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Bangladesh’s economic miracle must be a blueprint for development in climate-vulnerable nations. The nation’s unlikely climate resilience proves the power of community and leaders at COP28 must take note. 

Nations least responsible for climate are also the most vulnerable to its fallout. This inconvenient truth was laid bare at COP27, where the conversation pivoted from climate targets to the issue of climate finance, loss, and adaptation. 

Buffering citizens and economies from climate change is an expensive business. Yet, as proven by Bangladesh, climate resilience can be built on a shoestring budget, if supplemented by innovation and community engagement. 

As international leaders meet in Dubai this November, they will discuss how to facilitate a just, green transition. In Bangladesh, they have a blueprint for how against all the odds, climate-vulnerable nations can leapfrog traditional developmental stages, and become flourishing global economies.

Bangladesh has been described as ‘ground zero’ when it comes to climate vulnerability. The country ranks seven out of 181 countries for climate vulnerability on the Climate Risk Index, making it one of the countries most affected by extreme weather events. 

This should have created an especially bleak outlook for Bangladesh. At the end of its bloody civil war in 1971, Kissinger described the nation as a ‘basket case’. Yet the country’s story is not one of victims, but one of heroes. 

Bangladesh’s economic miracle, owing to a combination of civil sector innovation, community cohesion and forward-thinking public policy. 

The explosion of the nation’s garment producing sector has brought millions out of poverty. Today, Bangladesh’s economy remains robust; it was one of the few countries to maintain a high growth rate even through COVID, recording 6.94% growth in 2021.  

This will prove to be instructive at COP28, is that Bangladesh’s economic development has gone hand in hand with climate resiliency; for example, over the past 50 years, it has reduced cyclone-related deaths 100-fold

Ultimately, we have to understand that building climate resiliency and growing an economy are symbiotic. Natural disasters are expensive affairs; Bangladesh’s 2007 cyclone Sidr cost the country a predicted $1.67 billion

Bangladesh’s natural early warning system has become a trailblazer in terms of what an effective early warning system looks like, especially for nations with relatively few resources. 

The Bangladesh Meteorological Department (BMD) monitors weather conditions constantly. In 1970, the country had only 2 coastal radars. Today, the country now has an early-warning system that is capable of evacuating millions of people in 24 hours

This capability relies on being able to inform citizens of impending natural disasters quickly. The BMD disseminates warnings of cyclones through PUSH messages, loud speakers as well as radio and TV broadcasts. These messages are tailored to be location specific, and are translated into the 44 native languages spoken in Bangladesh.

The same is true of detecting floods. By partnering with Google, Bangladesh’s digital innovation & transformation agency ‘Aspire to Innovate’ (a2i) have developed a flood forecasting system designed to provide an early warning that is accessible to marginalised people in remote areas. As a result of this initiative, during the monsoon season between August 13 and 31, 2021, over 2.9 million notifications were sent to 1.5 million unique users, which invariably saved countless lives. 

This is just a flavour of the agile thinking and frugal innovation that has been key to Bangladesh’s unique climate resilience. Just as TV and radio networks double up as disaster warnings, Bangladesh’s strategic public policy requires primary schools to be built on stilts, and made of cyclone resistant concrete, meaning they can double up as cyclone and hurricane shelters. Whereas in 1970 the country had only 100 shelters, today the nation has over 5,000, which can house nearly 5 million people. 

Studies repeatedly find that community-led approaches to disaster response are often the most effective at saving lives. Today, it isn’t uncommon to see local volunteers erecting flags with a colour-coded system referring to a storm’s severity, and conducting practice evacuation drills. In fact, Bangladesh’s Cyclone Preparedness Programme (CPP) has over 76,000 volunteers, half of whom are women.

The Asian nation proves that education, effective data dissemination and community engagement are all essential for disaster preparedness, and that these measures are possible on a small budget.  

Yet, a common thread that runs through Bangladesh’s unique climate resilience is the power of community. 

Of course, disaster preparedness is only one sliver of the climate resilience question. The use of community-led solar power irrigation systems, along with small-scale water harvesting structures and climate-resilient houses built in the community all play their role in protecting Bangladesh’s 169 million people. 

Similarly, agriculture makes up over 11% of the nation’s GDP. When crops are destroyed, livelihoods are destroyed with it. The introduction of climate friendly crop varieties, improved irrigation systems, promotion of sustainable farming practices and facilitation of access to microfinance and crop insurance have all buffered the nation’s agriculture sectors, and livelihoods that depend on it, against the impact of climate change. 

As Bangladesh implements its Vision 2041, of which digital transformation is essential, a2i is exploring Smart Agriculture with focus in both IoT and drone technology, which will arm farmers with the data they need to protect and maximise their yields in the era of increasingly erratic seasons. 

Of course, investment is crucial to be able to implement these measures. However, what is more important than money and technology, is the people. Bangladesh proves that social cohesion and community action is the invisible glue that holds a climate vulnerable nation together. 

As leaders coalesce in Dubai in November for COP28, they would be wise to learn from Bangladesh. As nations agree to commit funds to the Adaptation Fund, they must understand that local communities provide the most robust line of defence against climate fallout. Excessive bureaucracy and regulation around exactly Adaptation Funds are spent will only hamper climate resilience efforts. 

If leaders should take one Mantra from the Bangladesh’s economic miracle it would be this; Think global; act local. 

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Over the last decade, there has been growing awareness about climate change as communities around the world come to terms with the devastating effects of this phenomenon. Regrettably, this ubiquitous awareness hasn’t evoked long-term sustainable actions from most indigenous communities, especially in the Global South, where people often struggle to understand the basic tenets of climate change in relation to local realities. This pervasive ignorance about the causes and effects of climate change has resulted in an erroneous characterisation of what climate change is and isn’t, largely because contemporary climate change advocacy often fails in contextual climate storytelling.

While conventional climate change storytelling models could be influential in their own way, they are subject to varying interpretations, dependent on individual circumstances, which often differ from place to place and person to person. Hence, most indigenous communities lose the opportunity to deploy pre-existing local knowledge to create corresponding local climate change actions. This is because contemporary climate change discourses are often unilaterally framed within Western contexts with unintelligible niche semantics and outright climate change scaremongering; these discourses rarely acknowledge the place of native belief systems in climate change storytelling, where customs and age-old traditions are the key artefacts around which everyday life revolves.

You might also like: The Importance of Listening to Those Most Impacted by Climate Change

For these societies in the Global South, indigenous native belief systems reinforce the dynamic interplay between human psychology and local culture and their mutual influence on each other. For instance, traditional African societies are beholden to the native humanist socio-cultural ideology of Ubuntu, an African collectivist ideology that advocates communal well-being over individual wants. Ubuntu prescribes that every individual be responsive to the needs of their communities and that the community is in turn obligated to look after his or her needs. Therefore, every issue is primarily viewed through the altruistic prism of communal well-being before anything else. Contextually, climate change actions, when viewed through the ideological lens of Ubuntu, offer a narrative of meeting society’s collective needs while protecting a shared patrimony: Earth.

