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Some observations from the 5th Asia-Pacific Climate Change Adaptation Forum

Kerala Backwaters, Alappuzha, India

17-19 October 2016, Colombo, Sri Lanka

Last month I visited Colombo to speak at the 5th Asia-Pacific Climate Change Adaptation Forum. It was a remarkably successful event that focused particularly on ‘Bridging the Gaps in Policy & Practice’. More than 1000 representatives from across science, policy, national to local governments, multilateral donor agencies and various arms of the United Nations came together from over 50 nations. The sessions were organised under four major streams: Adaptation PlanningAdaptation FinancingClimate Resilient Development, and Multi-actor Cross Learning. The forum provided a great opportunity to share knowledge, build south-south cooperation and understand the full range of successes and failures that projects and programmes have experienced over the last decade in their efforts on climate adaptation.

The event opened with a high level plenary on “Why the focus on ‘living under 2°C?’” The ensuing discussion set the tone for the Forum’s theme on ‘Adapting and living below 2°C’. The panellists comprised a minister from a Small Island Developing State, three of the world’s best known researchers in the climate adaptation space, as well as a representative of Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Mahaweli Development and Environment.

Across large parts of the Forum, it became clear that sustained climate financing, strategies to better engage the private sector and building the business case for adaptation remained critical challenges across most national and regional climate adaptation efforts. Other lesson highlights from the forum included: investing in the long-term; mainstreaming climate adaptation in national and local development planning; incentivising adaptation; and operationalising development plans that are risk-informed and inclusive.

What was missing from the forum however, was a focus on three particularly relevant areas of deliberation and action: a) inclusion of gender and other high at-risk groups at the grassroots level, b) climate justice and ethics, and c) education for children and investing in the future generation. There was a consistent gender imbalance even at the level of individual sessions, as several sessions offered limited opportunities for female participation in the form of moderator, chair or speakers. There was only one (out of 30+) session which, although discussing ecosystem-based adaptation approaches, had a clear focus on adaptation experiences along ‘gender-based roles and the marginalised’. While a significant proportion of the forum attendees were South Asian, women from the region were particularly underrepresented, as also mentioned here.

Overall, the forum provided valuable insights into the vast amount of work currently underway across Asia’s urban, rural, public and private sectors. At the same time, numerous challenges remain in both policy and practice as we move along pathways to adapting and living under 2°C. Hopefully, proceedings at the COP22 discussions in Marrakech currently underway will have picked on a number of these challenges to inform constructive options for policymakers, funders and several thousand others working with communities across Asia, Africa and the SIDS.

More information on the recently concluded APAN Forum is available here.

Dr Vigya Sharma is a postdoctoral research fellow with the Energy and Poverty Research Group, University of Queensland, Australia.