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Addressing Poverty as a Climate Change Adoption Strategy

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The Earth is experiencing the warmest surface temperatures since modern climate measurements were implemented in 1880. This extreme global warming is the result of excessive concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Moreover, overwhelming scientific evidence has concluded that climate change has been caused by anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, and if these are not substantially reduced, the devastating effects that it will have for future centuries will be irreversible.

Although developed countries have released most of the greenhouse gases that have caused climate change, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) has stated in its book entitled “Climate Change: Impacts, Vulnerabilities and Adaptation in Developing Countries in 2007 that, over the next decades, “… billions of people, particularly those in developing counties, [will] face shortages of water and food and greater risks to health and life as a result of climate change”. Consequently, global action should be focused on providing developing countries, and especially their most disadvantageous poverty-stricken sections and minority groups, who are the most vulnerable social groups in them, the necessary resources to adapt to the new climatic conditions that will arise from climate change.

Vulnerabilities of these extremely poverty-stricken sections and minority groups in developing countries are aggravated by discrimination and social exclusion that prevent them from acquiring the necessary resources to cope with global warming on their own. Adaptation strategies that are implemented need to acknowledge the circumstances of these groups to the extent of their vulnerabilities to climate change.

Poverty and Climate Change

Even though developing countries have less responsibility than developed countries for   causing   anthropogenic   climate   change,   they   are   the most vulnerable to its effects. In fact, 95% of fatalities from global natural disasters have been suffered by developing countries in the last 25 years, fiercely striking their poverty-stricken sections and minority groups, according to Peter Höppe in Global Economic Symposium 2011.

Of the developing countries in the world, the populations from Africa, South Asia and Latin America are the most threatened by the consequences of climate change, due to the extreme poverty, social inequality and discrimination that exist in them. According to the GINI coefficient (2013), a statistical index used to measure income inequality, of the 40 countries with the highest rate of inequality, 93% belong to Africa (43%) and Latin America (45.70) and in South Asia the extreme poverty was estimated at 15.1%. In consequence, though developing countries of Africa, Latin America and South Asia are mostly exposed to the extreme weather events and altered climatic conditions, they are the least prepared to handle them.

The region of Africa is highly exposed to the effects of climate change. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2007, “The population at risk of increased water stress in Africa is projected to be between 75-250 million and 350-600 million people by the 2020s and 2050s, respectively”. It is projected furthermore that temperatures in Africa will rise faster than the global average during the 21st Century. Meanwhile, the great ecosystem diversity in Latin America and the Caribbean is subject to a large variety of climate change vulnerabilities along the continent. According to the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, “in 2010, 98 of the world’s most serious natural disasters occurred in Latin America, and 79 of these were climate-related. They caused more than 300,000 deaths and losses valued at 49.4 billion US dollars, and affected 13.8 million people.” All together, the destruction that flooding could wreak in South Asia’s low-lying and urban areas is cruelly complemented by the effects of drought and changes in seasonal rainfall. The IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report predicts that in forthcoming decades, “the impacts of climate change will influence flooding of settlements and infrastructure, heat-related deaths, and food and water shortages in South Asia”. Further, the extreme weather events and altered climatic conditions are exacerbating the poverty level in developing countries. According to the World Bank in 2015, “…as the impacts of climate change worsen, it will become harder to eliminate poverty. That leaves a narrow window for ending extreme poverty and putting in place the safety nets that can keep poverty at bay while countries also work to lower their emissions toward net zero.”

Climate Change Adaptation in Developing Countries

According to the UNFCCC, the effects of climate change are already unavoidable, notwithstanding the efforts taken by the international community to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases that are released into the atmosphere. To combat global warming, it is no longer enough to focus on the mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions. Global warming will alter the patterns of weather and generate new climatic conditions that societies will have to adapt to. Action must therefore be centered on generating adaptation strategies for countries to adjust to climate change’s negative effects.

With the adoption of the Paris Agreement in December 2015 – a legally binding, landmark treaty on global warming, although is not yet in force, climate change adaptation has been given a greater relevance than ever before as one of the three main goals of the global action against climate change, and so, it is of paramount importance to understand how these adaptation strategies can be designed and implemented in order to help developing countries and their minority groups to manage global warming. Article 2(b) of the Agreement gives emphasis on increasing the ability to adapt to the adverse impacts of climate change and foster climate resilience besides limiting global temperature and mitigating greenhouse gas emissions, particularly those adaptation efforts of developing countries that are most vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change. The Agreement did identify the basic requirements of all adaptation strategies, namely, to structure them upon the specific circumstances of each country, guided by the traditional knowledge of indigenous peoples and local communities, promoting the full participation of minority groups, and addressing the social and economic vulnerabilities that affect its population [Article 7(5)]. Addressing social inequalities and exclusions that aggravate poverty is crucial to any adaptation strategy, because they will not deliver results if the social groups that need them are illiterate, poor, hungry and diseased, and cannot use them; or if the aid does not reach them because of the corruption of their governments and the fragility of their institutions.

