To Cool & To Fight: Mitigation and Resilience Building in the Dominican Republic

If you’ve been following along, you can see the Caribbean has a very special place in my heart. Both sides of my family are from the island of Cuba, and the surrounding archipelago has similar cultural – and environmental – ties to each other. My larger research focuses on deforestation in Haiti and the Dominican Republic (DR), but this will hone in on a few policy recommendations for the DR, specifically.

My white paper, Capturing Opportunity Through Forests, details the specific problems facing the small-island nation hoping to reach emissions reductions targets by 2030. A few “out of the box” solutions were presented relating to policy through the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources, as well as political mobilization and agitation through social movements.

An interesting part about adaptation and resilience-building is the reputation it carries. Burch and Harris in Understanding climate change: science, policy, and practice have discussed the unattractiveness of adaptation projects by politicians:

“… adaptation was often seen as an admission to failure on the issue of human-contributed climatic change.”

Mitigation projects make the country look like a proactive member of saving the world from itself, while adaptation was seen as a “plan B” to solving the issue of climate change.

What makes this policy paper different is the refusal to talk about mitigation and adaptation as mutually exclusive. Instead, coupling mitigation efforts and resilience-building strategies will create stronger policies that will reduce harm while building capacity for vulnerable communities.

The Dominican Republic knows vulnerability pretty well: a small island-nation surrounded by water and a rather unfriendly neighbor to the West, this nation of modest wealth must quickly react to the natural disasters and extreme weather events being thrown at its people and its economy.

According to the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) set in place before the 2015 agreement made in Paris, the DR was ready to create ambitious reduction targets – with the majority of them being nature-based solutions. That is, solutions that will be focusing on the health of the ecosystem first – which will ultimately benefit the populations surrounding it.

Within the negotiation, I had the chance to talk about these NDC targets with delegates who represented the Dominican Republic. Although the NDCs have been quite successful so far, I intentionally left out a few of the concerns within the video that the ministers had on measuring projects’ success, and having an accurate benchmark to compare.

Like many other countries, the DR’s Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources has a range of measurements that are closer or farther to the real percentage of progress when concerned with the reduction of greenhouse gases. Both ministers, Mr. Pedro García and Dr. Carol Franco, agreed the only way to solve this problem is to continue to train the future generation of climate scientists and researchers. In the meantime, “stabbing in the dark” to continue towards reduction of greenhouse gases occurs within the ministry.

To get a quick rundown on the policies presented, and conversations with representatives at the negotiation, feel free to watch this video detailing the suggestions and the opinions held by researchers and delegates from the Dominican Republic.

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Political Mobilization & Agroecology: Jesús Vazquez and La Vía Campesina

While at the negotiation, I was able to attend a number of side events that brought together researchers, activists, and delegates to discuss actions and reactions to issues within the COP. One of my suggestions within my white paper was on agroforestry and agroecology, as a form of both mitigation and adaptation to climate change. What makes this suggestion special is the involvement of politics and mobilizing an international network of farmers to share best practices and provide support.

One of the first side events I attended at the negotiation was hosted by La Vía Campesina: the organization was able to bring five representatives from different regions of the world in order to talk about the benefits they see firsthand on the support given by La Vía Campesina, and why it should be a vital part of the conversation at the COP.

 

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Five representatives from La Vía Campesina share their stories firsthand on the benefits of the organization and agroecological practices around the world. Image Credit: ACT Alliance

With my interests in the Dominican Republic, my interest piqued by a young man who looked about my age and was representing the island of Puerto Rico – and the Caribbean Sea at large. Jesús Vazquez is a young organizer and activist from the Organization Boricuá of Agroecology in Puerto Rico.

