Q&A with Sumaya Zakieldeen

Sumaya Zakieldeen, the Least Developed Countries representative to the Adaptation Committee under the United Nations Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Framework, on how she sees her role going forward.

Article, 21 June 2012

Sumaya ZakieldeenDr. Sumaya Zakieldeen has recently been nominated as the Least Developed Countries (LDC) representative to the Adaptation Committee under the United Nations Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Framework. This is an important position as the Adaptation Committee is responsible for supervising and guiding all future activities on supporting the least developed countries to adapting to the adverse impacts of climate change in future.

In addition to this role, Dr Zakieldeen teaches at the University of Khartoum (Institute of Environmental Studies), Sudan and has been attending the climate change negotiations for a number years, initially with support from the Capacity strengthening of LDCs on Adaptation to Climate Change (CLACC) programme, and then as a member of the delegation of the Government of Sudan with support from the European Capacity Building Initiative (ecbi) and the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED). The interview was carried out by Saleemul Huq, Senior Fellow with the Climate Change Group.

Q: Congratulations on your election to the Adaptation committee Sumaya.  How do you see your role going forward? 

Thank you. That’s a difficult question. The role of the Adaptation Committee is very challenging. Since I have been involved in the negotiations of the Adaptation Committee, it’s expected to be Moses' rod, solving all  problems, creating coherence for adaptation, making linkages between the different bodies, etc. My role is to represent the LDCs well, and I will do my best on that. At the moment the development of LDC National Adaptation Plans is expected to be supported and guided by the adaptation Committee, as well as other issues of similar importance. In order to achieve our objectives I would always consult with my colleagues to ensure their interests and concerns were covered. I feel that I also have big role towards all developing countries and towards climate adaptation in general. 

Q: You have been negotiating on behalf of Sudan, the LDCs and G-77 and China for several years now. Could you tell us how you started and how your different roles have evolved? 

I started taking part in the negotiations with a non-governmental organisation called Capacity strengthening for LDCS for Adaptation to Climate Change (CLACC) only during the  Conference of Parties to the UNFCC, as that is the time of the annual strategy meeting.  At that time I was more involved with NGO activities than the negotiations ‘per se’. The LDC members part of CLACC did a lot of activities at different levels (national, regional and international). I believe that CLACC as an experience is very unique. It has a great legacy, and it hasn’t yet been fully analysed and shared.

The continuous support from CLACC allowed me to join the Sudanese delegation as a full-time negotiator. During that period I also participated in diverse activities at different levels supported by IIED. When Sudan became the Chair of the Group of 77 and China, I received (with my colleague Dr. Abdalla Gaffer from Sudan) generous support from ecbi to attend all the negotiation sessions. At that stage we played roles in the negotiations, as well as coordinating negotiations for the G77 and China.

The LDC Group is now supported by ecbi and IIED, which supports the existence of the core team of LDC negotiators who, in turn, support the LDC Chair, as well as other LDC negotiators. At the moment I follow the negotiations as a member of the core team giving support for coordinators on issues such as climate adaptation and reimbursement for loss and damage associated with climate change. Since last year the LDCs have shown great interest in the issue of loss and damage and, accordingly, we became seriously involved.

Q: You have a lot of experience over the past 7 years and do work nationally as well with teaching, researching and meeting different stakeholders. Is there synergy between your national and international work?

Yes. There are a lot of linkages in what I'm doing. Through my work at the university I have the responsibility of directing the students' research. Climate change is the theme that receives the most interest, however most of the students don’t know what to do and how to address it in their research. Accordingly, I do my best to link my students with the international discussion and advice regarding the hot issues and areas where there is need to bridge gaps in information.

Under the umbrella of the CLACC, we work with the Sudanese NGOs working on climate change. There is a climate change forum already in place that links all the Sudanese NGOs [working in this field]. Through the Forum we…keep the NGOs updated about the international negotiations on climate change. The Sudanese delegation brief the forum after each session and accommodate their views in Sudan's positions regarding the issues under discussions.

At the national level I'm also involved with the climate change programme at the Higher Council for Environment and Natural Resources. At this level I represent Khartoum University and contribute to the preparation of some of the Sudanese documents for the UNCFCC (for example, the country’s National Adaptation Programmes of Action document). At the regional level we’re also involved with issues with LDCs and climate change in general. At every level we draw linkages by sharing experiences and information; this is how they are connected.

Q: The negotiations in Bonn [which concluded on Friday 25 May 2012] will hopefully result in a text for National Adaptation Plans, endorsed in Doha going forward. How do you see the National Adaptation Plannning process evolving at the ground level for the least-developed countries (LDCs)? 

Everybody is waiting for Doha with great hopes; however, it is not going to be easy. As LDCs we’ve struggled with developing the National Adaptation programmes of action (NAPAs) for some time. Even with urgent and immediate needs, the LDCs faced a lot of difficulties when they were developing their NAPAs [The National Adaptation programmes of action (NAPAs) were a list of adaptation projects developed just by the least-developed countries.] Now the challenge is to address medium and long-term adaptation needs.

We are doing our best to reflect on the experience of developing the NAPAs and what we want to come out of the NAPs. [The NAPs form the next stage of the climate change adaptation planning process. The NAPs will apply to more countries than just the LDCs, and have medium to long-term goals.]

The challenges facing LDCs include finance for funding climate adaptation work, the transfer of technical skills and technology and capacity building/strengthening. We hope that the upcoming UN Climate change conference in Qatar (COP18) will give priority to financing support for developing the LDCs’ NAPs, considering our financial situation and the need for our plans to be implemented quickly.