Originally published by Alessandro Marazzi Sassoon and Kong Meta on

Flooded forests burning last year at the Prek Toal bird sanctuary in Battambang Province.
Flooded forests burning last year at the Prek Toal bird sanctuary in Battambang Province. Alessandro Marazzi Sassoon

The new normal: facing climate change

Last year’s drought caused a nationwide crisis, with harvests ruined, forest fires raging and many rural families struggling to feed themselves. As experts take stock of the impact, news of another potential El Niño raises a question: Is Cambodia prepared for the next drought?

For Cambodia, the El Niño that began in 2015 hit hard, causing a two-year drought that jeopardised the health, food security and finances of millions of people.

According to the National Committee for Disaster Management (NCDM), some 2.5 million people across 18 provinces were severely impacted by May of last year, and the province among the hardest hit was Banteay Meanchey, in the northwest of the country.

But while a wet rainy season that arrived in June alleviated the situation nationally, conditions in parts of the province suggest that this year’s rainy season may not have been enough to get them through the year. Already, in O’Chhrou district’s O’Beichoan commune, six villages have experienced water shortages, beginning last week.

“There are about 2,000 families now buying water, and the water prices are starting to increase,” said O’Beichoan commune chief Soung Meurng.

“Currently they have no water to use for cooking, washing clothes, or bathing,” he said, adding that farmers in the commune will forgo planting crops for the third year straight. “We don’t care about the crops yet. We think only to support the people and the livestock.”

Meurng says provincial authorities have promised his commune a 5,000-liter truck to deliver water, but so far he hasn’t “seen it yet”. “Our commune is the worst hit one among the district,” he said.

What Meurng is grappling with at the moment could be a sign of what’s to come for much of the country. Although spurred by El Niño, last year’s drought may have been a sign of dry conditions to come – possibly sooner than expected.


A view of the flooded forests near Kampong Phluk in Siem Reap province
A view of the flooded forests near Kampong Phluk in Siem Reap province. Alessandro Marazzi Sassoon


Last week, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration declared the ongoing La Niña over and predicted a 50 percent chance of another El Niño developing by the end of 2017.

Caused by warming waters in the Pacific, the event causes periodic changes to the world climate, including – typically – drought in Southeast Asia. In 2015 and 2016, one of the strongest such events recorded precipitated the worst drought in Cambodia since 1979.

El Niño usually occurs at two to seven-year intervals and is usually followed by a La Niña, a reciprocal change brought on by a cooling of the waters in the Pacific. This year’s was remarkably short, although it did bring added rainfall to the region.

For the United Nations World Food Program, which was a chief coordinator of the humanitarian response to the drought, the medium to long-term effects of last year’s El Niño are still being assessed, but the first of a three-part national survey of 2,400 households published late last year gives a sense of the scope of the disaster.


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Residents collect water at a dwindling watering hole in O’Beichoan commmune in Banteay Meanchey province in April 2016. Hong Menea


For Jonathan Rivers, a mapping and vulnerability officer at the WFP, another El Niño coming so soon “would be potentially quite problematic.”

Ministry of Water Resources and Meteorology spokesman Chan Yutha, meanwhile, dismissed the possibility of such an event, predicting that the rainy season would actually start in the first week of May this year.

“In short, we will not be affected by El Niño,” he said.

Facing change
Back in Banteay Meanchey, tangible steps are being taken to prepare. Deputy provincial governor Oum Reatrey says that the authorities expect to see drought-like conditions in certain communes, including O’Chhrou, and are responding.

“Now we are working with the Ministry of Water Resources and Meteorology; we are damming the Serey Sophorn River to create a reservoir, and we are also dredging canals for the people to use and educating people to use the water in a careful manner,” he said. Reatrey says that they will be ready for the next El Niño.

“We are not very worried at the moment, because we already took some action,” he said.

But that may be a rose-tinted view of the future. For Nop Polin, a program officer for humanitarian NGO Dan Church Aid Cambodia who represented Cambodian civil society at the UN Climate Summit in Paris (COP21), the extreme drought events brought by the last El Niño, followed by flooding brought on by La Niña, may be a preview of what lies ahead as climate change progresses.

“This is the new normal, because this is something that is not irregular anymore,” he said. For him, institutional reform should be a top priority. “The preparation is on an ad-hoc basis. It is not systematic,” he said, noting that while “some provinces have emergency preparedness and response plans, it’s very hard to say if it’s well prepared [nationally].”

Polin said that national coordination has improved but that capacity and preparation remain lacking. For Polin, work is needed to better forecast climatic events, both for disaster preparation and for farmers to better plan their harvest.


