sarahwiggins1 – Tearfund's Policy Blog

October 15, 2013 by sarahwiggins1

Cyclone Phailin, although a frightening and powerful display of weather, was not the disaster it could have been. We have reason to be glad: the tremendous evacuation efforts of the Indian government, supported by the pre-emptive disaster risk reduction work locally by organisations including Tearfund, paid off and saved lives. However, there is hesitancy in any note of gladness. India now faces the reality that thousands have lost homes and livelihoods and experience a much higher risk of starvation. Communities will suffer from the knock on effects that follow disasters, such as an increase in child trafficking.

Having visited a neighbouring part of the cyclone-hit region, I saw people practising for such an emergency. I saw young people working through a rota so they knew whose job it was to run to the next village to alert people to an impending cyclone; I heard from people running small businesses about how they safely hole up documents that show their identity and rights of ownership, and I visited cyclone shelters which in more stable times double up as health centres or classrooms. On Friday these mechanisms were set in motion in India, and lives being spared will be proved to be only be some of the gain for these more resilient communities.

PHOTO: A member of the youth disaster response team in south west Bangladesh shows me an evacuation route that she helped to build.

Cyclone Phailin only took 15-25 lives, compared with 10,000 lives with Cyclone Orissa: in the understated words of my nine year old son reading this over my shoulder, ‘that’s amazing’. The Indian government’s priority for saving lives was spot on. However, it took a story I heard from a man whose family home and business was destroyed by the tsunami when I lived in Sri Lanka, for me to realise that the death toll, or in Cyclone Phailin’s case, the lack of death toll, only tells part of the story. When a family loses its only means of making a living, years or even generations of suffering can follow.

Cyclones are affecting more and more people: the number of tropical cyclone disasters worldwide in the 1970s was 22 a year, but by the 2000s that figure had almost tripled to 63. The winds which reached 135 miles per hour in India over the weekend uprooted trees, wrecked crops and blew roofs off homes. That’s why it’s so important that Tearfund’s support for disaster risk reduction programmes in India also addressed these broader issues, such as helping communities to have more than one way of earning an income, so that they are not purely dependent on the land, thus increasing their resilience in the face of cyclones and other disasters. I wonder how many hundreds of livelihoods or situations of intense food insecurity may have been spared because of this following Cyclone Phailin, for indeed there will be thousands devastatingly affected as India now faces a massive clear up operation.

PHOTO: Another member of the Bangldeshi village shows me a floating garden: it survives floods, improving food security in the face of disasters and pressures from climate change.

The Indian government must also take an holistic approach in its aid and development, strengthening disaster risk reduction elements. There are only 18 months to go before the UK stops its overseas aid commitment to India and yet the number of people living in poverty in the country is staggeringly high – estimates are at least 200 million, but it’s possibly double that. The needs of India’s poorest population will arguably be best cared for if the government supports them in building their own capacity and resilience to withstand disasters and other variations in the weather – both of which will only get worse because of climate change – so that once they safely return to their homes, they can continue to develop a prosperous and resilient life.

October 1, 2013 by sarahwiggins1

Last week I reversed into someone’s car and, sincerely sorry for the damage to their passenger door that I had caused, of course I immediately provided my details and paid to put it right – it diminished my household budget, but was the human thing to do.

The leading climate IPCC report, out its full fifth version yesterday (the initial summary came out on Friday), tells us that scientists are 95% certain that humans caused global warming. We must remember, however, that it’s the richest few that are, by far, the main contributors, with our gas guzzling, leaky homes, consumption-reliant, lifestyles. ‘The 1.2 billion poorest people account for only 1 per cent of world consumption while the billion richest consume 72 per cent.’ (Report of the High Level Panel on the Post-2015 Development Agenda)

Photo: Taken at the end of a long day, a partner in southern Nepal shows me how one local community is strengthening the river bank to protect their fields from floods from the river, resulting from glacier melt.

So, even though they have done next to nothing to cause the problem, our partners in Nepal tell us that farmers have noticed changes in the weather that threaten the livelihoods of almost half the population, and the IPCC report today provides science that supports this. It says, for instance, that in Nepal, temperatures are getting warmer, rainfall is getting heavier, cloudiness is reducing, soil moisture is decreasing in some regions, and melting glaciers mean that water stress will get more severe and risk of floods will be higher. Unlike me, most people in developing countries do not have the luxury of insurance policies to help bail them out – men and women lose their livelihoods and they and their children go hungry and thirsty, get ill and even die.

