I’ve just finished the first part of Practical Actions European speaker tour on climate change, having visited Germany and the Czech Republic. In both countries I was talking about our adaptation work in Bangladesh including our Pathways from Poverty project. I stated that despite Bangladesh being one of the poorest and most climate affected countries in the world, many other countries could learn a lot from the way it has adapted to the increasing floods and other climate related disasters caused by climate change.
In Germany I presented our project at a major conference in Bonn from 1-3 November called ‘Dialogue Towards Transformation’ organized by our project partner, Germanwatch. The conference was attended by 140 NGOs from 22 countries around the world including both developed and developing nations.
It highlighted the synergies and tensions which exist between climate change and other subjects such as food security, energy and poverty reduction. This is also one of the issues addressed in Practical Actions new 5 year strategy from 2012-2017.
One of the major talking points at the conference was the need for NGOs or Civil Society to agree on development priorities in the run up to the adoption of the new Sustainable Development Goals. There was also a lot of debate about the extent to which NGOs can really influence international negotiations like the Rio + 20 conference and the global climate change talks or whether our job is to build a mass movement outside these processes calling for change.
Like the UK and Bangladesh, flooding is the major climate impact in both the Czech Republic and Germany. Just two years ago flooding there and in Poland killed nine people and resulted in over a thousand having to be evacuated from their homes.
Despite the recession and the EU bailout, Germany continues to be a leader in climate change and promoting the green economy. In contrast in the Czech Republic there is still a lot of scepticism about climate change among the public and politicians and their current President, Vaclav Klaus, is a well known climate sceptic. The Czechs also have one of the highest carbon dioxide emissions per head of population in Europe due to their heavy industry and car manufacturing.
To highlight the issues I spoke to business studies and social geography students at two universities in Prague and also to international development students at Olomouc university. The debates were organized by our Czech partner, Glopolis. Before my presentation I asked all the students how many of them thought climate change was real and was happening now. Only about half put their hands up.
So a major challenge for the Czech NGO movement in the next few years will be to transform public and political opinion in relation to climate change. This was the subject of a round table debate I attended with many of the Czech Republics leading NGOs and a representative of their Department of Energy and Climate Protection. We agreed an important opportunity to do this will be the publication of the fifth Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report in 2013/14. This is likely to contain a wealth of evidence that many of the extreme weather events like flooding both in Europe and Bangladesh can now be directly linked to climate change.
In both Germany and the Czech Republic our adaptation work in Bangladesh promoting technologies like floating gardens, sand bar cropping and duck farming was well received. Many delegates, students and NGO staff came up to me afterwards and said that too often in the debate on climate change the voice of the poor wasn’t heard and that policy needed to be much better informed by what is happening on the ground. Practical Action with its wealth of experience working with the world’s poor and knowing what works in the field is in a unique position to do both.
Among many of those I spoke to in both Germany and the Czech Republic there was strong agreement that adaptation must now go up the UN and the EUs agenda and that we need to see a far greater political and financial commitment to helping people in countries like Bangladesh adapt to a future in which once rare events like flooding become part of the everyday struggle for survival. One student I spoke to in Prague summed up the situation well when she said “Your work in countries like Bangladesh buys vital time for the world to adapt to climate change and gives the poorest people most affected by it a fighting chance of a future”
The speaking tour now moves on to the European Parliament and then the United Kingdom before attending the climate talks in Qatar.