Content image - Phnom Penh Post


NCDM spokesman Keo Vy assured Post Weekend that the next emergency response would be smoother and more comprehensive both in terms of maintaining water resources and planning.

“Now we know what and where our sources of water for intervention and conservation are,” he said.

Last year, the NCDM, alongside civil society groups, the UN and the Cambodian Red Cross (CRC), conducted a month-long national water delivery emergency operation that started in mid-April. It saw the delivery of five million litres of water per day to the most affected communities.

The NCDM committed $125,000 to the operation.The CRC managed to raise $13 million in one day for drought relief and Prime Minister Hun Sen mobilized the private sector to donate.

But for Polin, this mobilization of resources “from tycoons and parliamentarians” is not enough, adding that the NCDM budget ought to be increased. According to Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan, the NCDM must request funding directly from the prime minister and the council in case of disaster.

Napoleon Navarro, a senior policy adviser for the UNDP, noted by email that the El Niño revealed the need for an improvement to the Kingdom’s early warning systems and response capacity.

“It is not sufficient to know that an El Niño event is coming – it is also important to translate information into short-term public actions … or more long-term ones,” Navarro wrote. For the short term, he mentioned pre-positioning water trucks and ensuring that water ponds are full as examples, while “eco-restoration” of watersheds could be a long-term measure.

“Part of the problem is that institutionally, disaster response (which is more visible) normally takes precedence over disaster preparedness and risk reduction (which is less visible),” he wrote. Nonetheless, Navarro notes that the government has made positive progress by pushing for preparation to take place at a local level.

“One thing that the government is doing right is encouraging communities to undertake vulnerability risk assessments and to utilise the annual commune and sangkat funds to prepare for the consequences of climate change,” he said.


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A boy sits on a water delivery vehicle in Banteay Meanchey province. Hong Menea


According to the water resource ministry’s Yutha, the government is “encouraging [communities] to build more reservoirs, canals and ponds, such that [in events] when farming cannot be sustained, there is water for daily use.” He said that the ministry has helped to build or is in the process of building nine reservoirs to prevent water from flowing directly into the lake during the rainy season.

Lor Reaksmey, spokesman for the Ministry of Agriculture, echoed Yutha’s statements, noting that his ministry had issued directives to reduce rice paddy cultivation. “We are very ready for 2017,” he said, though he conceded that areas like Banteay Meanchey may face difficulties.

The recent El Niño also brought about a new threat to the environment: the last fire season set a record. Alarmingly, the heat, dry conditions and low water levels allowed for an estimated one-third of the seasonally flooded forests around the Tonle Sap lake to burn. These forests are breeding grounds for fish, and the impact of the fires on the fisheries has yet to be assessed.

Simon Mahood, a senior technical adviser for the Wildlife Conservation Society – which works with the Ministry of Environment in training rangers – says that investment is needed to prevent a repeat of such a disaster.

“We’re in the process of doing some satellite analysis to understand the extent of the destruction, and the patterns of the spread of the fires, so that we can be better prepared next time, because it is clear that there will be a next time,” he said.

“Ideally, you would have a well-trained ranger force with pumps and hoses, coupled with a system of fire lookout posts so that fires could be identified, reported and extinguished quickly,” he said.


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A boy in O’beichoan commune carries water. Hong Menea


Hitting home
The impacts of the drought extended beyond water, agriculture and the environment to the household level, where livelihoods were hit hard.

“Nationally, 13 percent of households reported taking on additional loans as a result of El Niño,” with loans averaging $1,282 per household, according to the WFP survey.

For the UNDP’s Navarro, this is another concern should 2017 see another El Niño. “In a country where a significant percentage of the population have incomes just about [at] the poverty line, another event so soon could see an increase in rural poverty levels,” he said. 

Dr. Mey Kalyan, a senior adviser to the Supreme National Economic Council who has appeared on Cambodian television to raise awareness about climate change, said that ultimately, Cambodia’s combined vulnerability to climate change and limited response capacity means that a degree of impact is unavoidable.

“Impact will be a big, big negative on the economy and on society as well – on the poor farmers,” he said.


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The parched riverbed of the Serey Sophorn last April. Hong Menea


According to Kalyan, the threat requires the government to take a more pro-active approach to preparing for the future, even if it doesn’t yet know the full degree of climate change’s impact.

“We have to assume, differently from the government of Donald Trump, that climate change is coming,” he said. “Up until now it’s been half-hearted ... We’ve not been serious about this.” Part of the problem, he said, is that solutions are coming from the donors and not from the government.

