By Achim Steiner and Yvo de Boer
Children on one of southern Africa's mightiest rivers are
playing the Limpopo board game, literally for their lives.
Piloted in places like Zimbabwe's Matabeleland and Mozambique's
Gaza Province, Limpopo uses the power of play to teach ways of
reducing vulnerability to flooding.
If a counter lands on a space showing a well-designed
flood-proof village, or one advising children to move themselves
and livestock to higher ground, it moves forward several spaces.
But if it alights on one depicting a decimated forest, land
degradation, or other factors increasing vulnerability, it must go
The game - part of a larger project funded by the Global
Environment Facility (GEF), launched after the devastating Limpopo
floods six years ago - underlines in a simple but poignant way the
challenges developing countries face as they try to adapt to the
extreme weather events linked to climate change.
In early November, nations meet in Nairobi, Kenya, for the next
round of climate change talks under the United Nations Framework
Convention on Climate Change and its Kyoto Protocol.
Adopted in 1997, the Kyoto Protocol established targets for
reducing greenhouse gas emissions in industrialized countries to 5
percent below their 1990 level in the period of 2008-2012. It
created a framework of incentives for the transition to a
low-carbon economy, directing businesses' investment decisions
towards climate-friendly options.
The Protocol links to the developing world: the Clean
Development Mechanism (CDM), which allows developed countries to
earn emission credits by investing in sustainable development
projects in developing countries (such as forestry and renewable
energy projects), has burst into life.
By 2012, certified emission reductions achieved through the CDM
are expected to reach at least 1.2 billion tons, more than the
combined emissions of Spain and the United Kingdom.
As a group, the industrialized countries are still on track to meet
their Kyoto commitments, provided they make a more extensive effort
domestically and make active use of the market mechanisms of the
Kyoto Protocol. It is clear, however, that deeper emissions cuts
will be required in the long run.
Past pollution from industrialized countries has already
guaranteed us some climate change: carbon dioxide, after all, can
persist in the atmosphere for up to 200 years. So the global
community must help developing countries adapt.
Least-Developed Countries have, or are preparing, National
Adaptation Programs of Action (NAPAs) under the United Nations
Framework Convention on Climate Change.
Take Malawi, where almost every facet of life will need some
measure of "climate proofing." Droughts and floods have increased
in intensity, frequency and magnitude over the past few
Floods destroyed fish ponds six years ago, while a drought in
the mid-1990s triggered a total loss of fish stocks in Lake Chilwa.
Malawi's NAPA calls for restocking, assistance in fish breeding,
and better understanding of how temperatures disrupt the
reproduction of key species.
It also calls for reforestation of the catchment of the Shire
River, which produces most of the country's electricity.
Deforestation and unsustainable agricultural practices have led to
the siltation of dams.
Samoa's NAPA calls for assistance to move infrastructure and
communities to higher ground, measures to strengthen buildings
against increased cyclones, and the restoration of community
springs. It says that boosting the health of habitats and
ecosystems will provide vital buffers against climate change.
Funding for adaptation is starting to accumulate as a result of
investments in the CDM and voluntary pledges to a special fund
established to finance the implementation of NAPA activities.
However, these resources must be augmented if they are to have
measurable results in the poorest countries of the world.
It is becoming clear that all investments in developing
countries, both public and private, must factor into climate change
if they are to be viable. But this cannot be an alibi for inaction
on emission reductions.
Scientists estimate that a 60 to 80 percent cut in greenhouse
gases will be needed to stabilize the atmosphere. We must keep our
sights set firmly on this target. Otherwise everyone, rich and poor
alike, will face more and more pressure to adapt with fewer options
for doing so. They will end up playing their own versions of the
Limpopo River game - and, like the children on its banks, playing
for their very lives.
Achim Steiner is Under-Secretary-General of the United
Nations and Executive Director of the United Nations Environment
Program; Yvo de Boer is Executive Secretary of the United Nations
Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
(China Daily October 17, 2006)