In this context, an effective climate change storytelling approach would be one that is creatively woven around the moral tapestry of appropriate doctrines within local cultures, taking advantage of the power of inherent social influences within each native culture to inspire communal agency and spur impactful climate change action from all members of the society rather than a few outliers. 

Indigenous climate storytelling also acknowledges local customs and beliefs and lucidly establishes how communities could be advancing their collective advancement by protecting the environment as a common patrimony, demonstrating the adjacency of climate risks to members of the society rather than an abstract event that happens elsewhere.

For instance, the native concept of Umuganda in Rwanda aptly captures the place of indigenous ideology in climate change advocacy and actions. Umuganda is a traditional practice whose raison d’être is to ensure communal well-being. Here, members of each community organise themselves into sub-groups of about 50 households (Umugundu) to carry out interventions within their immediate community. Today, the Rwandan government has institutionalised Umuganda, and its citizens come together on the last Saturday of each month to undertake interventions that include environmental sanitation, the laying of sandbags against erosion, tree planting, rehabilitation of stormwater channels, or any other task the community deems necessary. The economic and socio-ecological impact of Umuganda is significant; it reinforces social harmony and fosters behavioural change that benefits the environment. It has also become an opportunity for climate change information dissemination in each community. Umuganda evokes active participation from everyone across different social strata of local communities, including the Rwandan President and his cabinet members.

Indigenous cultural ideologies like Ubuntu and its equivalence are so entrenched in nearly every indigenous community in the Global South that they are often seen as the principal symbol of authority and power in these communities, one so potent that all members of each community are by default bound by its ‘invisible’ bands of communalism. They stir emotions that birth corresponding actions and behaviour within their respective societies. 

Although the goal of climate change storytelling might be the same across different cultures, these stories told through the lens of indigenous cultural artefacts like Ubuntu have the potential to enthrone and sustain a culture of collective agency and inspire long-term action – one that’s easily transferrable across generations. This is exceedingly probable when these stories are told in a peculiar language that speaks to the behavioural and cognitive peculiarities of each local culture, customs, and beliefs; this has the potential to pass the message across faster, and the beliefs and behaviours within each society offer members the levers with which to navigate and achieve pre-set collective environmental goals. 

While the concept of climate-positive dissonance might inspire a few people, the idea of individualism is considered self-serving in most indigenous communities, which advocate mutually supportive behaviour that prioritises group agency over individual enterprise. Consequently, socio-ecological realities like climate change are best appreciated when linked to core pre-existing indigenous belief systems, that guarantee cognitive consistency; while avoiding the tension, conflicts, and psychological imbalance that come with the sort of dissonance, climate activists often preach.

 You might also like: The Role of Indigenous Knowledge in Climate Change Adaptation In Bangladesh and the Philippines

Microalgae are becoming increasingly important due to their potential for human health and environmental sustainability. These unicellular organisms are rich in nutrients and active compounds that can display a wide range of biological activities. Up-and-coming research is unveiling the multiple potentials of algae in areas such as biomedicine, bioremediation, or treatment of contaminated waters. This is the case of the EU- funded project Algae4IBD, which is investigating how microalgae could help prevent diseases such as Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD).

Many people, including bio-technologists, industry, and policymakers, are becoming increasingly interested in microalgae. The more we learn about them the more they seem to prove to have extraordinary potential. These unicellular autotrophic organisms can provide an enormous variety of applications and services, ranging from feeding people and animals to being used as biomaterials such as bioplastics, bio-fertilisers, biofuels, or bioactive compounds for cosmetics and medicine. They can even be used in bioremediation to treat contaminated waters. Their applications are so wide that I have been working with microalgae for 14 years and I am still discovering new prospects to use these remarkable microorganisms.

Microalgae can be found all over the planet and even in different extreme environmental conditions, such as high temperatures or salt concentrations, low acidity (pH), or in the presence of high contaminant concentrations. To cope with these extreme conditions, microalgae produce metabolites that can display a wide range of biological activities. These metabolites can have antioxidant, antibacterial or anti-inflammatory effects, and even the ability to kill tumor cells. 

Given this, the application of microalgae in the pharmaceutical industry is obvious. They have recently been the focus of researchers looking for new bioactive compounds or inspiration for the design of new pharmaceutical drugs. Algae are also very interesting nutrient sources in themselves. They could also be considered functional foods that can help us prevent diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). 

IBD is characterised by chronic reoccurring inflammation of the digestive system and can include symptoms such as diarrhoea, rectal bleeding, and strong abdominal pain. Some of the biological properties of microalgae, particularly those with antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, prebiotic, and pain-modulating activities, could help fight IBD’s symptoms improving patients’ health and quality of life. 

This is in fact what I am researching at CCMAR, as part of the EU-funded project Algae4IBD. Through our research, we have been able to prove that some algae strains contain these anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Now, we are in the process of identifying the compounds responsible for this and isolating them in order to characterise their chemical composition. But this can take between a year and a year and a half, sometimes even longer.

From my experience, a large part of the interest in microalgae arises also from the fact that the production of these organisms can be environmentally sustainable, helping to decrease greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and enhance carbon capture. Microalgae live in both fresh and seawater and need a steady supply of light, CO2, nitrogen, and phosphorus nutrients to grow. Coincidentally, wastewater, especially that from agriculture, is rich in such nutrients, which means that it can be used to grow microalgae. This is a cheap and sustainable technique that benefits algae production and contributes to the wastewater treatment process.

Incorporating microalgae production into our current value chain has the potential to propel our society forward, improving human health but also our lives at many other levels. 

Using Algae4IBD as an example, at CCMAR we analyse algae for antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds. These algae are locally grown by NECTON, S.A, a microalgae producer in Algarve, Portugal’s southernmost region. For them, this initiative could mean a new business opportunity and a reason to enlarge their portfolio of microalgal species and applications. In places where sunlight is abundant, like in the Algarve region, encouraging new microalgae production ventures could help create new businesses and jobs.

However, despite the advantages and potential of many microalgae, only around 87 production ventures exist in Europe. Another 213 European companies cultivate solely spirulina, a highly-nutritious type of blue-green algae that grows in both salt and freshwater. This is due to business constraints that hamper the industry’s development. Production costs are high, even for highly productive species, and drying the produced biomass is exceedingly expensive, raising the final product cost. 

