Rachel Berger


Climate change adviser, Practical Action

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

Posts by Rachel

  • Ensuring the drought in East Africa is not forgotten

    February 1st, 2012

    I have just returned from 9 days travelling with Grace Mukasa, Director of our East Africa Regional office, to meetings in London, Brussels and Bonn, to ensure that politicians and policy makers are fully aware of the link between changing climate, high greenhouse gas emissions in developed countries, and the dire situation of millions of people, whose livelihoods depend on water and pasture for their livestock.

    We had a very lively discussion at an event in the house of Commons on Tuesday, and supportive meetings with MPs Anne Maguire and Martin Horwood. On Wednesday last we held an event with our partners Climate Action Europe, in the European Parliament in Brussels, where a number of MEPs and their staff attended – people who rarely get the chance to hear directly about what is happening on the ground. Later, we had an encouraging meeting from the Director General of the Secretariat for Africa, Caribbean and Pacific, Dr Chambas.

    Grace speaks at the House of Commons

    In Bonn we had a fruitful discussion with the German Ministry for Development Cooperation, and a couple of radio interviews with Deutsche Welle. On Monday and Tuesday we attended the third Bonn Development Policy Conference, where the focus was sustainable consumption to ensure sustainable development. Grace spoke in a workshop about education for sustainable development, giving her views on what education should focus on in Africa, to help people adapt to a future with climate change.

    It has been great to find so many people interested in our work, and the East African situation, and we have many leads to follow up for future partnerships.

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  • Aftermath at Durban

    December 11th, 2011

    Around dawn today, Sunday 11th December, the COP President banged the gavel down on the final session of negotiators at the climate summit in Durban. What was agreed? well, it isn’t a complete disaster. The Kyoto Protocol, the only legally binding agreement to reduce emissions, will continue into a second commitment period. In parallel, a process for building a more comprehensive and ambitious treaty regime was launched – one that will include all countries in binding commitments to reduce emissions. Important decisions were made on adaptation, finance, and technology. On adaptation (the negotations track I have been following for 6 years) there is now a clear framework for supporting developing countries in accessing information to help them adapt, in preparing national adptation plans, and in working towards arrangements for loss and damage following climate change-related disasters such as droughts, floods and hurricanes in the most vulenrable countries. On finance, while arrangements for the Green Cllimate Fund are now agreed – there was no agreement on how to raise money for the fund! and without strong commitments on reducing emissions from the largest polluting countries, no amount of arrangements for adaptation will be effective, in the face of rising temperatures.

    So, while the Durban conference avoided total failure, and has perhaps staved off future climate disaster, governments by no means responded adequately to the mounting threat of climate change. The decisions adopted here fall well short of what is needed. It’s high time governments stopped catering to the pressure of the oil and coal lobby, and started acting to protect people and planet.

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  • Technologies in a changing climate

    Durban, South Africa, Durban
    December 7th, 2011

    Climate change for a long time now has stopped being a question of ‘if…’ and more a matter of ‘how much’ (and the answer to that currently isn’t very nice).

    To deal with this, enter technologies. They fall into three categories:

    1) Mitigation – reducing emission from human activities, from home efficiency devices to renewables and nuclear energy;
    2) Adaptation – ways of dealing with the impacts of varying rainfall, temperature, sea level rise and increased frequency and magnitude of disaster events. Most urgent for the poorest groups and those in low lying states where the most vulnerability lies, but planning is also under way for London, Durban, and other developed cities.
    3) Geo-engineering – large and unproven projects to remove carbon from the atmosphere or reflect the solar radiation. Includes; ocean iron fertilization projects; mirrors in space; pipes; dreams.

    Arguably, the most iconic climate change related technology is the wind turbine, used for clean energy generation. Less is known about the possibility of mirrors in space, and probably for the best. But adaptation technologies are equally mysterious for many people in developed countries. This is springs from a lack of awareness that people in developing countries feel climate change most acutely – “first and worst”.

    Nevertheless, adaptation is happening spontaneously as people respond to the altered conditions they find in their area. Technologies, whether used to diversify livelihoods or protect assets, can make this easier, but people will also have to adapt their technologies in order to keep them appropriate.

    Enter climate uncertainty – not knowing precisely how climate change will manifest in a specific area over the next two-three decades – and you have a problem that requires new ways of thinking about technology and a new way of doing development.

    Today’s Geek Club (Practical Action’s online discussion forum) from 10am to 4pm will discuss the issues of technology for adaptation. This is set against the back drop of the current round of climate negotiations in Durban, South Africa, where countries are discussing proposals for ‘technology transfer’ to developing countries to support adaptation. Come and join us as we consider the how, what, and why not of adapting to climate change.

