Calls for “Inclusive Governance” in Climate Change Policy

Climate change mitigation and adaptation policies need to stop merely “paying lip service” to the knowledge and needs of rural communities, indigenous lands, and high mountain communities, according to two anthropologists who make their case in a recent issue of Science.

The perspective, “Environmental governance for all,” written by Eduardo S. Brondizio and Francois-Michel Le Tourneau of Indiana University and Sorbonne Nouvelle University in June, argues that effective governance can only occur with the consultation and incorporation of local and indigenous knowledge into policy decisions.

Andes Mountains
High mountain ecosystems, such as the Andes in Peru, are extremely vulnerable to climate change Source: David Stanley

Research suggests that indigenous peoples, who own, occupy or manage up to 65 percent of the Earth’s land surface, are largely excluded from environmental policymaking and forums such as the 2015 Paris climate change conference (COP 21) that led to the negotiated Paris Agreement. The convention aims to limit rising global average temperatures to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

COP 21 asked countries to submit intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs) to publicly outline what climate actions they intend to take under the Paris Agreement. However, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change reported in a 2015 review that none of these notes, or INDCs, submitted by countries as of October 1, 2015 made any mention of indigenous peoples, signaling a key disconnect of indigenous inclusion in national environmental policies.  

The paper in Science argues that the inclusion of indigenous people is crucial to effectively tackle challenges caused by climate change and human-caused environmental degradation. Noting that as local and indigenous communities are “crucial for climate change adaptation and mitigation, from carbon sequestration to provisioning of water, food, and energy to cities,” the authors write that attempts to mitigate and adapt to climate change will be “compromised” without their inclusion and participation.

Co-author Le Torneau told GlacierHub via email, “Glacier and high mountain communities are on the frontline of climate change.”  

Glacial retreat and rapidly changing ecosystems especially threaten these communities’ livelihoods, water supply, and food security, as indigenous peoples tend to rely on land and natural resources for survival. A recent study from the United Nations Environmental Programme and affiliated center GRID-Arendal reported that glacial melt “will most likely increase human vulnerability in many areas.”

Namche Bazaar
Namche Bazaar, a village in northeastern Nepal, with the peak of Kongde Ri in the background. Source: Steve Hicks

As a result, the perspective’s argument especially holds weight for climate change mitigation and adaptation policy affecting high mountain communities near glaciers, such as mountain villages in Nepal.

While the paper acknowledges that many international conventions like the COP21 climate meeting in Paris have recognized the importance of local and indigenous inclusion in climate change policy in their texts, Le Torneau said he believes that the documents do not actually translate into equal representation when it comes to the establishment or implementation of policy. 

“There is today a certain kind of inclusion in so far as their existence is considered and a number of compensations are called for. But there is no equality,” he tells GlacierHub via email. “City people can impose new regulations on remote small communities but the reverse is not true as a consequence of the democratic game.”

The authors said they hope that these groups will gain more access to future environmental policy decisions and initiatives at all governmental levels. However, they note that delegated responsibilities must pay particular attention to disparities in funding between communities.

The paper notes that while “sparsely populated areas are increasingly targeted to meet national and global conservation and climate mitigation goals…local and indigenous populations, many of which are poor, are expected to take on growing responsibilities as environmental stewards.”

Le Torneau writes that the paper was inspired by fieldwork observations about Amazonian forest communities’ lack of input in key policy decisions regarding the Amazon’s conservation. He explains that local forest communities were often expected to act as “environmental stewards,” but that these expectations for their direction and goals of their stewardship were “much more imposed by external centers of power,” extending from international non-profits to governments.

Le Torneau said he believes that such power dynamics “could create strong local resentment and opposition.”

He notes that some of those in charge of governing Amazon forest conservation ironically “have only a very limited knowledge of the natural environment.”

“Some international donors in the Amazon have prohibited the purchase of chainsaws in environmental programs. But if you have no chainsaw in your boat, you cannot control a protected area, because you will be blocked by the first fallen tree on your path,” he said.

World Landscapes Forum
A speaker at the first Global Landscapes Forum in 2013 in Warsaw, Poland. Source: N. Palmer (IWMI)

The paper notes that a few environmental initiatives exist that have successfully practiced inclusive governance. It praises the Center for International Forestry Research’s Global Landscape Forum for its wide range of stakeholder engagement to “share ideas, propose solutions, and make commitments for the inclusive management of landscapes.”

The authors write they hope that efforts such as the Global Landscape Forum will craft effective and inclusive policies that will work to conserve ecosystems in diverse regions around the world.

UNEP Prepares Mountain Communities for Climate Change

The United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) released the first two reports of a new series on regional mountain-based adaptation in order to encourage urgent action to protect mountain ecosystems from the impacts of climate change.

Western Balkan Outlook
Outlook on Climate Change Adaptation in the Western Balkan Mountains. (Photo: UNEP)

On December 11, 2015— International Mountain Day— the UNEP launched reports for the Western Balkans and the Southern Caucasus regions, as part of their Mountain Adaptation Outlook Series, at the climate conference in Paris.

