Rachel Berger


Climate change adviser, Practical Action

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

Posts by Rachel

  • A day at the negotiations…Monday December 6th

    December 7th, 2010

    6.20 alarm goes off. I get up for a bit of yoga; I pack my bag with computer and relevant papers, before going to the beach for a quick swim. Last week strong winds meant the waves were very rough. Now it’s calm, and a 15 minute swim in the sea sets me up for a day in gloomy air conditioned rooms.
    7.30 I grab a quick breakfast, pack some fruit for lunch, and walk briskly to catch a bus for the 10km ride to the conference centre transport hub is, with meeting rooms and exhibit space for NGOs.
    8.45 I grab a reasonable looking sandwich and salad for my lunch and a coffee and rush off to the first meeting
    9.00 As a coordinator of the NGOs working on adaptation, I attend a meeting to strategise the network’s activities for the day. We get news of sessions closed to observers from friends on delegations, and hear political analysis and discuss the key messages we want to get out to ministers.
    10.00 A group of us from the UK meet to prepare for a meeting with Chris Huhne – planned for this morning, but he has been called to chair important negotiations, so it will be tomorrow.
    10.45 I catch a bus for the 8km ride to where the negotiations are happening. I print off some documents I need for the rest of the day,
    11.30 I chair a meeting of the NGO group on adaptation. We agree key points, and given the urgency of getting them to ministers, we disperse to prepare these points.
    12.00 An hour getting up to date with the latest info from emails, and then a bus back to the Cancun Messe
    14.00 To the daily meeting of the Cliamte Action Netowrk. Usually attended by well over 100 people. I report to the meeting on our meetings of earlier in the day.
    15.00 I meet Helen, to work out a list of people we want to meet up with here, and what we want to talk to them about.
    15.30 We meet up with Petr from a Czech NGO, who is one of our partner organisations, to discuss arrangements for him hosting the exhibition we have organised, called Adaptation Against the Odds, in Prague, and also to talk about some training for local NGOs that we are planning with his help.
    16.30 I grab some more food, as I will be in a meeting until late, too late for a meal at the hotel. I write a quick article for the daily overnight newssheet published to give strong messages to delegates, sharing our key messages.
    17.15 A bus to the negotiations centre again, for a meeting of a forum of a wide range of organisations all trying to assist governments to understand adaptation. The one positive aspect of all these bus rides is that there is usually someone I know on the bus that it is really useful to talk to. This time it is someone from a research institute who has done some great work on adaptation and is well respected. We talk about how the financial downturn is affecting our respective organisations, and the meeting we are both going to.
    18.00 The meeting is useful, but too long! Hard to stay focused at the end of the day. I get a couple of chances to share what Practical Action can contribute. The chair of the meeting knows me and likes our work, so I get brought into the discussion. Then a couple of us offer to organise the next meeting in June, using more creative ways of getting people to talk to each other and share information – and that’s welcomed.
    8.30 I rush out, to catch the first of two buses to get back to the hotel, and am able to have a useful conversation with Ian from the World Bank who wants to ask me about work we are doing to get local government involved in disseminating information.
    21.45 Back at the hotel, I check my emails, upload the blog and then to bed, where I allow myself to read a few pages of my novel to unwind.

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  • A weekend in Cancun

    December 7th, 2010

    Here at the UN climate conference, the negotiations continued on Saturday with some open and other closed sessions. But I had other work, representing Practical Action at several events, and welcomed a break from the long bus rides and dreary conference venue, and the awful plastic food! On Saturday morning I had a leisurely start – with a meeting at 10, just 10 minutes walk along the beach at another hotel. This meeting was about support for community groups to get together and present their expert knowledge on preparation for disasters in international conferences. Practical Action is committed to supporting local groups to get together to be a stronger voice. The majority of the people at the meeting were from local groups, many from Guatemala, also from Mexico and Peru – a good chance to listen to Spanish, and speak a little.