But the UNDP’s Navarro noted progress over the past decade, noting that 14 ministries have climate change action plans and that preparedness, as measured by the Notre Dame Global Adaptation Index, shows an improvement from being the 163rd most prepared country in 1995 to being the 130th in 2015.

For Kalyan, the limitations on what can be done compared with the pressures climate change will bring are daunting. “I am sure the situation will get worse and worse, not better.”



As climate changes in the decades ahead, nations all over the world will invest billions to make themselves more resilient to rising sea levels, hurricanes, droughts, floods and heat waves.  

A new study led by researchers from the University of Notre Dame, University of Minnesota, McGill University and Australian National University reports that spending money on new infrastructure projects isn’t enough.  A country’s “readiness” – to include factors such as political stability, education levels, and even the ease of doing business -- can all influence whether climate adaptation efforts will succeed.   

The findings were published in the December issue of Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies for Global Change. The paper’s authors were the first to analyze the patterns of adaptation investments made by the multilateral and bilateral adaptation funds.

“Our research found that countries with high vulnerability to climate change receive more adaptation funding from international sources,” said Chen Chen, research scientist for the Notre Dame Global Adaptation Initiative (ND-GAIN). “Yet, those countries most vulnerable to climate change are often the least ready to use adaptation investments effectively. For instance, without social safeguards such as gender equity or environmental protection, countries will be less able to make best use of new public infrastructure.”

For analysis, the researchers used data collected by the ND-GAIN Country Index. The annual Index tracks a country’s performance against 45 indicators, which include data from six sectors that affect lives and livelihood: food, water, health, ecosystem services, human habitat and infrastructure. ND-GAIN researchers use 20 years of data to score the vulnerability and readiness of 180 countries around the world.

However, as the study’s authors point out, even when countries are equally vulnerable to climate change hazards, they may be unequal in their ability to adapt effectively. Factors such as institutional stability and the amount of political corruption effect how much adaptation financing can achieve.

According to the study, readiness is especially crucial in places such as Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, which have the world’s greatest concentration of least developed countries. These countries are also most likely to endure significant human suffering because of climate change, unless they receive funding to adapt.

“It’s important to consider that because of low readiness, the investments made in developing countries may not be highly efficient,” Chen said. “Our findings explicitly support global efforts to improve the investability of the most vulnerable country groups by investing first to enhance their readiness.

The Notre Dame Global Adaptation Initiative (ND-GAIN) works to provide knowledge and human resources that help governments, businesses and communities – especially the most vulnerable – adapt to the world’s changing climate. ND-GAIN is part of the Notre Dame Environmental Change Initiative.

The University of Minnesota Institute on the Environment is leading the way toward a future in which people and the environment prosper together.

Originally published by Kavya Balaraman on

A wastewater unit in Jacksonville, Fla., experienced a brief electrical fault as Hurricane Matthew barreled through Florida last week, causing a pump to trip and release around 5 million gallons of sewage into the Ortega River.

Officials immediately warned residents to avoid swimming and fishing in the river, a step that might have saved lives.

People on the battered island of Haiti weren't as lucky. It's 980 miles from Jacksonville, but the damage wrought by the storm was a world away.

Days before the pump failed, the delicate drainage system of southwest Haiti was choked with the hurricane's heavy rain. Sewage bubbled up into the floodwaters. The untreated waste, officials say, was likely behind the area's outburst of cholera, which has already killed 13 people.

The marked difference between the consequences of Hurricane Matthew in Jacksonville and in Haiti isn't restricted to the issue of sewage overflows. The hurricane had very different levels of impact in both regions.

In Haiti, the death toll has already climbed to about 1,000 people. According to the United Nations, around 1.4 million people need assistance, entire towns and villages have been "wiped off the map," and flood survivors are going hungry because the storm destroyed food stocks. Local authorities are struggling to contain the cholera outbreak, but that's a challenge because of the combination of intense flooding, stagnant water and floating corpses.

Matthew's devastation of Haiti is an example of what climate experts see as the disproportionate burden that global warming can have on poor, unprepared communities. Phenomena like extreme weather events, sea-level rise, coastal erosion and salinity intrusion tend to effect marginalized people more, they say.

According to the University of Notre Dame Global Adaptation Index, the countries that are most vulnerable to climate change include Somalia, Eritrea and Sudan — none of which has the infrastructure and financial resources to adequately combat the issue. Haiti is the 23rd most vulnerable country on the list.

"If you look at the disasters in the '80s and '90s, there are several factors that predict a larger impact in developing countries — larger death tolls, larger infrastructure damage and longer recovery rates," said Beth Caniglia, director of the Sustainable Economic and Enterprise Development Center at Regis University's College of Business and Economics.

