Rachel Berger

Recommended reading: http://www.practicalaction.org

Posts by Rachel

  • Festival with a difference

    Bruton, Somerset BA10, UK, Bruton
    August 4th, 2010

    On Saturday I went to a festival in  Bruton, Somerset – Farmfest. I am not a festival goer but this one was almost on my doorstep (though I work at Practical Action, my main home is in Wiltshire), and more importantly – all its profits will be given to Practical Action!

    I found out about it when an email went round the office, asking if anyone would like a free ticket for the festival, in return for taking down the gazebo, and publicity materials for our stand there. I was happy to oblige; but there was no hard work involved – a dedicated group of Practical Action supporters based in Bristol had organised themselves to collect the stuff from my home, set up the stand, and ‘man’ it all weekend. The least I could do was show some support on the day by turning up.

    Farmfest had a very relaxed and family, friendly atmosphere: lots of space, two marquees with a line up of bands for the two days and the usual stands of slightly new age clothing, jewellery and artefacts. Our stand had generated quite a lot of interest, and with banners either side of the main stage, people at least got to see our name. I briefly met Peter Vernon, the owner of the organic farm who is the organiser, and hear how enthusiastic he is about us. It was really heartening to meet people so committed to support our work that they give up weekends and more to help raise money for us.

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  • In Bonn again!

    August 4th, 2010

    Here I am at the third set of climate change negotiations in Bonn, and, cautiously, people are talking about forward movement at least in some key areas. All the discussions between governments are now in closed sessions, so the only intelligence is from delegates willing to be open about what’s going on.

    This meeting is smaller, with just two tracks of meetings going on, and fewer side events – so I am finding it easier to have informal discussions both with colleagues from other organisations, and with government officials. There is also a bit more time to work together to firm up our thoughts on important matters to do with the institutions necessary to enable developing countries to adapt. I have made useful contacts with people in the corridors, saving time in arranging meetings or writing emails. This is some compensation for being in this dreary venue during a glorious summer!

    If only I were able to feel that people here were working to their best to tackle climate change, but sadly self interest reigns, while from all parts of the globe we hear of weather extremes causing death and disaster, from Russia to Pakistan. Despite this, we optimists are still fighting for meaningful decisions to be made in Cancun (in December, when there will be ministers present) that will pave the way for a major agreement – next year (or not too long after).

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  • Emerging issues in Community Based Adaptation

    Main St, Bourton and Draycote, Warwickshire CV23 9, UK, Bourton and Draycote
    June 29th, 2010

    Many development organisations are now taking on-board the impact of climate change in their programmes, and community based adaptation is emerging as a successful approach for addressing the needs of the most vulnerable. On 12th July, Practical Action is holding a day workshop in London to discuss the current context and future possibilities for community based adaptation. Those with experience in CBA practice will have the chance to discuss their findings and those new to the approach will find it a thorough introduction to the main ideas. All are welcome to attend, and sign up details are below.

    In order to stimulate discussion on the main issues, some of key questions of importance are outlined below. These, with others, will be the topics of workshops and breakout groups on the day. If you plan to attend the event or not, we hope that you can contribute to the debate, find answers to your questions, flag up new questions, or just whet your interest for further thought: 

    Urban adaptation:

    1. Can the community approach be applied to the urban context?
    2. What are the best urban organisations for facilitating adaptation?

    Climate resilient agriculture and food Sovereignty:

    1. It is now widely recognised that the current agricultural paradigm will not provide adequate food in a changing climate and with reduced use of fossil fuels, but are development NGOs adequately reflecting this in their work
    2. How to influence the policy framework on agriculture towards food sovereignty, given the huge vested interests?

    Governance of adaptation:

    What governance structures can channel adaptation support to where it is most needed?

    1. How can governments be encouraged to be more inclusive of the poor for adaptation provision?

    International finance:

    1. What can be done to ensure funding will be available for CBA?

    Ecosystems and adaptation

    1. The majority of people most vulnerable to climate change live in rural areas and derive most of their livelihoods from natural resources. Do CBA programmes adequately reflect the need to ensure ecosystems will continue to support livelihoods in a changing climate?
    2. How to balance the need to ensure ecosystems will be resilient, while putting people at the centre of adaptation? Is this an ethical dilemma or not?