Current action falls far short of matching the urgency of the issues: the UK and other developed countries must act on their responsibility to reduce our carbon emissions and to transfer money to developing countries for the damages caused by climate change and to help them to lower their emissions. In the UK we have a climate budget and carbon emissions targets that on paper, from some angles at least, can be argued as ‘our fair share’ and ‘better than what other countries are doing’. But the money is only shifted from normal government aid pots and there is no clear plan for how to find more money once the commitments increase substantially from 2020. The climate change act which sets out a commitment to reduce the UK’s carbon emissions by 80% by 2050 must be upheld and strengthened at all costs, and politicians are not giving us confidence that this will happen.

That’s what makes it so appalling when Osborne says he doesn’t want the UK to continue to lead on climate change, and that we need to wait for other countries to catch up: this is not the fighting talk we need! Governments need to be crystal clear in setting out ambitious steps for how they are going to respond to the challenges that the climate report sets out. This year the Conservatives and Lib Dems need to make key decisions about fracking, renewables and flood protection – will they drive away and abandon their responsibilities, or will they press on, overcoming the challenges and obstacles, to get us to a destination that is safe and just for current and future generations?

October 15, 2012 by sarahwiggins1

Board members making decisions this week in Songdo, South Korea, at the second meeting of the Green Climate Fund (GCF) (following quickly in the wake of the first one which met only 8 weeks ago in Geneva), must keep at the forefront of their minds the needs of people living with the highest levels of poverty and climate vulnerability: what better way to do that than to listen to civil society organisations?

It is proving very difficult for civil society organisations such as Tearfund, which strongly advocates for the needs of people living in poverty, to comment on forthcoming GCF proceedings, let alone have a chance to influence any decisions. As the Green Climate Fund website screenshot here shows, no documents are posted publicly at present, so we have not been able to see meeting documents or, indeed, the agenda.


Tearfund hopes that early on in Songdo, this situation is transformed and that decisions are made so that civil society observers experience high levels of inclusion. We trust too, that a prevailing strong spirit of accountability and transparency will be established that will reflect across all the GCF Board’s future proceedings. 

Participation of civil society at board meetings is just a very small part of the picture though. In order for climate adaptation finance to reach vulnerable communities in ways that will actually deliver positive change, participatory practices must stretch way beyond the Board room, to recipient developing countries and right down to community level.

In a recent speech the new World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim spoke about the difficulty in seeing effective delivery of development programmes, and referred to the inclusivity of stakeholders as being crucial part of addressing this difficulty:

“Many countries have strong, coherent development policies and programs—on paper. But they are not getting the results they want. In country after country, sector after sector, the greatest challenge is delivery.

“… the quality of our knowledge depends on the inclusiveness of the debate. Excluding shareholders from the conversation deprives us of critical data. Thus, if grassroots community voices aren’t heard, our understanding of delivery processes will be distorted and incomplete.” (see

A recent report produced by Tearfund and CAFOD, however, noted that consultation with civil society remains a weakness of multilateral funds – one civil society observer of such a fund told us “CSOs are invited late to a capital city for a half-day meeting to ‘rubber-stamp’ a plan.” (see Quick off the blocks: UK adaptation finance and integrated planning

We know from the previous meeting in Geneva that the ‘Work Plan for the GCF’ is on the agenda for this week’s meeting. In that plan, Tearfund wants to see high priority given to meaningful participation of civil society and communities in national, district and local level decision making, implementation and accountability: so that the GCF does deliver for people living with the highest levels of poverty and climate vulnerability.

August 26, 2012 by sarahwiggins1

Children in the Nepali village show me their community tree-planting scheme

If the US$100 billion a year, or more, that has been promised from 2020 by richer countries for helping developing countries to both adapt to the negative impacts of climate change, and to develop in a low-carbon way, is channelled largely through the newly established Green Climate Fund (GCF), then the GCF could be the largest fund in the world. If the fund spends this money well, it could play a big role in helping to solve the largest problem the world faces.