'Massive challenges'

A variety of factors are in play: Many developing countries don't have climate-resilient infrastructure or the funds to build it. This is despite the fact that many are also tropical countries, whose populations stand to lose a lot because of sea-level rise and stronger storms.

In Haiti, mean temperatures have risen by 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit in three decades. The nation is located in a storm-prone area and has a big problem with flooding. Local drainage systems are rudimentary and generally consist of open channels dug alongside roads.

"The country doesn't have a lot of sewer systems," said Peter Wampler, an associate professor with Grand Valley State University's geology department. "In 2012, only 55 percent of people in urban areas had access to what's called 'improved sanitation' — usually a latrine. In rural areas, that number is only 20 percent. Unfortunately, the geology and hydrology of Haiti have caused cholera to become resident, and so when it rains, it flushes the disease out."

Poor infrastructure also means that it's more difficult for people to cope with disasters like Hurricane Matthew on a basic level. Homes are generally made of wood or cinder block and aren't stormproof. According to Caniglia, the storm destroyed around 66,000 homes in Haiti.

"You wouldn't experience that level of destruction in an industrialized nation," Caniglia said. "Moreover, people in the U.S. can prepare for large-scale evacuations, but in Haiti there aren't a lot of cars or highways to be able to drive quickly out of the area."

The lack of preparedness extends to the government. According to a 2014 report by Oxfam International, disaster management plans in Haiti aren't comprehensive enough to address weather events like Hurricane Matthew. In the Sud and Sud-Est regions — which are close to the coastline, low-lying and prone to storms — officials don't have enough data to put together effective risk management plans.

"There are many things you can do to make a country like this more climate resilient," said Andrew Curtis, co-director of the GIS, Health and Hazards Lab with Kent State University's geography department. "For example, improve flooding mechanisms — one of the reasons behind the floods was that the drainage channels ruptured and over-spilled — or raise structures that are near the coast to protect them from storm washes and hurricanes. But for countries like Haiti, which are struggling with a variety of massive challenges, there's not a lot in place to protect coastal towns from something like a major hurricane."

Funding and the media

In the United States, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said yesterday that $5 million in emergency funds had been sent to North Carolina to rebuild damaged roads. Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and other regions affected by the hurricane had not yet requested emergency funds, but Foxx said the federal government was ready to help.

"You have entire roads that have been washed out, some of them are local roads, some state roads, some impact the interstate road system, so we have to work with states to get things in place," he said.

That doesn't happen in Haiti. It doesn't have the ability to rebuild with its own resources. It's because of this vulnerability that many of the least-developed countries are clamoring for international funding to combat the consequences of climate change.

But funding is in short supply, and it comes with its own complications. In Haiti, over half the government budget is supported by aid from the international community. And it isn't always provided on schedule. Moreover, the Haitian government has little control over how the money is spent.

"There are a lot of emergencies going on in the world — a huge drought in southern Africa, crises in Iraq and Yemen, and the El Niño affecting many parts of the world this year," said Nahuel Arenas, director of humanitarian programs and policy with Oxfam America. "Monetary assistance is stretched, and there's a certain level of donor fatigue."

Arenas also perceives this as a media problem, because most coverage is focused on the effects of the hurricane in areas like Florida and South Carolina.

"The media is also very absorbed with the American elections, so it's difficult to bring this up," he added dryly.

Another factor that contributed to the high death toll in Haiti is the lack of an adequate warning and information system. In Florida, residents were promptly informed of the dangers of untreated sewage in the Ortega River and measures they could take to protect themselves. Such systems in Haiti remain fragmented and, sometimes, inaccurate.

National-level early warning systems do exist — like the Programme Nationale d'Alerte Précoce, which is fed information from a system of local warning stations. However, these warnings are based on information collected from the public that isn't always accurate. Moreover, it follows a manual that Oxfam's report describes as being "not of the highest quality."

Inefficient communication systems can also mean that populations in disaster zones don't always know the right steps to take.

"In many cases, especially in parts of the developing world, we know that people aren't aware of the resources they can avail themselves to," said Caniglia. "There aren't early warning systems, or folks on TV telling them what to do. Radios are out of service, and they may not always get evacuation notices."


Originally published by Michael Byron Nelson on www.newsecuritybeat.orgG


Most African states are more vulnerable and less prepared to address climate change challenges than the rest of the world. This observation is supported by a wide variety of sources, including the Climate Vulnerability Index and the Notre Dame Global Adaptation Index. And in fact Africans and their political leaders frequently observe that this crisis, manufactured in the developed world, disproportionately affects their continent. During a meeting of the African Union in 2007, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni called climate change “an act of aggression” by the rich against the poor.

