“Adaptation has to be biased towards the most vulnerable,” said Saleemul Haq, Director, International Centre for Climate Change Development at the 5th Asia Pacific Climate Change Adaptation Forum which kick-started in Colombo today. The theme for this year’s conference is ‘Adapting and Living under 20 C: Bridging the Gaps in Policy and Practice’. Over the course of the next three days the forum brings together scientists, government representatives, donors, policy-makers and youth from almost about 50 countries.

It was at the Copenhagen climate change talks that it was recognized that the increase in global temperatures be kept well within 20 C. Last year, the Paris Accord doubled down on the same goal “pursuing efforts to limit the temperature rise to 1.50 C.” This half-degree shift might not sound like much, but it seems to have given ministers and researchers around the world both renewed hope and despair for our political momentum. As many gathered here in Colombo would argue, Limiting global warming to 20C will not be an easy task, let alone the newly enshrined figure a half-degree below.

The world is already experiencing extreme weather events and as we have heard already today, our collective ability to adapt isn’t very high. “At the local level, people do not have the luxury of planning too far ahead. When faced with a flood or a drought, the issue is their immediate survival,” said Atiq Rahman, Executive Director, Bangladesh Centre for Advanced Studies.

This requires immediate action at the global and national levels in order to build adequate capacity and resilience.

The session opened with representatives from across the Asia-Pacific region, highlighting the need for immediate action.

Indonesia’s H.E. Rachmat Witoelar, began by arguing that “Climate Change is everybody’s business and everybody should be on-board.” He followed this with a direct call suggestive of his country’s agricultural vulnerability and high deforestation rate, arguing that “Adaptation is a part of mitigation because you cannot fight climate change while people are suffering.”

For a more local perspective, RDS Jayathunga, added that it is a huge challenge to build capacity and resilience in Sri Lanka, especially if affected communities will have to deal with the realities of a world set to cross the 2 degrees temperature threshold.

He emphasized the need to draw from the past experiences and build a collaborative future between developing countries battling climate change; “South – South cooperation is must for building resilience for most vulnerable communities to combat climate change.”

The panelists also emphasized that investments and activities on adaptation cannot be a short term measure. As Bangladesh’s Saleemul Huq explained “The paradigm of short term thinking no longer makes sense.” In today’s changing climate, “you may have short term investments, but they need to have long term impacts”.

Continuing on this theme, Finance Minister from the Cook Islands, H.E. Mark Brown, argued that “”Our main focus is building our people to be able to live in the 2 degree world”. In a country that is “no higher than 5 metres above sea level” you can understand his fears.

However, as rightly pointed out by Atiq Rahman “We live in multiple worlds.” While these discussions are going on at this moment, there is a world of action where communities on the frontline are coping with the impacts of extreme weather events. As the conference unfolds during the next two days, it remains to be seen how these promises can be translated into on ground action which actually makes a difference in the lives of these vulnerable communities.

Parul Tewari

About Parul Tewari