“The Urgent Need for Stepped Up Climate Action on Adaptation and Mitigation”. My speech at the Hanoi Forum, Vietnam, 9 November 2018

Speaking at Hanoi Forum at Vietnam National University, Friday 9 November 2018.

Not enough progress is being made towards meeting the targets set out in the Paris Agreement on Climate Change of December 2015. The undertakings by countries on reducing greenhouse gases fall well short of limiting global temperature to under two degrees Celsius and preferably no more than 1.5 degrees. Much more support is needed for low income countries to adapt and mitigate. Time is short to make the unprecedented changes required to move to a sustainable future. My speech also comments on the issue of climate-induced migration.

Rt Hon Helen Clark

“The Urgent Need for Stepped up Climate Action on Adaptation and Mitigation”

Keynote Speech at Hanoi Forum 2018 on “Towards Sustainable Development: Climate Change Response for Sustainability and Security.”

Hanoi, Vietnam, 3.30 pm, Friday 8 November 2018.

Let me begin by thanking the organisers of this year’s Hanoi Forum for inviting me to participate. I applaud the Forum’s aim of promoting inclusive and sustainable development for all.

This year’s conference theme – Towards Sustainable Development: Climate Change Response for Sustainability and Security is timely. Time is running out for the international community to make the major moves towards sustainability which will avert the catastrophic consequences of climate change about which we have long been warned.

Those consequences would be felt most by the world’s poorest communities and countries, who, themselves have done little to cause the problem, but nonetheless will bear the costs. In extremis, a significant number of people will become internally displaced or refugees – as were those who fled their drought-stricken lands within Somalia in 2016 and 2017 when the rains failed for three seasons in a row. We have yet to see the full consequences of global warming on low-lying atoll nations and around the coastlines and river deltas of all continents.

Vietnam itself is not one of the world’s poorest countries, but it is among the most climate vulnerable. With its 2,140-mile coastline, it is very exposed to rising sea levels. Salt water inundation and rising temperatures make life more difficult for farmers and threaten food production. I myself visited the Mekong Delta area as UNDP Administrator to gain insights into the particular climate change challenges there.

Vietnam now faces not only the task of preparing for the worst impacts of climate change in the long term if global action to arrest current trends falls short, but also of lifting its levels of resilience for the near and medium term as more extreme weather events bear down on it. Vietnam is not unaccustomed to tropical storms, for example, but the intensity and frequency of these are increasing and will increase further for decades even if the aspirations of the Paris Agreement are met.

My speech today is a call for climate action: our world cannot achieve the inclusive and sustainable development called for in the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals if we fail on the climate change goal. We cannot think of human development and sustainable development as entirely different things – the ability of human beings to thrive is dependent on healthy ecosystems. For too long we have mortgaged our future through unsustainable development, to the extent that we now face human development reversals because of the environmental degradation we have caused. That is a toxic legacy for future generations – and one that it is irresponsible to leave to them.

In my speech today, I will consider how much progress is being made on the agreed global climate action, the challenges of climate-induced migration, and whether the necessary funding and international solidarity are in place to support countries to adapt.

  1. How Much Progress Is Being Made?

Prior to the conclusion of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change in December 2015, United Nations Member States had approved the 2030 Agenda with a goal dedicated to climate action. That goal, SDG 13, called for urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts, across: strengthening resilience and adaptive capacity; integrating action into national policies, strategies, and planning; lifting awareness and institutional capacity; and seeing USD 100 billion a year raised for climate finance by 2020.

It was left to the Paris Agreement to set the target above which the global temperature should not rise. The agreement was that the increase should be kept well below two degrees Celsius and to pursue efforts to limit it to 1.5 Celsius.

Each year, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) releases a scorecard on how well UN Member States collectively are doing on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Each year, they report that the commitments made do not live up to the level of ambition set in the Paris Agreement – but that with a big effort we could achieve the targets. Its most recent report found that on the current level of commitments, the world would likely warm by three degrees Celsius by the end of this century. UNEP’s next report is due this month.

Meanwhile, last month, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a blistering report on the scale of the challenge before us. It says that there are only twelve years left to make the changes required to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. To achieve that, there would need to be what some describe as a “World War Two”-level of mobilisation to stop the use of fossil fuels, arrest deforestation, and remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere at a large scale.

Making these changes will require huge political will and leadership. Vietnam’s leaders are facing up to the challenges, and a higher proportion of Vietnamese name climate change as the top threat for world leaders to address than do citizens of any other country. One survey put the proportion of Vietnamese thinking that way at 45 per cent.

For now, the United States Administration is not backing the Paris Agreement, and the new President of Brazil made a similar pledge during his election campaign. Other major players among developed, emerging, and developing economies – and a number of US states, including those with major economies – remain on board. Commitments to emissions’ reductions need to be lifted significantly, and if they are, the Paris targets are achievable.

As the 2006 Stern Review of the Economics of Climate Change told us, we either pay now for the energy and other transitions required, or we pay much more later – and for less optimal results. Among those “less optimal results” will be the displacement of people no longer able to live on dry lands, small islands, and coastlines generally.