Poverty and Climate Finance

Responding to the climate challenge requires collective action from all countries. Although developing country Parties, especially those that are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change, have made efforts to adapt to the new climatic conditions on their own, their efforts will not be sufficient if they do not receive financial and technological support from the international community because they do not have the financial and technological resources, nor the necessary infrastructure and institutions to adapt to the global change.

Climate finance has been a central element of the international climate change agreements from the beginning. The UNFCCC, agreed in 1992, stated that developed countries shall provide “new and additional financial resources” to developing countries. The Convention and the Protocol therefore foresee financial assistance from Parties with more resources to those less endowed and more vulnerable.This commitment was further reinforced in the Cancun Agreements in 2010 where the Green Climate Fund (GCF) was established to act as a key mechanism to deliver large scale financial resources to developing countries. 

Most recently in the Paris Agreement in 2015 the issue of climate finance was further postulated. Article 9 of the Agreement ascertains developed countries responsibilities in climate change adoption including financial resources to assist developing country Parties with respect to both mitigation and adaptation in continuation of their existing obligations under the Convention, to take the lead in mobilizing climate finance from a wide variety of sources, instruments and channels. Article 2(c) sets a goal of the Agreement to make finance flows consistent with a pathway towards low greenhouse gas emissions and climate resilient development. Article 7(2)of the Agreement recognizes a contribution to the long-term global response to climate change to protect people, livelihoods and ecosystems, taking into account the urgent and immediate needs of those developing country Parties that are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change.  Article 7(6) recognizes the importance of support for and international cooperation on adaptation efforts and the importance of taking into account the needs of developing country Parties, especially those that are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change.

The GCF, together with the Global Environment Facility (GEF), under Article 11 of the Paris Agreement, was given an important role in serving the Agreement as operating entities of the Financial  Mechanism and as such represent the main channels through which  future sources of international climate finance are  expected to flow in the years to come. The Financial Mechanism was established with a view to reinforcing and streamlining efforts to provide concessional financial resources to developing country Parties.

It is widely claimed that the objective of the GCF is to raise $100 billion per year in climate financing by 2020. This is not an official figure, however, and disputes remain as to whether the funding target will be based on public sources, or whether leveraged private finance will be counted towards the total. As of July 2017, the GCF has raised USD 10.3 billion equivalent in pledges from 43 state governments, according to GCF’s resource mobilization statistics. A major new report from the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate calls on governments and finance institutions to scale up and shift investment for sustainable infrastructure since the report estimates investments totaling about US$90 trillion will be needed in infrastructure over the next 15 years as a fundamental strategy to spur growth. The model of “micro-scrutiny” of paperwork used by the GCF has been argued as ineffective and inappropriate since this process slowed the GCF’s project allocations.

While the broad agreement on the international climate finance to be provided to developing country Parties has been reached, the debate is now focused on the fine detail of how to deliver this. In particular, how this figure should be raised, what financing should classify, and how should it be distributed.

Discrimination of Minority Groups in Developing Countries and Climate Change

Among the social groups that inhabit developing countries, minorities like indigenous people and ethnic communities are the most vulnerable victims of global warming, not just because of the exposed ecosystems they inhabit and the close relationship they maintain with nature but their vulnerabilities to the consequences of climate change are clearly rooted in their conditions of poverty, discrimination and social exclusion. As a result, climate change adaption strategies that are being designed and implemented are not taking minorities in consideration, and are in effect leaving them on their own to survive (or not) global warming.

Any climate change adaptation strategy that is designed and implemented in developing countries has to contemplate transversal measures that address the social exclusions and inequalities of their minorities, because they are the ones with the fewest resources to cope with global warming and the most likely to suffer its effects in a life-threatening way. To protect minority groups and guarantee their existence, it is important that the social inequalities in which they live be addressed, because adaptation strategies have to be aimed at providing these vulnerable groups with the necessary resources for them to cope with climate change on their own.