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  • Neotiating on adaptation, and discussing on agriculture here in Durban

    December 6th, 2011

    I am feeling more positive than I expected to feel, about progress here, at least on adaptation. Discussions are still continuing on what should be written into the decision text on national adaptation planning. A decision on the Adaptation Committee, a new body that will have a significant role in overseeing adaptation at the national level in developing countries, is likely to be left for ministers to decide in terms of who will be on the committee – whether mainly experts in adaptation, and whether a majority from developing countries, and whether to have representatives from civil socieity as well. To keep positive I keep my head down, focusing on adaptation, as the discussions on addressing the desperate need to cut emissions are STILL not progressing much.

    Meanwhile, I have also had a lot of opportunities to discuss how we need to change our global food production system towards one focused on an ecological approach – to strengthen resilience of small farmers, to strengthen ecosystems eroded by industrial agriculture, and to reduce the emissions created by intensive monocultures fed by chemical fertilisers. Yesterday I gave a presentation which will be put onto the web, and today I facilitated a wide ranging discussion between around 35 people from many organisations, including the World Food Programme – and we were all of a similar mind on the need for agriculture change, and the need to be vigilant, and mount a counter attach on teh strong lobbies of the agriculture industry and the rhetoric of teh World Bank, on what they call Climate Smart Agriculture. The rhetoric sounds quite good – but the money is not going to support the smallholders as they imply, but the opportunities for developing carbon markets in agriculture.

    It’s great to find so many organisations who think along the same lines as Practical Action, both in the north and in the south, and to be able to work with them here to campaign for change.

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  • Durban Street Parade, COP 17, Sat 3rd Dec

    Durban, South Africa, Durban
    December 3rd, 2011

    As I have been attending more sessions at the ICC today I asked Max Bloomfield to cover the events of the street parade taking place through the streets around us, and here is his account:

    As the numerous large armoured police vehicles crept towards me I was initially a little concerned at the heavy police presence at the start of the walk. Thankfully this thinned out and was just a cautionary approach from the SAPD, for the rest of the parade, over a kilometre long and composed of numerous sections of civil society, faith-based, and organised labour groups amongst others, was pleasantly spirited and boisterous. Starting early this morning at Botha’s Garden and working it’s way down Dr Pixley Kaseme Street, towards the ICC, the parade filled the air with the sounds of singers, chanters, music, and once again, vuvuzelas.

    Although the streets nearby were filled with shoppers as normal, the main parade streets were filled close to capacity with fascinated locals and fervent climate change activists alike, not to mention a great deal of press-coverage. The parade included less well known groups such as the Airport Farmer’s Association, The Rural People’s Movement and the Landless People’s Movement, next to global giants such as WWF and Greenpeace. Very slowly the parade has made its way down to the ICC where it is currently pausing to allow short speaches to be made, and for statements gathered from participating groups to be handed over to Christiana Figueres, the Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC. It doesn’t look like anyone here will run out of energy before the parade heads to the Old Pavilion site later this afternoon where it will end.

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  • Some positive progress

    Durban, South Africa, Durban
    December 2nd, 2011

    This week I have been following closely the negotiations on adaptation – discussing a number of issues that though they sound remote from the realities of how climate change is affecting people’s daily lives around the world, do have the potential for helping governments support their vulnerable populations. And the signs, on Friday night, are that the draft decisions look quite promising. These decisions are on issues such as the content of National Adaptation Plans, the nature of the support body that will guide developing country governments, and the extension of a programme of workshops and reports on different topics important for adaptation. Negotiations will go on through much of tonight, and probably most of tomorrow. I’m not staying up all night – but I will be back at the conference centre tomorrow to see how things have progressed.

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  • Agro-ecology, a climate solace

    Durban, South Africa, Durban
    November 30th, 2011

    EF Schumacher said that one can “call a thing immoral or ugly, soul-destroying or a degradation of man, a peril to the peace of the world or to the well-being of future generations; as long as you have not shown it to be uneconomic you have not really questioned its right to exist, grow, and prosper”. Certain powerful countries at the climate change conference have clearly read this straight and not sensed the irony, taking it as carte blanche to let the ugly face of climate change continue because its immediate costs will be hidden amongst the most vulnerable groups in Africa and Southern Asia.

    This is all very depressing. What is not, however, is hearing about the solutions already being put into practice on the ground in many countries. Ecological food provision is featuring quite high in discussions around and outside the convention centre, primarily because farmers, fishers, and herders have found it to be a successful approach for dealing with climate change and meeting food needs. Unlike the industrial food system that contributes up to thirty percent of global emissions through chemical inputs, international transport, and use of heavy machinery, and deforestation for cash cropping, agro-ecology has very low emissions and can store GHGs in plant and soil matter. At the same time, it is also more resilient to the impacts of climate change, protecting biodiversity, replenishing the natural environment, and promoting local seeds, rather than creating dependence on one or two costly varieties.

