What contribution can climate policy make to poverty policy?

Rupa Mukerji, 16 June 2017

Rupa Mukerji, Co-Head Advisory Services, 2017

Climate and development policy are intimately linked. Scientific evidence regarding the reasons for climate change and its devastating impacts, especially on the poor, has been accumulating over the past 30 years and there is little uncertainty left about these linkages. For over two decades now, HELVETAS Swiss Intercooperation (henceforth Helvetas), has been working towards ensuring that climate and development policies are mutually reinforcing at local, national and global levels.
The year 2015 was a watershed with the adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change while the Sendai Framework completed the picture from a disaster risk reduction perspective. Climate change now cuts across all seventeen Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) while Goal 13 places climate change firmly within poverty reduction, recognising its disproportionate impact on the poorest. This is a vindication of the work of millions of people from all walks of life who have contributed to the breaking of the development and climate silos, Helvetas has also been one of those voices.
Helvetas works at the interfaces between climate and development, aiming to reduce risks, which are a factor of vulnerability, hazards – including from a changing climate, and exposure to such hazards. Risks are influenced both by climate and socio-economic processes such as the development pathways chosen, as shown in Figure (1) below.

Figure 1: The core concepts of Vulnerability, Impacts and Adaptation. Source: IPCC, 2015

While the Paris agreement commits the world to a warming of ‘well below’ 2 degree C by the end of the century, recent data from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) indicates that land and ocean temperatures in August 2016 were already 0.92 degree C higher than pre-industrial levels. There is thus a small window of time, of less than a decade, in which to transform development pathway away from fossil fuel driven hyper consumption to more sustainable ones. Helvetas’ strategic priorities and shifts are influenced by this sense of urgency which indeed permeates society at large.

Both Agenda 2030 and the Paris Agreement break many paradigms – they integrate the three pillars of sustainable development—economic, social, and environmental; they are universally endorsed by all countries irrespective of their development status and they provide the framework to address issues of development, climate change and peace in a comprehensive manner through combined pathways of action.

While the Paris Agreement commits to a legally binding global target, individual countries are expected to make Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) towards it. It combines high ambition with space to accommodate individual national capacities, a periodic review of actions with a process of raising ambitions overtime. It provides the momentum for phasing out fossil fuels, foster climate resilient development and commitment of resources to climate finance. All national governments will need to initiate actions as per their NDCs and development actors must contribute to making this bottom up approach work, by building trust and supporting actions that promote transparency.

An important milestone in the Paris Agreement was the establishment of a long-term goal on adaptation, making it a global priority on par with mitigation. This has been a longstanding demand of developing countries and actors like Helvetas. The Paris Agreement also recognizes loss and damage as an important component of the new climate architecture.

The challenge of implementation

Balancing between basic needs of a growing population, limited natural resources, spreading state fragility, more intense and frequent extreme events and the growing needs for mitigation and adaptation is as much a challenge for the countries we work in as it is for Helvetas.

The Achilles heel of both the Agenda 2030 and the Paris Agreement is finance. It is recognised that the financial resources needed for Agenda 2030 need to ‘move from the billions to the trillions’. New and additional sources of finance were expected to be mobilised for climate change using the polluter pays principle but these hopes have been belied. The Paris agreement only indicates that developed countries ‘shall’ provide financial resources, they are not bound to provide the much discussed amount of $ 100 billion per year by 2020. Additional resource mobilisation has been limited, leading to a diversion of existing ODA to climate action. The Swiss Dispatch on International Cooperation for 2017-2020 for example earmarks 12.5% of SDC’s budget for international climate protection.

Within these and other constraints, climate policies must deal with the twin challenges of mitigating the factors that contribute to climate change as also assisting people and societies to adapt to the adverse impacts. Science tells us that there are limits to the adaptive capacities of societies and ecosystems; and thresholds beyond which existing livelihoods can no longer be viable. It is estimated that climate change could push over 100 million people back into poverty in the next fifteen years. The poorest regions of the world – Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia – will be the most affected. The adaptation needs of people and nations are growing and so is the financing gap for adaptation which is estimated to be about 6 times the amountiv of US$ 100 billion per year from 2010 to 2050 as initially estimated by the World Bank.

