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Gobeshona 6: ‘The point of adapting now is to prevent a lot of suffering and economic loss’

  • Published at 11:41 pm January 21st, 2020
Cristina Rumbaitis del Rio
Cristina Rumbaitis del Rio Dhaka Tribune

DhakaTribune’s Saqib Sarker speaks with Cristina Rumbaitis del Rio, Action Track Co-Manager for the Global Commission on Adaptation

Attending this year’s Gobeshona conference in Dhaka, Dr Cristina Rumbaitis del Rio has vast experience working in the field of climate change adaptation. She was the regional program manager for Action on Climate Today. 

She was also a senior associate director at the Rockefeller Foundation in New York from 2007-2015, where she developed and managed initiatives building resilience to climate change, water management, small scale fisheries, and the preservation of ecosystems and the services they provide to humankind. She managed a grant portfolio of over $100 million.

Currently working as Action Track Co-Manager for the Global Commission on Adaptation (GCA), Dr Rumbaitis del Rio spoke to Dhaka Tribune at the Gobeshona conference about her work and GCA’s ‘locally-led action’ program.

Tell us about The Global Commission on Adaptation. What it is, why it was formed, and what are the goals it wants to achieve?

The Global Commission on Adaptation was launched in September of 2018. It was formed to build political momentum for climate change adaptation. For a long time the issue of climate change has been gaining momentum and we really turned a corner. Most people are aware of it and believe in the science behind it. 

But a lot of the action and investment have been on climate change mitigation, [such as] reducing greenhouse gases, and much less attention and funding has gone to the issue of adaptation, which is preparing for impacts. 

So the Commission was really launched to bring that high level political visibility to the issue of adaptation, and to really make the case -- the business case, the moral case, the logical case, the emotional case, for investing in adaptation now. 

The Commission is co-chaired by Bill Gates, Ban Ki-Moon and Kristalina Georgieva, CEO of the International Monetary Fund. 

And talk a little bit about your role in the organization. 

I have been working in the field of adaptation for 15 years now. I was really keen to engage with the Commission on adaptation because of the political visibility that it’s bringing. But it’s not just about convening and providing the flagship report that was produced last September, as mentioned in the opening session [of the Gobeshona conference]. The Commission has also launched this ‘action track’ that intends to scale up action on adaptation in different domains, on cities, on financing adaptation. 

In particular, I have been helping to lead the development with partners, on something we are calling the ‘locally-led action track,’ which was just launched today by Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon. What this action track aims to do is to scale up the investment and activity on adaptation that’s really grounded at the local level, and not just done at the local level, but decided at the local level, empowering some of the most vulnerable communities themselves to take action on adaptation. Recent studies show that only 10% of the funding that’s going to climate change actually makes it down to the local level, and we think that needs to change. 

This will take grassroots organizations working together. We think this will take change in donor practices, and we think it will take changes in how country governments use adaptation finance and allocate those resources. So my role in particular, is to help work with all of these different partners that we have that are interested in this issue, to bring us together, to work together towards a common goal of increasing the amount of funding going for locally led adaptation action. 

Your report Adapt Now calls for correcting this inequitable access to resources and ensuring that local climate adaptation efforts are scaled up and led by local actors. Can you explain what that will mean for Bangladesh if implemented?

It is about getting resources to groups that are working at the ground level on climate change, so they can decide with communities and community leaders where they need to invest resources to be better prepared. It might be in new agricultural practices, it might be in training to prepare people for disasters, it might be in organizing the community, it might be in developing women enterprises, in floating gardens and the like. 

I think the difference is that it’s not for me as an international person or donor to decide what’s needed. It’s for the community itself to get together and say ‘here’s where we need to invest,’ and for them to have the resources and technical support to do that. 

So much of what’s been done today has been very top down. It’s been through government planning processes, which is important. But we also need to hear those community voices and ideas more than anything, as part of that. What we are trying to do is kind of shift the power dynamic so that we have communities much more empowered to be able to make choices about how they adapt. 

What are the mechanisms that allow you to listen to those voices? 

We have done a number of different consultations. We have several commissioners that are representatives of networks, federations, civil society organizations, [such as] Slum Dwellers International, which is a global federation of national slum dweller groups. It’s really through those partnerships and hearing through those federations that the priorities of communities can be best served. 

Another good example is Dr Muhammad Musa, a commissioner (of GCA) and also from BRAC International, the world’s largest NGO. We want to use those networks and others that exist to hear the voices of communities saying what they need and what they want. 

Adapt now of course implies adapting before the changes happen. What kind of changes are you anticipating in this scenario? There are known impacts and there are also predictions based on science. Talk about the framework within which you envision adaptation is needed. 

We are not saying ‘adapt now’ before changes happen. Changes are already happening. It’s about adapting before the worst changes take place. We often use the term we want to ‘manage the unavoidable,’ so, manage the climate change that is already happening and that we know will happen, that’s already locked into the system. But we want to avoid the unmanageable, that is, catastrophic climate change. 

I think one of the messages of the report (Adapt Now) is that if we take action now it doesn’t necessarily need to be catastrophic, both in terms of mitigation action, but also adaptation action. There’s a lot that we already know how to do, that we can be doing to prepare, that makes economic sense, that makes sense from an equity standpoint as well. And I think nowhere in the world is a better learning laboratory than Bangladesh on that front. We are already seeing salinity creeping in, developing new varieties of salt tolerant rice, developing new ways of farming, developing much more advanced and functional disaster preparedness systems and cyclone shelters. I think the world has a lot to learn and is learning a lot from Bangladesh. 

I think the message here is: if we take action now we can prevent a lot of suffering and a lot of economic loss. 

What is the role of migration in efficient adaptation? 

As Dr Saleemul Huq said in his remarks, people are going to migrate as a result of climate change. They are going to feel a push to leave, and a pull to safer homes, better jobs. I think migration is part of an adaptation strategy. But there are ways to migrate better, there are ways in which societies can make migration easier. 

Again, I think this is where Bangladesh has a lot of lessons to teach the world on how to do it better. 

The ‘locally-led action track,’ was launched on Tuesday. What is going to take place as a result of that? 

What’s being launched is what we are calling a ‘Year of Action,’ where we are working with a number of different organizations, many of which are here as well to work together in driving this agenda for greater investment in locally led adaptation action. 

So we have a session [during the conference] about this. We are working on getting together and developing a common work plan with a number of different organizations on how we use the next year to really drive this agenda forward, to get commitments from funders, to have dialogue between grassroots organizations and different donors and funders, to get more countries engaged, and committing to supporting locally led action through their adaptation plans and adaptation funding mechanisms,  and looking to use the networks that have been started here in Bangladesh, such as ICCCAD. [We will look into] how to use that beyond the ‘Year of Action,’ how do we create something sustainable that continues to drive this agenda forward and to track progress: are we mobilising more resources for local action or not? 

We hope by next Gobeshona to have a report saying ‘this is what’s been done on locally led action.”