    I left to reach a conference on Agriculture and Rural Development Day at another hotel a few kms up the beach road. Here there was a panel discussion on supporting small farmers to scale up effective agricultural practices to help adapt to climate change and reduce the greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture. In contrast to the previous event, there was no representation on the panel from either NGOs or farmers groups! And questions and comments after the presentations showed the strong feelings from the audience on this matter. Then I had lunch, while being interviewed by a consultant on Practical Action’s views on using the carbon market to support certain farming practices. (We don’t think that will really benefit small scale farmers). Then I rushed off to another conference at another seaside hotel (no time to get to the beach though!) This was about development and climate, run by the International Institute for Environment and Development. Here I met up with Practical Action colleagues from Kenya, Nepal, Zimbabwe and Sri Lanka who are also here in Cancun as well as many friends in development. Two of our colleagues presented at this event on our work. After an interesting afternoon session, back to the hotel to catch up by email from what has been happening in the negotiations: some new proposed text, ministers arriving, negotiations still going on… but this is our one night off, and there’s a party at a local night club just for the conference participants – so off by bus to that!

    On Sunday I returned with colleagues to the IIED conference, where Practical Action staff sat together over coffee to brainstorm on what our future work on climate change should focus on, before joining a session on adaptation. After lunch, off to a 4 hour meeting with NGO colleagues in Climate Action Network to discuss progress this last week, and how we can work this week to try to influence progress in this very complex process. A quick visit to a reception to network with people (soft drinks only!) before dinner, emails and an early night.

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  • Frustrations in Cancun

    December 3rd, 2010

    Cancun is a pretty depressing place to be if you want to save the planet from humanity’s destructive tendencies. More than 100 hotels stand cheek by jowl along a dual carriageway; the white sands and blue sea are beautiful – but have been created by destruction of the mangroves, which were valuable ecosystems protecting the coast and fisheries. The climate is warm but not too hot, yet the conference centre is so air-conditioned that some of us have developed chills, coming without clothes warm enough to cope with the change of temperature from outside to inside.

    In the conference centre, the tasteless food is heavily packaged, with concessions to the environment only in the biodegradability of the plastic and cardboard. Recycling bins request ‘concern for the environment’ while in the negotiations, this concern is far from uppermost in the minds of most of the delegates. Not only have we flown across the world to get here, but the logistics mean that we have to travel around 20 km to get to the security gateway for the conference, and a further 18km return (by special bus) to reach the grotesquely extravagant hotel where the actual negotiations take place. Up until last year, it seemed there was real space for NGOs to influence what happened, by talking to delegates, and writing articles and talking points. Now, it seems countries’ positions are determined by political considerations only, not technical concerns, and willingness to negotiate, which surely means making concessions to others in return for an outcome, is in short supply. In the fringes, I am having useful discussions on practical ways forward for implementing adaptation.

    On a positive note – we had a very successful side event on Wednesday with up to 160 people in the room, and excellent presentations about valuable work. However, everyone in the room seemed to be on our side – about the need to change international agricultural policy away from intensive, environmentally destructive systems towards ones supporting small scale diverse production. Those we need to engage with to change minds and policy stayed away.

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  • Lively discussion on adaptation yesterday

    July 13th, 2010

    Yesterday we held a workshop in London on Community Based Adaptation (CBA). This is a field of work in which Practical Action is regarded as a leader, but the spur for holding the workshop was given by Saleemul Huq, senior fellow of IIED’s climate change programme; At the 4th International Workshop on CBA held in Tanzania in February, Saleem invited people from each of the countries represented at the workshop, to organise a short workshop for people in their own country, to share latest thinking and practice in helping vulnerable people adapt to climate change.

    I took up Saleem’s request, and the result was a very lively workshop with around 50 people present, mostly from international NGOs, including the big ones like Christian Aid and Oxfam as well as smaller ones, a few PhD students, and some research institutes like IIED and Overseas Development Institute (ODI).