Having been with the organization for quite some time, Vazquez spoke about the practices having both a mitigating effect on greenhouse gases, as well as a resilience-building aspect in regards to food sovereignty:

“La Vía Campesina has brought the conversation about food sovereignty where farmers, agricultural specialists, fishermen, etc. have a direct voice where their catch or their yield ends up, where they want to distribute it. And at the same time it creates resilience/resistance to the conventional model [of transnational agricultural corporations] that we know has contaminated and promotes the release of man-made greenhouse gases on the global scale.”

The organization released a white paper in 2009 entitled “Small Scales Farmers are Cooling Down the Earth.” Within the paper, food sovereignty is discussed not only as a human right but as a natural step towards producing fresh, local food that mitigates the unnecessary amount of greenhouse gases released due to transportation of goods.

In the face of growing concerns due to committed warming, organizers within La Vía Campesina refuse to stand idly by, and have decided to take action steps through agroecology and through horizontal political mobilization:

“It’s very important to show that agroecology is a viable alternative. Our colleagues in Nicaragua and Guatemala have done [agroecological methods opposed to monoculture] after Hurricane Mitch, where the metholdology for farmer-to-farmer practices was developed and proven to be very successful.

The conversation ended on a powerful note. The consequences of climate change at this conference is an unavoidable part of the conversation, and Vazquez brings up the issue of “identifying the pattern” and who is at fault when it comes to the causes of stronger and more frequent hurricanes:

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Jesús Vazquez, activist and organizer for La Vía Campesina. Image Credit: ACT Alliance

“Climate change kills people. In Puerto Rico, we have hundreds of people who have died due to the recent hurricane [Maria]. The blame should not be put on our island; there are larger emitters, like Europe, like the United States, that are affecting towns and people in the Caribbean who had nothing to do with it.”

 

Voices of the LDC Work Group: Masked Tension & Frustration at the COP

As the negotiation was coming to a close (for us, since we were only there for the first week), one particular side event had piqued the interest of observers like me – as well as a few journalists and other delegates at the COP.

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At the LDC Working Group side event, providing updates to observers like Orli Hendler and I, as well as to representatives of the media and other interested delegates. Image Credit: Maria Jolly

The event I went to was only the first week of the negotiation, but delegates oftentimes come two to three weeks ahead of the conference in order to be properly briefed on the vast technical information needed to participate in the talks. Mr. Pedro Garcia, Director of the REDD+ Program and representing the Ministry of the Environment for the Dominican Republic (DR) confessed to me that he has been in Bonn since before Halloween. The negotiations officially began on November 4th.

Weary delegates from Argentina and the Gambia, among other delegates, represented the Least Developed Countries working group.

To give a little background, the Least Developed Countries group at the negotiation is a coalition made up of 47 nations (including one of my focus countries, Haiti) that will also be especially vulnerable to climate change. Although they are often the ones that contribute the least to the systemic, global issue, they are always the ones to pay for it first.

While the presentations were pretty robust and insightful, there was a growing tension in the conversations about how to finance all of these initiatives.

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“Adaptation is a priority for us as vulnerable countries to climate change.” – Mr. Gebru Jember Endalew, current chair of the LDC Working Group and delegate representing Nigeria

Although the group working here did not know that the Adaptation Fund would receive record-breaking donations and promises for support, negotiations have weighed on these delegates because the officials sources of funding within the Paris Agreement – like the Green Climate Fund – were not working out in the favor of this coalition of nations.

Unlike the Adaptation Fund, the Green Climate Fund (GCF) is an official part of the financing mechanism within the Paris Agreement. GCF helps developing countries limit or reduce their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and adapt to climate change. But the support for countries has been stalled or even rejected completely.

Friends of the Earth International has stated that developing countries are treating the Green Climate Fund as if it were a bank: “It is a fund for transformation for developing countries and for adaptation… and adaptation cannot be funded by loans… all developing countries are entitled to finance.”