    To book a place at the CBA workshop, held at 356 The Resource Centre, Holloway Rd, London N7 6PA, please contact Christine Comerford. The event starts at 9.30 and runs until 17.15. The small charge of £20, to cover costs, is payable by cheque or cash on the day. If you would like to contribute a poster presentation on any of the topics above, please contact Rachel Berger

    Community-Based Adaptation Workshop
    More on Practical Action’s approach to adaptation

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  • ‘COP’ out for world’s most vulnerable

    Copenhagen, Denmark, Copenhagen
    December 19th, 2009

    The Copenhagen climate conference has failed the most vulnerable people.

    We hoped that justice would prevail; that in 2009, those responsible for climate change would face up to the crisis looming and act – stop contributing to the problem and start compensating those already suffering. This was has not happened. Fairness and ambition were apparently too much to ask of leaders from the major emitters.

    Perversely, when it came to it, the futures of the people vulnerable to climate change were left for an exclusive club of nations to bodge in a backroom. Now we know that they left the science of global warming locked out as well.

    The are calling it the ‘Copenhagen Accord’ which the most powerful nations agreed. Discussions are still ongoing, yet the key players have now left the building. The main points are:

    • No emission reductions targets for industrialised countries
    • No mechansim for adaptation support for developing countries
    • No timeframe for resolving these issues

    Copenhagen has failed on all aspects of necessity. Two years ago in Bali, the UNFCCC managed to get nations to agree that 2009 would be the final moment for deciding a successor treaty for the Kyoto Protocol. As absurd as it sounds, we are now in a worse position.

    Back in Bali, a deal was reached when developing countries pleaded the rich countries to either lead or get out of the way. Last night the richest countries said we’re not ready to lead, and then promptly buggered off leaving this message:

    Despite the impacts of climate change already pushing the most vulnerable people in to grave danger, despite the science compelling emissions to peak and decline in the next decade, and despite two years of concerted civil society action to ensure leaders know that Copenhagen 2009 was the final deadline, we are still not ready to act and we will leave millions of people unprepared for the consequences.

    It remains to be seen which will come first: action from rich countries, or catastrophic climate change. Many people who rely on the climate to survive will sadly find out the hard way.

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  • Crunch time: Copenhagen’s climate checklist

    Copenhagen, Denmark, Copenhagen
    December 17th, 2009

    Tomorrow is deal day. At some point – maybe not until the wee hours – the world will get an announcement about a plan to tackle climate change. Since nations pledged to address global warming 17 years ago in Rio de Janeiro, we have waited about 17 years for governments to take the problem seriously. Tomorrow is their chance.

    They go it alone. Civil society has ostracised from the proceedings, forced, because of ‘overcrowding’, into a renovated cattle market miles away. Huddling before two screens streaming footage from the conference, people that have been fighting for environmental integrity since the Rio Earth Summit in 1992 (find a politician that can say the same) try to decipher what is really happening behind the scenes.

    Fortunately, civil society has put the hours in over the last twenty years; closely monitoring the science, addressing the impacts of climate change on vulnerable people, and campaigning for climate justice. If nothing else, we are certain what the deal must look like. Here is list of the essential components to measure whether tomorrow’s announcement is everything it should be:

    1. Mitigation targets

    The science for avoiding dangerous tipping levels is unequivocal; industrialised nations must cut their emissions by at least 40 percent by 2020 and 80 percent by 2050 compared to 1990 levels. These measures should limit increases in global temperatures to 2 degrees, but this could still be too much for parts of Africa and small island states.

    Look out for: Anything less than these figures; baselines other than 1990; loopholes for offsetting responsibility.

    2. Adaptation support

    Developed nations have contributed the most to global warming, yet the poorest people in vulnerable countries are hit first and worst by the consequences. Compensation is due in the order of $100 billion a year by 2020. Without this, those who have not caused the problems will be forced to pay for the impacts.

    Look out for: That the funding is additional to existing (unrealised) development aid targets; big headline grabbing figures masking a lack of long-term support; funding must given as grants, not loans.

    3. Finance for mitigation

    The levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere mean that developing countries, although not historically responsible, will have to take action too. Rich nations are required to fund clean development in these countries.

    Look out for: Figures in the region of $100 billion per year

    4. A legally binding deal

    An outcome that will compel industrialised countries to take action.

    Look out for: A ‘political deal’; statements about ‘intention to act’

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  • Talking about the future

    Copenhagen, Denmark, Copenhagen
    December 13th, 2009

    It is now likely that some funding to help those countries vulnerable to climate change will be made available in Copenhagen. The current figures proposed are not enough and whether they will increase is an issue to be decided in the coming week of negotiations, along with how these funds will be raised and how they will be dispersed.