Tubular photo-bioreactor at Necton’s facilities. With new photo-bioreactors andadvanced monitoring of cultures, microalgae can be cultivated under controlled
conditions. Credit: Necton

Tubular photo-bioreactor at Necton’s facilities. With new photo-bioreactors and advanced monitoring of cultures, microalgae can be cultivated under controlled conditions. Photo: Necton

Microalgae cultivation also requires specific light conditions. To provide enough light for the algae to grow, production systems need to be shallow (like open lagoon systems or raceways) or made from thin tubes of glass or polycarbonate.  This means that microalgae production takes up a lot of space, which makes it hard to install production facilities in crowded places, like big cities. To top this off, governments still choose to support conventional agriculture over microalgae production, although the sustainability of microalgae production can be higher than that of vegetables and other crops. 

Another constraint are EU regulations. From the tens of thousands of algae species known, only around 20 are produced and commercialised at an industrial scale, and 6 species of microalgae are allowed for human consumption. And getting new species approved is highly time-consuming and overly expensive. This is problematic because although microalgae have many beneficial properties, species can be quite specific. Some microalgae like Spirulina can contain a protein content of up to 70% of their dry weight. Other are rich in omega-3 fatty acids like EPA and DHA, which can only be found in marine oily fish, which in turn obtain them from phytoplankton (the microalgae). 

Despite all of this, algae research is advancing fast, and the potential applications of algae are growing. Soon microalgae could be essential sources of proteins, pigments, vitamins, or fatty acids. However, in order to push forward our findings, we have to expand our horizons, dive into the research of new species, and work hard to protect the biodiversity of our oceans.

You might also like: Seagrass Meadows Are Declining Globally at Alarming Rate

The climate crisis is underscoring pre-existing global inequities. Often, the most disadvantaged are left with little voice, being spoken for rather than listened to or championed. While privileged individuals in wealthy areas can be much-needed allies, it is essential to centre the opinions and wishes of those most impacted by climate change and its effects.

The history of humanity is a history of injustice. Racist colonisation and imperialism. Extreme capitalism. Ecological destruction. Across the planet, the consequences are still felt to this minute. People – particularly, those most impacted – deserve to be furious about, and to criticise, the horrific past injustices that have arisen from and contributed to the inequitable systems with which we still live. And it is important to learn from the past to move forward in the most just and fair manner possible.

But, as much as we wish we could, nobody can change the past. We can only work with the world as it is, not as we wish it were. 

Even for the most informed and educated among us (which in itself is a type of privilege), it is not exactly simple or straightforward to conceptualise, execute, and maintain 100% equitable solutions that benefit each and every person – and creature – on Earth equally.

The world has witnessed disastrous attempts at this. Looking back at history, one could argue that the entire 20th century was a terrifying “social experiment” demonstrating why communism and other currents of thought prevailing during that time, while being idealistic theories, simply do not work as intended in practice. 

In any case, often, it is educated people in rich countries and regions with the highest HDI (“human development index”) scores who speak on behalf of those most hegemonised by humanity’s history of injustices. Including when speaking about the current climate crisis. Somewhat ironically, these well-meaning people are typically the ones who have benefited the most from history and the status quo.

Undoubtedly, those holding privileged positions of power and wealth can be much-needed allies. But, as previously mentioned, good intentions can slide into speaking for the world’s most disenfranchised and marginalised, rather than listening to and championing them.

Or, as exemplified by a Karl Marx quote, included at the beginning of Edward Said’s Orientalism: “They cannot represent themselves; they must be represented.” Relatedly, communism was a theory popularised by the intellectual bourgeoisie, not the proletariat whose interests they felt the need to represent.

The point of this piece is not to (dis)favour any political or economic system. Extreme capitalism, as currently and historically experienced around the world, has only intensified pre-existing inequalities.

As many know, the climate crisis is also a social crisis, underscoring and exacerbating obvious inequities. Not just in who is most impacted by environmental disasters but in whose voice carries the most weight. 

While environmental, grassroots non-profits are serving the world’s most disadvantaged (often in the “Global South” or Indigenous communities), and doing fantastic work, the founders and board members of these organisations (especially the larger ones) usually come from positions of relative privilege and power.

Empowering people is not simply powerful people helping the less fortunate. Everyone has power. But humanity’s – aforementioned, well-documented, and rightfully well-criticised – history of injustices has resulted in a world order and societal structures where only certain forms of power are valued and listened to.

We know that even the most progressive human communities will never be perfect. There are as many nuanced views on how best to improve a community as there are people living in it.

Factors Contributing to Climate Crisis Marginalisation

Like the mental health realm is shifting towards centring lived experience, we should amplify the voices and experiential realities of those bearing the worst brunt of the climate crisis. Those who typically face multiple and/or intensified forms of adversity, discrimination, and exploitation due to their intersecting roles, attributes, and identities, e.g., based on a combination of the following factors:

A 2021 Earth.Org article titled “How Marginalised Groups Are Disproportionately Affected by Climate Change” outlines how economic, global, racial, and generational disparities influence which populations within which areas are particularly at risk of experiencing climate change’s most severe effects.

Many vulnerable nations and populations are found in the Global South. And, generally speaking, most “developing countries” are disproportionately impacted by the climate crisis. Africa in particular is unfairly hit, especially when we consider that it contributes the least to greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, Africa and South America each emit just 3-4% of the global share. Even the entirety of enormous Asia, home to China, India, and many other highly populated nations – both developed and developing – and 60% of the world’s population, contributes only 53%.

Per capita carbon dioxide (CO₂) emissions from fossil fuels and industry. Land use change is not included. Image by Our World in Data.

Per capita carbon dioxide (CO₂) emissions from fossil fuels and industry. Land use change is not included. Image by Our World in Data.

Disadvantaged populations within poorer areas, such as those found in Africa, South Asia, Southeast Asia, the Pacific, and South America, along with producing fewer greenhouse gases per capita, are also far less equipped to deal with the ramifications of environmental issues and disasters. 

The World Economic Forum writes that the 74 lowest-income countries emit just one-tenth of emissions, “but they will be most affected by the effects of climate change.”

Another marginalising factor is gender. UN Women has called the intersection of two worldwide issues, gender inequality and the climate crisis, “one of the greatest challenges of our times.”

Due to structural inequalities, women and girls around the world have fewer human and legal rights, and less access to virtually all resources. These include land, natural resources, education, information, funding, public participation and decision-making processes, healthcare, and relief assistance.

You might also like: How the Climate Justice Movement Could Solve Global Gender Inequalities

80% of those displaced by the climate crisis are female. Globally, women are more likely than males to experience poverty. They are also likelier to face domestic violence – exacerbated by stress-inducing situations, such as those brought about by climate change. And, compared to men, women rely more on at-risk natural resources for their livelihoods (while at the same time being less likely to own these resources). 

On top of these realities, women are typically the ones occupying caregiving roles within their households, looking after children and the elderly – two other vulnerable populations. 

And as brought up in this piece, ecological hardships are multiplied for women who are poor, disabled, Indigenous, and otherwise marginalised and disadvantaged.