    A year or two ago, and such a workshop mostly consisted of presentations showing how climate change was already affecting people around the world, and what different organisations were doing to help them. But yesterday, all the presenters demonstrated much deeper understanding of the links between poverty, development and adaptation, and, as importantly, some of the social and political barriers facing vulnerable groups in communities in trying to adapt to the changing climate.

    Among governments, adaptation is still seen as something related to particular economic sectors – requiring changes to infrastructure, to crops grown, ways of dealing with water scarcity etc at a national level. Recognition that climate change will affect vulnerable people in all these ways and that a co-ordinated response is needed from government is still very low.

    So one session yesterday a group discussed how to get these messages across to policy makers and decision takers in both UK and developing countries. Other groups discussed what kind of agricultural production system will be flexible and varied enough to cope with the uncertainty and multiple changes in seasons that climate change will bring to different regions, and a new theme beginning to be addressed is adaptation in cities, where the challenges and the power structures around land and services are very different from those in rural areas where the focus is on land-based livelihoods.

    Discussion didn’t flag the whole day long! So, how and where will the debate continue? Well, we will be producing a report, and putting it and all the presentations on our website – look out for those in a week or so. There will be a 5th international conference on CBA in February 2011, to be held in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

    Meanwhile, in Practical Action we are focusing on analysing more deeply what adaptive capacity really involves, and my colleague Jon Ensor will be writing a book on this theme. I continue to follow the climate change negotiations, to ensure that whatever is agreed on adaptation will enable a focus on local level actions by countries, and ensure that vulnerable people are not forgotten. We are also working on ways to ensure that communities have a say in how funding for adaptation is allocated, and have access to advice and technology on how to adapt that may be provided by governments or international institutions.

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  • Funding for adaptation takes a significant step forward!

    June 16th, 2010

    The last couple of days I have been attending the tenth meeting of the Adaptation Fund Board, a new body in its 3rd year of operation. It was set up to disburse funds generated by a small levy on projects designed to generate emissions reductions (under the Clean Development Mechanism.) The Board is innovative in two ways: it allows governments from developing countries to apply directly for funds, rather than through another UN agency, and it has a majority of members from developing countries. At this meeting the Board was able to recommend that four outline proposals for adaptation programmes were developed into full proposals ready for funding. These will be in Senegal, Nicaragua, Pakistan and Solomon Islands. This is a milestone! Rather few government-proposed programmes for adaptation have so far been funded by the UN climate change convention, and this new Fund so far looks like being quicker at processing applications than any other fund.

    This meeting has a much better feeling about it than the negotiations on climate change that I was attending for the past fortnight, where there were few positive outcomes in moving towards an international agreement. One of these was the indication that the US might now support a new fund for large scale new climate finance under the control of the climate change convention, rather than insisting that all funding goes through the World Bank, a position strongly opposed by most developing countries. There are also indications that developed countries are coming up with the ‘fast start finance’ pledged in Copenhagen and are getting the message that this must be new money, not aid money repackaged for climate change related projects.

    One really low point in the talks came on Thursday, when the vulnerable small island states asked for a review of the climate change science, on the implications of keeping temperature rise below 1.5 degrees. Most countries came out in support; however Saudi Arabia was against it, saying there was no need for the review, that all the scientific information was available and those countries that needed it could get it from Google!

    On a much lighter note, on Friday last Oxfam did a stunt outside the conference centre, with G8 leaders playing football (with the world), with no rules, just passing the ball (our planet) from one to another, and no attempt to score!

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  • Fiddling in Bonn while the world burns!

    June 9th, 2010

    Well, it has been far too low key in Bonn these last 10 days – I have to stay focused on the little that we NGO people can do to keep pushing for strong action; if I think about what the science is saying about how fast drastic change in our ecosystems is happening, and what the consequences will be around the world for vulnerable people, it almost paralyses me with depression. Yesterday, one of the IPCC lead scientists, Bill Hare, gave a presentation to NGOs on the feasibility of staying below 1.5 degrees temperature rise. This would involve not only massive emissions cuts very soon, but also use of unproven technologies such as carbon capture and storage, as well as large scale aforestation and changes in agriculture practices to sink carbon into the soil.