  • The challenge of climate-induced migration

Data compiled by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre suggest that on average since 2008 24 million people a year have been displaced by catastrophic weather events. It’s obvious – but bears repeating – that these numbers will rise along with global temperatures.

The World Bank in March, in its report “Groundswell: Preparing for Internal Migration”, forecast that on a worst-case scenario, 143 million – or 2.8 per cent – of the population of Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and Latin America combined could be forced to migrate internally because of the worsening impacts of climate change. That doesn’t take into account what might happen in the Philippines, and coastal China, Vietnam, Thailand, and Myanmar.

More benign scenarios, which could materialise with more global climate action, could see those numbers fall to 31 to 72 million across the three specified regions. Those, however, are still large numbers of people.

Clearly the case must be made over and over again to turn the tide on climate change so that its worst impacts, like those on habitation and food security, are averted. But prudence also dictates that there is contingency planning around the movement of large numbers of people.

For the Small Island Developing States (SIDS) affected, it is to be hoped that metropolitan states will step up to a relocation challenge. Some SIDS have little high or sheltered ground for people to relocate to within their national borders.

But for larger states with a hinterland, the likelihood is that climate-related  migration will be internal, and that planning needs to occur for resettlement in urban and peri-urban areas. Investment at scale would be required in housing and other infrastructure, local economies, and a wide range of services. But the World Bank notes that many people will still remain in climate-vulnerable areas, and that planning for adaptation must meet their needs too.

As well, the Bank’s report identifies where there might be migration “hot spots” close to national borders which may create pressures for host communities in neighbouring states. Given the level of politicking around informal cross-border migration in a range of countries these days, such movements of people could well be controversial.

Looking ahead, adaptation planning will need to go beyond the important work of supporting those who remain in exposed locations with climate-smart infrastructure and agriculture and with social protection, and encompass planned migration to areas which the Bank describes as being of “lower risk and more opportunity”. Therefore, climate migration must be embedded in development planning.

In the current global political environment, what is unlikely is an expansion of the definition of refugee under international law to include climate migrants. The Global Compact for Safe, Orderly, and Regulated Migration, due to be adopted at an intergovernmental conference in Marrakech, Morocco, next month, recognises climate change as a cause of migration, but would not oblige state parties to it to give legal status to climate migrants. Campaigners see the Compact as a first step in a long and complex process of the international community coming to terms with climate-induced migration.

The new Global Compact on Refugees, which is due to be endorsed by the United Nations General Assembly next month, stops short of that, with the final draft noting only that “in certain situations, external forced displacement may result from sudden-onset natural disasters and environmental degradation”.

My working assumption then is that developing countries, with the possible exception of SIDS, will need to accommodate their citizens who are climate migrants within their borders, as well as planning for those who do not move and are exposed to the effects of climate change. This will

amount to costly adaptation for many states.

  • How about the funding?

This is where international solidarity needs to kick in. By 2020, climate finance raised[PD1]  by developed countries was supposed to reach USD100 billion a year, and to remain at that level until 2025.

Estimates of how much has been raised to date vary: Oxfam in its Climate Finance Shadow Report this year, for example, estimates that for 2015 and 2016 only USD 11-13 billion a year was being given in grants, and that two-thirds of climate finance goes in the form of loans. International funding for adaptation and for assistance to LDCs is low.

The Green Climate Fund, designed as a significant vehicle for public climate finance, reported that as of May this year, it had raised a total of USD 10.3 billion equivalent in pledges from 43 state governments. I understand, however, that not all those pledges have been honoured.

The reality is that domestic financing will need to carry a good deal of the burden of adaptation and building resilience in the middle-income countries. If more international public finance is not forthcoming for the poorest countries, however, their capacity to cope will be particularly limited. The consequence of that will be that time and time again, humanitarian relief will be needed to cope with the damage caused by extreme weather events, when more investment earlier in adaptation would have been both cost effective and would have saved lives and livelihoods.

In conclusion:

The world’s current trajectory on global warming can be changed, but only if Member States make significantly greater efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions than they have to date.

If they don’t, the costs of adaptation will rise sharply, as will climate-induced migration. Most of that displacement is likely to be internal, but some will be across borders. Both could exacerbate tensions. Adaptation will need to focus on the needs of the displaced as well as on the needs of those who remain in more vulnerable areas.

Financing for adaptation and mitigation remains a major challenge. In the interests of inclusive and sustainable development and of peace and stability, all development partners, North and South, will need to dig deeper to meet the aspirations of both the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement on climate change.

Next September’s Climate Summit convened by the UN Secretary-General in New York, and the review of progress on SDG 13 on climate change during the High-level Political Forum in July, will be timely opportunities for galvanising more action. It is to be hoped that countries will come to both events with increased commitments which will make meeting the global targets feasible.

Check out these links: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/oct/08/global-warming-must-not-exceed-15c-warns-landmark-un-report


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