Final Thoughts

To move forward with the most equitable climate solutions, it is important to learn from historical and ongoing injustices. And diverse voices are essential for healthy democracies. But respecting the request for “nothing about us without us,” in terms of decision-making, requires us to listen to the opinions and ambitions of those with lived experience, including that of climate change’s worst impacts. Doing so can help us rectify the social inequities and injustices that the world’s environmental crisis has so far highlighted.

You might also like: What is Climate Justice and Why Is It Important?

Thermal expansion and the melting of land-based ice have caused the ocean to swell and sea levels to rise continually, leading to more deadly and destructive storm surges, frequent and expansive flooding, and shoreline and habitat erosion. These repercussions threaten coastal populations, infrastructure, and economies. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), with continued ocean and atmospheric warming, sea level rise (SLR) is expected to accelerate. However, there are ways for coastal cities to mitigate the impacts of sea level rise. By understanding the threat, its ramifications, and the assets most at risk, officials can develop strategies to combat this literal rising tide and protect lives and livelihoods throughout their communities.

By Crystal Muller and Kaitlin Mahoney

Steps to Assessing Risk 

Coastal cities can embrace a proactive approach by developing climate adaptation plans (CAP) to outline how future conditions could affect their infrastructure, buildings, and assets. A CAP’s purpose is to explore and showcase the potential risks and hazards of rising seas, the direct and indirect contribution to flooding events, and the strategies that might help mitigate their impact. 

“Municipalities and many city departments, including stormwater, public works, floodplain, administration, and safety, can do their due diligence to see how much sea level rise may impact their community, residents, businesses, and infrastructure,” said Hal Clarkson, Program Director at Woolpert, an architecture, engineering, and geospatial firm. 

Coastal cities are home to more than 25 million people in the US and are critical to the nation’s economy and way of life. Mineral extraction, offshore energy drilling, tourism, marine transportation of goods, seafood cultivation, and other coastal activities generate more than half of the nation’s gross domestic product. Coastal cities are also home to key naval and military bases. 

With a CAP, officials in coastal areas can take preventative steps to mitigate the impact of rising sea levels, which will reportedly increase an additional 10-12 inches along coastlines by 2050

According to Gina M. Raimondo, the US Secretary of Commerce, knowing what to expect and how to plan for the future will help businesses and communities “understand risks and make smart investments in the years ahead.”

You might also like: Sea Level Rise Could Trigger ‘Mass Exodus on a Biblical Scale’, UN Chief Warns

Essential Methods and Tools to Track SLR

Developing a CAP requires city officials to conduct a study to identify assets and infrastructure at risk from sea level rise. Performing this study necessitates the use of several tools including lidar, a remote sensing method that uses light in the form of a pulsed laser to measure variable distances to the earth.

For the study, lidar elevation data can help officials evaluate a coastal city’s topography to identify low-lying areas, determine locations of concern based on existing water surface elevations, and project future elevations due to sea level rise.

GIS data is another tool officials can use to map the location of city- and state-owned facilities and how flooding, specific to sea level rise, could impact buildings and roadways and the ability to respond when disaster strikes. 

“With GIS, municipalities can map out where the county- and state-owned emergency response facilities are located,” said Clarkson. 

“This includes fire stations, hospitals, and police stations. Officials can then use elevation data to see where elevations are low and where these critical facilities are placed.”

This evaluation not only considers direct impacts on these facilities but also the potential impacts on access routes that may inhibit the ability of emergency responders to reach people. A city’s GIS data also helps identify the location and owners of critical assets like stormwater infrastructure, roads, and bridges as well as critical public and private facilities like schools, healthcare facilities, and public service buildings. According to Clarkson, this insight can help cities know which assets they can protect directly.

“A city’s data can determine the location of stormwater infrastructure and reveal what are state roads, city roads, and private roads,” explained Clarkson. 

“After analyses, officials can get a better handle on what may be impacted and whether they can take proactive steps to protect at-risk infrastructure or only have the authority to notify the affected parties through education.”

One additional tool is historical data. The study should incorporate city reports, news articles, and anecdotal feedback from residents that document the neighbourhoods that typically experience flooding, as well as past flooding events and regional ramifications. Information and data collected by agencies such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and United States Geological Survey (USGS) are valuable resources that can help coastal cities better understand potential future impacts on their communities.

Projected Flooding Damages Outlined 

After gathering and analysing these data, officials can understand what assets are at risk and the projected damages to be expected. Three common categories of at-risk assets include the following:

  1. Direct damage to the city: This category focuses on flood-related damages to property a city owns and maintains. It outlines the likelihood of city-owned and maintained facilities, stormwater infrastructure, roadways, intersections, and crossings experiencing intense flooding events as severe storms increase in frequency and tailwater elevations rise.
  2. Secondary damages to the city:The facilities in this category are not owned by a city but are essential to its health, safety, and economy. This category details how flooding may threaten schools, county facilities, state facilities, and privately owned facilities.
  3. Damages to private residences: The private residences in this category are more susceptible to the impacts of sea level rise. While a city doesn’t handle the costs of flood-related damages to private residences, it is responsible for repairing and upgrading infrastructure to protect community members. 

Strategies to Apply Data, Protect City

Once officials have a better idea of how to protect their coastal communities from the rising sea level and its destructive consequences, they can create a game plan. 

Some potential strategies outlined in a CAP include:

While mitigating the impacts of sea level rise will take many steps, cities can develop CAPs to have the information they need to align resources and create preventative plans.

“CAPs will help coastal cities educate their councils and show areas they need to concentrate on,” Clarkson said. “Ultimately, this is about planning. It lets a city narrow its focus on certain areas that may need more attention and that it has the authority to help.”

About the authors:

Woolpert Project Manager and Engineer Crystal Muller works out of Woolpert’s Charleston, S.C., office. Woolpert Engineer Kaitlin Mahoney works out of Woolpert’s Columbia, S.C., office.

“The lack of a visible and salient problem when it comes to water is where the city’s problem lies,” write Dr Lina Vyas and Dr Stuti Rawat on World Water Day 2023.

By Dr Lina Vyas and Dr Stuti Rawat

On Wednesday, World Water Day, the United Nations 2023 Water Conference will take place in New York City, 46 years after the first UN Water Conference was held. During this time, Hong Kong has made significant progress in its water sector.

Shing Mun Reservoir, in Hong Kong’s New Territories.

Shing Mun Reservoir, in Hong Kong’s New Territories. File photo: GovHK.

In 1977, Hong Kong residents had less than 91 days of full water supply and until the early 1980s they faced water shortages and water rationing. Today, water in Hong Kong is safe, available around the clock, easily accessible and priced cheaper than comparable cities in the world.

