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Vulnerable communities at the forefront

  • Published at 12:05 am April 7th, 2019
Climate Change

An action plan from Addis Ababa

The 13th international conference on Community Based Adaptation (CBA13) held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in early April brought together over 300 participants from some of the most climate vulnerable countries in Africa, Asia, and other parts of the world who constitute a rapidly growing community of practice working on CBA in the most vulnerable countries and communities.

These vulnerable communities came together over a decade ago to tackle the adverse impacts of climate change that they were already facing, and to share knowledge and experience on adaptation with each other.

However, although this community has grown into the many tens of thousands by now, it needs to reach and include millions, not just in the poorest countries, but in all countries, as climate change impacts are now definitely happening everywhere.

The very rich discussions at CBA13 identified ways to do this as well as bottlenecks that prevent it from happening. Some are shared below.

The first step is to get governments and global bodies such as the Green Climate Fund (GCF) to stop seeing vulnerable communities as helpless and only needing assistance.

This is far from correct. Even the most vulnerable and poor communities have human assets and strengths that can and need to be built upon to make them more resilient to climate change impacts (as well as other risks).

This means designing programs and projects “with them” and not just “for them.” 

Secondly, the funds that are available for adaptation at the global level, such as the GCF, although claiming to prioritize the most vulnerable countries and communities, are badly failing to deliver that promise.

These agencies need to re-think their business models to be better at finding and funding intermediaries with the ability to reach the most vulnerable.

A third aspect of the problem is largely a national one, where there is always a tension between national (top down) governance and decision-making, and local governments who lack real decision-making and fund management mandates and capabilities. 

If national governments truly wish to support their most vulnerable citizens, they need to devolve greater decision-making authority to local levels of government in both rural as well as municipalities.

This needs to be accompanied by capacity-building and funding.

The more locally-led the planning and decision-making, the better the results will be. 

The fourth message is to the recently set up Global Commission on Adaptation (GCA) with three high level commissioners, namely Ban-ki Moon, Bill Gates, and Kristalina Georgiva from the World Bank, along with a number of other commissioners (including Dr Musa of BRAC, and Sheela Patel from International Slum Dwellers Groups). 

The GCA is going to present a high level report on adaptation to the UN secretary general at the climate summit in New York in September, and it is likely to include a number of action tracks, including one on supporting local level adaptation. 

The hundreds of participants representing thousands of organizations, networks, and communities at CBA13 gave a very strong message to GCA and mandate to Sheela Patel, who was present to ensure that global support, including funding, to the most vulnerable communities be multiplied manifold, but even more importantly be provided in a better manner as the current system of trickle-down support is not fit for purpose.

Bangladesh has a very important role to play in both the GCA as well as the climate summit, as Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has been invited to attend, and has accepted the invitation.

The UN secretary general has asked his invitees to come up with “plans not speeches,” and the format of the speech is to make “an offer and an ask.” 

So, I believe we have an opportunity to present Bangladesh, including government, civil society, academia, and the private sector as leaders on the action track on supporting local adaptation, not just in and for Bangladesh, but on behalf of other LDCs and developing countries.

One vehicle for taking this idea forward is for the PM to invite the three high level GCA commissioners (as she is also a sponsor of the GCA) to come to Bangladesh in January 2020 and launch the global action track on supporting local adaptation at the 6th annual Gobeshona conference in Dhaka.

One of the high level commissioners, Kristalina Georgiva, who now heads the World Bank, has recently announced a $50 billion investment program on tackling climate change.

Perhaps she could come and announce an allocation of 10% of that to support local level adaptation in the most vulnerable countries and communities? 

At the same time, Bangladesh will invite the rest of the world to come as well and see how to support adaptation through a whole-of-society approach, from the prime minister to the farmers in the fields. 

Saleemul Huq is Director, International Centre for Climate Change and Development, at the Independent University, Bangladesh, and a Senior Fellow at the International Institute for Environment and Development in the UK. He can be reached at [email protected]

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