Back 15.10.2009

Will mainstreaming climate change save our planet?

Climate change is one of the central challenges facing humanity in the 21st century. Addressing this challenge necessarily implies integrating climate mitigation and adaptation considerations into all societal activities and decision making.

What does this mean for development cooperation?

Assessing climate risks and identifying optimal mitigation and adaptation measures in development cooperation will require even further attention, as:

i) the developing countries in general and the least developed countries in particular are most vulnerable to the impacts of climate variability and change,
ii) the poor countries have very limited resources to adapt, and
iii) the public sector will have a critical role with regards to catalyzing funding, capacity building and technology transfer in the immediate future.

In practice this means applying a “climate lens” on all development cooperation activities: whatever we undertake as part of development cooperation must support the host country’s development goals and simultaneously aim to strengthen adaptive capacity, support mitigation efforts and a transition to low-carbon sustainable growth.

Climate change in Finnish development cooperation – case water sector in Ethiopia

Current climate variability is already imposing a significant challenge to Ethiopia. It affects food security, water and energy supply, poverty reduction and sustainable development efforts. It also causes natural resource degradation and natural disasters. The extremely high dependence of the Ethiopian economy on rain fed agriculture, which is very sensitive to climate variability, is one of the main causes of vulnerability in Ethiopia.

Finnish development cooperation activities in Ethiopia focus strategically on sectors (in particular water, education, land use), which are in many respects at the nexus of development and climate challenges. This provides Finland an exceptional opportunity, and a particular responsibility. Finland needs to ensure that all Finnish activities contribute to sustainable growth and poverty reduction as well as to strengthened adaptive capacity in Ethiopia.

Making use of the lessons learned from forerunner countries, Finland is in a position to rapidly and efficiently climate mainstream its development cooperation. A recent study by Gaia, looking on Finnish development cooperation in Ethiopia, highlights several opportunities for ensuring that climate variability and change do not threaten the outcomes of our development activities in the field. Applying the “climate lens” also reveals several ways of integrating further components into planned and on-going projects, which could even further strengthen the adaptive capacity of our local partners Ethiopia.

Mainstreaming is part of the solution

Actually we do not have a choice. Only by looking at development challenges through a “climate lens” do we have a chance of curbing the global greenhouse gas emissions at a sufficiently rapid rate, and a chance of ensuring that we are capable to cope with the already on-going and accelerating changes in climate.

However, mainstreaming climate into development cooperation will not be enough to tackle the climate challenge. In order to give the least developed countries a chance to survive climate change, we must also address a multitude of structural, economic and political barriers, such as world trade structures and rules, existing economic incentives as well as policy coherence and leadership issues.

I believe the road is clear – the task is formidable but the reward will be even bigger.

Mikko Halonen

Author is an environmental and climate consultant at Gaia Consulting.