While the recognition of the inter-connectedness is a large step forward, implementation poses real challenges particularly in the backdrop of spreading state fragility and limited capacities in regions of highest need. None of the fragile states could achieve a single one of the Millennium Development Goals. The Paris Agreement, Agenda 2030 and the NDCs shall work in overlapping domains and could have divergent priorities. For example, towards achieving SDG 2 to “end hunger, achieve food security and improve nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture,” industrial agriculture could be a preferred pathway but it is also the largest contributor of greenhouse gases. Many countries will face a challenge in feeding their exponentially growing populations while also limiting greenhouse gas emissions. Efforts to eliminate agricultural export subsidies (Target 2.b) will impact achievement of both these outcomes.
Helvetas believes it has much to contribute in the process of selection of the development pathways and in providing technical and process competences that help in reconciling multiple needs with a focus on gender and social equity. Given the scale of the needs and limitations imposed by resources, Helvetas’ mission guides it to focus on the most vulnerable groups who have low capacities to deal with the multiple challenges of under development as well as the risks from a changing climate.

On a recent visit to Mali we met farmer Eromi Saanu, working in the hot April sun on his quarter hectare plot of land. He is a pioneer in his village in the practice of zai, a laborious way to grow a crop on dry, infertile soils. Working for over a month with just a hoe, Eromi dug little half-moons, planting a seed encased in manure at one end of each and leaving a little pit at the other to hold some water for the seeds to germinate. This brought him a crop that is enough to feed his family for 3 months. He is not sure how he will manage thereafter – the year has been too warm, with strong winds that have been blowing away the dry parched soil. The rainfall is unpredictable – some years he faces droughts and in others a flood. In the past he received weather forecasts from a farmer who was connected to a service provided by Mali Meteo1 but the farmer died and the system does not work anymore. The support from a farmer group has helped Eromi stave off starvation or forced migration. One of the members taught him the zai technique, taking him to visit another group on the border with Burkina Faso. This exchange helped Eromi gain confidence to invest in the backbreaking labour that zai demands.

Helvetas works to support farmers like Eromi. This demands that we address the interconnected issues of poverty and climate change in a comprehensive manner, bringing to bear on our work both scientific and technical knowhow and crafting meaningful partnerships and collaborations to make new knowledge and services available to farmers like him.

The Adaptation to Climate Change Programme in Peru (PACC) is a mandate from SDC, implemented by Helvetas. A recent evaluation states ‘PACC has played a very relevant role in the consolidation of the national agenda in climate change led by MINAM (ministry of Environment) following the COP 20 and the signing of the Paris Accord. During the COP 20 and acting as host country, Peru was able to demonstrate its advances in adaptation through the Water and Mountain Pavilion in which adaptation advances throughout the country were presented. In like manner, in 2014 and 2016 various national policy instruments were approved such as the National Contributions, which include a chapter on adaptation, and the updating of the National Strategy on Climate Change to which PACC made an important contribution. Likewise, Cusco and Apurimac were models to follow for the remaining regions which were engaged in formulating their own regional climate change strategies’.

How has Helvetas Adapted its working approaches?

Over the past decade Helvetas’ working strategies have evolved in response to the same factors that led to the adoption of the Agenda 2030 and the Paris Agreement in recent years. While many regions of the world and sectors of the economy are vulnerable to climate change, Helvetas’ mission commits it to focus on the poorest regions and communities. The scale and long term nature of climate change demands that our actions lead to systemic changes that are sustainable beyond classical project periods and that the interventions are multi-stakeholder, involving the permanent actors in the system.