In response to these concerns, African states have worked collectively to influence global climate change negotiations. Two pillars underpin their approach: one is the development of an “African Common Position,” the other is the formation of a negotiating coalition for presenting that position. In some respects, these efforts have been met with success. Most African states were present to sign the Paris Agreement in New York this past April. That agreement promises to deliver on one of the continent’s key demands in negotiations: funding to adapt to climate change effects that are already present and will arise in the future.

However, African attempts to act collectively on climate change face important challenges. One key factor is the behavior of its major regional powers: Egypt, Ethiopia, Nigeria, and South Africa. All, with the notable exception of Nigeria, have attempted to play leadership roles in negotiating on behalf of the continent with varying degrees of success and priorities.

In a new paper in Global Environmental Politics, I argue that the interests of these four powers often differ from those of the rest of the continent. Additionally, even where they share interests, they often view the negotiation process as serving goals other than solving the problems of climate change. Given that the Paris Agreement represents only the first step in a new approach to addressing global climate change, understanding these dynamics is important for the future of the continent.

A Common Position?

The challenges of unifying the interests of more than 50 African countries, populated by over a billion people, on the second largest continent are daunting. It is unsurprising interests and priorities vary across the continent; however, the divergent interests of the regional powers are especially important.

The divergent interests of Africa’s four regional powers are especially important

South Africa’s energy consumption and carbon emissions, especially due to coal, immediately set it apart from the rest of the continent. Economically, it is in a far better position to cope with climate change than most countries on the continent.

Egypt similarly benefits from a higher level of development, which tends to correlate with higher carbon emissions. However, it is clear that the potential for rising sea levels and changes to the Nile River have made climate change a more central issue.

Nigeria is also highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, especially on agriculture, coastal flooding, and desertification. However, its economy is sensitive to policies that would reduce oil demand. This might go far to helping us understand how a country which actively strives to lead West Africa and the rest of the continent in so many other areas, including trade and security, has been mostly quiet on climate change.

Finally, Ethiopia – the weakest of the four regional powers considered here – is closest to continental averages in terms of vulnerability and readiness. Its leadership on climate change, particularly through former Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, has been mostly tied to its own national interests.

Regional Powers and Strategic Choices

Regional powers often view climate change negotiations as part of a larger strategic situation. The choice to work with African partners can have less to do with climate change than with other policy goals, such as maintaining influence with global partners or increasing their status with domestic audiences.

Egypt, for instance, must contend with its dual membership in both the Arab Group (known to make statements about the scientific uncertainties of climate change) and the African Group (often called “progressive”). Similarly, Nigeria’s membership in OPEC sets it apart. For Ethiopia, the domestic audience may be most important. Addis Ababa benefits from the external legitimacy granted when others recognize it as a regional leader on such a major issue, bolstering its domestic position.

African states are increasingly using coalitions to influence global affairs

South Africa represents perhaps the most interesting case. South Africa’s leaders have been attempting to strengthen their regional and global roles for some time, even apart from climate negotiations. Former President Mbeki’s plans for an African Renaissance stated that “it is necessary that, acting together, we ensure that Africa…occupies her due place within the councils of the world.” President Zuma’s global ambitions contributed to South Africa’s membership in the BRICS alliance (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) and that membership in turn seems to rely at least partially on South Africa’s ability to represent the continent (a source of contention for many).

All of this has the potential to undermine a unified African position in climate change negotiations. South Africa’s external alliances, for instance, have pushed it to take positions other African partners oppose. Those differences were perhaps most on displayin the brokering of the Copenhagen Accord in 2009. At the same conference, Ethiopia’s Prime Minister, acting as head of the Committee of African Heads of State and Government on Climate Change, also departed from the African script, endorsing French and American positions instead

Goods News, Bad News

Africa still needs its regional powers. African attempts to forge a common position and approach to climate change only became significant following Kenya’s hosting of the 2006 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference of Parties. In the decade since, the “two pillars” has emerged, reflecting a growing tendency for African states to use coalitions to influence global affairs. The support of the regional powers can add important political weight to these coalitions.

The good news for most African states is that on some issues, such as the transfer of technical knowledge from developed countries and funds for adaptation, there should be general support from these regional powers. The bad news is that it might be harder to gain unified support on issues where interests are more likely to vary, such as requirements for reducing carbon emissions. Additionally, it may be necessary to monitor the behavior of the regional powers to ensure their final goals in negotiations are focused on the continent’s collective interests and not on other regional and global strategic positioning. 


