How COVID-19 Is Reinforcing the Need for Climate Adaptation in Vulnerable Countries
This article was written by Anne Hammill, Senior Director, Resilience, International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), Secretariat for the NAP Global Network
“There is a call at the international and regional level to ensure we don’t forget climate change adaptation, mitigation, and disaster risk management while we focus on our response to COVID-19; climate change is still here, and we have the stark reminder that we have now entered hurricane season.”
- Dawn Pierre-Nathoniel, Department for Sustainable Development, Ministry of Education, Innovation, Gender Relations and Sustainable Development, Saint Lucia
As noted in a recent blog post, both the impacts of—and recovery responses to—the COVID-19 pandemic can be linked to a country’s priorities for adapting to climate change. Recognizing this intersection, we reached out to our partner countries to better understand how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected their plans to prepare for and adapt to the impacts of climate change, asking:
- Has COVID-19 reinforced some of your country’s overall climate change adaptation priorities?
- How has the pandemic affected the progress of your National Adaptation Planning (NAP) process?
- What aspects of your country’s NAP have helped form your COVID-19 response and recovery strategies?
Our team interviewed 10 country representatives in June 2020: Burkina Faso, Colombia, Costa Rica, Côte d’Ivoire, Fiji, Nepal, Peru, Saint Lucia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe. Here is what we discovered.
The decisions we make today need to align with our vision for a sustainable future, as explained in the video below by Andrea Meza Murillo, Director of the Climate Change Division, Ministry of Environment and Energy, Costa Rica.
Climate Change Adaptation and COVID-19 Recovery
Overall, our partner countries feel committed to the adaptation priorities identified in their NAP processes and feel they still make sense amidst current efforts to address the impacts of COVID-19. If anything, the pandemic has reinforced the importance of certain adaptation actions in addressing multiple crises.
“COVID-19 has elevated two existing climate change adaptation priorities in Côte d’Ivoire: strengthening agricultural value chains and mobilizing domestic finance for risk management to decrease the country’s dependence on international funding.”
- Jean Douglas Anaman, Climate Resilience Project Coordinator, Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development, Côte d’Ivoire
Whether responding to COVID-19 or building their resilience to the impacts of climate change, our partner countries recognize the importance of a greater number of well-equipped medical facilities, better risk communications strategies, more health care workers with training in crisis response, stronger disease surveillance and early warning systems.
“The climate agenda remains central to Peru’s development efforts. This hasn’t changed because of the pandemic, even though now we have an emphasis in the health sector. But because there is a clear link between health and adaptation, this work doesn’t feel like a move away from adaptation goals. Rather this is a focus on one of the key areas of adaptation in order to achieve a sustainable economic recovery.”
- Cristina Rodríguez, Director of Climate Change Adaptation and Desertification, Ministry of Environment (MINAM), Peru
CLIMATE-SMART AGRICULTURE AND FOOD SECURITY
The demand shock and supply chain disruptions associated with COVID-19 laid bare the need for greater food self-sufficiency and more resilient food systems. Climate-smart agriculture is key to securing a country’s food production, and investments in better food storage and local markets can buffer trade disruptions. Adaptation actions that support small-scale farmers—including women—to engage in agricultural value chains and complementary income-generating activities, as well as those that strengthen social protection systems, are more critical now than ever.
“There’s an increased focus on the agriculture sector based on what we have learned from COVID. We are very dependent on tourism and trade, but we need to be more self-sufficient in food production and focus on climate-smart agriculture.”
- Shivanal Kumar, Climate Change Adaptation Specialist, Fiji Ministry of Economy
“ We need to have an enhanced understanding of the impact of COVID-19 on climate change responses as our national priority is on reducing climate change vulnerability of key socio-economic sectors, including agriculture – the majority of which is rainfed.”
- Emily F. Matingo, Climate Change Scientist, Ministry of Environment, Water, and Climate, Zimbabwe
WATER AND SANITATION
Many country representatives spoke about how access to clean and reliable water supplies is central to both climate adaptation and their pandemic response. Indeed, several noted that had investments in this adaptation priority been made earlier, some of the worst impacts of the pandemic might have been avoided.
