelled to act on reducing emissions—will be hit first and hardest by climate change’s impacts.

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