Ministers, NGOs, academia and grassroots discuss resilience beyond COVID-19

News, 7 July 2020
COP26 President-designate Alok Sharma last week said the world does "not have the luxury of time" to take urgent action to address the climate crisis.

Watch a full recording of the 'Resilience in light of COVID-19' webinar or see it on IIED's YouTube channel, where time stamps to every individual speaker are also available  

Sharma, the UK Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, made the comments during a keynote speech in a discussion titled ‘Resilience in light of COVID-19: climate action on the road to COP26’, hosted by IIED and E3G during London Climate Action Week.

The discussion on 3 July, 2020 also featured an address by Jeanne d'Arc Mujawamariya, Minister of Environment, Republic of Rwanda, and served as a framing event for resilience at London Climate Action Week. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the vital importance of resilience, and this event aimed to highlight how this was relevant across numerous sectors.

In his opening remarks, Jagan Chapagain, Secretary General of International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), suggested that the climate crisis will not wait for the pandemic. 

This was echoed by the event participants, who gave examples of the ambitious commitments and action on climate adaptation and resilience that they're working on at all levels, from grassroots to health to public policy and more.

In the keynote speech, Sharma noted that those who had contributed the least to climate change also have the fewest resources to adapt to it. He discussed the unprecedented heatwaves in Siberia, flash flooding in East Africa that has displaced hundreds of thousands of people and 150,000 acres destroyed in Arizona wildfires, emphasising that tackling climate change is an existential risk, and adaptation and resilience is a core area of action. 

He said that we must help people, economies and the environment to adapt and prepare for the impacts of climate change. He said: "Time is a luxury we don’t have, so early interventions can create an inflection point in climate action, as better early warning systems can give communities more time to prepare for extreme conditions."

Sharma also urged financial institutions to join the Coalition for Climate Resilience Investment in order to join forces and address the climate crisis in our economic response. He said: "Finance and economies play a crucial role in climate action. We need to improve our efforts to mobilise private sector finance, in addition to public finance, and ensure that climate risk is included in investment decision-making processes."

Mujawamariya said that resilience must lie at the heart of our response to the climate crisis, and act as our ‘North Star’ – guiding our climate action. She said that the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us that none of us are resilient until all of us are resilient.

The first panel discussion was moderated by Nick Mabey of E3G and asked, in light of COVID-19, what a broad and prioritised resilience agenda would look like, united across the interrelated agendas of climate, health, development, food, peace and security? The answers were diverse but boiled down to a simple message: we have to act early, act fast, and work together.

Professor Sir Andy Haines, former director of London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, emphasised the need to strengthen universal healthcare, which is a basic building block for resilience and effective early warning. 

The chair of the UK's Environment Agency, Emma Howard-Boyd, echoed these sentiments by suggesting that we need a race for resilience as we plan forward out of COVID-19. 

Saleemul Huq, director of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD), said that Bangladesh was an example of climate mainstreaming, with 7.5% of the national budget dedicated to climate action. But, he added, nations could not do adaptation ‘top down’. 

Sheela Patel, director of the Society for the Promotion of Area Resource Centers (SPARC) and a commissioner for the Global Commission on Adaptation, stressed the need for municipalities to work and collaborate with vulnerable groups. She said: "We want to work with social movements to give voice and agency to communities – those of us who have previously been 'consumers' of development." 

Dan Smith, director of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), summed up the first panel discussion, saying that the evidence is getting stronger that climate change is bringing with it a severe security risk. He said that continuing with business as usual "generates an unmanageable security agenda", and that cooperation at national and international levels is a core element of resilience.

The second panel discussion was moderated by IIED director Andrew Norton, and discussed what ambitious leadership on adaptation and resilience looks like in terms of necessary action this decade, and what can be done to lay the groundwork in the run-up to COP26. It also asked what the lessons were that can be learned from the diverse conversations on adaptation and resilience being held at this year’s London Climate Action Week.

Dr. Amal-Lee Amin, director of climate change at CDC Group, discussed CDC's three pillars in its investments: net zero by 2050; supporting a socially just transition; and adaptation and resilience.

Prema Gopalan, founder and executive director of Swayam Shikshan Prayog (SSP), a grassroots women's organisation, told the panel that is essential to get women at the centre of the COVID-19 response and recovery. She said: “They need to be supported to have a place at the recovery table, or we might build back worse.”

Carlos Sanchez, director of climate resilience investment at Willis Towers Watson, suggested that COVID-19 and climate change have given an opportunity to align private and public actors – only then can we build solutions to manage that risk, laying the groundwork for real commitments.

Tenzin Wangmo, the lead negotiator for the Least Developed Countries (LDC) Group at the UN climate negotiations, explained that COVID-19 has put a further strain on countries who are already facing unprecedented challenges of developing sustainably in the face of climate change. 

She stressed that the LDCs want to achieve climate-resilient pathways by 2030, and go net zero by 2050, but they need scaled up climate finance in order to adapt and build resilience.

The final panellist in the packed discussion was Professor Mizan Khan, programme director of the LDC University Consortium on Climate Change, who stressed that capacity building is key in research for skills and knowledge. He suggested that capacity building is a process, and that universities play a huge role. Both he and Huq underlined that learning from a South-South perspective is important, but that finance is essential.

IIED's Norton summed up the discussion, saying: “We need to recognise how precarious the lives and livelihoods are for people in vulnerable communities, but that they have been both surviving and protecting themselves from the virus. 

“The range of work that grassroots organisations have been doing has been essential, and we can learn from them – but there is no time to waste.”

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