Our Perspective

climate change

Will global goals with national targets meet global needs

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Children between the ages of 12-18 learning about the MY World Survey in Rwanda. Photo: Mark Darrough/Girl Hub Rwanda

Some of the proposed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) lend themselves to a discussion within each country on how, and how quickly, they wish to pursue global goals. For example, if the people of country A want to achieve free secondary education for all children by 2028 through recruiting more teachers, while the people of country B want their government to reach that aspiration three years earlier through other means, both are legitimate and should result from democratically grounded national discussions.  Critically, the level of ambition adopted by country A has little or no impact on the expected progress in country B. But what about the other SDGs that relate to the global commons, where actions are required by all countries to keep our human progress within the means of the planet?  What if the political contexts in each country lead governments to make commitments that, in the aggregate, do not sum to the global action required? Our experience with climate change and ‘common but differentiated responsibilities’ (CBDR) points to some of the immediate problems we can face.  The distribution of responsibilities between countries is incredibly complex and inevitably political, and more often than not we end up with a stand-off that... Read more

Reversing the “Silent Earthquake of the Century”

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The Carbon Sequestration Project's achievements prove that degraded lands can be economically and feasibly restored by, and for, local communities. Photo: Sadaf Nikzad/UNDP Iran

According to climate change predictions, the Middle East faces a hotter, drier future. Iran sits at the very centre of the Middle East.  About 80 per cent of its surface is already arid or semi-arid, and the challenge of desertification is literally creeping up on us.  Some have called it “The Silent Earthquake of the Century”. In many parts of Iran this has been caused by sheep herders letting their flocks overgraze the land.  Sometimes it is caused by villagers breaking off rangeland shrubs for firewood. Because much of this problem is man-made, it can be fixed. To re-green desert rangelands, what you need is to replant. Shrubs saplings are incubated and watered until they are ready to be transplanted into holes dug by the community.  When hundreds of thousands of these shrubs grow over hectares, this creates a small biosphere which allows other vegetation and wildlife to return.  Such newly-greened biospheres sustain people’s livelihoods in a number of ways. But, in order for these areas not to be overgrazed again or used for fuel-wood, you need the ‘buy-in’ of the community to preserve and protect them. I have seen this process at work successfully with the “Carbon Project”, a community-development-plus-environmental... Read more

Cambodia turns climate change crisis into opportunity

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Ms. Khel Khem, a member of the Older People Association Bak Amrek village of Battambang, shows how she adapted her home garden to floods. Photo: UNDP Cambodia

Cambodia is ranked among the top 10 countries most vulnerable to climate change. This is not only due to climate risks, but also to lack of capacity to adapt and respond.  Eighty percent of the population lives in rural areas with limited knowledge, infrastructure and opportunities; and more than 70 percent rely on agriculture that is heavily sensitive to climate change, putting the country’s economic and social development at risk. Cambodia’s efforts to fight climate change began in 1995 when the country ratified the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and later acceded to the Kyoto Protocol in 2002. In 2006, the Cambodia national adaptation programme of action to climate change (NAPA) was developed. In late 2013, the country launched its first-ever comprehensive Climate Change Strategic Plan, recognizing climate change as a challenge to development requiring urgent and joint attention. This is the highest political commitment in combating climate change in Cambodia. Now the crucial question is “What’s next?” – How will the strategic plan be effectively implemented in order to achieve its vision and strategic goals? We, at UNDP, have been providing technical and financial support to the Government to develop climate change policies and plans. One of... Read more

Latin America at a crossroads on climate and access to energy

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About 10 million people, mostly rural poor, have gained access to modern energy services through UNDP-supported projects over the past decade. Photo: UNDP IN nICARAGUA

World leaders gathered at the Climate Change Summit  during the United Nations General Assembly have a crucial opportunity. In addition to mobilizing political will and advancing solutions to climate change, they will also need to address its closely connected challenges of increasing access to sustainable energy as a key tool to secure and advance gains in the social, economic and environmental realms. This is more important than ever for Latin America and the Caribbean. Even though the region is responsible for a relatively low share of global greenhouse gas emissions - 12 percent according to UN figures - it will be one of the most severely affected by temperature spikes.  And the region faces new challenges. Demand for electricity is expected to double by 2030, and, although nearly 60 percent is generated from hydroelectric resources, the share of fossil fuel-based generation has increased substantially in the past 10 years, mainly from natural gas.  Now is the time for governments and private sector to invest in sustainable energy alternatives—not only to encourage growth while reducing carbon emissions, but also to ensure access to clean energy to around 24 million people who still live in the dark. Latin America and the Caribbean is... Read more

The ocean is taking away my island

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I was born on the Carteret Islands, a group of six atolls just off the north east coast of Bougainville Island in Papua New Guinea. They are home to over 2,700 people. Women are the traditional custodians of the land here. My grandmother passed our small island to my mother and she passed it on to me. But I will never be able to pass it to my daughter. Her heritage will be gone by then. I don’t know much about science. What I know is that our shores are being eaten away. And nothing can stop the erosion. The hardest thing I have ever had to do was tell my family and friends that we needed to leave our homes. We are climate refugees. And we are fighting for our lives. Our best option is now 71 hectares of land on Bougainville Island that has been generously allocated to us. One hectare of land has been given to the seven families who have already relocated. The kids here play barefoot rugby. The adults work the land. The family buildings are made of local wood and bamboo walling and roofing iron. We’re working with the school to build an additional four... Read more

Pakistan’s investment in resilience is the ultimate win-win

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The provision of basic social services empowers people to live the lives they value. Photo: UNDP Pakistan

In the last 2 decades, most countries have registered significant improvements in human development. Now, vulnerability and the impact of crises and disasters are undermining the hard won progress or slowing down its growth.  The annual growth in Human Development Index (HDI) value has declined in Pakistan from 2 percent in 2000-2008 to almost zero during 2008-13.  The 2014 UNDP Human Development Report (HDR) 2014 launch in Pakistan demonstrates that progress cannot be sustained without building resilience. The report highlights two crucial types of vulnerabilities influencing human capabilities: life cycle and structural vulnerabilities. Life cycle vulnerabilities are the result of peoples’ life histories, with past outcomes influencing present exposure to and ways of coping with vulnerabilities. Unfortunately in Pakistan, vulnerabilities at the early stage of the life cycle are the highest. The structural vulnerabilities are generated from social, legal institutions, power structures, political traditions and socio-cultural norms. Structural vulnerabilities are manifested through deep inequalities and widespread poverty. In Pakistan, 44.2 percent of the households live in poverty, according to the multidimensional poverty index. There are at least five lessons from the report and global experience which are central for Pakistan’s future: The provision of basic social services empowers people to live... Read more

Bhutan continues to face the risk of glacial lake flooding

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The film crew seen here during the production of the 'Himalayan Meltdown' documentary. Photo: UNDP Asia/Pacific

In Bhutan, about 5,000 meters above sea level, meltwater trickles down from glaciers to form some of the greatest rivers in the world and provide freshwater and energy to nearly 1.3 billion people throughout the Himalayas. But with the effect of climate change, glaciers are melting too fast, jeopardizing an economy mostly based on hydropower production, but also endangering lives. Water can accumulate in unstable lakes on the glaciers, and when these lakes become too heavy, their natural barriers burst , setting loose a massive volume of water, boulders and mud, causing significant damages in the valleys below. Between 2008 and 2013, the Government – with our support and financial assistance from the Least Developed Countries Fund, the Government of Austria and the World Wildlife Fund – successfully lowered the water level of Lake Thorthormi, a glacial lake that ranked as one of the most dangerous in the country. Bhutanese men and women trekked to an altitude of 4,500 meters above sea level to excavate moraine and rocks in near-freezing water against the strikingly cruel contrast of beautiful ice-capped Himalayan Mountains. It is an image that vividly depicts the unfairness associated with climate change and the fact that these communities who... Read more

Can small islands expect a sea-change from the latest UN development conference?

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New irrigation methods revive farming in a Comorian village. Photo: UNDP/Comoros

This week, the tiny Pacific island of Samoa is hosting the UN’s 3rd international conference on small island developing states – or SIDS. It’s a novelty for sure; an island nation of less than 190,000 people suddenly plays host to over 3000 people from around the world. But the island’s embrace of the event is also indicative of the scale of what’s at stake; it’s about survival. Climate change threatens to not only undo many years of impressive development progress but to erase whole countries and cultures. A few days ago, the Prime Minister of Samoa wrote simply, ‘we are drowning’. So what will be achieved this week? With small populations and limited international influence many islands often slip through the cracks in larger – and wealthier – countries’ list of priorities. Most SIDS have underscored their significant fragility and vulnerability, especially to shocks such as extreme weather events. In 2004, Hurricane Ivan laid waste to the tiny Caribbean island of Grenada. The devastation caused over US$1 billion in damages, equivalent to over 200% of the country’s GDP. In addition to the terrible human cost of such disasters, there are also significant reconstruction costs and some countries have seen their debt... Read more

One number that tells a much bigger story in the Pacific

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With support from UNDP and funding from the GEF, the Government of Samoa has stepped up to integrate climate risks into the agriculture and health sectors and into forestry management. Photo UNDP/Samoa

Small islands face big challenges. This week’s Small Islands Developing States (SIDS) Conference in Samoa probes some of the most pressing ones. How do we protect our ocean resources for future generations? How do we prepare for the destructive forces of climate change on fragile islands? How can countries find the human and financial resources to sustain productive businesses, homes, schools and health services? How can countries stem rising youth unemployment? The list is as long as the oceans are wide. There is one important, often overlooked development indicator that lurks behind these larger issues and is a pre-condition for development progress in all countries. This worrisome indicator which is under discussion this week is mentioned in a new United Nations report, The State of Human Development in the Pacific: a Report on Vulnerability and Exclusion in a Time of Rapid Change. The report is being launched days ahead of the SIDS Conference in Samoa. What is it? Life expectancy. It provides a simple measure of the overall health status of a population. And the picture in the Pacific is not good. An average person in New Zealand or Australia can expect to live about 10 years longer than a person... Read more

