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::EXCLUSIVE:: Making adaptation strategies key to meeting climate emergencies


The UNEP defines the year 2020 as one of the warmest years on record in this century with ‘over 50 million people globally recorded as directly affected by floods, droughts, or storms; and wildfires raging with greater intensity in Australia, Brazil, Russia and the USA, among other countries’.

By Salam Rajesh

Adaptation is the key word being floated by the world bodies in strategizing methods and finding nature-based solutions in combating impacts of climate change globally. Keeping this as the defining model to meet the Paris Climate Agreement goals, the fifth edition of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)’s Adaptation Gap Report 2020 seeks to provide insights into updates on the current actions and emerging results of global adaptation planning, finance and implementation with specific thrust on meeting targets on climate urgencies. The report is jointly produced by UNEP, UNEP DTU Partnership, and the World Adaptation Science Programme (WASP).

The UNEP defines the year 2020 as one of the warmest years on record in this century with ‘over 50 million people globally recorded as directly affected by floods, droughts, or storms; and wildfires raging with greater intensity in Australia, Brazil, Russia and the USA, among other countries’. The UN body therefore makes it a point that it is now more important than ever that countries make progress on adaptation to address visible and expected impacts of climate change.

The report defines ‘adaptation’ as the ‘process of adjustment to actual or expected climate and its effects’. In further elaborating on the definition, it stresses that in human systems, ‘adaptation seeks to moderate or avoid harm or exploit beneficial opportunities’, and that in some natural systems, ‘human intervention may facilitate adjustment to expected climate and its effects’. Adaptation is, therefore, a strategy to minimize on perceived impacts of a process more fundamentally related to anthropogenic activities and interventions at global scale.

Stressing on ‘adaptation’ as policy planning and strategy of utmost significance, UNEP’s  Adaptation Gap Report outlines that the three elements of ‘global adaptation planning, finance and implementation are critical for tracking and assessing progress towards the global goal on adaptation’. Acknowledging that climate adaptation is now widely embedded in policy and planning across the world, the report however is critical on the view that the levels of engagement and the quality of instruments are vastly different from country to country, with some lacking behind in field based strategies.

UNEP’s executive director Inger Anderson while reflecting on the report, has this to say: “Almost three quarters of countries have adopted at least one national-level adaptation planning instrument. Most developing countries are working on national adaptation plans. The pace of adaptation financing is indeed rising, but it continues to be outpaced by rapidly increasing adaptation costs”.

At the core of the discussion is the focus on Nature-based Solutions (NbS) to address climate emergencies and other nature-related processes that are impacting the planet as a whole, endangering lives in the present and in the future. The report touches upon this issue, wherein it specifies that, ‘There is growing recognition that the global crises of climate change and biodiversity loss are strongly interlinked, with climate change representing a major driver of biodiversity loss, while nature has a fundamental role in both mitigating climate change and enabling us to adapt to it’.

The setting of the global discussions to meet climate exigencies is largely focused now on strategizing plans based on NbS formulae to resolve issues. It fundamentally looks at grassroots level activities with active involvement of Indigenous peoples and local communities (IPLCs) who are directly relevant to conservation efforts. The mangrove restoration effort across coastlines in the Asia Pacific regions is a glaring example where IPLCs are succeeding in meeting targets on climate mitigation and adaptation strategies. It is also relevant to the prevention of extensive impacts of tsunamis and cyclonic storms along the coastlines.

Stressing that national and international policy and actions are increasingly recognizing that nature-based solutions play a vital role in climate change adaptation, the report highlights that NbS for adaptation are often low-cost options that bring environmental, economic and social benefits to a wide range of stakeholders, including women, and the poor and marginalized groups. Low cost actions on re-planting of mangrove trees along coastlines with extensive involvement of IPLCs are succeeding in proving that NbS adaptation strategies can work.

In the midst of the government level discussions and planning at the UN platform, there are emerging instances where uncharted activities of individuals and community-level groups are doing more than their share of responsibility in adaptation. In Manipur, volunteers of the Wildlife Habitat and Protection Society led by Moirangthem Loya (the Jungle Man) are greening a large stretch of the Punshilok watershed in the Langol Hills – vital green lungs for Imphal urban area. In Assam’s Majuli Island, the Forest Man of India, Jadav Molai Payeng single-handedly revived an entire forest of around 1360 acres. In Africa’s Sub-Saharan region, local communities are coming out enmasse to participate in the great Green Wall project – a monumental greening of Africa’s degraded grasslands.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) while explaining the term Nature-based solutions, which increasingly is being used in recent years, defines that the term refers to ‘Actions to protect, sustainably manage and restore natural and modified ecosystems that address societal challenges effectively and adaptively, simultaneously providing human well-being and biodiversity benefits’.

Nature-based solutions, therefore, can be grassroots oriented strategy actions that seek to involve local communities in intensive re-greening of degraded landscapes to achieve multiple end targets. In some areas, it can be a strategy to invent low cost efforts to reduce impact of climatic hazards like cyclonic storms and tsunamis. In other areas, it could be a strategy to regenerate forests to bring back the water sources, while providing food and raw material for homes for marginalized groups like semi-nomadic tribes and forest dwellers.

The UNEP adaptation report further explains that the term NbS is also associated with other widely used terms specific to particular sectors and disciplines, such as, green infrastructure, natural infrastructure, ecological engineering, ecosystem-based mitigation, ecosystem-based adaptation (EbA) and ecosystem-based disaster risk reduction. In China, for instance, a major thrust is on the green infrastructure with all new buildings adapted to planting flowering plants and herbs in every available space, creating green zones. In many Scandinavian countries, people are going in for food forests in every available urban space, creating green zones and parks where fruit bearing trees and plants provide free-for-all foods.

 (The writer is associated with IUCN Commission on Environmental, Economic & Social Policy. He can be contacted at [email protected])

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