This sentiment seemed to be expressed by the members of the LDC working group. Aderito Santana, member of the LEG and delegate from the National Institute of Meteorology representing Sao Tome and Principe, had some strong words (the inflection in person was rather harsh) relating to NAPs and the lack of funding by the Green Climate Fund:

“We are working on the assessed funding from GCF. For instance, five NAPs has been approved… but only two of them has been already released. That means that only two countries [from the LDC nations] have received funds…”

So what does this mean for LDCs and the trust they place on the Green Climate Fund? In my opinion, states would do better to rely not on formally recognized financial mechanisms within the negotiation, but to continue to fund their adaptation proposals by diversifying the funding stream. Unofficial funding areas, like the GEF or the Adaptation Fund, would be happy to help.

Adaptation Fund Updates!

Adaptation is the name of the game for this year’s conference, especially as the negotiation deals with the scary reality that we will not be staying below our proposed temperature limit.

Countries most vulnerable to climate change are oftentimes the same nations dealing with the effects head-on: island nations facing rising sea levels; coastal communities battered by the frequency and intensity of storms; or landlocked nations facing real issues of drought and crop failure.

Sources of funding like the GEF Small Grants Programme and the Adaptation Fund are essential to making community-based and ecosystem-based projects a reality. Thanks to the tireless work of the organization’s negotiators and the financing by private donors, the Adaptation Fund not only reached their goal but exceeded the amount they were proposing for this year’s slew of projects!

Not only did it exceed its proposed amount, a record number of funds came into the program – just as the Adaptation Fund was kicking off their 10 year anniversary celebration. 

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The Adaptation Fund’s 10 Year Anniversary Event was held in Bonn, Germany during the COP 23 negotiation. The commemorative event was held in conjunction with the City of Bonn at the historic Town Hall in the Market Plaza on 16 November, 2017.

Many OECD countries contributed to the Fund this year in record numbers, including Germany (50 million EUR), Sweden (185 million SEK), and even the US (80 million USD)! Some countries also became first-time contributors this year, like Ireland, that says the money will go to the very important work of safeguarding vulnerable communities.

Because of our naturally US-centric view, where we believe the world revolves around the blunders and success of America, news like this is both pleasing but unexpected. Within our Environmental Sciences courses and the political rhetoric going on today, Americans are under the impression that, without the help of our administration, all hope is lost. 

The world is showing America up, and making sure that the work created by this negotiation will not be in vain. Although reaching the goals to reduce emissions will be difficult given the fact that the US is the second largest emitter in the world, adaptation projects are not stalling.

The Adaptation Fund may have also gotten an unintentional boost by the uptick in severe weather conditions throughout 2017. At the Fund’s 10 Year Anniversary celebration, Ms. Janine Felson who is currently the UN Permanent Representative of Belize, said “the recent rash of major hurricanes having devastating effects on very small islands has raised the necessity of adaptation in vulnerable countries as a ‘way of life’ to preserve homes and livelihoods.” Countries with vulnerable coastal communities like Belize are looking hopeful as programs like the Adaptation Fund are gaining more popularity and legitimacy within the negotiation.

 

 

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The increase in the intensity and frequency of storms throughout 2017 has worried delegates towards funding adaptation projects. Although this year’s very active hurricane season is not always directly linked to climate change, for communities that are already vulnerable to changes in climate, it is better to be safe than sorry. 

 

Haiti and the Dominican Republic: Capacity Building and Knowledge Transfer for Climate Change Resilience

Now that we know possible sources of funding for projects related to both community and ecosystem-based adaptation, it then falls on the delegates to make it happen back home. I want to highlight some other hurdles that may be involved in this process that have nothing to do with climate change or with financing, but with tension related to historical, political, and ethno-racial issues.

Haiti and the Dominican Republic, the only two countries in the Caribbean sharing the same island, have had a history fraught with violence that has left a bitterness very much alive today. But what does that have to do with adaptation to climate change, or resilience projects within these two sovereign nations?

To understand, you have to look further into the geography of the island, as well as its environmental history. Although boundaries of the island have changed over time due to colonialism, revolution, and gunboat diplomacy enacted by the United States, the only major border between the two countries today is the Massacre River. This border is lined with national parks on the side of the Dominican Republic, and is often an informal settlement for recently-deported Haitians coming from the other side of the island.

