“Resilience is much more than “bouncing back””
Why resilience may be the key to tackling the triple crises of food, climate and conflict
The great migration
I jest…. sort of. I’m now on Mastodon. Find me @ThinInk@journa.host.
Yes, I’m one of those people who have set up accounts on Mastodon over well-founded fears that Twitter is going to become even more hate-filled and unmanageable, following Elon Musk’s takeover and the mass firings of Twitter staff, including the entire human rights team.
If you are understandably wondering what is Mastodon, here’s a little primer.
Resilience is about “moving beyond the status quo”
Since COVID-19 hit, it’s been hard not to feel like we’re lurching from one crisis to the next.
Many experts say what we are suffering now is whiplash from years and years of mismanagement and neglect on many issues, including climate change, biodiversity loss, and how demented our food systems have become. We are still ignoring their interconnectedness, they say.
So this week, I spoke to Nathanial Matthews, CEO of the Global Resilience Partnership (GRP), which is running the Resilience Hub at COP27.
GRP is a network of more than 60 organisations, which includes aid agencies like Care, Mercy Corps and the International Rescue Committee, as well as think tank and academia like University of Exeter, the Stockholm Resilience Centre, and government agencies like USAID and Britain’s Foreign & Commonwealth Office.
I’ll let Nate explain more about The Resilience Hub in his answers below, but what prompted me to interview him was the blurb for a panel discussion scheduled this Saturday (Nov 12) at 1500 Egypt time (GMT+2), titled “Navigating the food crisis at the nexus of climate, conflict and food security”.
It warned the current food crisis could “become one of the largest” in our recent history.
“Although increasing evidence acknowledges the links between climate, conflict and food insecurity, current actions are still too siloed. The siloed nature of institutions, limited understanding of systemic risks and their implications, and the existence of inherent tensions and trade-offs between different perspectives and solutions all contribute to the lack of sufficient action.”
I think they’re spot on about the siloed nature of the current responses and actions. Case in point - the fact that biodiversity negotiations (COP15, slated for Montreal in December) aren’t an official part of COP27, despite how intricately linked nature, biodiversity and climate are.
So I asked him about the event, as well as why resilience plays such an important role in all of this. The interview has been edited for clarity.
Q: What does resilience mean to you?
A: Resilience is the ability to persist, adapt, and transform in the face of shocks and stresses. It is the capacity of a system, be it an individual, a forest, a city or an economy, to deal with change and continue to develop.
It is about how humans and nature can use shocks and disturbances like the climate crisis to spur renewal and innovation. For me, the transformation component is the most exciting – it is where we seek to find novel ways to steward our ecosystems and to create livelihoods and is very much at the heart of what we focus on.
Q: Tell us about the Resilience Hub and its presence at COP27. What can journalists who are at COP27 (whether in person or from afar) expect? Does the Hub also help with pushing policymakers to consider resilience a core aspect of climate change response?
A: This is the second year we are running it. We launched the Resilience Hub at COP26 because resilience seemed to be everywhere at the COP, but also nowhere.
The Resilience Hub is an inclusive virtual and physical space designed to mobilise action on resilience and adaptation, and brings together people from every region across civil society, the private sector, academia and government to accelerate the action and investment needed to build resilience everywhere and make our communities safer, healthier and more just.
We have invested in digital inclusivity allowing everything to be livestreamed and bringing in people who cannot attend the largely inaccessible COP in person.
We have also run regional resilience hubs with over 40 events across Africa, Asia Pacific, South Asia and Latin America in the lead up to COP. These hubs have collected community voices, concerns and opportunities and we are feeding them into the COP process.
Journalists can expect to hear from a diversity of people, especially those at the frontline of climate change and who are usually underrepresented in COP processes. Journalists can also participate and view interactive activities at the hub that combine art, science, and gaming to influence policy.
Yes, it is necessary to push policymakers to consider resilience a core aspect of response to climate change. Mitigation is not enough. Climate change is already here and we need to support resilience-building and adaptation efforts today to help enable and support those that are on the frontlines of climate change to respond, adapt, and transform. Mitigation and resilience should go hand-in-hand.
Q: I feel ‘resilience’ was a buzzword a few years ago but seems to have slightly fallen off the radar. Maybe I’m just biased because I used to briefly cover resilience issues and it was really interesting but that section of the Thomson Reuters Foundation news website itself was short-lived. Is this also your experience? How easy (or) difficult is it to advocate for?
A: I think the opposite actually. Resilience seems to be popping up more and more, and is now factored into practice, policy, and business. We saw, for example, commitments made by several major policy actors (such the World Economic Forum, the U.N., the OECD) towards building resilience as an important objective of COVID-19 recovery plans.
The Sharm El Sheik Adaptation Agenda just launched this week is focused on building the resilience of 4 billion people. Since COVID we have seen resilience catapult into almost every agenda.
I guess a problem is that resilience can sometimes be seen as a buzzword and equated with “bouncing back.” Resilience is much more than “bouncing back;” key aspects of resilience are adaptation and transformation.
