Diana Madson
Diana Madson
Government Affairs Director

The Story of SBC and the UN Climate Resilience and Economic Diversification Meeting

This November leaders from around the world will gather in Paris to discuss climate change and what the international community plans to do about it. With global temperatures continuing to rise, many countries are already taking action to reduce their emissions. Examples include Germany’s large scale investment in renewable energy, Bhutan’s commitment to increasing carbon storage through forests, and the United States’ Clean Power Plan, just finalized this summer.COMM DM UN Image 2015 09

Meanwhile, climate change has already begun to affect communities in a variety of ways, depending on their location. The Maldives, for example, is a small island nation in the Indian Ocean that is slowly sinking as the sea level rises. Northern Italy is facing a rapid spread of Asian tiger mosquitoes causing thousands of residents to fall ill with high fever, rashes and crushing pain in their bones and joints. In the Sierra we are in a period of extreme drought resulting in diminishing snowpack, dying forests and major risk of wildfire.

What is common across these examples is that in addition to the human and environmental damages caused or exacerbated by climate change, local economies are also taking substantial losses with more to come – particularly those economies heavily reliant on single industries like tourism or agriculture. A growing body of research suggests that in many cases, a diversified economy is better equipped to handle disruptions catalyzed by climate change (i.e. climate resilience).

In preparation for the Paris climate talks, the United Nations (UN) is exploring this issue of economic diversification and how it can be a powerful tool in strengthening resilience to climate change. As part of this exploration, the UN invited experts from around the world to collaborate on a set of recommendations to guide world leaders. On behalf of Sierra Business Council, Sierra CAMP and The Mountain Pact, I was invited to contribute to these recommendations by attending an intensive two-day meeting in Bonn, Germany over Labor Day weekend. Titled the Expert Meeting on Livelihoods and Economic Diversification to Build Resilience in the Context of Planning, Prioritizing and Implementing Adaptation, the meeting included forty people from around the world with expertise in climate resilience and local economic development.

Sitting at a large circular table with representatives from Botswana, Chile, Vietnam, and the list goes on, I was taken by the sheer range and magnitude of climate impacts felt around the world. From drought to flooding, sea level rise to wildfire, climate change is creating a world where countries and local communities can no longer rely on single-industry economies (e.g. agriculture, tourism, fisheries). For example, extreme drought in Chile has fallowed agricultural land and slashed agricultural jobs, which make up nearly twenty-five percent of Chile’s labor force. We can see effects like these here in the Sierra; during the Rim Fire in 2013, Yosemite tourist operations were halted for weeks.

Over the course of the two-day meeting, we brainstormed the opportunities and limitations of economic diversification as a tool for climate resilience. I offered the perspective of rural mountain communities, emphasizing the need to consider diversification on a regional scale and the opportunity to foster new industries through forest and watershed restoration. Others stressed women’s and rural education as key to building skills that transfer to new sectors, particularly in developing nations.

By the end of the meeting, the UN staff had pages upon pages of notes. In the lead up to Paris, they will synthesize and distill these into specific recommendations to inform world leaders as they determine the path forward to mitigate and adapt to climate change. I for one am hopeful that such a diverse display of experience will lead to commitments for decisive climate action; many of our communities may well depend on it.