In contrast to the fact that globally 2 billion people are still not able to access safely managed drinking water services, using the phrase “water woes” in conjunction with Hong Kong seems quite a misnomer. However, the lack of a visible and salient problem when it comes to water is where the city’s problem lies.

Although Hong Kong is water insecure in the sense that’s naturally available resources are not adequate for the city’s needs, this is not immediately evident to the city’s residents as Hong Kong has not experienced water scarcity in the last four decades; largely due to the water supply agreements which allow Hong Kong to import close to 60% of its water from the Dongjiang in Guangdong province.

The rest comes from rainwater from local catchments and sea water – which is used for toilet flushing. The lack of water scarcity in Hong Kong creates an “illusion of plenty” and influences consumption. Studies have shown that individuals from regions experiencing water scarcity are much more likely to participate in and support water conserving behaviour as compared to those from non-water scarce contexts.

In addition to context, price also influences consumption. Water in Hong Kong is supplied to residents at tariff rates that have remained unchanged since 1995, even as the cost of water production has more than doubled since then. It is thus hardly surprising that per capita water consumption in Hong Kong has been increasing steadily. In 2020, domestic per capita fresh-water consumption stood at 152.6 litres per day.

handwashing; sanitation

Photo by Burst on Pexels.com.

One consequence of the Covid-19 pandemic is expected to be greater increases in domestic water consumption because of changes in habits such as more frequent hand washing, showering and cleaning.

This has been observed in Singapore, which prior to the pandemic saw per capita water use steadily declining from 151 litres in 2015 to 141 litres in 2019. This subsequently increased during the pandemic to 154 litres in 2020 and 158 litres in 2021.

So why is Hong Kong’s rising domestic water consumption a matter of concern? Three reasons.

Firstly, it is not sustainable. Climate change is already beginning to impact the spatial and temporal distribution of water resources.  In May 2021, because of the hot weather and deficient rainfall, the water level of many reservoirs in Hong Kong dropped, with only nine out of 17 containing more than half of total storage at that time.

The Dongjiang basin on which Hong Kong is dependent for its water supply, is already considered to be an area of water scarcity and facing competition for its water resources. As climate change induced extreme weather events increase in the future, honouring Hong Kong’s water allocation as per the terms outlined in the Dongjiang water agreement could present challenges.

Dongjiang water pipes in Sheung Shui. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Dongjiang water pipes in Sheung Shui. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Secondly, Hong Kong’s rising water use against the low water tariffs it charges – research shows water prices in Hong Kong are less than a seventh of the true water production cost – is also problematic in terms of the fiscal sustainability of its utilities. It is estimated that that the revenue-expenditure gap of the Hong Kong Water Supplies Department for 2002-2012 was HK$41.7 billion.

In addition to this, are the losses accruing from water leakages. Close to a third of Hong Kong’s freshwater is lost through leaks in government mains, private pipes and theft, and estimated to be equivalent to HK$1.35 billion in revenue in 2013. Losses such as these impact the cost-effectiveness of the utility and impinge on its ability to become carbon neutral in terms of capital investments and operational activities in the future.

Thirdly, Hong Kong is confronting practical challenges when it comes to its existing programmes and lagging in developing alternative sources of water supply. For example, Hong Kong has been using sea water for toilet flushing since the 1950s. This has, however, contributed to higher maintenance requirements due to pipe corrosion caused by the high salt content.

With respect to seawater desalination, although feasibility studies were conducted in 2002 and 2007, the construction of a desalination plant at Tseung Kwan O did not commence until 2019. It is expected to be completed this year. However, desalination is extremely energy intensive and the process produces condensed brine, which if released back into the sea would raise salinity, with a potential negative impact on marine ecology.

And while guidelines on the implementation of rainwater harvesting and grey water recycling systems have been formulated and incorporated since 2015, these have been restricted to government buildings.

Compare this with the remarkable progress made by Singapore in developing alternative water sources and its continuous drive to leverage smart technologies to strengthen operations and meet future needs; it is clear that Hong Kong is lagging behind.

Although Hong Kong’s Water Supplies Department (WSD) has scaled up its water conservation campaigns and measures in recent years, take-up of these measures among the public remains low. According to a survey on domestic water consumption undertaken by the WSD in 2015-2016, over 95% of households did not participate in the WSD’s “Let’s Save 10L Water” campaign that had been initiated the previous year.

Only about 32% of households indicated using water saving devices or products from the voluntary Water Efficiency Labelling Scheme (WELS) and only 42% of households had heard about WELS. All of this suggests that educational campaigns and voluntary measures may not be sufficient to change the water-use habits of Hong Kong residents.

As long as the city’s non-water scarce context and price-signalling do not offer people a reason to change their water-use behaviour, per capita water consumption is likely to grow unabated, and Hong Kong’s water woes are going to be glaringly apparent sooner rather than later.

In light of World Water Day it is important to discuss Hong Kong’s “hidden” water problem. Over the last four decades Hong Kong has moved towards more unsustainable consumption patterns, while maintaining a sheltered exterior of plentiful supply. Current measures targeting water supply and water demand, are not enough. It is essential these be reviewed for the sake of Hong Kong’s future.

This article first appeared on Hong Kong Free Press (HKFP) and is republished here as part of an editorial partnership with Earth.Org.

About the authors:

Dr Lina Vyas is an associate professor in the Department of Asian and Policy Studies at the Education University of Hong Kong, specialising in public policy and management.

Dr Stuti Rawat is a research assistant professor at the Department of Asian and Policy Studies at the Education University of Hong Kong, specialising in sustainability and public policy.

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The fate of the world’s economy is not decided in banks, boardrooms, or on stock markets. It is decided by the ground beneath our feet. Investing in soil health today is not only an ecological necessity but an economic one, too. 

Soil is the planet’s life support system. There is approximately three times as much carbon in the soil than in the atmosphere, and about four times the amount stored in all living plants and animals. Similarly, there is no food security without healthy soils; we rely on the organic matter concentrated in them for the food that sustains our societies. 

Similarly, healthy soils and water are highly interconnected. Water filters through the organic matter in soils and collects as pure groundwater, upon which 2 billion people worldwide rely for their primary drinking source. 

Today, the United Nations predicts that some 40% of the world’s soils are eroded. Already, this threatens further crop failure, loss of livelihoods, water pollution, and ecosystem collapse that impacts farmers, foresters, and local communities. 

This has dire ramifications for the business world, too. Soil and land degradation creates commodity price volatility, leading businesses to front the costs, or pass this increased cost onto the customer. When soil health deteriorates, it leads to a reduction in the production of basic food items. We’ve already seen how reduced grain and wheat exports from Ukraine has triggered global food supply instability. We can expect such volatility to become commonplace if soil degradation continues at the rate it is. 