Working at the grassroots, Helvetas has a responsibility to ensure that climate change impacts, adaptation needs and the positive result of adaptation and mitigation actions reach decision makers in national governments, international platforms and global climate fund boards. It is also our moral responsibility that development actions supported by the organisation are protected from extreme events and climate change. Building capacities for preparedness and emergency response is thus a strategic priority for the organisation in the backdrop of more frequent and devastating extreme events.

‘Linking global and local’ is fundamental to Helvetas’ effectiveness. Thus, Helvetas works at multiple levels – at the local level through concrete actions, at the meso/national level with government and research organisations for technical and capacity building support; and at the international level to feed field experiences into global policies and to advocate for pro poor climate and development policies. The link with science and policy, such as through participation in the assessment of scientific information about climate change as part of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), is an investment in fostering a scientific temperament in the organisation and has strengthened our capacities to link local and global processes. Helvetas typically advocates in partnership or alliances with other organisations.

Breaking the silo thinking, Helvetas combines its work on sustainable natural resource management, disaster and climate risk reduction to ensure that:

  • Communities, and particularly disadvantaged households, hold secure rights to common pool resources.
  • Communities and households sustainably (co-)manage natural resources in collaboration with and with the support of state institutions and other key stakeholders and generate livelihood benefits from NRM.
  • Establishment of enabling policies, frameworks and platforms for natural resources management at the landscape level, considering also biodiversity conservation, sustainable development and climate change.
  • Improve the adaptive capacities of disadvantaged women and men, most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change through concrete tools, actions, capacity development and allocation of adequate resources.
  • Mainstream risk reduction and protect projects from impacts of extreme events and climate change.
  • Enable national governments, NGOs, CBOs to access climate finance and target it towards the most vulnerable and poor communities.
  • Contribute to creation of public goods by sharing experiences and supporting networks that build capacities of developing countries and promote their agendas.
  • Advocate for reduction of the global carbon footprint and increasing flows of climate finance to adaptation (50%) and the most vulnerable communities.Some aspects of the implementation of the above are described below.

1. A spectrum of actions at the local level

The impacts of climate change are locally differentiated; therefore, the responses too need to be context specific. While recognising that there is a large overlap between development and adaptation, there is also a need to identify specific actions and approaches that help vulnerable communities deal better with the additional risks posed by climate change. Helvetas works along the whole spectrum from addressing the factors that lead to vulnerability to reducing the likely impacts of climate change and building capacities and response strategies to deal with the impacts of climate change. Figure (2) below describes this spectrum. While a majority of our projects are on the left of the spectrum, addressing the root causes that lead to high vulnerability, Helvetas has also started developing new interventions that are helping communities confront the impacts of climate change (right of the spectrum below).

Figure 2: The spectrum of actions to reduce vulnerability and climate risks. Source: Based on WRI, 2007

In these projects Helvetas builds on its experience in sustainable management of common pool resources and addresses the risks posed by climate change and other hazards towards developing more resilient livelihood systems. Some of the well-established local adaptation strategies are moisture conservation practices, varietal selection, crop substitution, in-situ conservation of specific stress tolerant varieties, improved energy efficiency that also helps in preserving carbon sinks.

While there is a rich body of knowledge on local level actions, the role of grass root institutions in helping the most vulnerable groups adapt to climate change is inadequately leveraged. Development programme have extensive experience in supporting institutional partnerships that translate macro level policies into meaningful actions that are pro-poor. Effective governance and targeting of climate funds also demands that capacities of local institutions are enhanced, both to access new knowledge and resources and to perform new functions.

2. From Adaptation to Climate Resilient Development Pathways

The bulk of the emissions, 66%, today are from developing countries. This means that the separation of adaptation and mitigation actions between the developing and developed countries respectively, does not hold good any more. Actions in all countries must be taken, irrespective of their status of development to reduce their carbon footprint. Helvetas works both on adaptation and mitigation, using opportunities for low carbon development and for mitigation that also promotes pro-poor development. The rapidly reducing costs of renewable energy makes the notion of technological ‘leap frogging’ a reality. Through its diverse programmes, from natural resource management to skills development, Helvetas seeks to leverage on the new technological and economic possibilities that a greening of the economy can provide. Risk reduction is a third pillar of actions.