By Chen Chen, ND-GAIN. Originally published Op-Ed on Triple Pundit:

The Paris Climate Agreement put climate adaptation squarely on the climate agenda when it established a global goal to “enhance adaptive capacity, strengthen resilience and reduce vulnerability to climate change.”

Through the agreement, funds from developed countries are pledged to fuel adaptation planning and implementation in vulnerable, developing countries. Similar to other issues related to global development, garnering monetary pledges could be the crucial first step toward positive change. But what can we expect to come out of the multibillion-dollar pledge for adaptation?

If we look at typical development projects, we can anticipate the output of development investment because the unit costs of the projects are often provided, as in anti-malaria efforts in Malawi or DRC, or learning opportunities for refugee children in Syria. We must now ask: What is the unit cost of improving adaptive capacity or reducing climate vulnerability?  No such measure yet exists, making it difficult to identify measurable goals for adaptation funds.

In a recent webinar hosted by the Notre Dame Global Adaptation Index (ND-GAIN),private-sector, climate-adaptation investment mavens discussed how an adaptation assessment measure could inspire a larger market to meet the needs of the developing world. The creation of a Common Adaptation Unit (CAU) allows us to quantify the adaptation goals. This discussion inspired me to consider the steps needed to conceptualize a measurement unit for adaptation based on the three years of inquiry leading ND-GAIN’s research on adaptation measurement at the global, country, city and project evaluation levels.

A critical step is to derive a per-unit measure that is comparable to outputs in a typical development project, such as the number of insecticidal nets distributed or the number of refugee children gaining learning opportunities.

The impacts of climate change manifest in two ways – through climate-induced shockssuch as extreme weather and climate disasters like floods or landslides, and climate-imposed stresses such as shortened growing seasons or extended disease transmission periods, both of which could take an enormous toll on lives and assets. Adaptation success can therefore be measured using the number of lives saved or assets value preserved. However, this way of quantifying adaptation success would be comparable to measuring the outcomes of usual development projects (e.g., increased retention rates of school children due to funding to improve education accessibility), which requires a complete cycle of project impact evaluation to quantify such unit. 

The improvement of adaptive capacity or reduction of vulnerability is the intermediate step leading toward a scenario where climate disasters cause less or no damage to lives and assets.  Therefore, what we need is a unit to measure the intended “output” from adaptation funds in its immediate form, a unit by which taxpayers understand what the funds are going to be spent on.

This novel CAU would quantify the progress of adaptation. As a standardized measure, the use of this CAU would precede the measures of lives and assets impacted by climate change. It can be helpful to think of the CAU as similar to Intelligence Quotient (IQ). One common feature of CAU and IQ is that they both measure something that only exists conceptually. Some standardized tests can gather key information from an individual to measure IQ. Similarly, standardized tests, in a form of standardized surveys, can be given to a country or a community to measure CAU.

City surveys have been gathering data on the perception of climate risks and adaptation planning that can serve as the basis for a CAU for certain cities.  Although further quantification challenges remain to formalize the unit, standardized surveys that quantify adaptation progress at multiple scales will bring us closer to developing a baseline for adaptation and to a setting adaptation targets.

Using standardized survey to obtain a measurable state of vulnerability can help global adaptation leaders realize many uses of CAU, as listed in its concept note, including providing a target to guide future Conference of the Parties similar to greenhouse gas mitigation targets. We can then estimate the cost of improving a country’s, city’s, or community’s CAU and know what outputs we can expect from monetary pledges for adaptation.

Image credit: Flickr/COP21 Paris

Chen Chen is the research scientist at Notre Dame Global Adaptation Initiative’s (ND-GAIN) and Notre Dame Initiative for Global Development, focusing on adaptation measurement at various scales to serve a prospective adaptation market.

Just as climate change disproportionately affects the poor, so must efforts to reduce its toll.

By Joyce Coffee, ND-GAIN. Originally published by University of Minnesota's Ensia at

One of the biggest threats to a thriving world today is that the world’s poorest people face disproportionate risk from climate change. The World Bank’s Turn Down the Heat report notes that climate change threatens to erode progress made on reducing poverty, while a Stanford studyreveals that global incomes for 2100 could be 23 percent lower than they would be in a world without climate change. While it is sobering that over the past 30 years one dollar out of every three spent on development has been lost as a result of coastal storms and civil conflict, among other shocks and stresses, the long-term impact of lower incomes relates to shrinking global markets and thus has impact on economies around the world.