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Yet, we must not succumb to fatalism. We must understand that there is a huge opportunity to buffer both local farmers, and the wider global economy from both the impacts of soil degradation and climate change. This is possible through large-scale adoption of simple yet effective soil management practices by farmers. By adopting such practices we can improve the soil’s organic matter, which in turn contributes to overall soil health. Healthy soils also make farming efficient, profitable, and more resilient to climate shocks.  

As stated by Dr. Alisher Mirzabaev, chair of Production Economics Group at the University of Bonn, at the expert roundtable hosted by Save Soil: “Soil health is a highly profitable investment. Every euro invested in land restoration can return 2-9 euros of profits over 30 years.”

By investing in better soil education, management, research, and technology that increases soil’s organic matter and thus its health, we can not only protect the natural resource upon which our economies are based, but we can also maximise crop yields, and therefore trigger a bottom-up economic stimulus. 

Here is one such example. 

In 1998, a team of UN experts predicted that by 2025, nearly 60% of Tamil Nadu, of which the previously fertile Cauvery river basin runs through, would become a desert as a result of intensive farming practices.

The Rally for Rivers, one of the largest people’s movements in India supported by 161 million people, encouraged farmers to transition from mono crops to tree-based agriculture. As a result of this transition, farmers saw their income increase by between 300% and 800%, which triggered a huge economic empowerment amongst the whole community. 

The project has resulted in the planting of over 60 million trees. For context, the US Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service estimates that over a 50-year span, a tree generates $162,000 in benefits –$31,250 worth of oxygen, $62,000 worth of air pollution control, recycles $37,500 worth of water, and controls $31,250 worth of soil erosion. 

Similarly, in a recent soil and water conservation project funded by the global federation of companies Mahindra in India’s Madhya Pradesh, nearly 10,000 hectares of farmed land was treated with the “Ridge to Valley” approach. As a result, 4,071 farmers benefited from a two-meter rise in average groundwater levels, which doubled per capita income. 

Of course, such investments protect businesses, too. The reality is that for most modern businesses, soil underpins their entire supply chain. Businesses that sell food, fibres, biofuels, and fashion rely on healthy soil for the production of raw materials they require for their products.

Supply of clean drinking water, especially in the tropical world, is heavily dependent on healthy soils that sequester the rainwater and recharge the surface water bodies like lakes and groundwater aquifers like wells and tube wells. 

This is why our policies must have the goal of retaining the minimum 3-6% of organic matter that characterise healthy soils. The Save Soil movement, an initiative by the Isha Foundation and supported by the WHO, UN SDG lab, and IUCN, suggests a three-pronged strategy to make that happen. 

First, we must encourage farmers to shift away from traditional practices; they must be financially incentivised to adopt healthy, regenerative agriculture methods. Secondly, the private sector must collaborate with governments to ensure that farmers can easily access the complex carbon credit market. Finally, we should develop a labelling mechanism that is based on the organic matter of the soil in which food is grown. This would raise consumer awareness of the benefits of healthy soil and would help facilitate more environmentally-conscious choices. All these initiatives will rely on the private sector working alongside the public sector in order to protect this crucial natural resource. 

Fundamentally, we have to understand that profit is only made on the bedrock of the world’s natural resources. Ultimately, our soils have sustained us for millennia. We must now return the favour. 

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As we look to protect our planet over the next decade, we cannot afford to ignore the role that indigenous people and local communities can and do play in the conservation of our most precious, biodiverse lands. In this op-ed, Daniel Kaul, CEO of nature conservation tourism company Natucate, discusses the role of Indigenous people in preserving ecosystems and preventing biodiversity loss as well as the necessity to protect their rights and conservation efforts.

In the words of UN chief António Guterres, COP15 was a “historic peace pact with nature,” which would see 30% of land and sea protected by 2030, a target known as the 30×30. 

Many compared the “historic” COP15 agreement to the UN landmark Paris Agreement, with which countries agreed to limit global warming to 2C and ideally keep it closer to 1.5C, however, there is a glaring oversight. The agreement fell short of explicitly recognising indigenous people’s lands and territories as a separate category of conserved area, which ultimately threatens their rights.  

Indeed, when Indigenous spokespeople are only given approximately three minutes to contribute to negotiations and are expected to represent the 10,000 Traditional Nations across the globe, we can rightly ask ourselves whether Indigenous populations are really included in these talks at all. 

There is a fundamental misunderstanding at the core of the conservation conversation. 

In many places across the world, conservation happens as a result of local, indigenous populations, not in spite of them. Research shows that while the world’s 370 million indigenous people’s make up less than 5% of the world’s total human population, they manage over 25% of the world’s land surface, and support 80% of the world’s biodiversity. 

As we look to protect our planet over the next decade, we cannot afford to ignore the role that indigenous people and local communities can and do play in the conservation of our most precious, biodiverse lands. 

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According to a report by the ICCA Consortium, areas that remain ecologically intact due to conservation practices of Indigenous peoples or local communities cover an estimated 21% of land on Earth, whereas land that is protected by countries, and designated as conservation areas by bodies like UNESCO, World Wildlife Fund (WWF) or the Nature Conservancy cover just 14%. 

This is, of course, a question of justice. In the past, a failure to respect the value of Indigenous stewardship of our land has led to mass displacement; some estimates predict that some 10 million people in developing countries have been displaced by governments in efforts to conserve our wildlands. Even those who are not displaced find their traditional fishing and hunting practices outlawed, with consequences on their livelihoods. 

Take for example the Masaai people of the Serengeti, a geographical region in Africa, spanning northern Tanzania. When the Serengeti-Ngorongoro region was divided into the Serengeti National Park and the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Maasai herders were restricted from areas in the Serengeti national park and seasonal migration patterns were disrupted. This led to overgrazing, whereby too many wild animals graze the land, leading degraded soils, which can lead to reduced plant growth, and even desertification

Similarly, in countries like Australia, India, and Bali, native peoples have used controlled burning, grazing and construction of canals to maintain ecosystems. When these formally government protected areas can see these practises banned, the rise of invasive species frequently occurs. 

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Centuries of ecological and spiritual insight is passed down through generations. For example, the 50,000 year-old Aboriginal principles of never exhausting the land fits perfectly with modern sustainability principles. 

Ultimately, we have to understand that conservation is an active process rather than a passive one. We have to understand that humans are not only guardians of the ecosystem, but an integral part of the ecosystem themselves. 

I have seen this first hand. As the owner and CEO of a conservation tourism company, I know that it is Indigenous populations who intuitively understand how best to preserve our land. And it is crucial that politicians and conference delegates understand that as well. 

As we approach the crucial decade for conservation we have ever faced, we must not be tempted to assume that all human populations have a detrimental impact on the land. A top-down approach to conservation will never work. Local understanding, wisdom and practices will remain a crucial tool in preserving the lands that our species rely on. 