    Today, at the annual Development and Climate Days hosted by IIED, a different question was asked: what needs to be done to ensure this money reaches the people whose situation has changed so much that they have to adapt? Poised to ruminate on this were the heavy weights of development; the World Bank, UNDP, UNEP and a Bangladeshi research institute that has led the way in adaptation thinking.

    It was a frank debate, and the more fruitful for it. The group acknowledged that, even if Copenhagen delivered at the end of the week all the money required for adaptation, there are still gaps to be addressed in providing support. How would we ensure that all adaptation projects promote development and not obstacles? What is best way to learn from the adaptation actions that communities are already doing? How exactly will climate change affect urban areas?

    One comment proved particularly popular with the audience – we already know the answers to most of these questions; the years of experience from Bangladesh in particular are sufficient to ensure adaptation support can become more widely implemented. What is needed is for the UN bodies to create the architecture for bringing this learning together.

    The speaker from the World Bank believed that good development naturally increases the ability to adapt, and we should focus on this whilst some of these questions remained open. This interesting point, but it jarred with an earlier issue he raised; that many people in his country – the US – and wider do not recognise the implications of climate change for developing countries.

    Whilst those in vulnerable situations can’t wait for everyone in the industrialised nations to realise the implications of high emissions, I think the chances of getting a deal that provides the amounts of money needed would be improved if leaders listened to the closing comment from the UNDP representative: ‘the climate deal must be a development deal’ – a chance to recompense those suffering from by-products of our own development.

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  • Rounding up the first week in Copenhagen…

    Copenhagen, Denmark, Copenhagen
    December 12th, 2009

    the world's largest climate change demonstrationThe Copenhagen negotiations have now reached the mid point, marked by the world’s largest public demonstration on climate change marching from the city to the conference. It’s time to spin round and assess the view. In the last six days we’ve had texts, non-texts, Danish texts, boos, cheers and a sweating polar bear posing for pictures.

    The ministers arrive next, so what awaits them? The world expects a climate deal in six days time, so what are the chances?

    Practical Action’s team in Copenhagen give their views on how things stand and which way is forward


    Well, after a slow start and really gloomy outlook, negotiators are working flat out to try to get reasonable drafts of text before ministers arrive (Ed Miliband, the UK’s representative is already here), wanting to know what political elements they need to make decisions on.

    Today, the draft protocol released by the Association of Small Island State looks pretty good on its proposals on adaptation. One or two other text also are reasonable in many respects.

    The EU has now put short-term money on the table for adaptation and mitigation – not enough, but a start, yet they have offered NOTHING on long term finance.

    The big problem is the ‘Giga tonne gap’ – the fact that the emissions reductions on the table just do not add up to -40% reductions, and the view is that there is little scope for moving the key countries to reach this level.

    A huge amount of lobbying needs to be done, and a lot of work has been left for the Heads of State on Friday!


    During the week, Sri Lankan civil society representatives met regularly providing a boost to their delegation. The Sri Lankan group also met and discussed the pressing issues with their Environment Minister. Overall, nineteen Sri Lankans participated in the talks.

    Progress in Copenhagen is very slow, but there are some glimmers of hope after the first week. Sri Lanka is very vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and has pressing adaptation needs but faces the problem that it might not fall under the current definition of most vulnerable countries. However, Sri Lanka will now hopefully not miss out on much needed adaptation funds as the latest proposals for adaptation finance do not specify any particular groups of countries


    My feeling is that most countries want a legally binding agreement – the problem is in their interpretation of what an agreement will contain. Developing countries want the historic emitters to reduce their emissions and fulfil their moral obligation to support the countries vulnerable to climate. The industrialised nations expect the rapidly developing countries to also take on binding targets.

    Because Nepal has negligible emissions, the developed countries are not demanding that we take cuts, but we are still suffering from the emissions they have created historically.

    The best outcome for Nepal would be that in the next week developed countries commit to support for adaptation and also propose sufficient legally binding targets so adaptation remains an option.


    Negotiators have left many important decisions to the last moment and have woken up to discover that time is running out. It is looking increasing unlikely that developed countries will deliver on the promises they made in Bali two years ago, but there is still cause for determined optimism.

    Civil society groups, including Practical Action, continue to send a strong message to the delegates that they will be unable to sell political hot air as a successful outcome of these negotiations. Any deal must lead to concrete commitments on emission reduction and finance.

    The message was heard loud and clear on the streets of Copenhagen throughout the day as nearly 100 000 people marched to the conference venue demanding climate justice.


