Categorized | Climate Change

Durban Recap: Adapting to What We Won’t Avoid

The United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties concluded last week in Durban, confirming what most of us already knew: that the only greenhouse gas mitigation measure that the nearly 200 nations involved could all agree to was punting the real action down the road a few more years. The final product of the conference, agreed to 36 hours after the negotiations were scheduled to conclude, is called the “Durban Platform for Action” and sets nations on a path to negotiate a successor to the Kyoto Protocol by 2015, which would take effect by 2020.

Others have written at length about the details of the Durban Platform, as well as why it puts to death the oft-cited goal of limiting warming to 2oC, and commits the world to a future of 4oC warming or more. This hard fact makes even more important one of the less-discussed outcomes of Durban – its steps toward helping human and natural communities adapt to, or cope with, the warming to which we have committed ourselves by the fact that we keep kicking the mitigation can further down the road.

That outcome was the Durban Adaptation Charter for Local Governments, signed by the mayors of over 100 cities from around the world. This charter recognizes that while treaty negotiations happen at the level of national governments, many of the real impacts of climate change, and the means to address them, take place on a much more local scale. Local mayor Cllr. James Nxumalo led the signing, saying, “This charter will take local government forward in a partnership to deal with the many ecological, social and economic impacts that face cities around the world as a result of climate change.” The charter calls on local and regional governments to commit to ten steps:

  1. Mainstreaming adaptation as a key informant of all local government development planning
  2. Determining climate risks through conducting impact and vulnerability assessments
  3. Preparing and implementing integrated, inclusive and long-term local adaptation strategies designed to reduce vulnerability
  4. Ensuring that adaptation strategies are aligned with mitigation strategies
  5. Promoting adaptation that recognizes the needs of vulnerable communities and ensures sustainable local economic development
  6. Prioritizing the role of functioning ecosystems as core municipal green infrastructure
  7. Seeking the creation of direct access to funding opportunities
  8. Developing a robust, transparent, measurable, reportable, and verifiable (MRV) register
  9. Promoting multi-level and integrated governance and advocating for partnerships with sub-national and national governments on local climate actions
  10. Promoting partnerships at all levels and city-city cooperation and knowledge exchange

While cities and municipalities are rightly concerned with the many public health, safety and infrastructure aspects of climate change adaptation, this charter could also play a real role in moving natural resources adaptation forward. The Charter’s supporting text for the statement on vulnerability assessments (#2) explicitly includes both human and natural systems. Similarly, statement #4 directs governments to ensure that their adaptation activities in one sphere do not increase vulnerabilities elsewhere, and #6 prioritizes ecosystem-based adaptation as a means of reducing vulnerabilities in other sectors.

Will all this help? It’s hard to know for sure, but if the 1200 cities, towns and counties worldwide (nearly 600 in the U.S.) that are members of Local Governments for Sustainability sign this charter and take aggressive action based on it, we might go a long way toward adapting to the climate change we keep refusing to avoid.

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- who has written 22 posts on dotWild.

Aimee Delach is a Senior Policy Analyst at Defenders of Wildlife. Aimee develops policies to help land managers and decision-makers incorporate climate change threats into efforts to protect wildlife and habitats.

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dotWild is the blog of scientists and policy experts at Defenders of Wildlife, a national, nonprofit membership organization dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities.