Embracing acceleration for climate action in adaptation and mitigation

| 26th June 2018

Miyako City, Japan in 2011. Motion between the rocky plates that form the Earth’s surface is not smooth. The accumulated pressure between plates can result in sudden ruptures when the two sides move, causing an earthquake.

Climate change is upon us. The Paris Agreement is an acknowledgement of the urgency and scale of the problem. But we must accelerate change if we are to have any hope of a solution. DR SANDRA PIESIK says traditional knowledge can provide further inspiration and ideas about how exactly this can be achieved

The big question is what next? How to turn this knowledge into policy making strategies at the regional level and in markets, where technology transfer can deliver transformative sustainable transition using local skills and local materials and be owned by the people of the land to build local resilience.

Even if we could meet the 1.5°C Paris Agreement target, the climate changes already in effect are irreversible. Various initiatives are asking governments and non-state actors to accelerate their climate actions to meet the Paris Agreement objectives and Sustainable Development Goals targets.

Acceleration in this context means to expediate climate change adaptation and mitigation measures, but the fundamental question is: how is this to be accomplished?

There are many historic approaches to combating climate change; some focus on calculating sustainability, and more recently there is a fascination with big data.

Process-based approaches

These approaches fill the gap in individual sectorial approaches to sustainability - such as the energy and transport sectors. However, outside these more modern, quantitative means of calculating sustainability there are ancient technologies derived from traditional knowledge systems.   

It is hard to quantify a holistic approach to eco-systems of a desert oasis for example; where food production of dates co-enables production of vegetables and fruits, which is also linked to sustainable ground water management by the community.

The oases prevent land degradation and desertification, produce microclimate for the nearby cities and are enablers of economic transitions.

These interdependences co-existed through millennia on the Sahara Desert and in the Arabian Peninsula: sadly some of these practices are no longer in use due to the forces of globalisation. 

In this case, process-based approaches to acceleration of climate change adaptation and mitigation might be the right, if not the only, remaining answer.

Vernacular architecture

Approaches to accelerate in this context may need to take a different form to what we know. Traditional knowledge systems have been acknowledged in all three Climate Change Conventions since 1992 (prior to the Paris Agreement. 

Yet, until today we have not been able to define their importance or commercialise them globally in terms of job creation opportunities, especially in the most vulnerable climate zones such as deserts and tropics that are also affected by poverty.

We have been studying traditional knowledge systems for millennia and historically this knowledge has been passed on from one generation to the next through families.

Today, this knowledge transfer is mostly passed on through more formal education and is in the hands of the state. Higher education research institutes have their own individual expertise too, critical for delivery of technology transfer.

From time to time studies such as HABITAT: Vernacular Architecture for a Changing Planet - the first global review of vernacular architecture carried out by over one hundred and forty contributors over the last twenty years – make an impact on innovative and global outlook on “filling the gaps” opportunity.

Traditional knowledge

Endorsed by several United Nations entities, the HABITAT multidisciplinary team includes architects, engineers, anthropologists, botanists, ethnobotanists, geologists, geographers, archaeologists, film makers and United Nations officials.

It has taken the HABITAT team over five years to deliver their assessment, looking also at cross-sectorial approaches to adaption with experts studying the subject for over twenty years or more.

Collectively we offer over approximately 2,860 years of experience in traditional knowledge systems and cross-sectoral approaches to adaption.

Ownership of acceleration

The big question is what next? How to turn this knowledge into policy making strategies at the regional level and in markets, where technology transfer can deliver transformative sustainable transition using local skills and local materials and be owned by the people of the land to build local resilience.

There must be a clarity which UN organisations own delivery of acceleration for developing countries in the context of “filling the gaps” strategies. What else can we do over and above what has been done already to build on the tremendous achievements and success stories to date?

It is not clear at the moment, and it is hoped that Talanoa Dialogue UNFCCC initiative leading to COP24 in Katowice and the forthcoming High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development Goals due to take place in New York in July 2018 will provide some answers.

Financing acceleration

Defining acceleration opportunities at the global scale requires funding for high level research and the preparatory stages. There needs to be clearly defined funding mechanisms for these high-level ‘filling the gaps’ assessments to be carried out in an innovative way with the participation of Technical Experts and people that have a specialist knowledge on the subject.

Embracing catalysts

There are several inspiring climate change high level champions that stay faithful to their mission to combat various aspects of climate change.

There are also scientists, researchers and people with a passion for sustainability are not necessarily driven by commercial gains. Embracing them as a catalyst for acceleration alongside other non-state actors with a definitive role in the acceleration process might be a good thing.

It means that there is no need to start from scratch at the fundamental definitions level – rather to capitalise on decades of research already done on the subject to take it up to the implementation level.

These ‘Acceleration Catalysts’ also have a capacity to communicate strategies both to the climate change movement as well as indigenous people. Time is a gift.

This Author

Dr Sandra Piesik is an architect and a researcher specialising in technology development and transfer. She is the founder of Habitat Coalition and a director of 3 ideas Ltd, leading several pilot projects endorsed by UNCCD and UNFCCC. She is also the author of Arish: Palm-Leaf Architecture, published by Thames & Hudson. She is the editor of HABITAT: Vernacular Architecture for a Changing Planet which is published by Thames & Hudson.

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