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FEATURE: Climate change action is happening on the ground

By Neil Bird, Research Fellow, Overseas Development Institute

It will be tomorrow before we know the outcome of the latest UNFCCC COP meeting. The thousands of people who have descended on the resort city of Durban follow in the footsteps of those who attended the football World Cup last year. But, as in many football matches, the outcome will remain frustratingly uncertain until the final whistle blows.

But do these negotiations matter to the global poor, who have to address the more apparent threats of inadequate healthcare, limited education provision and unsanitary living conditions?

In some respects, these negotiations hardly matter. The global response to climate change continues to progress at a snail-like pace: just consider for a moment that this is the 17th Conference of the Parties, it is not the 3rd, 4th, 5th or even 10th meeting. How many more international gatherings will be required for the countries attending to agree a global compact that both protects the environment and offers hope to the poorest people who are most vulnerable to climate change?

Perhaps what we have learned most over the past decade is that global negotiations take on a life of their own and, at worse, appear little more than a self-serving exercise.

And yet there is action taking place – just not in Durban. It is taking place in many countries, both developed and developing, where people realise the importance of local action and where governments offer national leadership. And sometimes this leadership is supported by international initiatives.

One such initiative, discussed at a European Union side event on Tuesday in Durban, is the Global Climate Change Alliance. The overall objective of the GCCA is to build a new alliance on climate change between the EU and those developing countries that are most affected but have the least capacity to deal with climate change.

Rather than set up a new fund or governance structure, the GCCA is working through the European Commission’s established channels for political dialogue and cooperation at national and international level. Three years ago, an EC staff working document referred to the initiative as “an EU answer to the development dimension of climate change”.

So is there evidence of this happening? Perhaps there is. Speakers from two countries provided compelling evidence that climate change-related action is taking place, in part because of the GCCA initiative.


Wills Agricole, the climate change national focal point person from the Seychelles, provided the perspective of someone charged with planning for climate change within a Small Island Developing State (SIDS), one of the main targeted beneficiary groups of the GGCA.

The national approach adopted in the Seychelles involves the integration of climate change actions within national sustainable development plans, as demonstrated through the recent adoption of the national climate change strategy.[j1]

So far, a broad range of measures have been carried out: from the relocation of hard infrastructure (such as moving the national meteorological services building that is perilously close to the advancing seashore), through new engineering works that will provide additional sea defences, to the ‘softer’ capacity-building required to prepare for climate change. All this is made possible through EU financial support going straight into the country’s national budget – although this programmatic support clearly depends on the careful use of milestones for the release of international finance.

The presentation by Antonio Queface from Mozambique gave another perspective from someone representing the second major beneficiary group of the GCCA: the Least Developed Countries. Mozambique is one of the most climate-vulnerable (and poor) countries in the world.

Here the challenge being addressed is to mainstream climate change into national development efforts, and in this regard the GCCA programme appears well-aligned with government policies, strategies and plans. This leads to high levels of national ownership over the climate change programme, using government – rather than donor – systems, with funds already disbursed through the state budget allocation and financial management system.

So perhaps this is the good news that is coming out of the Durban COP meeting – that no matter what goes on in these negotiations, a myriad of actions are now taking place, even in the poorest, most vulnerable countries. As an African colleague remarked, we simply cannot wait for a global agreement.

This blog originally appeared on AlertNetWe occasionally  invite bloggers from around the world to provide their experiences and views. The views expressed here are those of the author, and not necessarily those of CDKN.

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