Reducing Social Inequalities as a Climate Change Adaptation Strategy

According to the Paris Agreement, the essential goal of climate change adaptation is the protection of people and their livelihoods and ecosystems, especially the vulnerable groups, like minorities, that inhabit developing countries (Article 2). Adaptation techniques implemented in developing countries that are focused in protecting economic sectors are not enough because they do not address the social inequalities that are the essence of their climate change vulnerabilities. In consequence, transversal adaptation strategies that combine technology and financial transfer with structural reforms in the social fabric of the society can be more effective in managing global warming in the long-term. In addition, it is important that the adaptation strategies include mechanisms that enable vulnerable social groups to participate in their elaboration, implementation and accountability. By doing this, the strategies will be benefited from the unique local knowledge of the inhabitants of the ecosystems, and the vulnerable social groups will feel part of the action plans, collaborate proactively and benefit from them.

On the other hand, if communities are not involved in the elaboration and implementation of adaptation strategies, they will perceive them as an intervention from the government, and will not contribute proactively to them.

Conclusion

The magnitude of the consequences that climate change will have on the world is still relatively unknown. Nevertheless, it has already altered global climatic conditions and caused devastating effects on all countries and their populations, particularly those that are most vulnerable to such effects. The promotion of climate change adaptation is, thus, an urgent matter. For such promotion to lead to effective action, governments have to acknowledge the fact that only by addressing socially, economically and politically enabling policy framework that combines climate actions and the needs of vulnerable social groups their populations will be capable of successfully managing climate change and adapting to it. Adaptation strategies can be sectoral – aimed at specific affected areas, multi-sectoral – when the affected natural resources cover different areas and transversal – with the objective of introducing structural changes to the existing social fabric for it to be better capable of coping with global warming. The international community needs to broaden their view of the problem and possible solutions. If this does not happen, climate change will continue to accentuate the already disproportionate vulnerabilities of poverty-stricken people and minority groups in developing countries, and its consequences will be catastrophic to humanity.

Mahmudul Hasan is a recent LL.M. graduate of energy and environmental law and Thomas Buergenthal Fellow at The George Washington University Law School, Washington, D.C.

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Green Planet

How do greenhouse gases actually warm the planet?

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Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions – the atmospheric gases responsible for causing global warming and climatic change – are critical to understanding and addressing the climate crisis. Despite an initial dip in global GHG emissions due to COVID-19, the United Nations Environment Programme’s latest Emissions Gap Report (EGR) expects a strong rebound in 2021, when emissions are expected to be only slightly lower than the record levels of 2019.

While most GHGs are naturally occurring, human activities have also been leading to a problematic increase in the amount of GHG emitted and their concentration in the atmosphere. This increased concentration, in turn, can lead to adverse effects on climate. Effects include increases in the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events – including flooding, droughts, wildfires and hurricanes – that affect millions of people and cause trillions in economic losses.

The Emissions Gap Report found that if we do not halve annual GHG emissions by 2030, it will be very difficult to limit global warming to 1.5°C compared to pre-industrial levels by the end of the century. Based on current unconditional pledges to reduce emissions, the world is on a path to see global warming of 2.7 °C by the end of the century compared to pre-industrial levels.

“Human-caused greenhouse gas emissions endanger human and environmental health,” says Mark Radka, Chief of UNEP’s Energy and Climate Branch. “And the impacts will become more widespread and severed without strong climate action.”

So how exactly do GHG emissions warm the planet and what can we do?

What are the major greenhouse gases?

Carbon dioxide (CO2), methane and nitrous oxide are the major GHGs. CO2 stays in the atmosphere for up to 1,000 years, methane for around a decade and nitrous oxide for approximately 120 years. Measured over a 20-year period, methane is 80 times more potent than CO2 in causing global warming, while nitrous oxide is 280 times more potent.

Coal, oil and natural gas continue to power many parts of the world. Carbon is the main element in these fuels, and when they’re burned to generate electricity, power transportation or provide heat, they produce CO2, a colourless, odourless gas.

Oil and gas extraction, coal mining and waste landfills account for 55 per cent of human-caused methane emissions. Approximately 32 per cent of human-caused methane emissions are attributable to cows, sheep and other ruminants that ferment food in their stomachs. Manure decomposition is another agricultural source of the gas, as is rice cultivation. 

Human-caused nitrous oxide emissions largely arise from agriculture practices. Bacteria in soil and water naturally convert nitrogen into nitrous oxide, but fertilizer use and run-off add to this process by putting more nitrogen into the environment.

What are the other greenhouse gases?

Fluorinated gases – such as hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons and sulfur hexafluoride – are GHGs that do not occur naturally. Hydrofluorocarbons are refrigerants used as alternatives to chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), which depleted the ozone layer and were phased out thanks to the Montreal Protocol. The other gases have industrial and commercial uses.

