UN Climate Change works with universities to foster resilience

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United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change

Bonn, Germany - UN Climate Change has launched a new initiative to scale up actions to adapt to the inevitable impacts of climate change, which include increased and more severe droughts, floods and storms.

Launched at the recent United Nations Climate Dialogues 2020, the UN Climate Change and Universities Partnership Programme is designed to strengthen collaboration between the UN and academic institutions, especially in the global South, with the aim of addressing the knowledge gaps which remain a critical barrier to countries implementing adaptation measures.

Such knowledge gaps relate, for example, to: the impacts of sea level rise and storm surge on critical infrastructure; early warning systems to warn against the danger of floods; and the impacts of climate change on mountain ecosystems.

The Paris Climate Change Agreement aims to strengthen the global climate change response by increasing the ability of all to adapt to adverse climate change impacts and foster climate resilience. To this end, the Nairobi Work Programme (NWP) – the UNFCCC knowledge-to-action hub for climate resilience and adaptation - is forming partnerships to scale up actions in countries around the world.

Role of the UN Climate Change and Universities Partnership Programme

The UN Climate Change and Universities Partnership Programme, coordinated by the NWP, is an opportunity for graduate students to work closely with local, national and regional partners to undertake a research project as a part of producing their master's thesis, while focusing on producing tangible outputs in response to the needs of targeted knowledge users in countries and subregions (See fig.1 on the partnership model)

As an NWP partner, United Nations University Institute for Environment and Human Security (UNU-EHS) has agreed to help bridge their network of universities from the global South and North in the new Partnership Programme.

Stories of collaboration to date

Indian Ocean island countries: Graduate students from the Michigan University School for Environment and Sustainability undertook a project with the Seychelles Ministry of Environment, Energy and Climate Change, National Bureau of Statistics, and Department of Risk and Disaster Management. The students worked to address two knowledge gaps: the impacts of sea level rise and storm surge on critical infrastructure in the Seychelles, prioritized in the context of the Lima Adaptation Knowledge Initiative (LAKI).

The students developed: a Climate Scenario Planning Toolkit that describes five future climate scenarios for the Seychelles to help decision makers plan for a variety of plausible futures. In addition, the students also produced a Summary for Policy Makers, geographic information system maps and a final report on the project.

"The work conducted by the University of Michigan students addressed a critical need in the Seychelles. The students listened to our needs and challenges and were able to create a tool simple enough for us to use without the need for additional training," said Ms. Sophie Morgan, Senior Policy Analyst for Water & Climate Change at Seychelles' Ministry of Environment, Energy, & Climate Change.

Hindu Kush Himalaya subregion: Three graduate students of Harvard University undertook a capstone project to help address a knowledge gap, namely lack of access to awareness-raising products and early warning systems for multiple hazards prioritized in the context of the LAKI in the Hindu Kush Himalayan subregion. The graduate students were awarded with the best multi-method Policy Analysis Exercise by their school.

The project delivered two outcomes: 1) an in-depth policy analysis report that analyzes barriers and solutions to promote early warning systems for multiple hazards in the Hindu Kush Himalaya (HKH) region, and 2) a policy brief, developed with the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), to inform policymakers on the key benefits, mechanics and implementation considerations of the Community-Based Flood Early Warning System.

Ms. Neera Shrestha Pradhan, Senior Water and Adaptation Specialist for the ICIMOD, highlighted that “The partnership was a win-win. Graduate students had the opportunity to work on a practical adaptation challenge as part of the master’s capstone project. Collaborating with them, ICIMOD produced actionable policy recommendations that the intergovernmental organization could implement and share the findings with Parties to the UNFCCC process through the NWP.”

Andean subregion: Conducted with overall support from the Friends of Ecosystem-based Adaptation (FEBA) network, graduate students from Yale University partnered with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and The Mountain Institute (TMI). The project addressed lack of tools for evaluating climate change effects on ecosystem services and on the populations whose quality of life depends on those services, and limited data on the socioeconomic impacts of climate change. Countries in the Andean sub-region prioritized these two knowledge gaps in the context of the LAKI.

The project improved the resilience of two indigenous communities and the ecosystems on which they depend in the Peruvian Andes and helps measure adaptation outcomes across a global portfolio. It also examines the Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning approach of one of the 13 EbA projects – a seven-year initiative implemented by The TMI in partnership with IUCN, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Peru’s Ministry of Environment (MINAM), and the National Service of Natural Protected Areas (SERNANP) to help mountain communities in the Peruvian Andes to adapt to present and future climate change impacts.

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