    Yet, lest we think ‘this all sounds so difficult, so let’s just go for 2 degrees’ – here are some of the scary consequences: between 1.5 and 2 degrees rise, the oceans will become so acidic, that coral will begin to DISSOLVE – yes, not die, but dissolve. Not just corals will be affected of course – plankton, the food of most fish species, also has a skeleton of calcium carbonate. So the oceans would begin to die, and cease to be a source of food. Yesterday, at a side event on adaptation knowledge (where I was also a panellist) we heard of the drastic impacts on Andean people of melting glaciers and temperature changes already occurring.

    We UK NGOs were surprised today to receive a request to meet Ambassador Lumumba – chief negotiator for Sudan, and now Chair of the Africa Strategy Group. He chose us, because of the UK’s special relationship with Africa, and because he has admiration for what UK NGOs including Oxfam, Amnesty, and Friends of the Earth, have achieved in terms of changing minds and influencing policy. Why, he wanted to know, were we not fighting harder to win the public over to the moral imperative of acting fast to stay below 1.5 degrees – a temperature rise globally that will mean up to 4 degrees for parts of Africa. We responded that we were doing what we can, that moral arguments do not sway the majority. Nevertheless, I think we all felt that Lumumba’s call to action should spur us on to fight harder – just as the slave trade abolitionists began a battle on moral grounds against great odds, and won it. You blog readers – please help us fight this battle!

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  • A working weekend in Bonn

    June 6th, 2010

    One week down, one to go, at the climate change negotiations.

    Yesterday I spent much of the day away from the conference, at a workshop on issues of climate justice organised by one of our partners on climate change policy, Germanwatch. There was also a panel discussion on opportunities for some developing countries presented by low-carbon pathways to development.

    I think Practical Action has some valuable case studies to offer from our work on renewable energies, even though our primary focus is, and will continue to be, on enabling energy access for the 1.6bn without modern energy.

    At the conference there was a film festival, and my colleague Ranga from Sri Lanka introduced a film about farmers choosing to grow traditional rice varieities to help them adapt to increasing drought.

    Last night was the regular mid-session NGO party in the Maritim Hotel. Seems strange to choose to go to this drab yet pretentious hotel on a Saturday night, when we have to be there every weekday, but the party is good fun, and dancing is a great way of releasing the stresses of the week.

    On this occasion, Climate Action Network (CAN) took the opportunity to make a farewell presentation to Yvo de Boer, Executive Secretary of the Climate change Convention, who will leave his post at the end of June. We sang, a new version of the Julie Andrews song, Yvo’s Favourite Things which you can listen to here: http://www.youtube.com/oneworldtv#p/u/1/nGQ4y-UQAto.
    Yvo’s speech in response to the song and the gifts he was given is here: http://www.youtube.com/oneworldtv#p/u/2/PIvI_YkjRsU.

    Today I spent a long afternoon in the strategy meeting of Climate Action Network, but we were kept on our toes in the sultry heat with a series of challenging discussions on our strategy towards Cancun and how we hope to rebuild from the Copenhagen failure. We also discussed how to catalyse much needed action on developing plans for a zero carbon future (for developed countries) and a low carbon future for developing countries, particularly those growing rapidly.

    I can’t say I am looking forward to another week here – but there is plenty that needs thinking about and acting on, and I feel some hope that progress will be made.

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  • Climate change: Talking about the elephant in the room

    June 4th, 2010

    Here in Bonn at the UNFCCC talks there has overall been rather little going on – not many arguments between governments, yet not a lot of progress on agreeing a text for negotiation, and no sense of urgency.

    So I went for a change of scene to Klimaforum, organised by Friends of the Earth Germany, to talk about some of the REAL issues on climate change. And the first of these is that global climate change cannot be tackled just by green investment (alongside economic growth). The key reason for rapid cliamte change is our economic system of consumption-fuelled economic growth, since growth and production involves the unsustainable use of fossil fuels and many other scarce resources. Sufficient emissions reductions in developed countries, to prevent dangerous climate change will almost certainly involve consuming less in all areas of our lives, for middle class people everywhere.