Lack of mainstreaming of climate change in donor projects curtails Helvetas’ mainstreaming objectives. Short term, small scale projects are an inadequate mechanism for systemic change. Partnerships with multiple stakeholders such as research organisations, national ministries, local implementing agencies requires adequate resources both in design and implementation; this is available only in specific climate change projects designed with such a mandate.

3. National Preparedness to access Climate Finance

Access to climate finance is key to the achievement of Agenda 2030 and the Paris Agreement. A complex matrix of institutions have evolved over the past decades to generate and channel climate funds. Access to climate funds demands a level of national preparedness. The new global funds are under great pressure to disburse resources. The Adaptation Fund and the more recent Green Climate Fund are new generation funds that are more democratically governed and are expected to be more accountable to the developing countries. Both these funds rely on the presence of either an accredited national implementing entity or an international one that can channel resources to the country. Many of the countries that are most vulnerable to climate change are also fragile states with weak institutions that lack capacities to fulfil the stringent financial management systems required for accreditation. For example, besides Senegal and South Africa no other African country has an accredited national entity. They rely on multilateral banks and agencies to access these climate funds. A recent evaluation of the Adaptation Fund highlights that the targeting of resources from the Fund to the vulnerable regions and populations has been poor. The Fund, hosted by the World Bank, has limited staff capacities, lacks knowledge management systems and relies on consultants on short term contracts who have little chance of reaching out to the vulnerable countries and populations in a systematic manner.

Helvetas is an accredited observer organisation of the Green Climate Fund as also a member of CSO networks that seeks to ensure that projects supported by these funds deliver meaningful development benefits, resources are not diverted to ‘business as usual’ projects and are not captured by a set of elite institutions. The collective ambition of the CSOs is indeed that national level development organisation can implement some of the projects bringing their expertise and context knowledge to deliver good outcomes. Helvetas may also support specific least developed countries in their preparedness to access climate funds, building on its experience and partnerships to design mechanisms that reach the most vulnerable communities.

4. Capacity building

The Paris Agreement makes a strong commitment to capacity building in its Articles 11 and 13. The experience till date has been mixed – national level institutional capacity building has been largely focused on scientific collaboration or capacity building of negotiators. The reason for this is the long held view that climate change is a topic of scientific enquiry which needs to be addressed through building up relevant research capacities in national universities and specialised scientific institution. The long drawn and contentious nature of climate negotiations also demanded that negotiators from developing countries are equipped with information to effectively fulfil their functions.

With the ratification of the Paris agreement the focus needs to shift to building implementation capacities in the countries most at risk from climate change. Many countries have seen several generations of climate change projects that have been research focussed, delivered by external consultants, leaving behind little national capacities or impact. To reach populations that are most vulnerable national actors in multiple department needs to be mobilised and their actions coordinated. The fact that the nodal ministry for climate change is the ministry of environment which traditionally has had a regulatory function, with no structures below the small national ministries, has been a key impediment to climate actions reaching the ground.

Effective action to deal with climate change demands scalability, measurability and multi-stakeholder country ownership. CBOs and national NGOs have limited capacities to meet these requirements. As an INGO Helvetas seeks to contribute to building capacities and meaningful projects that reach the most vulnerable, and prevent that resources remain with intermediate organisations with limited downward accountability.

Capacity building is needed on multiple fronts – to build a national repository of all the information on climate data, modelling and studies in the country, to build a cadre of technical staff able to design and deliver actions that are informed by needs of the poorer communities, to mobilize local communities and groups to access and use new information to create new knowledge systems to deal with a changing climate, etc. Meteorological services and agricultural extension systems that are defunct in several countries need to be revived.