“Our government’s response to COVID-19 is focused on sanitation, handwashing, and social distancing—but the reality is that South Africa is a semi-arid country with major limitations on the quality and quantity of water for domestic use. We realize that some climate actions, like the use of ecosystem-based adaptation for wetland rehabilitation, are not only relevant for the biodiversity sector, but also for the water and sanitation department, as they could potentially increase access to water.”
- Alinah Mthembu, Department of Environment, Forestry, and Fisheries, South Africa
Some governments have committees to focus the conversation on the relationship between the environment and the health of their population, as highlighted in the video below by Santiago Aparicio, Director of Environment and Sustainable Development, National Planning Department, Colombia.
GENDER-RESPONSIVE RELIEF AND RECOVERY EFFORTS
COVID-19 relief and recovery investments must address the disproportionate ways in which women and other marginalized populations have been affected. The pandemic has revealed how issues such as women’s unpaid care burden, gender-based violence, differing access to information and services, and economic inequalities increase vulnerability to shocks. These issues are also addressed in gender-responsive NAP processes.
“Gender is very important in the current context. People staying home because of losing their jobs can lead to tensions in the household. Understanding the impacts of a crisis like COVID from a gender angle will be very relevant to improve future adaptation measures.”
- Shivanal Kumar, Climate Change Adaptation Specialist, Fiji Ministry of Economy
NATURE-BASED SOLUTIONS (NbS)
Countries were clear that infrastructure and other recovery investments must be expanded to include natural infrastructure and other NbS. Implementing NbS can mitigate disasters, support livelihoods, and generate other economic benefits while protecting and restoring biodiversity.
As highlighted in the video below by Santiago Aparicio from the National Planning Department in Colombia: this is the time to jump into a new way of doing things and use Nature-based Solutions to combine governmental efforts to adapt to the impacts of climate change and protect ecosystems.
ADDITIONAL PRIORITIES: TECHNOLOGY, TRADE, AND MIGRATION
For some countries, COVID-19 has also brought to light other factors that have a direct bearing on adaptation actions, perhaps prompting a closer examination of them as countries advance their NAP processes. These include the use of digital technologies for risk management and information sharing; expanding intra-regional and domestic trade to address their dependence on the import of goods and services for disaster response, food security and economic development; and managing migration dynamics during a crisis.
“The influx of migrant workers, who are leaving their jobs abroad and returning home to rural communities due to the pandemic, is creating new challenges for the government: from finding local employment for workers to ensuring food and water security, all the while preventing the spread of COVID-19. There is a need for a round of consultations with local governments, the private sector and civil societal people in order to get their inputs on effective response strategies to COVID-19, and to understand how they can contribute to Nepal’s NAP process.”
- Dr. Maheshwar Dhakal, Joint Secretary (Technical), Chief, Climate Change Management Division, National Focal Point for UNFCCC and UNCCD, Ministry of Forests and Environment, Nepal
Current Setbacks in NAP Processes
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected adaptation planning processes around the world. Our partner countries highlighted current interruptions to their adaptation plans—from being slightly delayed by a few months to being completely stalled. Reasons for these delays include:
CANCELLED MEETINGS AND CONSULTATIONS
Travel restrictions and physical distancing requirements have stalled efforts to organize in-person meetings at different phases of the adaptation planning process. The solution of using virtual, Internet-based tools to conduct meetings excludes poor communities with limited or no internet access. This further marginalizes these communities and undermines the quality of the NAP process, as it will not be fully inclusive or representative.
“As a Department, we continue to engage our stakeholders, but now increasingly utilizing virtual means for consultations, training sessions and meetings. We recognize that virtual engagement is the order of the day at the national, regional, and international level, but it is important to find that balance to avoid stakeholder exhaustion. It may take a while for people to become comfortable congregating in large numbers in rooms with others, so virtual sessions are indeed the new normal.”
- Shanna Emmanuel, Department for Sustainable Development, Ministry of Education, Innovation, Gender Relations and Sustainable Development, Saint Lucia
DISTRACTED POLITICAL SUPPORT FOR ADAPTATION
With government leadership focused on managing the immediate impacts of the pandemic and short-term relief efforts, some countries are reporting less attention being paid to climate adaptation. This has added to the struggle of finding the support and resources needed for adaptation actions going forward.