    Of course an alternative economic system is hard to envisage, and there are huge issues to discuss – if the economy doesn’t grow, then many people lose out – not just big busienss, but lots of ordinary people and of course often the poorest in all countries too. But ignoring the issue doesn’t mean it will go away.

    Other debates today were about the dominant global food production system, that is also high in greenhouse gas emissions AND is contributing to hunger for at least 1bn people. Another workshop discussed how to mobilise people to put pressure on their governments – given that without pressure, there will be no movement on difficult policy decisions.

    No easy answers today (sorry about that!) but at least, a refreshing discussion. And that meant I felt able to re-enter the gloomy Maritim conference centre, for an evening session on one positive area of work under the UNFCCC – the Nairobi Work Programme – a programme to build understanding, and share experiences, around the issue of adaptaiton to climate change. Practical Action has been an active partner in the programme, sharing case studies, and speaking at workshops. It’s a lovely evening now, so I hope to join some climate change friends in a nice biergarten.

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  • Two steps forward, one step back towards a climate agreement?

    June 1st, 2010

    I am in Bonn for the first substantive meeting for climate change negotiations since the debacle in Copenhagen. We are back in the gloomy and grandiose Maritim hotel where the conference takes place and yesterday felt very much like Groundhog day – so much of what was being said both by us NGOs and delegates was what we were saying all last year – but now, it is hard to say it with passion and conviction that change will come.

    However, there are some positive signs: many good things were said about the Adaptation Fund – a new fund just getting ready to disburse money to developing countries, after a few years of getting formalities sorted out. This fund is different in a number of ways: it is funded through the carbon market – not a great source of money at present, but it means it is not dependent on overseas aid. Its Board has a majority of members from developing countries, and its meetings are open to registered Observers – and I am one of them, and will be attending their next meeing in a couple of weeks time. A review of the Fund’s work and future begins here tomorrow. There is a new chair of proceeding under one of the key negotiating tracks – Margaret Mukahanana-Sangarwe from Zimbabwe – and she has set a target of a new negotiating text during next week. So far, all countries except the US are keen to work towards this. (The US wants just to focus on the undemocratically produced Copenhagen Accord, instead.)

    In our work on the theme of adaptation, we NGOs have prepared a one page document on the key points that need working on in the current text, and are aiming to talk to delegates this week. I met one from Nepal, who knows my colleague Gehendra, and we will meet the UK delegation tomorrow.

    One more business engagement tonight – a side event on addressing gender issues in national planning for adaptation – and then off to a concert in the Beethoven House in Bonn. 10 hours in this stuffy building and I need a break!

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  • Europe needs to step up on climate change!

    Bourton on Dunsmore, Warwickshire CV23 9, UK, Bourton on Dunsmore
    May 27th, 2010

    The European climate commissioner Connie Hedegaard did her best yesterday with the Commission to show that European business and national interests would benefit from Europe setting a target of -30% reductions in emissions. The additional investment costs would only be an additional €11bn a year – with long term benefits in terms of leading on green energy.

    It isn’t just Europe that would benefit either; at a lively panel discussion hosted by the ippr this morning, Steve Rayner (Director, Science, Innovation and society) said that it was crucial that we put much more funding for green energy, in order to bring down the costs of technologies such as wind and solar. This would then make it cheaper for countries such as China and India to continue to develop while reducing their emissions.

    Of course, another stumbling block is large scale international finance to help these countries – but the UN Secretary General’s High Level Advisory Group on Climate Finance (AGF for short) is working on that, we hope. It really is urgent for Europe to set an example as a developed country that low carbon technologies can deliver – as we are still on a pathway to a climate disaster for millions of people in developing countries by 2100 if we don’t move quickly to transform our economies and support adaptation.

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