If we focus on resilience as bouncing back, then we just end up where we started and we will be as vulnerable as before. Resilience is about moving beyond the status quo and creating new pathways to an equitable, sustainable, and just future.
Q: What are your hopes and fears from COP27?
A: My hopes are that more investments reach the people and places that are most affected by climate change, and that real action and solutions are implemented to tackle climate change and build resilience. I see a big role for the private sector here in driving this investment, and we are getting more substantive engagement from them than ever before.
My fear is that we keep on the same trajectory of emitting CO₂ and business just continue as usual.
Q: The blurb for this Saturday’s event said the current situation we’re in could “become one of the largest food crises in the world’s recent history”. Can you explain more? What are the biggest concerns?
A: The reason is the unique combination of multiple drivers hitting the food system simultaneously.
The main drivers are the increasing number of conflicts (the latest being the war in Ukraine), increased weather variability and extreme weather events, with prolonged droughts and floods, and economic drivers catalysed by the recent pandemics. These global drivers are leading to other regional and local stresses of increased instability and pressure on food systems.
Recent food price increases are fuelled by the high energy prices caused by the war in Ukraine. In addition, Ukraine is one of the main breadbaskets of the world. Trade routes have been disrupted by the conflict as well as restrictions from the COVID-19 pandemic. Recent desert locust outbreaks have also affected several already vulnerable countries in East Africa.
As a result, the number of people who were food insecure in 2021 was at a record high, and this number is expected to increase in 2022.
There is no indication that the impact of these drivers will decrease. The Ukraine conflict seems to be a long time from a resolution, we are in the middle of an energy crisis, and the most recent numbers indicate that we are largely failing to achieve climate targets, setting ourselves on a track to bypass the 2.0 degrees, which would further aggravate trends we are already seeing on increased climate variability, unpredictable events and extreme weather.
These drivers also have disproportionate impacts among different groups, hitting the hardest on those that are already the most vulnerable to shocks and stresses. The likelihood that import-dependent countries, countries experiencing climate change and conflict, poor people, people dependent on informal economies, and other vulnerable groups such as women and children, will experience increased food insecurity in the near future is high, which would represent a huge backlash on the achievement of the SDGs.
Increased food insecurity can cause people to lose their income, sell belongings, drop out of school, and (result in) social unrest.
The full dimension of the societal costs that come from the current food crisis still remains to be seen, and a reason of major concern.
Q: There are big debates around food systems and not only in terms of reducing hunger but also on making them resilient to climate change, less emission-intensive, and more equitable. Where do you see the solutions?
A: Diversify agriculture to reduce global reliance on major grains and incentivise farming approaches that reduce reliance on energy-intensive synthetic fertilisers, pesticides and other intensive inputs. This could be done through a shift in agricultural policies from a dominant focus on the volume of food produced to the nutritional and environmental quality of food; this requires holistic approaches that recognise food landscapes and their multiple associated benefits.
Reconceptualise connectivity. Connect smallholders with local and regional markets, as alternatives to global trade. Introduce trade policies and regulations that protect smallholders. Increase the participation and voice of smallholders in international trade. Increased transparency of regional and bilateral agreements (making negotiations publicly available).
Tackling wasteful consumption and demand side policies is a critical component of the transition to more sustainable and resilient food systems. For example, policy- and industry-led changes to disincentivise food waste can bring large cost savings while mitigating an important source of emissions.
Above all, interventions to encourage healthier and more sustainable diets through reduced consumption of meat (the production of which often depends on high volumes of grain for feed) and of highly processed foods (which have a common base of staple grains but which provide low nutritional value) can reduce overall demand for crops while contributing to lower sectoral emissions, more biodiverse food systems and improved public health.
Q: What do we need to do more and less of for these solutions to really affect change?
A: The food system is heavily dependent on subsidies and these largely do not promote resilience. In fact, they often do the opposite – they incentivise unsustainable practices. So we need less of those, we also need more support from governments and business to drive action. What we really need is bold leadership – and lots more of it.
Q: What gives you hope?
A: We need to move agriculture from a net source of carbon to a net sink by 2030 in order to meet the Paris Agreement and we must do this in concert with protection for biodiversity that our entire food system depends on.
Despite this big challenge, I think we have most of the tools and knowledge to fix the food system – there are so many changes we can make now that are relatively low hanging fruit.
So my hope lies in knowing that it is possible - we just need the investment, will and cooperation to make it happen.
Q: What can individual citizens do?
A: Individual citizens can vote for politicians and policies that have pro-climate policies.
They can make sure their investments including their pensions are environmentally sustainable and divest in fossil fuel, chemical or industrial agricultural companies.
They can be aware of their impacts and focus on healthy diets.
Me on a mission
Two weeks ago, I found myself in an unusual position. The head of communications for the U.N. Committee on World Food Security (CFS) was interviewing me about my job. Well, that Q&A is out and my thoughts are now out in the open!
You can read it here or click on the tweet below.
As always, have a great weekend! Please feel free to share this post and send tips and thoughts on twitter @thinink, on Mastodon @ThinInk@journa.host, to my LinkedIn page or via e-mail email@example.com.