While fluorinated gases are far less prevalent than other GHGs and do not deplete the ozone layer like CFCs, they are still very powerful. Over a 20-year period, the various fluorinated gases’ global warming potential ranges from 460–16,300 times greater than that of CO2.

Water vapour is the most abundant GHG in the atmosphere and is the biggest overall contributor to the greenhouse effect. However, almost all the water vapour in the atmosphere comes from natural processes. Human emissions are very small and thus relatively less impactful.

What is the greenhouse effect?

The Earth’s surface absorbs about 48 per cent of incoming solar energy, while the atmosphere absorbs 23 per cent. The rest is reflected back into space. Natural processes ensure that the amount of incoming and outgoing energy are equal, keeping the planet’s temperature stable,

However, GHGs, unlike other atmospheric gases such as oxygen and nitrogen, are opaque to outgoing infrared radiation. As the concentration of GHGs in the atmosphere increases due to human-caused emissions, energy radiated from the surface becomes trapped in the atmosphere, unable to escape the planet. This energy returns to the surface, where it is reabsorbed.

Since more energy enters than exits the planet, surface temperatures increase until a new balance is achieved. This temperature increase has long-term climate impacts and affects myriad natural systems.

What can we do to reduce GHG emissions?

Shifting to renewable energy, putting a price on carbon and phasing out coal are all important elements in reducing GHG emissions. Ultimately, stronger nationally determined contributions are needed to accelerate this reduction to preserve long-term human and environmental health.

 “We need to implement strong policies that back the raised ambitions,” says Radka. “We cannot continue down the same path and expect better results. Action is needed now.”

During COP26, the European Union and the United States launched the Global Methane Pledge, which will see over 100 countries aim to reduce 30 per cent of methane emissions in the fuel, agriculture and waste sectors by 2030.

UNEP has outlined its six-sector solution, which can reduce 29–32 gigatons of carbon dioxide by 2030 to meet the 1.5°C warming limit. UNEP also maintains an online “Climate Note,” a tool that visualizes the changing state of the climate with a baseline of 1990.

Despite the challenges, there is reason to be positive. From 2010 to 2021, policies were put in place which will lower annual emissions by 11 gigatons by 2030 compared to what would have otherwise happened.

Through its other multilateral environmental agreements and reports, UNEP raises awareness and advocates for effective environmental action. UNEP will continue to work closely with its 193 Member States and other stakeholders to set the environmental agenda and advocate for a drastic reduction in GHG emissions.

Beyond these movements, individuals can also join the UN’s #ActNow campaign for ideas to take climate-positive actions.

By making choices that have less harmful effects on the environment, everyone can be part of the solution and influence change. Speaking up is one way to multiply impact and create change on a much bigger scale.

UNEP

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Green Planet

The social aspect of biodiversity reduction in Brazil

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What most people ignore is that climate change is also a social issue, arising from unawareness of the human population about the impact of their activities. Biodiversity plays a key role in ecosystems and also services benefits to the tourism industry. Marine life biodiversity specifically plays a role in attracting tourists for activities like scuba diving, snorkeling and other observation activities alike. Currently, the Brazilian Guitarfish, commonly found in the South Atlantic Brazilian waters, specifically around the South coast of Rio De Janeiro is facing massive decline in numbers, and is also on the list of critically endangered species.

One major reason for the rapid decline in numbers of Brazilian Guitarfish is overfishing of the female population for illegal, highly valued meat sale in fish markets. Most fishermen catch the female guitarfish along with their little offspring in shallow waters around Rio De Janeiro. The decline in species of guitarfish is mostly among the female population, however this impacts the long term numbers of the guitarfish population. Fishermen who catch guitarfish and engage in the illegal meat industry know little about the impact created by their fishing activities on biodiversity in the oceans. A valid solution to solving the issue of high levels of guitarfish fishing in Brazil is empowering fishermen to engage in other trades and businesses that are more sustainable with steady profits, simply raising awareness about the downside of overfishing endangered species might not be enough. A dollar is a dollar, or in this case a real is a real.

An alternate model for sustainable fishing has been developed in Fuji, specifically to protect the coastline that attracts tourism across the year. The local government in fishing villages is working in collaboration with fishers to ensure that they have access to a greater number of opportunities, even outside the fishing industry. Moreover, the local government is regulating the prices of fish meat and creating a bandwidth for sustainable profits by encouraging fishing of species that are more abundant in the local waters. This is creating a low incentive situation for Fujian fishers to fish endangered species and engage in local trade. This unique model, with a mix of government involvement and local incentives, can be amplified to other countries like Brazil too.