    In a side event yesterday, people from South Africa, Ethiopia, Kenya and Nepal spoke of the specific techniques. Many were building on the traditional knowledge and varieties nearly lost in the race to commercialised farming. As Mphathe Makaulule, a farmer from the South Africa’s Limpopo region said “the coming generation will realise that money cannot be breathed or chewed”. Her community pooled its knowledge of the surrounding resources in calendars and maps that express the changes they’ve experienced over the past decades. Today was Practical Action’s turn, and our work with farmers in Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe was introduced alongside some of our renewable energy projects by Ranga Pallawala and Lasten Mika respectively.

    These initiatives may sound a long way from the staid international climate negotiations, and that’s precisely why La Via Campesina is calling on all farmers’ movements and organizations, rural workers, landless people to join them for an international day of mass action this Saturday. In Nepal, they’ve already managed to connect existing community actions with the international discussions as the national plan for adaptation was produced in connection with local plans. As Nepal receives global support to help it adapt to climate change, it goes to fund actions such as the conservation of Lake Rupa by farmer associations and fisher groups (see video).

    So, it seems that “to exist, grow, and prosper” you don’t have to degrade or threaten future of generations, you just have to step out of the conference impasse and follow the fields.

    Earning from Nature to Pay for its Upkeep from Mahesh Shrestha on Vimeo.

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  • “It always seems impossible until it’s done”

    Durban, South Africa, Durban
    November 29th, 2011

    This climate change COP in Durban really offers almost the last chance for saving the planet from dangerous climate change. Yet no-one expects a strong agreement to be made here. However, if not even the mandate for working towards a strong legally binding agreement to cut emissions is agreed, as well as the continuation of the Kyoto Protocol – the only international agreement to cut emissions – then there will be unfolding disaster in the coming decades for millions, possibly billions, of people, expecially among the poorest people.

    Night of the opening day at COP17, Durban

    After a long morning of opening statements, many with good intentions, many full of platitudes, the UNFCCC Executive Secretary Chritiana Figueres quoted Mandela – ‘It always seems impossible until it’s done,’ seeking to bring energy and determination to this flagging negotiation process. (This statement was already the winner in Climate Action International’s slogan competition. We now have key members of the Secretariat wearing lanyards with the slogan!)

    I felt pretty miserable to be here yesterday – knowing the odds are against moving forward in the way that science and justice demands, but decided I would go to the opening Reception in Durban City Hall, if only to meet again some of my climate change friends from around the world. I was glad I did – the music and dancing cheered me up, and towards the end, the compere demanded the presence on stage of both the Executive Secretary and the COP president! They really enjoyed being forced to join the dancing – as you can see.

    Maybe the optimism of the music really can engender a positive attitude in the negotiations?

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  • A climate agreement is concluded!

    Cancún, Quintana Roo, Mexico, Cancún
    December 11th, 2010

    The final plenary session got underway at 9.30pm in a hall packed to capacity. The President of the conference, Patricia Espinosa, in response to emotive calls from outside the hall, allowed far more people into the room than was probably safe – but we all wanted to be there, not just watch on a screen outside! She herself received a standing ovation as she came into the room.

    We expected some countries to be negative about the new text, which was evidently a huge compromise in some areas – for us NGOs as well as for countries. And, true to form, Bolivia spoke passionately and at length about how the text did not recognise the need to keep global temperatures to below 1.5 degrees, and that current pledges on emissions cuts nowhere near achieve this.

    But after Bolivia, every other country spoke out to say that yes, they had compromised, but the process to reach this text had been open and transparent, and of course negotiations mean compromise.

    Speaker after speaker said the same, to loud applause. And the text was finally gavelled through around 3 am, with Bolivia still very unhappy. I

    I feel so different from the numbness after Copenhagen – but very tired, and ready for a few days off – before I attend the meeting in Cancun of the Adaptation fund Board next week.

    Rachel Berger

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  • Last night in Cancun!

    December 11th, 2010

    This has been an unreal day. We arrived by 8.30 this morning for a plenary session to review the progress during the night towards a last-minute agreement on tackling climate change; the plenary session didn’t happen then, and is now scheduled for 8 PM! after a short meeting with some of the UK government delegation, who felt that ‘luck and skill (on the part of the Mexicans)’ in diplomacy would be needed to get an outcome here. Then – what to do, except get out of the soulless conference centre, and go, for the first time, to the pool and beach beyond the conference centre hotel. It was swarming with delegates, people in suits with their shoes off, trying to get a little sleep, and a few people paddling in the calm sea. A bit of a break before what promises to be a long night of meetings. At 5pm a proposed text of an agreement was released, and delegates reconvened to discuss it. Those of us from NGOs following adaptation are surprised and pleased with the new text: it doesn’t have everything we hoped for, of course, but more than we expected. If it goes through, there is much that we can work with in the months and years to come. But it’s a big IF. Let’s hope by morning we will still be smiling!

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