As UN negotiators from around the world gather in Barcelona this week to continue hammering out a global climate deal, the question of emissions reduction targets has grabbed center stage in the press.
But even if all countries stopped emitting greenhouse gas pollution today, the impacts of climate change will be felt for years to come.
We must reduce emissions to minimize any future impacts. But negotiators must also develop policies and financial mechanisms that will help communities – and the natural resources they rely upon for survival – adapt to and overcome the climate impacts we are already seeing today.
The Nature Conservancy hosted an event here in Barcelona (webcast) last night highlighting adaptation actions we and others are launching around the world. The actions presented are the types that UN negotiators should include in a global agreement to ensure it provides the support needed to protect people and nature from the ravages of climate change.
Mike Beck, senior scientist with the Conservancy’s Global Marine Team, spoke of how sea levels are rising faster than anyone had previously projected, and how coastal communities are struggling to survive.
Mike unveiled an innovate new web tool called Coastal Resilience that shows in detail how sea level rise is hitting Long Island, NY. Users can look up how different sea-level rise scenarios will impact specific areas according to development type (commercial or residential areas); demographics (such as age or economic status); habitat types; and other specific social, economic and environmental classifications.
Residents can even look up their home addresses in Long Island and see how sea-level rise will impact their property.
The tool also allows government agencies to see where hospitals, fire stations and other emergency response organizations are located in connection to the areas that will be worst hit by sea-level rise.
“Most emergency responses to storms and flooding are made at the local level. But most localities don’t have access to this kind of information,” Mike said during the presentation.
Engaging communities in dealing with climate change impacts is crucial in places like Long Island, and even more so in developing countries where vulnerable communities are likely to face some of the greatest impacts. Several countries are now building upon the Coastal Resilience work to develop similar tools for their regions. The Conservancy is working with partners in the Caribbean to develop a similar tool.
“[In the Caribbean] most hotels and the tourist industry are based around these coastlines,” Mike said. “They’re socially and economically critical.”
Also joining the event was Rence Sore, the Solomon Islands‘ permanent secretary of environment, conservation and meteorology, who spoke of how his country is combating rising sea levels. Sore described how many of the islands in his nation are just one meter above sea level and are already dealing with coastal erosion and salt water contamination of crop lands.
“We depend on natural resources,” Sore said. “Climate change is impacting our food and water security.”
He said his government is incorporating the impacts of climate change in their development plans and are focusing on protecting their natural resources, from mangroves and coral reefs and more, to ensure they can continue to provide food and water to local communities.
The Conservancy is working in the Choiseul province of the Solomon Islands, in partnership with the Lauru Land Conference of Tribal Communities, to help plan local coastal land and resource management in response to climate impacts
These examples show how, in developed and developing countries alike, providing information and engaging communities are essential components to dealing with the impacts of climate change.
In Barcelona, our team is advocating that a global climate agreement draw on and strengthen the capacity of indigenous peoples and local communities to monitor, understand, and respond to climate change through effective adaptation measures. Protecting and restoring natural resources are some of the most effective measures for strengthening the resilience of both people and nature.
To learn more and spread the word about a global climate agreement, visit Planet Change.
(Image: Researchers in the Solomon Islands. Credit: David Wachenfeld © 2004 Triggerfish Images.)