At “Advancing work on adaptation to climate change: A United Nations system perspective,” top officials from five U.N. agencies spoke to a packed room. They called for collaboration and cooperation between all U.N. agencies to be provided in any text to come out of COP15. Speakers included Achim Steiner, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme; Helen Clark, Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and Chair of the United Nations Development Group (UNDG); Ann Veneman, Executive Director of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF); Josette Sheeran, Executive Director of the World Food Programme (WFP), and Michel Jarraud, Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). H.E. Mr. Mohamed Nasheed, President of the Maldives, chaired the panel. President Masheed began the discussion by emphasizing that developing countries will feel the effects of climate change first, and that, in the Maldives, ocean level rise is leading to salt water already contaminating fresh water reserves. He emphasized that good governance is central to successful adaptation measures to protect people and ecosystems.
Helen Clark, former Prime Minister of New Zealand and current Administrator of UNDP and Chair of UNDG, explained that UN networks are involved across four main subject areas: national planning and adaptation, broad-based adaptation, continuous knowledge-sharing between national and regional stakeholders, and integrated data collection and analysis. She stated that climate change threatens achievement of development goals and, as she put it, “the window for action on climate change is quickly closing.”
Next came Achim Steiner, Executive Director of UNEP, who stated frankly that significant money for adaptation is required just to maintain the status quo. Adaptation will be critical if we hope to achieve any sort of equitable and ethical outcome. It also presents win-win opportunities, such as valuing ecosystems economically. If we don’t invest in nature’s services, we undermine development. We need to link economic restoration projects to climate change as we transition to a green economy.
Executive Director of the WFP, Josette Sheeran, spoke about the severe impacts changes in climate are having and will continue to have on hunger. The global challenge is to transform vulnerabilities into resilience. WFP is already seeing these realities every day—risk is the new normal when it comes to food supply. Ann Veneman of UNICEF added that children’s malnutrition, especially prior to the age of 2, creates life-long limits on cognitive development, with women and children being the most vulnerable, in part because women comprise 70% of small farmholders.
Following the speakers’ presentations, there were some hard-hitting questions and blunt answers. In response to one question about how to advance adaptation efforts through education, President Nasheed said that world leaders need to be educated as much as the general public. At the same time, “leaders will only understand things when the people understand things.” We must stress to our leaders that “this is the time to lead; this is not the time to follow the pack.”
All speakers emphasized the importance of social concerns being part of whatever comes out of these negotiations, as we “need a development deal on the table to have any deal on the table.”
The speakers also provided that any storm will hit the weakest first and that is women. Women are the key factor in any climate solution. Clark announced that the UN is creating a new gender agency to support all other UN agencies, ensuring that they take gender perspectives into account.
Finally, the speakers discussed climate change and migration. As Sheeran put it, when people don’t have enough to eat, they have three options: revolt, migrate, or die. When island nations are subsumed by water, it’s not just the land-mass that goes under, it’s also the cultural diversity that so enriches our world. Climate change is about the environment, development, peace, and stability, and we’re all in it together. Here’s to hoping our world leaders remember this as the negotiations conclude this week.