Helvetas supports national governments in some of its partner countries (Peru, Bolivia) to develop their NDCs, identify actions that contribute to these commitments and refine ways in which such contributions could be measured and quantified. Such actions are being expanded to the less developed regions of the world.

5. Development of Tools and Methods

The Paris Agreement is constructed on voluntary commitments, from very unequal partners, rather than a normative framework emerging from historic responsibility for climate change or capability to contribute to its mitigation. As the CSO review of pre 2020 ambitions shows, developing countries have committed well beyond their fair share as assessed on principles of equity and capacity. Despite this, the NDCs as they stand now are inadequate to meet the ambitions of the Agreement and in the absence of any legal mechanism for enforcement, their fulfilment is contingent upon active and vigilant collective responsibility.

Helvetas has developed tools and methodologies for design and governance of land based mitigation measures. It also develops and supports the application of risk assessment tools such as CRISTAL. Through the development of tools and metrics that measure the contribution of development projects to climate mitigation, Helvetas seeks to support the expansion of such actions and reduce the need for mitigation actions through measures such as bio energy and carbon capture and storage that can have serious negative developmental impacts. Risk assessment tools that integrate climate and disaster risk help in breaking silos and developing combined approaches among different communities of practice.

6. Reducing own Carbon Footprint

For over a decade now Helvetas estimates its own carbon footprint and reduces it to the extent possible. It offsets its flights through credible partners. The largest pool of carbon emission are the country and project offices where poor public transport and connectivity imply road travel and large emissions. Country offices are cognisant of this and have started to estimate their foot print and are taking measure to conserve all resources, including carbon.

7. Advocacy

All scientific scenarios reviewed by the IPCC that limit warming to 1.5 degree C contain assumptions on the use of technologies such as bioenergy with carbon capture and storage. These are unproven, expensive, available with a few developed countries and like biofuels, pose the risk of large scale land alienation. They also give a false hope that economies can continue on the current development pathways and contain global warming through unproven technological interventions. Helvetas advocates for reduction of green-house gas emissions everywhere possible and promotion of technologies that directly benefit the poor and disadvantaged in concrete ways.

The Paris Agreement is predicated upon substantial transfer of resources and technologies between developed and developing countries. While the current flow of climate finance is very small, trends also raise concerns that public climate finances will cannibalise overseas development assistance widening existing developmental gaps. The private sector has several opportunities to reduce emissions from own operations. Some mitigation measures can alienate rights of the poor including to food security, if adequate safeguards are not in place. Finally, carbon emissions are intrinsically linked to lifestyle choices of individuals and societies, both in the developed and developing worlds.

Climate equity and justice can only be achieved through engagement of multiple actors in the North and the South. Helvetas advocates that international assistance to climate change is oriented towards pro-poor investment while private sector resources are leveraged for other vulnerable sectors and communities. It also demands that at least 50% of climate finance is targeted for adaptation needs of the disadvantaged and vulnerable communities and that resources are routed through locally accountable institutions. Helvetas develops social and environmental safeguards for land based mitigation actions and advocates for their adoption. Finally, Helvetas advocates for more sustainable policies and consumption behaviour in Switzerland and the global north.

In Summary

The implications of the new framework could be summarised in four key transitions for Helvetas:

  1. Climate and disaster ‘proofing’ of our work with proactive investment in preparedness and enhancing our emergency response capacities. This is a strategic priority and country programmes are supported with tools, technical backstopping, training and knowledge resources.
  2. Multi-stakeholder partnerships aiming at scale, sustainability and systemic change.
  3. Moving to a programmatic approach with actions driven by a common impact hypothesis in multiple geographies to enable comparison, exchange and larger impact. These initiatives also enhance preparedness to access climate finance.
  4. Engagement in networks and advocacy efforts to bring together climate and development considerations at local, national and global levels.


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Rupa Mukerji

Rupa Mukerji

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