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09 December 2011

CLIMATE CHANGE: For the people, by the people

Photo: Shayne Robinson/Greenpeace
It is about making responsible lifestyle choices

DURBAN, 8 December 2011 (IRIN) - People are the victims and the drivers of climate change, so the success of any response to the impact of climate change depends on the people it is supposed to help, say 20 UN agencies at the UN talks in Durban, South Africa.

Riding on this simple premise, the agencies have been pushing to put a people-centred, bottom-up approach at the heart of policies to mitigate and adapt to climate change.

A document explaining the approach was released by the UN Task Team on Social Dimensions of Climate Change and discussed on the sidelines of the talks on 7 December.

“There are organizations even within the UN system that do not have people in their DNA,” said a UN official who did not want to be named.

The “current climate change discourse - including the way mitigation and adaptation measures are designed and appraised - tends to emphasize environmental, economic or technological inputs and costs. The social dimensions of climate change are not well understood or addressed,” the task team notes.

Peter Poschen, of the International Labour Organisation (ILO), illustrates the point in a climate change impact scenario and a typical response. For instance, if a certain part of a country that grows rice increasingly experiences flooding, a disaster risk reduction expert might step in and advise the people in the area to switch from growing rice to planting trees to help break the water flow.

“But often the expert would not have taken into account the other people in the area, who work as farm labourers on the rice field. With one policy move, the expert would have devastated the lives of so many others, and the linkages and impacts between paddy cultivation and the entire community. The problem is policy decisions are made by technocrats, who just see the problem and the solution, but not the people.”

People are the pivot

Climate change will potentially affect a wide range of sustainable development issues - health, food security, employment, incomes and livelihoods, gender equality, education, housing, poverty and mobility - either directly or indirectly, the agencies say in their paper.

To make the transition to a greener world and a more resilient people, basic human development needs will have to be addressed to make them less vulnerable and inform the choices they make, which will affect the path of the country’s economy.

Where and how people live, their access to basic services - health, water and education, employment opportunities, social protection, good governance - determines their vulnerability to risks from natural hazards such as floods, which are expected to become more intense as the world becomes warmer.

Choices such as driving a vehicle or using public transport, consuming more meat or adopting a vegetarian diet, choosing to have many children, a few, or none, the construction of large or small homes will shape the path of the country’s economy.

Next steps

To integrate social dimensions into climate change policies, the task team suggests six steps.

1) Conduct social impact assessments at each step of any programme involving communities.

2) Promote inter/ministerial policy dialogue. Ministries often work in silos and neglect to address the complexities of climate impacts that cut across sectors.

3) Identify research gaps to understand people’s behaviour, choice, vulnerability and consumption patterns.

4) Ensure safeguards to protect the vulnerable when fashioning climate solutions. For instance, when countries switch from dependence on energy produced by coal-based plants to renewable energy, they should ensure coal-miners have alternative sources of income.

5) Invest in human capital: To empower people both as agents of change and to make them resilient policies need to build skills.

6) Make money available to do this at the country level. There are countries that are already taking steps towards greening development. South Africa, one of the most carbon-intensive economies in the world, announced at this side event a plan for a green economy that could create jobs to address its high unemployment rate, in which at least 4.4 million people are extremely vulnerable.

Jorge Maia, head of research at South Africa’s Industrial Development Corporation, said up to 98,000 direct jobs could be created in the short term by 2012, and as many as 462,000 by 2025, through efforts to produce renewable energy, improve energy efficiency, reduce emissions and manage natural resources. But South Africa needed to get its educational institutions on board to build the skills required for the green jobs.

Shajedul Haque, an aid worker at Eminence, a local NGO based in Bangladesh, said each of the ministries in his country had a climate change cell so as to integrate it into all development sectors. “But there is lack of coordination on the climate change aspect between the ministries… often some areas remain under-serviced, while… [there are] many actors working on a sector in... [another] area.” He said countries should have an authority coordinating the development response.

Robin Mearns, the lead social development specialist at the World Bank, said they had been approached by countries like Mexico and Vietnam to fund development policies with climate change adaptation and mitigation elements. “The most remarkable thing is that the drafting of the policies involves a very strong participatory approach right down to the local government-level - there is a lot of consultation with the people.”


It is when the lines between climate change and development policies get blurred that developing countries, who are demanding new and additional funding for climate change mitigation and adaptation under the proposed climate change deal, see red.

Developing countries have accused the developed countries for double counting development aid as climate change adaptation funds.

Countries and NGOs, who acknowledge the difficulty of distinguishing an adaptation project from a development project, are grappling with this prickly question.

- Irin