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Six messages on climate change

Written by Natasha Grist


Last week ODI hosted the last in its series of Climate Change and Development meetings. Since January, 11 meetings have featured an impressive array of speakers including top scientists and thinkers, government ministers, international diplomats, NGO leaders, and policy shapers. They have discussed a wide range of topics: from the science of climate change, through sectoral issues, to policy frameworks and both radical and routine techniques for mitigation to prevent climate change, and adaptation to its realities. We have sought the latest in knowledge and insights in these areas, had some of our understandings confirmed, and others challenged.

Six key messages have emerged from the series:

1. Climate change is big, urgent and happening right now.
As Douglas Alexander said at the opening meeting: climate change is already upon us. The evidence in climate change shows that the global situation is far worse than previously thought. Kevin Anderson, Director of the Tyndall Centre, discussed recent evidence showing that worldwide, ‘the actual emissions growth rate for 2000-2007 exceeded the highest forecast growth rates for the decade 2000-2010 in the emissions scenarios of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’ (GCP 2008). In other words, emissions are now beyond even the most extreme of the IPCC emissions scenarios.

Kevin said that mitigation should be planned stringently in an effort to keep the global temperature rise down to a maximum of 2 degrees, but that adaptation should be planned for the more realistic possibility of an increase of around 4 degrees. The adaptation agenda needs a complete rewrite, he said.

Humanitarians Sir John Holmes and Bekele Gelata were clear that the number of weather-related disasters and the numbers affected is on the rise. Others were nervous about the potential for conflict and noted the links between current conflict zones and areas of water insecurity.

2. Uncertainty about future carbon emissions and their impact makes it vital to focus on specific contexts
Presentations by Nigel Arnell and Andrew Watkinson discussed the limitations of, and innovations in, modelling, which might help in planning. They looked at  scenarios planning as  a method to facilitate  ‘robust decision making in the face of uncertainty’, and at the need to understand potential ‘tipping points’, which might be a useful technique in developing countries where the lack of data makes detailed modelling impossible.

Several speakers stressed that climate change does not happen within a ‘static’ situation or system: there are many drivers, risks and tipping points, some known and unknown, and all of them are shifting constantly. There is no ‘one size fits all’ solution.

In the light of ongoing uncertainty, Gunilla Carlsson and Barry Smit suggested that adaptation measures should focus on building resilience, working with local communities and understanding specific contexts – and how they contribute to vulnerability – much better.

3. Middle income countries must play their part in mitigation
This is directed particularly to China, which has become the world’s biggest source of emissions over the last year. Gordon Mackerron said that the poorest countries emit so little that mitigation is not an issue. Adaptation is the priority. This adds to the pressure on the international climate change negotiations as we approach the Copenhagen meeting in December.

4. Climate change is going to cost a lot, and innovative finance is crucial
Monique Barbut, CEO of the Global Environment Facility (GEF), and Surya Sethi stressed the importance of new forms of financing with shifts needed in who controls the financing process. We need a move away from the traditional ‘donor to recipient’ model of aid, to one of additional financing, based on the principle of entitlement. There was a strong preference for generating finances within climate institutions and markets, rather than through additional taxation. This might require scaling up a revised version of the EU Emissions Trading Scheme mechanisms, for example. Participants expressed concerns about development cooperation, and the needs to adhere to the Paris Declaration Principles on Aid Effectiveness amidst the proliferation of vertical funds for climate change. A recent ODI opinion paper on climate finance reflects on some potential models for climate financing in more detail.

5. We need to be clear about our expectations for Copenhagen
Yvo de Boer, head of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) negotiations, said that the Copenhagen meeting in December allows us to prioritise: targets for developed countries; participation of developing countries; financing; and government structures that ensure financing is directed more strongly by developing countries. But he also said that we can’t expect every detail to be sorted out at Copenhagen.  

Douglas Alexander and Joan Ruddock shared clear ideas of what a good Copenhagen deal would look like from a UK perspective, backed by evidence and actions from the UK Committee of Climate Change, outlined by Lord Turner. Negotiating texts for Copenhagen have just become available and are now being discussed in detail at the Bonn meeting.
But Copenhagen is not the end of the process.

6. Lessons about politics and policy-making on climate change are critical
Sectoral specialists in forestry (Johan Eliasch and Frances Seymour), water (Margaret Catley-Carlsson) and humanitarian issues (Sir John Holmes and Bekele Gelata), surprisingly, said that the major challenges on climate change are about institutions and governance, not about science. Gunilla Carlsson, head of the Swedish Commission on Climate Change, said that the policy-making community should focus on autonomous adaptation, ownership and citizen participation, and move away from the current focus on top down planning. There are many lessons to be learned from the development community about successful development planning, about when climate change is to be ‘mainstreamed’ or treated separately, and several pitfalls to avoid.

We also heard calls for radical change and new ways of thinking and acting. Nigel Arnell said that good planning for climate change is ‘not just more of the same with an extra safety gap’, because it will affect all existing infrastructure and management practices. Jeremy Rifkin called for a massive investment in micro-scale energy generation; Surya Sethi said he would like to see developing county finances on climate change managed by a new in-country institution independent from government. Others see new possibilities for greener low carbon pathways to prosperity coming through the economic downturn.
Pulling this all together was the triple call outlined by Simon Maxwell, then ODI Director, at the beginning of the series: to act; collaborate; and remain aware of value. We need to mainstream climate change into development, make sure that we integrate plans and action on climate change with the experience of the development community, and retain a clear focus on equity, equal opportunities and rights throughout the process. 

We would welcome comments from those who participated in the series, and others interested in the issues raised.