    Whilst public support flowed in the street, within the conference centre the talks received an injection of reality when Tuvalu’s delegate began an emotional appeal to the plenary chair. Tuvalu’s representative could not hold back tears as he described the situation in his country, which is just four metres above sea level.

    Tuvalu’s plea was not merely borne out of a frustrating week (or even year) of climate talks, but the regular flooding that threatens their existence. Hopefully, this will be a wake up call for the countries causing problems. They now have one week to realise the human implications of climate and agree a deal to stop it.

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  • Alternative voices, better choices

    Copenhagen, Denmark, Copenhagen
    December 10th, 2009

    In another part of Copenhagen another conference is happening – in both senses of the term. The Klimaforum is the fringe event bringing together varied voices to discuss global issues.

    Whilst they may have a common theme, there is no sharper contrast than between the Klimaforum and the official negotiations happening at COP15. Aside from the artwork, the lack of formality and the presence of sunlight, the greatest distinction is that here the industrialised nations do not dominate the discussions.

    Issues that struggle to get past security at the Bella Centre are debated passionately at Klima – indigenous rights; consumption; justice being but a few. Yesterday, Practical Action’s Rachel Berger spoke at workshop on pro-poor agricultural policies and today I attended a session on the gender aspects of climate change. On the other side of town, many rich countries champion offsetting as the solution to global warming; here, they believe offsets to be a get out clause and predict a carbon market meltdown similar to the recent financial collapse.

    The Klimaforum may not have political prestige (nor, sadly, legislative powers) but its momentum and energy comes from the plurality of voices given stage. Indigenous groups hold the panel and Masaai farmers stroll the corridors with Andean mountaineers, their perspectives bringing human experience back into the climate debate whilst also highlighting the marginalisation that occurs in mainstream politics.

    I thought on the train that ‘climate change’ had almost become a vacuous term as countries see economic implications rather than impacts. Now I know I’ve just been hanging around the COP15 for too long. If the Danish government could push through one proposal during the UNFCCC negotiations it should be that all delegates must attend the Klimaforum before taking on the responsibility of international politics.

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  • First day back – industrialised countries in trouble already

    Copenhagen, Denmark, Copenhagen
    December 7th, 2009

    Today the Copenhagen negotiations opened and the people poured through. Practical Action surfed in from the huge Wave that hit London on Saturday.

    Confusion is twinkling ever so lightly in the conference air. Do Parties go all out to narrow down the specifics of the negotiating text for when the ministers arrive or work on the ‘political’ aspects that Heads of State can gallop in and sign?

    There are risks to both routes, but what’s pushing many people on (particularly within the NGO groups) are the memories of the Kyoto conference in 1997 where it appeared that there was too much to be done in order to get a deal right up to 10 minutes before the closing plenary.

    The situation is much more urgent now than in Japan and I’m not too sure that the nerves would hold out for many people here if it were to go to the wire.

    But there are still two weeks to go – big, bold and ambitious moves by key players such as the EU and the US in particular would be welcomed by developing countries in receipt for the all the work they are putting in and could swing us a deal that will curb emissions and support people already struggling with climate change.

    I am still hopeful, but the industrialised countries need to do much more – a point rammed home by them all winning the Fossil of the Day award today. Hopefully the messaging from The Wave washed further than UK shores – Brussels isn’t so far away.

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  • The swell before The Wave

    December 4th, 2009

    Big, blue, and as cold as an igloo – this is what the 40,000 people washing into London tomorrow will look like as they splash from Grosvenor Square to Westminster demonstrating to politicians that now is the time for a climate deal. They will also have a glow of determination.

    The Wave will be an outpouring of expectations for the Copenhagen climate talks – expectations that have steadily grown as science plots the implications of global warming around the world and stresses that the most drastic impacts are happening to those already living in poverty.

    We expect our elected leaders to do all they can about a problem facing current and future generations, and we demand that they do so in a fair and effective way that will stop climate injustice and keep rises in global temperatures below 2 degrees.

    Practical Action will be one group among the thousands buoyant in The Wave. We march with first-hand experience of what changes weather patterns, seasonal shifts and more frequent and extreme disasters mean for the communities we work with – from the pastoralist farmers in Kenya, to those living on the char lands of Bangladesh.

    No sooner does The Wave climax, than the Copenhagen talks start – barely two days after, on Monday. I hope that the ears of the UK’s delegation will still ring with the messages from those taking part in The Wave, and that they act with the urgency and sense of moral obligation that the situation demands.

    The Wave is tomorrow, Copenhagen is the future

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