Two years ago, I visited communities where one of Tearfund’s partner organisations, International Nepal Fellowship works. The villages, in south west Nepal, consisted of small huts with straw roofs, next to cultivated fields and a community protected forest. The women there told me about the annual floods which they face that have recently got worse; the size of their grain which is getting smaller; the timings for planting their crops which are more unpredictable, and their water resources which are increasingly dried up. Scientists link these changes partly to climate change: the floods, for instance, have been made worse by long-term changes in glacier melt in the Himalayas, which scientists have connected with global warming. People living in poverty such as those women in Nepal, now face a much more difficult and uncertain future – the Green Climate Fund has been set up to help.

The first meeting of the Green Climate Fund Board met in Geneva last week and started out with talk that something big could be achieved through this fund – Board members said this fund should be ‘different’. There is a sense it will be more democratic and transparent than other climate funds – that it will make efforts to be led by priorities set by the developing countries that it serves. I feel hopeful that money from this fund might actually reach communities such as the one I visited in Nepal. I attended this meeting to work with other members of civil society to use our joint lobbying efforts, to try to make sure that happens.

I was sitting watching procedures in an overflow room, because only two civil society observers were allowed to watch from inside the Board room. In addition those civil society representatives were not allowed to share any opinion on the proceedings, apart from once. Many of us from a range of civil society organisations met daily to share notes and to formulate combined arguments that we lobbied on in the corridors. Arrangements for us all to engage with the official Board meeting deliberations need to improve – this fund is for people in developing countries – we need to be allowed into meetings to keep the Board members on track: I worried, listening to some of the snappy talk of business plans and use of the private sector to both create funds and deliver outcomes, that Board members may not have the poorest and most vulnerable communities always in their minds.

The issues discussed by the Board last week were mostly administrative – who can go in what meeting, who has voting rights, how will they choose the host country, how will they plan how to write a plan and even, albeit briefly, how they will choose a new logo.

Me, in Geneva last week, on my way to the Swiss government reception

Despite this necessary focus on process, governments seemed to realise the potential size and therefore importance of this fund. The Swiss government did, for instance. Geneva is one of the six cities bidding to become a host for the GCF secretariat who will manage the day to day running of the fund. The Swiss fed all of us the most delicious lunches, and showed off the incredible views from the World Meteorological Organisation’s offices which they propose would house the fund – including sight of the fountain in Lake Geneva which turned green just for us. They know this fund will create a lot of jobs and income if they win their bid to host it, as do the governments of the other countries bidding: Germany, Mexico, Republic of Korea, Poland and Namibia.

Talk at the start of the first meeting of the Green Climate Fund Board meeting was about achieving something great : a generational achievement ; and also about getting on with the work in hand. The co-chairs emphasised that members of the board needed a working spirit – ‘we are no longer negotiators’ one of them said. The co-chairs were elected during the first session without dispute and appeared to work together very well, showing a good ability to guide discussions and propose solutions on the occasions where Board members did not straight away come to an agreement. The GCF Board meeting finished on Saturday with everyone a bit jaded because they had had to talk a lot about administrative processes, but nevertheless there were more inspiring words about how the 12 + 12 (developing and developed country) Board members had now become 24.

As for me, I remain hopeful. The members of the new Board all seemed fixed on working speedily towards having a fully functioning fund: but how it functions is just as important as getting it functioning. If the money is spent well, this fund could make a big difference.

August 7, 2012 by sarahwiggins1

If getting climate adaptation finance to poor countries was an Olympic event, and was (just) about being in the lead, then the UK government would have a fair chance of winning us a medal. It’s good, for instance, that the UK has gone to some effort to provide funding for adaptation, that that funding has mainly gone to least developed countries, and that it splits its climate finance fairly evenly between climate change adaptation and climate change mitigation. Plus, in climate talks in general, the UK’s commitment and integrity is certainly way ahead of (other) great Olympic nations such as the USA and China.

Photo: Let’s celebrate – UK and Switzerland both do well at climate finance compared to other countries, though not as well as they do at tennis.

However, being ahead is not enough: we are far, far away from the finishing line when it comes to meaningfully helping people living in poverty to adapt to the current adverse effects and uncertain future caused by climate change. Standards need to improve across all developed countries, including those currently in the lead – as a new Tearfund and CAFOD report shows (see Quick off the blocks: UK adaptation finance and integrated planning, available to download at


Firstly, much more new public money is needed. To date, sadly, all UK climate finance has come from official development assistance (ODA) – which was committed way before we started to recognise the need for developed countries to provide money for adaptation, in order to meet the ‘polluter pays’ principle. Climate finance should be additional to ODA in order to meet past promises of funding to vital development sectors such as education and health. After all, tackling the global climate crisis is new and additional to historical development goals.