Boosting resilience in the Caribbean

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Investing in the resilience of people and countries to increase their capacity to cope successfully with climate change is crucial. Photo: Carolina Azevedo/UNDP

Having lived and worked for more than a decade in four Caribbean countries, I have witnessed firsthand how Small Island Developing States (SIDS) are extremely vulnerable to challenges ranging from debt and unemployment to climate change and sea level rise. Such aspects make their paths towards sustainable development probably more complex than non-SIDS countries. That was my experience, working closely with governments, civil society organisations and the people of Belize, Cuba, Guyana and Haiti – where I led the UN Development Programme’s (UNDP) reconstruction efforts after the devastating January 2010 earthquake. That’s why the upcoming UN Conference on Small Island Developing States (SIDS), taking place in Samoa, Sep. 1-4 is so important. It will provide an opportunity to increase international cooperation and knowledge sharing between and within regions. And it takes place at a key moment, ahead of the Climate Change Summit at the UN General Assembly, to be held on Sep. 23. Climate change—and all natural hazards, in fact—hit Small Island Developing States hard, even though these countries haven’t historically contributed to the problem. Extreme exposure to disasters such as flooding, hurricanes, droughts, landslides and earthquakes place these countries at a particularly vulnerable position. In the Caribbean, two key sectors, agriculture and tourism, which... Read more

Building the house of development: We can get there

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Learning to adapt to climate change in Odisha, India where women are hit hardest by the extreme weather conditions. Photo: Prashanth Vishwanathan/ UNDP India

As I think about the current challenges facing international development policy I find myself increasingly concerned about how we define development. We talk about “people-centered” development, but our goals still refer to society, economy and the environment as though these can be separated. To quote Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi, African Development Bank Special Envoy on Gender : “Progress on key gender indicators – such as school enrollment and completion rates, maternal mortality, labour force participation, and asset ownership – also depends on investments in water, sanitation, transport, productive assets, and access to financial services.” My recent work with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) taught me that, when we separate the social, the economic and the environmental, we hamper opportunity and creativity – and we may even be doing harm.  The IPCC process was committed to finding ways to express complexity and nuance by bringing together social, environmental and economic analysis. Yet currently we seem conservative rather than progressive. We need to take unprecedented action to tackle inequality at the international level, acknowledging that it is a global challenge and not just an issue for some countries or some people. Our approach must reflect countries’ unequal capacities to cope with climate change,... Read more

Can Small Island Developing States wait for global development goals to be set?

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The UNDP Dominican Republic office works towards reducing risk and vulnerability and increasing capacity to reduce the adverse effects of disasters and ensure sustainable development. Photo: R. D. Emiliano Larizza for UNDP

Small Island Developing States (SIDS) have been, and still are, facing major challenges in achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs):  low growth, high unemployment, aging population, brain drain, high debt levels, small carrying capacities and extreme exposure to the effects of climate change. One example is Saint Maarten, a small island in the Dutch Antilles, which every week welcomes more tourists arriving on cruise ships than it has inhabitants. As Saint Maarten is highly dependent on tourism, maintaining and protecting the natural environment is essential to its socio-economic wellbeing. The tourist industry accounts for 80 percent of the island’s GDP. Reef tourism and fishing are important attractions. But the development world’s attention is now being set on the post-2015 agenda and the proposal for a new set of global goals, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which will emerge with their accompanying targets this September at the UN General Assembly. This new agenda is anchored on the understanding that you can’t have development without simultaneously caring for its social, economic and environmental dimensions. For Saint Maarten, sustainable development is not just a matter of negotiations at UN Headquarters, it is a matter of immediate action. The country, aware of this challenge, has... Read more

In Africa, grassroots women tackle climate change

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Organic vegetables grown for sale by members of the Gatundu Mwirutiri Women Cooperative in Kenya. Photo: UNDP in Kenya

Small, portable stoves that require only one piece of wood to prepare a meal, bio-gas digesters that turn cow dung into gas for cooking, and drip irrigation techniques to save water were among innovations shared by grassroots women leaders from Africa during a recent policy dialogue and learning exchange in Nairobi on building resilience to combat climate change and disaster.   Organized by UNDP, Huairou Commission and GROOTS Kenya, the event brought together grassroots women leaders from 11 countries with policy makers from throughout Africa and representatives from the international community. Throughout the three-day workshop, it became evident that grassroots women in communities in Africa are not waiting to be told how to cope with climate challenges, but are initiating, adapting and sharing innovations themselves. “We have seen women mobilizing themselves before being mobilized,” said Isaac Kabongo, executive director of the Ecological Christian Organization in Uganda.  “Women are becoming the drivers of change in the communities in which they live, and are showing that they are very much willing to work together with all partners and institutions to move forward on the journey to resilience.” The need for reliable, sustainable energy was a cross-cutting, common need, and was voiced by women... Read more

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