For leaders working on development issues in least-developed and lower-income countries, these trends call for more resources to support climate adaptation, such as improving water security through conservation and modernizing infrastructure to withstand extreme storms.

A trifecta of global influence has identified adaptation as a key climate action strategy for national and local governments, the private sector, and donors: the Paris Climate Agreement, which mentions adaptation more frequently than mitigation; the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals, which prioritize adaptation; and Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment, which calls out the imbalance between the global north and south in a climate-changed world.

In an average year, climate change affects more than one out of five people. Scientists from the Notre Dame Global Adaptation Index, a climate adaptation think tank I lead at the University of Notre Dame, have calculated that people living in the least-developed countries have 10 times greater chance of being affected by a climate disaster than those in wealthy countries. They also have calculated that it will take more than 100 years for lower-income countries to reach upper-income countries’ current level of capacity to adapt to changes in climate.

Climate change disproportionately harms the poor in wealthy countries, too.

Not only that, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports that while climate change heavily burdens the poor, it also worsens preexisting poverty by exacerbating the effects of other poverty causes, such as loss or erosion of physical and financial assets, including land, housing and jobs. Take Africa as an example: In 2015 alone, the continent faced about 50 events that were influenced by climate change — such as droughts, wildfires, landslides, extreme temperatures and floods — as calculated by the International Disaster Database at the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters. These events affected more than 20 million people, killed 1,139 and created damages amounting to more than US$2.5 billion. Such events and changes to historical trends are likely to worsen the symptoms of poverty. One likely outcome is decreased production of staple foods in many of the poorest regions — by up to 50 percent by 2020 in some African countries — increasing malnutrition and undernutrition, which currently cause 3.1 million deaths in children under five every year around the world.

Climate change disproportionately harms the poor in wealthy countries, too. Superstorm Sandy was one of the most expensive extreme weather events in history, costing corporations and governments more than US$40 billion. According to a report by Rutgers University, although registration for Federal Emergency Management Agency assistance by ALICE households (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed, which means they are above the poverty line but still not financially stable) exceeded registrations by non-ALICE households by 13,000, FEMA provided US$61 million more to non-ALICE households. Of the homeowners who applied for assistance, only 10 percent of ALICE applicants had received relief by February 2013 as opposed to 26 percent of all household owner applicants. Even after this relief, disparities remain. While ALICE households received some other help — through public assistance, private insurance and nonprofits — as a group they’re still left with $2.2 billion worth of residential damage and lost income that’s likely to stay unrelieved.

With hazards and vulnerabilities in mind, leaders can create strategies that increase adaptive capacities, especially for those most sensitive to climate hazards, including the world’s poorest citizens.

Climate adaptation requires several basic steps. First, leaders in government, the private sector and philanthropy should examine the relative hazards based on climate models for areas relevant to their work. Then they should identify adaptive capacities that are lacking and creating the greatest risk based on those exposures. ND-GAIN can help, identifying which countries are most prepared — including resource constraints — to handle and adapt to global challenges brought about by climate disruption. Other helpful resources include the World Economic Forum’sGlobal Competitiveness Report, an assessment of the economic drivers of countries’ productivity and wealth, which helps determine viable markets for corporate investment in projects in other countries, and the World Resources Institute’s Aqueduct, which identifies water risks around the world.

With hazards and vulnerabilities in mind, leaders can create strategies that increase adaptive capacities, especially for those most sensitive to climate hazards, including the world’s poorest citizens. Increasing access to electricity, water and sanitation and improving community health-care options are further examples of the dozens of adaptation actions available. Quickly, leaders will see that not only are there parts of their current efforts they can claim are adaptation — which will burnish their brand and inspire further effort — but there are numerous collateral benefits to adaptation: lifting more out of poverty, strengthening economies, preventing civil conflict, buttressing food security, protecting natural resources and ensuring a brighter future for generations to come. 

Originally published by Tanya Campbell on

New index lists nations in dire need of help with regard to climate change

Researchers at the University of Notre Dame have developed a global league table that identifies the nations that are most vulnerable to climate change. Poor nations are considered to the ones that are most vulnerable to climate change and least responsive.

The Notre Dame Global Adaptation Index measures a nation’s vulnerability in relation to its ability to cope with climate change. The index calculates a number of factors, including exposure to climate stress, sensitivity to the impact of climate shocks and adaptive capacity.

As a part of the index, country’s readiness is also scored. It means willingness to take steps to reduce climate change. Eritrea, Chad, Central African Republic, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo have been found to be the world’s five worst performers.