While most experts talk about climate change, they ignore the social aspect of climate change, which is perhaps the biggest contributor. Human activities impacting climate change don’t just arise from unawareness but also from lack of other opportunities that can incentivise a change in decision making. Creating consumer end awareness about the downside of consuming illegal meat is also crucial. The same can be done in fish markets with the use of artwork to support behavioral change. Brazilian Guitarfish also carry high content of Mercury and chemicals and are therefore not the safest to consume in the unregulated illegal meat industry, without safety approvals from the government. Making consumers aware about the fact that they are not just paying high prices for meat that is illegal but also consuming meat that can potentially give them cancer and other diseases is crucial. This can be done using artwork in fish markets, as is being done across fishing villages in Bali.

Brazilian Guitarfish are also rare in other parts of the world and attract divers to premium diving locations, fetching around $75 to $100 per dive, higher than most other locations where rare species like Guitarfish cannot be spotted. More efforts can be taken to set up dive centers in Brazil specifically dedicated towards Brazilian Guitarfish. This will not only be an attractive source of income for locals but also encourage conservation efforts. Tourism can be a major source of revenue for Brazilian fishermen and farmers, encouraging development and infrastructural promotion across major cities in Brazil, thereby creating a line of opportunities for Brazilian citizens across different industries.

With biodiversity as high as Brazil, more efforts should be taken to fuel tourism, interaction and awareness with Brazilian biodiversity, including rainforests and marine life. With the empowerment of local communities, we can together create a more sustainable future, inclusive towards all organisms.

To promote the cause of Brazilian Guitarfish conservation, I have started a movement called The Brazilian Guitarfish movement, operating via  whatsapp group involving people across continents from various fields – climate researchers, marine conservationists, scuba divers, fishing industry experts, government authorities, public policy enthusiasts and tourism officials to curate solutions specific to conserving Brazilian Guitarfish. It’s a global initiative, with hands contributing from across the world to save Brazilian Guitarfish by empowering local fishers with diverse opportunities. There is always an alternate solution, sometimes all we need is a fresh approach along with fresh minds to find it. Fortunately, connecting globally in the digital world makes problem solving  easier for all of us.

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Green Planet

Global Warming Impacts Antarctic Glaciers and Wildfires

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Come year end and prognosticators abound.  Dire portents from the pessimists and the reverse from the optimists; from disasters of one kind or another to the stock market going sky high.

Not necessarily in 2022, yet there is the possibility with global warming of a melting Greenland ice cap or the Thwaites Glacier in Antarctica.  The latter is the size of Florida, and its collapse has the potential of rising sea levels by 10 feet.  Imagine the effect when almost 250 million people live just 3 feet above high tide levels.

The difference between Greenland and the Antarctic is that Greenland’s glaciers are on solid ground and melt from above due to warmer temperatures; the Antarctic ice shelf melts from the bottom due to warmer ocean water.  As it is eaten away from the bottom it destabilizes.  Cracks begin to form on the surface, a harbinger of collapse, and eventually massive chunks of ice shear off and fall into the ocean.  Like adding ice cubes to a drink, it does not have to melt to raise sea levels.  

It is almost impossible to predict when chunks will collapse but some cracks have been observed.  In 2019, satellite images revealed a massive block of ice 15 by 21 miles cracking up in a few days.  Scientists from the International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration reported on cracks and fissures in the glacier’s ice shelf, predicting its fracture within five years and disappearance into the sea in less than a decade. 

Then there is the case of forest fires and in particular the fire in Colorado that has been in the news.  A fire in December is certainly unusual because the fire season runs from May to September although extended to November of late due to global warming.  The rest of the time the trees are too wet to sustain a fire and any small fires started by broken power lines or lightning strikes during storms tend to extinguish on their own. 

Thus the devastating wildfire that has swept through the Denver suburbs is unprecedented, as Governor Jared Polis observed.  He has declared a state of emergency thereby permitting access to disaster funding.  The fast spreading fire left residents in commuting suburbs like Superior very little time to evacuate and nearby roads were soon clogged with traffic.  Fortunately, to date, no deaths have been reported and no serious injuries although three people are still missing.  A substantial loss of property however, as around a 1000 houses have been destroyed.  About the only explanation for a changing equation for natural disasters is global warming.  It affects weather patterns, rain and snow, drought and floods. 

We hear no loss of life or serious injuries and we move on to the next news story.  Yet it is not too difficult to imagine the trauma of families standing in front of a heap of ashes, who have had their life’s memories swept away in a couple of hours.  Nothing left except the clothes covering them. 

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