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Taken near the border, this picture is commonly used to talk about deforestation in Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Image Credit: ViralScape

When sea levels rise, and the intensity and frequency of hurricanes and severe weather batter down on this tiny island in the Caribbean Sea, will they communicate with each other to better prepare?

During the negotiation, I had the chance to speak to ministers representing their island – two from the Dominican Republic and one from Haiti. Primarily interviewing them on some adaptation strategies being debated at the negotiation, I also asked whether there are any formal or informal spaces where citizens, scientists, or government officials can discuss best practices towards building resilience.

I also had the chance to speak to Dr. Tom Fiutak, cofounder of Mediators Beyond Borders International, whose official duty is to negotiate disputes between countries who may need to come to a consensus on issues related to the Paris Agreement.

Dominican Republic: Conversation with the delegates from the Dominican Republic were amiable, especially since we all share the same Latinx/Caribbean culture (my parents are both Cuban so the interview was conducted in Spanish). There are a few observations, comments, and points I would like to make:

• The delegates, Dr. Carol Franco and Mr. Pedro García, refer to the island they share as the Dominican Republic, making no mention of Haiti until I explicitly asked.

• Reforestation projects are coming primarily in the form of REDD+, with many community-based initiatives that involve smallholder farmers and rural Dominican citizens.

• Measurement seems to be a worrying issue: Mr. García, Director of the REDD+ program in the Ministry of Environment, is concerned about how accurate their benchmark are for vegetative cover, and how that will affect their INDCs moving forward.

Haiti: Ms. Alexandra Pierre, leader of the Caribbean Youth Environment Network and part of the Haiti delegation, eased into an enjoyable conversation about youth activism, science, and the future of the island:

• Ms. Pierre also referred to the island as Haiti, making no mention of the Dominican Republic only when asked about knowledge transfer.

• She and Mr. García both mentioned the success of the Artibonite River project because of its collaboration across cultures.

• Financing these projects are a major concern for her party; she hopes to hear from the Adaptation Fund to help her nation – part of the Least Developed Countries working group.

Overall, tension when speaking about the country’s counterpart is palpable, but they are firm that there is still work to be done in building resilience on both sides of the island.

 

 

Funding for Community-Based Adaptation: To whom do Parties turn?

Now that there is some common ground on the different adaptation strategies available, let’s delve a little more into how these projects go from dreams to reality. Community-based adaptation projects were one of the many hot-button topics at the negotiation this year. Side events and negotiations became heated when discussing how to actually fund them.

Like everything in the world of international politics, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Community- and ecosystem-based projects have been receiving funding and support from multiple organizations, like the Adaptation Fund – which celebrated its 10 year anniversary in Bonn during the COP.

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Established under the Kyoto Protocol, the Adaptation Fund finances projects and programmes that help vulnerable communities in developing countries adapt to climate change. Funding is perhaps one of the hardest part in implementing programs, since the areas of the world facing the effects of climate change now are often the poorest.

An ongoing project was funded by the Adaptation Fund and run by the Community Adaptation Small Grants Facility in two districts within South Africa. The project aims to ensure that the communities of Mopani and Namakwa districts will be ready to face the changing rainfall patterns (ie. heavier rains in shorter periods of time, leading to long droughts and flash floods), that will disrupt the water-vulnerable region. It will incorporate climate adaptation response strategies into local practices so that assets, livelihoods and ecosystem services are protected from climate-induced risks.

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Despite the look of it, this region in South Africa is due to be water vulnerable due to climactic changes, but will is receiving support from the Adaptation Fund to prepare for future risks. Image Credit: Adaptation Fund

The Global Environment Facility (GEF) Small Grants Programme is another source where parties and individuals may receive funding for adaptation projects. Established during the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, the well-connected program provides grants of up to $50,000 directly to local communities, including indigenous people, community-based organizations and other non-governmental groups.

