Climate resilience for the poor inches forward at UN climate talks

by Adela Suliman | @adela_suliman | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Wednesday, 29 November 2017 16:44 GMT

A view of the Makoko fishing community is seen from top of a floating school on the Lagos Lagoon, Nigeria February 29, 2016. REUTERS/Akintunde Akinleye

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"It's a reality that climate change is affecting the poorest countries much more"

This month's annual U.N. climate change conference (COP23) took some steps forward to foster resilience to the impacts of global warming, climate experts say, but more effort is needed to help the most vulnerable.

Saleemul Huq, director of the Dhaka-based International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD) and a veteran of the U.N. climate talks, told a discussion hosted by resilience network Zilient that progress had been slow at COP23 in Bonn.

The emphasis was on technicalities rather than big ideas, he said, adding there was much more to do to ensure global decisions translate into concrete results for people on the ground, especially the poorest.

"This year has really been a tipping point in terms of taking us over the threshold of human-induced climate change," Huq said in a webinar, pointing to storms and floods that have battered the planet from the Caribbean to South Asia.

Although the term resilience did not appear much in the formal negotiations - largely because it's hard to agree on a universal definition - it was deeply embedded and discussed as a concept at COP23, Huq said.

"The term resilience is now achieving some level of common understanding. In the climate change parlance, it includes both adaptation, and loss and damage," he said. "Resilience as a functional idea is becoming much more prevalent."

One key drawback of the talks for Huq, however, was an over-reliance by the international community on insurance as a solution for dealing with climate-linked disasters.

"All we got out of it was insurance as a mechanism," he said, adding that premiums are often unaffordable for the poorest countries and communities. "We had hoped for something more in terms of innovative finance."    


For Debbie Hillier of Oxfam GB, insurance does not go far enough to protect those most at risk of climate change - be it migrants in flooded Dhaka, or hurricane survivors in Texas.

"Insurance is getting all the air-time," said the humanitarian policy adviser, expressing concern that could take the pressure off the urgency of funding adaptation to climate shifts and preparedness for disasters.

Hillier said insurance is important to cover people for risks that cannot be minimised, but argued that its link with disaster prevention should be strengthened.

"I'd much rather see us back at first principles - what can actually support people who are vulnerable to disasters?" she said.

Insurance did make some strides at COP23, with Germany pledging $125 million to boost the work of an international insurance partnership that aims to cover 400 million more poor and vulnerable people against climate risks by 2020.

The "InsuResilience Global Partnership" will develop and roll out innovative finance and insurance for individual countries tailored to the needs and challenges of their poor people in particular, it said.

A group of climate-vulnerable countries have teamed up with InsuResilience, including Bangladesh, Ethiopia and the Philippines, but will also work on their own schemes.


COP23 gave greater recognition to the role of cities, indigenous people and women in climate action, as well as small island states threatened by rising seas.

The Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) adopted a declaration entitled "The Urgency of Now", which it said reflected "grave concerns" about the pace of international efforts to address the climate change crisis.

The meeting was presided over by Fiji, which introduced a novel "Talanoa Dialogue" approach within the talks, to help governments raise ambition to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement.

It favours community-based consensus and agreement though discussion rather than the more common top-down, adversarial approach to negotiations. It has gone some way towards improving the sense of inclusion at the world’s top climate table, said Huq.

One group certainly felt their clout rise at COP23.

Cities are increasingly filling the middle ground, fostering participation and taking a bottom-up approach between communities and states, said Laura Kavanaugh, programme manager for resilient cities at ICLEI, a global network of more than 1,500 cities, towns and regions.

"We saw a real transition of recognition and inclusion of cities, mayors (and) local organisations," Kavanaugh said, highlighting a shift at COP23 towards the inclusion of local initiatives.

One way to reach impoverished communities is to strengthen local organisations that can distribute adaptation funding and work with intermediaries, said Kavanaugh.

"These impacts are being felt in our homes and in our cities. With the global population becoming more and more urban, the relevance of local towns and cities as actors is only increasing," she said.

Looking ahead to 2018, resilience experts said they hoped priorities would shift to involving the poor and vulnerable more comprehensively in climate decision-making, finance and adaptation work.

"It's a reality that climate change is affecting the poorest countries much more," said Hillier. "Poor people must be at the centre of these efforts." 

The Thomson Reuters Foundation is reporting on resilience as part of its work on, an online platform building a global network of people interested in resilience, in partnership with the Rockefeller Foundation.


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