Tiempo Climate Cyberlibrary

Priorities for the Poorest


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Nasimul Haque explains the needs and concerns of poor and vulnerable people who are already experiencing the impacts of climate change.

The author works with the Know Risk No Risk Campaign, based in the Sustainable Development Resource Centre, Dhaka, Bangladesh.

Today, over 1.7 billion people are living in conditions of poverty, deprivation and oppression. Per capita emissions of the poorest and most vulnerable population are amongst the lowest. Yet it is the already poor and vulnerable likely to be most affected by the adverse impacts of climate change. Over the past few decades, efforts to reduce poverty through economic growth and redistribution have failed, pushing millions of families beyond limits, into the vicious cycle of poverty. The prevailing will, means and ways to address the interests of the poor in the climate negotiations are governed by a culture and mindset that draws on policies, institutions and processes that so far has resulted in more people becoming poor. The time has come to change this, collectively.

This article explains what priority actions are needed to build the resilience of the poorest and most vulnerable. It advocates a fundamental shift in our collective mindset to enable the most vulnerable to face current and future challenges using their own approaches. It explains the expectations that vulnerable people have from national and international actors and institutions to help them in their struggle for resilience. Priority actions are proposed to national and international policy makers for consideration and action.

Enabling the poor and vulnerable to access resources and services to address climate change related impacts and risks is their right. They do not want charity but rather what is owed to them, as enshrined in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

Parties should make provisions for adequate resource commitments, as well as access to full-cost funding for the most poor, to enable them reduce vulnerability to climate change by building on their own resilience.

An overwhelming majority of the poorest and most vulnerable are women, the physically and intellectually challenged, children, and old people. This make the case stronger to give specific attention to build women's capacity by taking necessary steps locally, nationally and internationally. A significant part of adaptation and vulnerability reduction can be achieved by empowering women with rights, security, and access to adequate resources including capacity enhancement based on their expressed needs. International, national, local level planning processes and development programmes must make provisions to integrate gender specific issues and concerns where women from the poorest and most vulnerable groups represent and voice their contexts and concerns and actively engage in addressing them.

Priority adaptation needs including research, capacity building, technology transfer and development, as well as adaptation on the ground must be led by the vulnerable and poor, locally governed and needs-driven. Local governments, development non-governmental organizations, local businesses and financial services are the frontline agencies with established mechanisms to service and respond to the needs of the poor to become resilient.

Priority one: commitments to mitigation

Establish a mitigation regime with larger greenhouse gas emission reduction targets to reduce the adverse impacts of climate change on future generations. Binding commitments from developed country parties to the UNFCCC are needed to combat the adverse impacts of climate change currently experienced by the poor and vulnerable.

Priority two: information access

The poorest and most vulnerable communities have the right to access information early. Real adaptation will occur when they can secure access to the resources and services they need in a timely and adequate manner. This includes access to the right information to help them make decisions thereby building their resilience in the most cost effective way.

Priority three: effective participation

To make good decisions on how to build resilience and take adaptation measures, the poor must participate meaningfully and effectively in all decision making that addresses vulnerability reduction and adaptation needs.

Priority four: meeting resource needs

Reducing vulnerability to climate change impacts on the ground can be achieved once the appropriate mechanisms, instruments and arrangements are in place to enable the most vulnerable to match their needs and response strategies with their resources. The Global Environment Facility should accept and prioritize local mechanisms to help the most vulnerable access the resources and capacity building they need.

Priority five: supporting bottom-up approaches

Parties to the UNFCCC must recognize and support bottom-up approaches to taking meaningful and effective action on adaptation. This process should start with vulnerable people recognizing the climate risks relevant to their survival and livelihood security. Prevailing ‘project’ and ‘study’ based approaches must be replaced with approaches that support spontaneous participation and decision-making by the poor and vulnerable.

Relevant agencies, stakeholder groups and the vulnerable themselves must engage in mainstreaming climate change concerns and responses into respective planning and development consideration, to initiate and continue vulnerability reduction and adaptation practices holistically over generations. Research and academic institutions, media, pressure groups and all relevant organizations, locally, nationally and globally, should facilitate such processes with appropriate guidance and build their knowledge on why people are poor and how the poor and vulnerable participate in securing their lives, rights and livelihoods through their adaptation practices.

Funds and resources for the most poor and vulnerable to match their adaptation needs and priorities is one issue receiving little real attention. Some actors still contemplate such funds to be made available based on humanitarian considerations. The whole issue of adaptation and funding to facilitate those who are vulnerable and at risk should be centered on the principle of rights and security of poor and vulnerable population, wherever they are.

Pro-poor adaptation requires pro-poor governance. The Parties to the climate treaty must be accountable, transparent and responsible in their actions toward reducing the vulnerability of the poor in general and from climate impacts in particular.

Parties must recognize the difference between accommodation, adjustment and adaptation. The external support a vulnerable family or community can receive is at best contributing to their adaptation process, not making it happen.

Recognition is emerging of the need to include adaptation in their climate change agenda. But it remains unclear what will be considered adaptation to climate change. Vital questions remain unattended: Who should bear the cost? Who shares the cost? Some talk of "differential" adaptation, seeking ways to quantify the potential or actual damage from climate change. Soon we may witness debates on "attribution" and "additionality" in adaptation discourses. What matters most of all, though, is to enable responses the vulnerable communities and people can take to confront climate challenges and to determine how policies, institutions and mechanisms can evolve to enable resilience building.

The immediate challenge is to facilitate understanding on adaptation issues and concerns globally, nationally and most fundamental of all, at the local level, among those poor and vulnerable.

This article is based on a Policy Brief by the author prepared for the Eleventh Conference of the Parties to the Climate Convention and First Meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol Montreal, Canada, November 28th - December 9th 2005.

Further information
Nasimul Haque, Know Risk No Risk Campaign Secretariat, Sustainable Development Resource Centre, House 11, Road 4, Dhanmondi, Dhaka 1205, Bangladesh. Email: sdrc@cgscomm.net.

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Updated: May 15th 2015