The UK government should support new taxes on international shipping, for instance, to both combat carbon emissions, and to raise new money to fulfil their international climate finance commitments.


The UK’s bilateral spending achieved good standards, however the majority of the UK’s adaptation finance to date has been spent via a multilateral fund, the Pilot Programme for Climate Resilience. This fund was shown in our report to be dominated by developed countries’ interests through its management by the World Bank, and to sometimes conflict with developing countries’ own adaptation plans. In addition, civil society in developing countries were not able to properly help shape programme design, making funds less likely to be effective in achieving lasting and positive change.

Photo: An example of one farmer successfully adapting to climate change in Burkina Faso


 The opposite of ‘athletic’ is ‘unfit’. Current global agreements on climate change, including those relating to finance for adaptation are definitely unfit. Losses from global warming are already being felt and are set to get much worse – one recent statistic I read is that by 2030 (only 18 years away) higher temperatures and less rainfall could reduce farmers’ harvests by a fifth in some of the world’s poorest countries. Our international development goals are already being heavily undermined by climate change and this will get much worse unless we act urgently to stop global warming and to support developing countries with finance and technology so that they can adapt.

Olympic efforts are needed on climate adaptation finance, not sloth-like progress. How nice it would be if developed countries competed for excellence in their sourcing and distribution of climate finance, in the same way as all countries are these two weeks, competing for the Olympic gold.

September 5, 2011 by sarahwiggins1

‘Sacrifice and austerity are out; competition and innovation are in’ says Mark Lynas, in his new book The God Species (p210). Only money talks, and people are never going to change their lifestyles without an economic imperative. In order that economies can grow and keep on growing for ever more, Lynas exalts The Technofix as being the answer to the problems of climate change, biodiversity loss and so on. I agree that Green campaign messages should not be about sackcloth and ashes, but I find galling the idea that the growth-fuelled, market led development model should run unchecked.

The book takes the idea of ‘planetary boundaries’ which is a concept worked on by a group of scientists from around the world, led by Johan Rockström of the Stockholm Resilience Centre. The boundaries are: biodiversity loss, climate change, the nitrogen cycle, land use, freshwater, toxics, aerosols, ocean acidification and ozone layer. Lynas is putting the concept into layperson’s language with the hope that people will act on it.

Many of the facts and figures in the book are truly enlightening – DID YOU KNOW that ‘there are now a third fewer wild animals in total on the planet than there were forty years ago’?. And I liked Lynas’ idea that we need to govern in a Godlike way rather than, with false humility, waiting for the planet to make it’s own natural adjustments, or for God to intervene and put us back on track. We can and must govern the planet, as stewards rather than gods, and I am comfortable about using technology to help with this.

However, if we are to actually govern our planet well, shouldn’t we also challenge visions of society that are based on inequitable and disempowering political values? ‘Wholly Living’, a publication by CAFOD, Tearfund and Theos, says that ‘the idea that we must strive to maximise our personal wealth, freedom and choice so that we can decide our own ends’ is a ‘narrow and destructive idea’. This book calls for political change to be made in light of ‘human flourishing’ thinking, to modify how we think about, and therefore measure, progress.

By the way, Lynas frequently challenges ‘Greens’, including NGOs with which Tearfund is allied in our campaigns on climate change – Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace in particular are named (and shamed, depending on whether or not you agree with Lynas). Strong bones of contention are that by being anti-nuclear, we have contributed to the continuation of global warming, that we should start getting our techno-heads in gear including looking to geo-engineering more (though he does pretty much rule out biofuels, except possibly for aviation), that carbon off-setting has its place, and that we should embrace urbanisation. I think he makes the fair point that we harp on about the importance of science in showing the links between human actions and climate change, but become unscientific in our reasoning when we resist technological solutions to the problem of climate change. For this reason, and because the planetary boundaries concept is helpfully systematic and scientific, I think it’s worth a fresh examination of some of our policy positions in light of Lynas’ direct criticisms of climate campaign messages.


Lynas, M (2011) The God Species: How the planet can survive the age of humans HarperCollins Publishers,London.

CAFOD, Tearfund and Theos (2010) Wholly Living: A new perspective on international development Theos publishers, London.