Slow onset impacts gaining more focus

We began preparing for the UNFCCC Fiji COP in Bonn in early 2017. It was easy to decide what we’d focus on for public engagement; we helped arrange side events for the Philippine delegation, and the suggestion was to train our sights on slow onset climate events and innovative finance.

Yesterday’s side event, which we co-organised with the German Development Institute and the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation , was well-attended. Despite the setting, a seven-minute walk to the Interconnections Zone, outside the World Conference Center where the climate negotiations were taking place, people from different nationalities came and avidly listened to the speakers.

Dr. Steffen Bauer, co-lead of the Klimalog Project of the German Development Institute (DIE), welcomed the participants to the actvity and he was followed by Min. Kare Chawicha Debessa, from Ethiopia’s Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, opened the proceedings, framing the urgent need to confront slow onset climate events with creativity and solidarity. His speech was an impassioned and timely reminder to participants  to work together and seek out deeper ways to collaborate with the academe. 

The main speakers came next – Dr. Denise Margaret Matias, a Filipina scientist working with DIE and based in Bonn – tag-teamed with Lourdes Tibig, IPCC lead author and member of the Climate Change Commission’s National Panel of technical experts.

It was a good tandem. Denise, young and bubbly, provided a preview to her work showing the dearth of climate change research from and in the very regions where vulnerabilities are highest and where impacts were hitting hardest. Denise also showed developed countries enjoying the massive share of research activities conducted in their own regions and developed country research initiatives conducted in developing countries. In other words, vulnerable country research initiatives – as well as climate research initiatives in vulnerable countries -- look extremely tiny in number and coverage compared to work undertaken by well-off nations, who also happen to be the most responsible for climate change

It was significant insight that got participants nodding in the room: if there is a huge and growing emissions reduction gap, there is also a massive and increasing research gap too, and it needs a lot of urgent attention.

Lourdes, ICSC’s climate science advisor, followed with a presentation showing the importance of climate research undertaken by local academic institutions. Lourdes is one of the lead authors of the IPCC 6th assessement report on the cryosphere and oceans chapter. She was also previously the chief of the Climate Data Section of the Philippine Atmospheric Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration or PAGASA. Lourdes discussed the urgency in and opportunity to fix the disconnect between policy development, scientific research and engagement with local governments and communities. the disconnect between policy makers, scientists and communities, particularly with regard to slow onset events.

The speakers were followed by two reactors, Tadesse Tujuba Kenea, a meteorologist from Ethiopia who is also from the German Research Centre for Geosciences (GFZ) and a fellow of the Humboldt Foundation, and Dr. Anne Sperschneider, who spoke on behalf of the Humboldt Foundation, sharing her experience in collaborative academic work across continents and support programs available to researchers. Tadesse highlighted issues related to availability, access to and quality issues of data, including the need for bottom-up initiatives to ensure realities on the ground are reflected accurately, with attention placed on culture in order to frame and guide interventions from policy makers

The event closed with an impassioned speech delivered by the head of the Philippine delegation to the UNFCCC, and former chair of the 48-country strong Climate Vulnerable Forum, Emmanuel M. de Guzman, who reflected on his personal experience while in Paris, as a way to frame the urgency of channeling far more resources to research on slow onset climate events and enabling the local scientific community to deepen its work and to advise local and national policymakers.

Copies of the award-winning book Agam: Narratives on Climate Change and Uncertainty were given by ICSC to the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation (through Dr. Sperschneider), DIE (through Dr. Matias) and the Climate Change Commission (through Sec. Emmanuel M. de Guzman). Composed of 26 images and 24 narratives in verse and prose, written by 24 writers using eight languages, Agam is the world’s first literary anthology on climate change and has received four national book awards.