Adaptation, which is how to live with a warming world, is now the main factor. Second factor is the realization that poorer nations will now require support. In the Paris climate summit in December, financial target was kept of $100 billion a year from public and private sources by 2020. The Green Climate Fund was also considered to be an important part, as it will provide 50% of all its funding to adaptation.

Barbara Buchner of the Climate Policy Initiative said that it is not only about money. There are many challenges along with it, including technical capacity to come up with bankable proposals, knowledge and capacity gaps and provision of access to resources.

Koko Warner of the United Nations University’s Institute for Environment and Human Security, said, “We need to find ways to increase the absorptive capacity of countries that need the funding the most, and harmonize investment standards, transparency and governance issues”.

Warner also acknowledged that there is lot to learn. Projects that provide an access to affordable, clean energy and expand sustainable agriculture can support economic development, poverty alleviation and climate change.

Originally published by Tyler MacDonald on

With poorer countries having a harder time adapting to the increasing effects of climate change, many are wondering how we can help them through the process.

Climate Change

With poorer countries having a harder time adapting to the increasing effects of climate change, many are wondering how we can help them through the process. (Photo : Getty Images)

Now that the Paris climate agreement has successfully pushed 195 nations to reduce their emissions in the struggle to prevent global warming, a new questions arises: How will the countries most vulnerable to climate change - usually the poorest ones - respond and adapt, and how can we help them?

A global index managed by the University of Notre Dame reveals the five countries that are most vulnerable to the effects of climate change: Eritrea, Chad, Central African Republic, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The findings stem from 25 years of data that take into account countries' preparedness for risks connected to climate change such as overcrowding, food insecurity and civil conflicts.

The least vulnerable countries are New Zealand, Norway, Denmark, the United Kingdom and Germany, and ideally they will help their neighbors financially to ensure that the less vulnerable regions are properly prepared to adapt to climate change.

At the Paris Conference of Parties climate talks, the wealthy nations agreed to provide $100 billion through 2020 to the least developed countries in order to help them combat the negative effects of climate change. The money given to these countries - which are defined by the United Nations - will flow through the Green Climate Fund.

"We will not leave the most vulnerable nations among us to weather the storms alone," said John Kerry, the U.S. Secretary of State, shortly after announcing that the U.S. plans to double its grant money over the four next years with the goal of aiding vulnerable countries in their response to climate change.

Despite the benefits of this financial support, it is important to understand that for vulnerable countries, adapting to climate change is not necessarily about money, it's about the fact that climate change will alter numerous facets of each country.

"Many countries are grappling with a hierarchy of needs that puts climate risk close to the bottom," said Joyce Coffee, managing director of the global index, suggesting that the least developed countries need to grapple with widespread poverty, which can influence other factors such as health and corruption. "While I believe very strongly that solutions to climate come from within a country, they won't come until leaders embrace the changes that are coming."

Ideally, the financial aid provided by the least vulnerable counties can help the countries most vulnerable to climate change by reducing poverty and getting them started on the path to adapting to the new world. 

Originally published by Jeanne Rife on

Poorer Countries vulnerable to Climate Change need Help to live in Warming World

Climate change will impact almost every region of the planet in the coming times and the impact can be seen in terms of unpredictable and inclement weather, which would impact crop yields. It is important for governments to be ready to combat these changes as there could be food scarcity and people in the coastal regions would face frequent flooding. Climate scientists found that nations around the world that are at high risk of catastrophic impacts of climate change are among the poorest.

Now, a global league table has been developed that can help identify countries most vulnerable to climate change. Researchers from the University of Notre Dame are behind this unique global league table. The table, dubbed as the Notre Dame Global Adaptation Index (ND-GAIN), is capable of figuring out a nation’s ability to deal with climate change.

The index can measure a country’s exposure to climate stress, adaptive capacity and sensitivity to climate shocks’ effects. After that, it calculates how a nation’s sources would be impacted due to change in climate.

The University of Notre Dame also used the index to find the five worst performing countries in the world: Chad, Eritrea, Sudan, Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. On the other side, the nations that are performing better than expectations are Norway, New Zealand, Britain, Germany and Denmark, as per the index.

In December last year, world leaders gathered in Paris for a climate summit where they concluded that reducing greenhouse gases is not a solution to slow down climate change. They agreed to a fact that it is important to look for a way to live with a warming earth. They also said that poorer countries are not able to fight global warming alone, and they will need support.

“Paris was wonderful, but what’s really important now is what happens on the ground. The true yardstick of success is in these highly vulnerable countries”, said Koko Warner from the United Nations University’s Institute for Environment and Human Security.