One example of a funded program is the crab conservation project going on in the Cham Islands of Vietnam. Part of a world heritage site, a marine protected area, and a popular tourist destination, the Cua Da crab (Gecarcoidea lalandii) is an endemic species (found only in this area!) of crab and a part of the population’s food source.

Because of over-harvesting due to tourism, the species was being threatened to extinction. The Hoi An City Peoples Committee suspended the harvesting of Cua Da crabs, but illegal harvesting still continued and local regulation proved very difficult. The GEF Small Grants Programme stepped in and funded a community-based conservation and sustainable harvesting project that enabled the local community to create a successful system, guaranteeing sound Cua Da crab conservation and harvest.

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The Cua Da crab, found only on the Cham Islands of Vietnam, is currently threatened but is on the way to rehabilitation thanks to the GEF Small Grants Prgramme. Image Credit: GEF

How do delegates during the negotiation know about these two reliable and effective funding services?

Formally, COP 22 in Marrakech changed the wording of the contracting, stating that the Adaptation Fund should (instead of may) serve the Paris Agreement in an institutionally regulated capacity within the negotiation itself, but will be officially decided at COP24 in 2018.

Although the GEF Small Grants Programme does not have an official space within the Paris Agreement, they did have an active presence within the conference. A series of side events during the two weeks with panelists including researchers, members of NGOs, and local peoples being positively affected by these grants were invited to share their stories.

These two sources hope to help more and more groups and individuals over the course of the negotiation, whether it be in a formal or informal capacity.

Weatherwise/Otherwise: Didn’t Even Know I Needed This!

Remember when I said I love the intersection of climate change and the arts? That definitely still stands, and was heightened by the exhibit I saw at Agnes Scott this morning.

The trip to the actual museum was done in a bit of a frenzy; a job interview, a WaterHub tour, the impending doom of projects and finals… it’s been a lot. I rented a car to go out to the exhibit because I enjoy driving in Atlanta, and was stunned by the beauty to the university. Once I got to the gates of the Dalton Museum and signed in, I felt a sudden sense of calm: museums are such a strangely intimate space for reflection and observation.

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The room immediately opens up to the observer with a main room showcasing some of the first pieces within the exhibit. On the side of the room there were some remnants of an event from the night before, empty serving trays scattered on tables with linens and the poster above that credits all the artists who donated their things to be a part of the exhibit.

I moved straight to the right of the museum and politely greeted two older ladies who were noticing the detailed work on one of the silk screen pieces. I wasn’t really paying attention to what they were saying, but they had a point! Look at the piece below:

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This piece was created by Mary Edna Fraser,  designed on Batik on silk, the preferred method for her pieces for a quarter of a century now. I’m not sure if Fraser looked at satellite images for some inspiration, but these pieces are so impressive to look at it when you realize they have been painted on. Here is a closer look to show you some impressive detail:

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Fraser dominated the eastern wing of the museum with her silks and beautiful works that reminded me of these satellite images of the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Australia and New Zealand, which I read in the description was the artist’s inspiration. The amount of detail in these works is rivaled by the fact that some of her pieces are 10 feet tall, like this one entitled “Global Perspective:”

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I really enjoyed this piece personally because of my background within my research. So much of my time spent on my research is ensuring the images I’m looking at are projected correctly, to avoid any misrepresentation of the data. This map shows one of type of projection that shows the world from landmass in a north-south direction. All of her work was both aesthetically pleasing, but supported by scientific fact which was found in this beautiful book in the middle of the room.

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There are parts of the exhibit I won’t talk about here (I don’t want to give it all away!), because they have to be watched through lenses or experienced first-hand in order to fully appreciate. Overall, I was really impressed with the way they spoke about the scientific importance of these works of art. Art for art’s sake takes a different meaning when it has a didactic mission behind it. Thoroughly impressed.