The reports, called Mountain Adaptation Outlooks, identify the unique risks that mountain range communities and ecosystems face, as well as gaps in science and policy that hinder active adaptation response to these weaknesses.

Outlooks for the three remaining regions, which include Central Asia, the (Tropical) Andes and Eastern Africa, will be released within the next coming months. However, executive summary leaflets for these three regions can be found on the website of GRID-Arendal, a center collaborating with UNEP to support informed decision making and increase public awareness about environmental issues. The Outlooks series is a collaboration between UNEP, GRID-Arendalthe Environmental Innovations Association, and other mountain Centers of Excellence.

“Mountain ecosystems enrich the lives of over half of the world’s population as a source of water, energy, agriculture and other essential goods and services,” the UNEP’s Executive Director Achim Steiner said in a press release. “Unfortunately, while the impact of climate change is accentuated at high altitude, such regions are often on the edge of decision-making, partly due to their isolation, inaccessibility and relative poverty.”

Adishi Glacier in Georgia
Mountainous, glacier ecosystems such as Adishi Glacier in Georgia, are particularly vulnerable to temperature rise. (Photo: UNEP)

Mountain ecosystems, which include glaciers, unique ecological biodiversity, and surrounding communities, are especially vulnerable to climate change. The climate change conference in the French capital, as well as the resulting Paris Agreement, emphasized the importance and “enduring benefits of ambitious and early action” to both mitigate and adapt to climate change. During the conference, many government officials acknowledged that countries would benefit from a more comprehensive base of mountain adaptation knowledge.

The reports identify the expected regional impacts of climate change and recommend policy solutions to government officials to address these vulnerabilities. UNEP hopes that the Outlooks will increase awareness of the impacts of climate change, as well as encourage adaptation efforts.

“We’re hoping to foster and establish regional understanding and cooperation on climate change and mountains,” Matthias Jurek, a Joint Expert at UNEP and GRID-Arendal, said in a phone interview with GlacierHub.

The project hopes to improve what Jurek calls the “science and policy interface,” or the translation of scientific research into adaptation policy. The Outlook seeks to do so by combining an analysis of ecological vulnerabilities with regional recommendations for local governments into one comprehensive assessment. Jurek hopes that the reports can serve as a one-stop-shop for policymakers looking to develop mountain-based adaptation plans for climate change.

Political leadership and regional coordination to address climate change has been severely lacking. This gap, Jurek said, is often due to short governmental staffing and an overwhelming amount of data resources. UNEP and GRID-Arendal hope to address a lack of systematic, and mountain-specific, adaptation plans at the governmental level.

Alpine meadows in Georgia
Alpine meadows in Georgia. (Photo: UNEP)

Jurek noted that the Outlooks have been developed in close partnership with governments since the project’s inception. “We didn’t want to develop this without their input and then bring our recommendations to them, telling them this is what needs to be done,” he said. “We have developed this with them very closely since the beginning.”

“We want to make sure these strategic agendas are not just papers – but that they’re really anchored within frameworks,” Jurek added.

UNEP also hopes to encourage intergovernmental and subregional dialogue and coordination. The Series’ partners are planning more meetings to encourage coordination between local and national communities. UNEP is also working to increase the use of the relatively under-utilized Climate Technology Network and Center, a UNEP-hosted organization that seeks to help to provide technical assistance to countries with specific technology needs. 

Moving forward, the Mountain Adaptation Outlooks Series hopes to expand its coverage into the Himalayan region, with the help and collaboration of the Himalayan Climate Change Adaptation Program.

The Outlooks project and international cooperation on mountain-based climate change adaptation were celebrated at an International Mountain Day Side Event at COP 21 in Paris. The event was hosted by the Government of Peru, and organized by UNEP, GRID-Arendal, and the Consortium for Sustainable Development of the Andean Ecoregion.

The Outlook’s project partners, as well as other ministers and high-level leaders from various mountain countries such as Austria, Bhutan, Czech Republic, East Africa, Kyrgyzstan, Norway, Peru, Serbia, Switzerland, and Uganda, all attended the event on the last day of the conference on December 11.

“We’ve now received many information requests from countries asking about the specific adaptation knowledge available at the local level,” Jurek said.

Photo Friday: Mt. Kilimanjaro

The UN designated December 11th as International Mountain Day. This year, at COP 21, a side event was held, ‘International Mountain Day: Celebrating International Cooperation on Climate Change Adaptation in Mountain Environments – from Rio to Lima to Paris

In honor of this celebration of mountains, this week’s Photo Friday features images of Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa. There is one main glacier on the mountain, at the peak, the Furtwängler Glacier. Much of the ice on Mt. Kilimanjaro has disappeared over the past century, and the small glacier is what is left of this ice. Some scientists predict that this glacier could disappear by 2030.

[slideshow_deploy id=’7447′]