“The NAP was supposed to go to Cabinet for approval by April 8, 2020. However, all Cabinet business has been paused, so it is on hold. They’ve already missed the opportunity for budget allocations for the next fiscal year. This has caused a major delay in our NAP process.”
- Alinah Mthembu, Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries, South Africa
GREATER COMPETITION FOR ADAPTATION FUNDING AND RESOURCES
With developing country governments facing a combination of increased debt, reduced fiscal space, and potentially less development assistance, funding for adaptation activities is changing. Some are finding their budgetary allocations are under threat, while others noted a prioritization of adaptation actions that are more directly linked to job creation, such as infrastructure projects. This is sometimes at the expense of “softer” but also critical adaptation investments, such as awareness raising, research, and data management.
“We’re not expecting to move away from climate-related targets, but funds are very limited, and debt is going through the roof. So, how to handle a huge external debt in the near future is something everyone in government is thinking and worrying about.”
- Andrea Meza Murillo, Director of Climate Change Division, Ministry of Environment and Energy, Costa Rica
The Value of the NAP Process in Times of Crisis
Despite the challenges and setbacks noted above, the structures, capacities, and activities associated with NAP processes have proven useful in the development of COVID-19 responses and recovery plans.
Roadmap for a resilient recovery:
By laying out medium- and long-term priorities for building a resilience to various shocks and stresses, NAP processes provide government actors with a sense of direction for responding to and recovering from any crisis.
Identifying vulnerable areas and people:
NAPs point to places and populations that are disproportionately affected by the impacts of climate change and now experiencing the worst impacts of the pandemic.
Strong institutional arrangements:
The NAP process establishes policy instruments, advisory bodies, and engagement platforms that can also be used for coordinating COVID-19 recovery.
Providing options to approach development differently:
COVID-19 has provided an opening for countries to fundamentally change how they build and secure their futures—including by putting climate resilience at the heart of it. NAPs contain the concrete actions for making this shift a reality.
Countries around the world are entering a new normal; one with shifting priorities and a focus on resilience. At the NAP Global Network, we will take this opportunity to further support our partner countries by helping them integrate lessons from this experience into their climate adaptation plans and priorities. It is clear to us that the NAP process will play an important role in paving the way forward to build back better.
Similar actions: Peruse the NDC Partnership's Green Economic Recovery Support Initiative
The NAP Global Network Secretariat, IISD, would like to express our sincere thanks to the following government representatives for taking the time to speak with us to share their perspectives on the links between COVID-19 recovery and their countries’ National Adaptation Plan processes.
Ms. Alinah Mthembu, Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries, South Africa
Ms. Andrea Meza Murillo, Director of Climate Change Division, Ministry of Environment and Energy, Costa Rica
Ms. Cristina Rodríguez, Director of Climate Change Adaptation and Desertificaton, Ministry of Environment (MINAM), Peru
Ms. Dawn Pierre-Nathoniel, Department for Sustainable Development, Ministry of Education, Innovation, Gender Relations and Sustainable Development, Saint Lucia
Ms. Emily F. Matingo, Climate Change Scientist, Ministry of Environment, Water and Climate, Zimbabwe
Mr. Jean Douglas Anaman, Climate Resilience Project Coordinator, Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development, Côte d’Ivoire
Mr. Kouka Ouedraogo, Director General, National Meteorological Agency; Ministry of Transport, Urban Mobility and Road Safety; National Meteorological Directorate, Burkina Faso
Dr. Maheshwar Dhakal, Joint Secretary (Technical), Chief, Climate Change Management Division, National Focal Point for UNFCCC and UNCCD, Ministry of Forests and Environment, Nepal
Mr. Santiago Aparicio, Director of Environment and Sustainable Development, National Planning Department (DNP), Colombia
Ms. Shanna Emmanuel, Department for Sustainable Development, Ministry of Education, Innovation, Gender Relations and Sustainable Development, Saint Lucia
Mr. Shivanal Kumar, Climate Change Adaptation Specialist, Ministry of Economy, Fiji