We need more biodiversity funding for local communities to spend in whatever way they see fit. Canada’s historic $800 million in funding over seven years for Indigenous-led conservation projects should serve as inspiration. Startlingly few politicians have followed in Justin Trudeau’s footsteps. 

Similarly, we need members from local communities to be fairly represented at COP conferences, to relay what the reality is on the ground. Having only three minutes to represent the concerns of 10,000 Traditional Nations groups is nothing more than a tick-box exercise. Indigenous populations need meaningful inclusions in the dialogue, if we are to have a realistic chance of preventing a global mass extinction of species. 

Fundamentally, we need to imagine a model of conservation that includes those who have done it effectively millennia, instead of forgetting them from the equation.  

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The World Economic Forum has said the climate adaptation market could be worth US$2 trillion per year by 2026 – a great opportunity for the private sector, writes Judy Cheung.

By Judy Cheung

The latest UN climate change conference was meant to focus on translating promises into action – reducing emissions, adapting to global warming, financing such programmes and compensating vulnerable nations for loss and damage.

But world leaders at the 2022 Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP27) could not figure out how to achieve all three elements – mitigation, adaptation and finance – even though the conclusion was delayed to the morning of November 20.

Key actions to achieve peak carbon emissions were missing from the final version of the text, as were clear commitments to phase out the use of fossil fuels. Even key provisions for Article 6.4 of the Paris Agreement on a carbon market were removed.

On the other hand, COP27 did advance some areas – a loss and damage fund has been agreed upon to compensate developing countries suffering from climate change. However, the details of how it will work remain vague. Unless these are agreed, it could be reminiscent of the broken promise of US$100-billion climate finance by 2020 made at COP15 in Copenhagen.

Another key outcome of COP27 is the progress made on Article 6.2 of the Paris Agreement to enable bilateral deals on the international transfer of emission units with less oversight from the United Nations. Various countries, including Japan and China, welcomed such a move and expressed interest in taking part in a carbon market under Article 6, besides their domestic offset markets.

Nevertheless, decisions on Article 6.4 about the implementation of an open international emission credit trading market, with the public and private sector taking part, have been deferred to next year. This hinders private investment in carbon-related projects due to the uncertainty about key rules and fewer investment options.

Opportunities for Private Sector

There were more voices at COP27 asking the private sector to step up in areas of technology, innovation and finance. The private sector offers more flexibility and resources in various climate-related projects, while the market has huge potential to channel financing and investments. All the key outcomes set during COP27 come with opportunities for the private sector.

The need for more public-private partnerships to speed up climate-related projects was highlighted during discussions. Policymakers in various jurisdictions are already trying to create investable markets. The US government has announced the Energy Transition Accelerator as a new public-private effort to catalyse private capital to speed up the transition to clean energy in developing countries.

The Africa Carbon Market Initiative was also inaugurated at COP27 to fund African carbon credit projects with high integrity.

Closer to home, in October 2022 the Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing launched Core Climate, an international voluntary carbon marketplace to connect private capital with climate-related products for carbon credit trading.

It is a sign of a growing regulatory interest in voluntary carbon market development, which provides opportunities for investment in low-carbon projects and for private companies to buy offset credits.

With more funding for climate-related projects, especially those focusing on scaling up adaptation efforts, investors expect adaptation – including the upgrading of electrical grids and weather-resistant building materials – will soon be profitable.

The adaptation industry also covers flood protection infrastructure, nature-based solutions and cyclone early warning systems, as well as financial technology, supply chains, and insurance.

The World Economic Forum has said the adaptation market could be worth US$2 trillion per year by 2026 – a great opportunity for the private sector in terms of business innovation, engagement, financing and investment.

Challenges to Private Sector

With developments come not only new opportunities, but also increasing challenges and risks, particularly greenwashing and climate-related risks of which the private sector should be mindful.

With more and more companies setting a net-zero emission target and labelling themselves as green businesses to attract investors, one of the key messages of COP27 is zero tolerance for net-zero greenwashing. The UN Secretary General set up a High-Level Expert Group to make 10 recommendations on clear standards and criteria, highlighting the importance of integrity, transparency and accountability to avoid any form of greenwashing.

The recommendations include net-zero pledges with stepping-stone targets and concrete plans, public disclosure of data and information on net-zero transition in a way that allows comparison with peers, and establishing credibility through plans based on science and third-party accountability.

The expert group also stresses that city, regional, finance and business net-zero plans must not support a new supply of fossil fuels, and, by 2025, must not contribute to deforestation through their operations and supply chains. Stricter rules and standards are called for to avoid greenwashing and to ensure high-quality credits in the carbon market – which leaves the private sector with plenty to do.

Another challenge to the private sector are the risks posed by extreme weather and the failure to mitigate and adapt to climate change.

Hong Kong climate advocate Judy Cheung at COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, in November 2022.

Hong Kong climate advocate Judy Cheung at COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, in November 2022. Photo: Judy Cheung.

Policymakers in jurisdictions such as the European Union and the United States are tightening up rules on climate-related disclosure, requiring more details and wider data coverage, including scope 3 carbon emissions. This creates momentum for stakeholders in embedding such information into decision-making by assessing climate-related risks and companies’ climate resilience.

That indirectly encourages and at the same time challenges the private sector, in enhancing their practices in managing climate-related risks.

This article first appeared on Hong Kong Free Press (HKFP) and is republished here as part of an editorial partnership with Earth.Org.

About the Author:

Judy Cheung is a consultant providing climate change and sustainability-related services to financial institutions. She is also one of the co-founders of Climate Sense, which is a local advocacy group focusing on climate change education. She is focused on green and sustainable finance, sustainable cities and energy transition, which she believes are indispensable for moving towards a low-carbon economy. At the same time, she hopes to support more local young people to take part in climate action and mobilise the momentum of local climate advocacy.

“Experiencing even the ‘tip of the iceberg’ of the consequences brought by the climate crisis may be exactly what global leaders and negotiators need to accelerate the climate agenda,” writes Chin Chin Lam.

By Chin Chin Lam

It is vital to reflect on the progress made at the 2022 Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP27), which was hosted in Egypt last November.

COP27 carried an important agenda to actualise previously made climate pledges and to deliver solutions to developing countries on climate adaptation and loss and damage. A historic deal was reached to create a loss and damage fund to offer compensation to the countries most vulnerable to climate change.

But apart from this, the progress made in climate negotiations and actions was disappointing and, frankly, quite underwhelming.

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The COP27 venue in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh generated controversial headlines itself, with some people calling it a simulation for participants to experience the real-life situation of food and water scarcity caused by the climate crisis. Others were discontent with some of the very much non-soundproof negotiation rooms, and the poor arrangements of transportation to the venue.

Chin Chin Lam at COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, in November 2022

Chin Chin Lam at COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, in November 2022. Photo: Supplied.

