“Adaptation is about trying to survive the climate change that has begun” were stark words uttered by H. E Rachmat Witoelar of Indonesia, during the opening plenary of the 5th Asia-Pacific Climate Change Adaptation Forum (APAN 2016), to a hall essentially filled to capacity for the start of the conference.
The opening plenary, a High Level Panel Discussion on “Why the focus on living under 2˚C” was most encouragingly a very frank discussion of the realities of climate change, that posed three important considerations to the government representatives and the funders, essentially the policy makers in attendance, highlighting;
- That adaptation is not a short-term phenomenon anymore. Every short-term investment must now have a long-term impact, and success should no longer be about impact from individual projects during their lifetime, but rather on what they leave behind.
- The need to embed the knowledge of adaptation into the next generation (a particular consideration, given the low representation of youth, even in this conference)
- That climate adaption “must be biased towards the most vulnerable”, with it being “no longer acceptable” for cases of adaptation to negatively impact the most vulnerable, and thus the need to disaggregate and target them in adaptation initiatives.
On the topic of the Paris Summit, there was much talk and reason for the happy occasion, although most pertinently the Japanese representative, Satoshi Tanka, the Principal Research Director for the Institute of Global Environment Strategies, while congratulating its success, stated that it must “absolutely not (be) the end of our actions” and that “we have to embark on the more difficult path of the actions in the real world”.
Further, the High Level Panel discussion opened up the conference to three key terms of climate change resilience planning and building, however, the over-running of the opening ceremony left no time for a Q&A session for the panelists.
Three important terms
When discussing our responses to climate change, the concept of “mitigation” has been around the longest. The second term is “adaptation”, which has become an integral part of dealing climate change, and as pointed out by Rachmat Witoelar, it only becoming prevalent in the mid-2000s. At the same time, the importance of considering and avoiding “maladaptation” (adaptation initiatives that may accidentally expose greater vulnerability to climate change) was also brought up.
A concern rarely highlighted when discussing climate change, was put forward early on was the necessity to truly start considering the “damage and loss” aspects of climate change as inevitable, and thus the need to consider them in planning for climate change. Certainly, this emphasis was carried forward in the technical sessions on financing climate change adaptation.
Disappointing Q&A in the 2nd plenary session on “Adaptation Planning”
The overall discussion during the second plenary was fairly basic. Certainly none of the statistics were of surprise or of (new) controversy. However, during the Q&A, by taking on several questions consecutively, the moderator essentially allowed a sidestepping of all the questions raised by the attendees. This hopefully will not be a trend throughout the conference. While I agree that information sharing is important, without the element of real discussion, the conference will surely fall short of its objectives. Following this session, the attendees broke up across the five parallel sessions running.
Financing Climate Change Adaptation
A large number of sessions focused on the financing aspect in adapting to climate change. The technical discussions within the parallel sessions of the conference were many and varied. In one session Chritina del Rio, of ACT, considered the need to protect the “engines of growth” of economies in Asia. She stated that it couldn’t be business as usual and the benefits of incorporating climate change adaption planning into policy are clear; given that 3-5% of GDP growth in Asia could be halted by climate change impacts.
However, the consideration that most resonated with me was discussed by Dr. Pinaki Chakraborty of the National Institute of Public Finance and Policy, India, who argued the “need to talk about multi-year budgets for sectoral expenditure that has climate relevance”. Yes, that’s a bit of a mouthful. But essentially, what currently happens is that countries determine the national budgets on a year-to-year basis. Generally, we only really mark this if there’s a change to our income tax, or VAT (although, admittedly, Sri Lankans can rightly worry a more frequent change. Perhaps this is why most restaurants menus aren’t inclusive of tax?) At any rate, Dr. Pinaki argued that for minimum 3-year period, however “elementary or crude”, we should attempt to budget climate change aspects into different sectors of the budget. For example, agriculture taken as a sector would generally incorporate climate change impacts into its budgeting, for example, subsidising farmers for flood losses, or expanding on tank and reservoir projects to deal with drought. The commonality throughout the sectors is that year-to-year budgeting is definitely a short-sighted perspective for planning for the potentially catastrophic consequences of climate change.
The launch of a National Adaptation Plan in Sri Lanka
It fortunate then, perhaps, that the National Adaptation Plan comes into effect today (18th October). Professor Buddhi Marambe, Chairman of the Sri Lankan National Experts Committee on Climate Change, described it as a “country-owned, country-driven” strategic plan on adapting to climate change, built on the National Climate Change Adaptation Strategy for Sri Lanka prepared in 2010 and the National Climate Change Policy in 2012. It is unclear where other countries copy-paste their Adaptation Plans from, or who drives them, but this is definitely good news for Sri Lanka, and I do look forward to digesting the 150 odd pages at some point. Professor Marambe also stated that provincial platforms have expressed their interest in developing their own provincial climate adaptation plans, with the Western Province having already done this. He also stressed the importance of increasing private sector involvement in climate change adaptation in the years to come.
Other activities during the conference
While targeting schoolchildren and the youth of Sri Lanka, the concurrent events organised by the Ministry of Mahaweli Development and Environment seem to be showing a low attendance on the part of the public. Unfortunately, by the time the conference wrapped up for the day, there was little time to wander through the exhibitions set up there, but there seemed to be a wide range of environmental initiatives being discussed and showcased, ranging from recycling to solar energy. Certainly, it is only through our engagement that the important considerations remain politically relevant.
Still to come
With two days left, proceedings on the second day will be kicked off by President Sirisena of Sri Lanka, who will attend the opening ceremony of Sri Lanka Next: a “Blue-green Programme”. The remainder of the day will be jam-packed with more discussions by experts and policy makers, who will hopefully continue to raise important issues and food for thought.
Coverage of APAN2016 continues with our report on Day 2.