As someone who attended the conference last year, I unfortunately agree with the sentiments above, in addition to the lack of general hygiene and quantity of washrooms, especially in the Covid-19 era. However, the difficulties of holding one of the largest two-week international conferences in a developing country must be recognised.

When compared with COP26 host Glasgow, Scotland, the disparities between a developed and developing country host are clear. One must be reminded that the reason for such disparity in hosting the annual COP event extends to why developing countries are suffering so heavily from climate injustices.

Developed countries have contributed the most to the current climate crisis through mass industrialisation, which grew their economies, while developing countries suffer the effects of global industrialisation and stolen resources through historic colonialism. Experiencing even the “tip of the iceberg” of the consequences brought by the climate crisis may be exactly what global leaders and negotiators need to accelerate the climate agenda.

The COPs are two-week conferences where global leaders, delegates and civil society from around the world meet and push forward the Paris Agreement, an international treaty negotiated at COP21 that outlined a commitment to keep the mean global temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius, and preferably limit the increase to 1.5 degrees, thus reducing the effects of the climate crisis.

An example of parties at COP negotiations going through texts and debating on the wording chosen. Some discussions on a few words can take hours. Photo: Supplied.

An example of parties at COP negotiations going through texts and debating on the wording chosen. Some discussions on a few words can take hours. Photo: Supplied.

Often at negotiations – where some rooms are quiet and comfortable – parties can debate for hours on a single word or phrase to be included in a decision text. The irrelevant, minute details are so focused on, the party representatives can lose their focus of the bigger picture and the real critical demands beyond the walls of their meeting rooms.

Progress is slow, and there is a clear [dis]connection to the outside world and a lack of urgency to help countries which are already suffering devastating impacts due to the climate crisis.

(I am writing “[dis]connection” in the format negotiators use when deciding on how to word agreement texts).

Apart from the lack of urgency, there is also a [dis]connection between the narratives portrayed in the pavilions and through the protests of civil society and those discussed in the negotiation rooms.

At the Pakistan Pavilion – in mourning after devastating floods in August caused the deaths of over 1,700 people and impacted 33 million – the simple yet powerful texts of “The Lost and The Damaged – Pakistan’s Climate Catastrophe” and “What goes on in Pakistan Won’t Stay in Pakistan” provoked grief and heartbreak among many participants of COP.

The Pakistan Pavilion at COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, in November 2022. Photo: Chin Chin Lam.

The Pakistan Pavilion at COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, in November 2022. Photo: Chin Chin Lam.

Through various protests and demonstrations at COP27, the cries of civil society echoed throughout the venue. The voices of marginalised indigenous communities, whose livelihoods and cultures are deeply connected to and dependent on nature, were among the loudest last year.

The demands from the next generation were equally roaring, greatly enabled by the first-ever Children and Youth Pavilion at COP27. Yet the urgency of those calls for rapid climate action was not reflected in the negotiation rooms.

As witnessed at COP27 last year – and from personal experience – people are more likely to take real ambitious action while experiencing the impact of the climate crisis first-hand. The plethora of youth climate leaders I met at COP27, including Marciely Ayap Tupari from the Brazilian indigenous community of the Amazon Forest, and Salote Nasalo of Fiji, were determined to lead climate action after witnessing their own homes severely affected by the crisis.

I am also reminded of the record-breaking extreme heat Hong Kong witnessed last summer, sitting in my room without an air-conditioner (to reduce my carbon footprint) suffering from heat exhaustion, and determined to advocate for more temporary heat shelters in Sham Shui Po.

All the while feeling frustrated with the lack of climate adaptation and resilience policy and action in Hong Kong, further amplifying the risks for vulnerable groups – such as residents of subdivided units, the elderly, people experiencing homelessness, or outdoor workers – who are already suffering from the consequences of extreme heat caused by climate change.

Street cleaner in hong kong

A street cleaner. File photo: Lea Mok/HKFP.

Therefore, it is crucial to amplify the voices of civil society at COP, and enable them to have a greater say in high-level negotiations at the conference. This is important to bridge the gap between the currently [dis]connected negotiations and the people who are beyond the walls of the meeting rooms, in hopes of forming more ambitious climate actions and decisions.

There is great power in empathy, a core value of the design-thinking process which is essential to identify the best solutions.

Empathy can be gained through experiencing the consequences of climate change through storytelling, strong imagery or words, and demands echoed by civil society from around the world. It is something that the Pakistan Pavilion, countless protests and youth leaders successfully delivered at COP27, despite most not having a seat at the negotiation tables. The power of people and their efforts must be continued for COP28 next year.

COP28 will be held in Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, and will conclude the first global stocktake of the Paris Agreement. The global stocktake is a two-year process that happens every five years, and is essential to assess, collectively, the progress of the implementation of the Paris Agreement and address opportunities for enhanced action. COP28 is assumed to be more mitigation focused, as countries review their carbon reduction progress.

Global Day of Action Protest at COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, on November 12, 2022. Photo: Chin Chin Lam.

Global Day of Action Protest at COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, on November 12, 2022. Photo: Chin Chin Lam.

Civil society will continue to share stories, make voices heard, and demand global leaders and negotiators not only to better represent marginalised communities already suffering from the climate crisis, but also, to apply pressure for faster and bolder action.

With the success of the first-ever Children and Youth Pavilion at COP27, COP28 should expect the voices of the next generation who are protecting their future to be even louder. This was also reflected by the Minister of Climate Change and Environment of the United Arab Emirates, Ms Mariam bint Mohammed Almheiri, who expressed her desire to expand youth participation in the COP proceedings.

To also bridge the gap between the [dis]connection of Hong Kong to the international climate conference, it is hoped that Hong Kong will officially send delegates, especially youth delegates to participate in next year’s COP28.

Furthermore, it is hoped the city will take much more ambitious climate action to keep the goal of the Paris Agreement – 1.5 degrees – alive, and to ensure that citizens and local communities have the capacity and adequate infrastructure to adapt to the extreme weather events and climate disasters that are already happening.

Featured image by UN (Flickr)

This article first appeared on Hong Kong Free Press (HKFP) and is republished here as part of an editorial partnership with Earth.Org.

About the Author:

Chin Chin Lam is an urban planner and a youth climate advocate who is determined to transform Hong Kong and other cities worldwide into sustainable developments. Her passion extends outside of her professional work, and she is actively involved with several youth-led, professional, and non-governmental organisations such as YOUNGO, the Youth Constituency of the UNFCCC, Hong Kong Institute of Planners, WalkDVRC and CarbonCare InnoLab.

Chin Chin is also the founder of the Community Climate Resilience Concern Group, which advocates for better climate adaptation facilities for residents of inadequate housing, and the founder of social media platform Urban Acupuncture Hong Kong, which aims to push the agenda of sustainable urbanism to the next generation of city shapers.

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