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Asia-Pacific Network for Global Change Research

Asia-Pacific Network for Global Change Research

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Global Climate Change: Reducing Risk and Increasing Resilience — South Asia Science-Policy Dialogue Held in Bhutan

19-21 January 2015, Thimpu, Bhutan — The world is moving into global environmental change regimes that have no comparisons with the past. Hence, the past may not be the guide for countries as they tackle uncertainties and changing risks. This will require new strategies and discussions to deal with uncertainty. Local community needs have to be factored in by both the science and policy communities, so research can offer answers to what concerns these local communities have in this time of global change. Knowledge production needs to be broadened, going beyond scientists and policy makers to include other actors who matter. This multi-stakeholder production of knowledge and dialogue should include both private and state sectors, local communities, non-governmental organizations, and civil society organizations.

It is with this rationale that the Asia-Pacific Network for Global Change Research, with its partner institutions, embarked on a dialogue: “Global Environmental Change: Reducing Risk and Increasing Resilience” from 19-21 January 2015 in Thimpu, Bhutan. This dialogue was the second in a series planned in Asia that will culminate in a synthesis. The first dialogue was held in Southeast Asia in 2012. The 3rd will be held in Temperate East Asia in late 2015 or early 2016, with a synthesis of all three planned in 2016.

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Participants at the South Asia Science Policy Dialogue

With attendance of over 50 participants, including 38 international participants, and graced with the presence of Her Royal Highness Dechen Yangzom Wangchuck, the Science-Policy Dialogue was opened with a traditional Bhutanese Marchhang Ceremony and followed by welcome remarks from Dr. Ugyen Tshewang, Secretary, National Environment Commission Secretariat, Royal Government of Bhutan and Mr. Hiroshi Tsujihara, Director of the APN Secretariat.

In his welcome speech, Dr. Tshewang highlighted the important leadership and role of fourth Druk Gyalpo, His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck in conservation of the environment in Bhutan. He noted that this event was the first in a series of events to be held in Bhutan in 2015 to mark the Sixtieth birth Anniversary of his Majesty, the fourth Druk Gyalpo.

In his opening remarks, Mr. Tsujihara expressed his gratitude to the Royal Kingdom of Bhutan and the National Environment Commission of the Royal Government of Bhutan for hosting the event. His desire for rich discussions among policy makers, scientists and members of civil society to openly share their opinions and experiences on global climate change in the context of risk and resilience was well received by the audience, especially in what was to be the first of a year-long series of important events to be held in Bhutan to mark the auspicious sixtieth birth anniversary of the fourth Druk Gyalpo, His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck, who was a visionary leader and far-sighted, especially in the field of the environment and environmental issues. Celebrating 20 years since the Network was established, Mr. Tsujihara said that membership development and ownership of the APN is moving in a very positive direction and, while Bhutan is the youngest member of the APN; as a nation, Bhutan has come on board with the kind of dynamism, enthusiasm and gross national happiness that APN believes will have very positive effects on all of its member countries in the next 20 years and beyond.

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Mr. Hiroshi Tsujihara presenting a present to Her Royal Highness Dechen Yangzom Wangchuck

Preceded by a key video message from the Chair of the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change, Dr. Rajendra K. Pachauri, Dr. Linda Anne Stevenson of the APN provided the key objectives of the dialogue which were to discuss issues common to South Asia on risk and resilience associated with global climate change; share knowledge and best practices in the region; as well as network, make friends and build lasting relationships.

The three-day Science-Policy Dialogue was organised around main activities that included rapid talks with panel sessions; café kiosks on science-policy interfacing, knowledge management, and communication; round table dialogues; and games sessions on making decisions under climate uncertainties. Each of the three sessions focussed on a specific theme: (1) Urban Areas: Climate Impacts and Risk Reduction; (2) Rural Areas: Food and Water Security; and (3) Low Carbon Society and Sustainable Pathways.

In the first session on Urban Areas: Climate Impacts and Risk Reduction, Dr. Anand Patwardhan of the University of Maryland, USA, talked about “Urban Vulnerability and Resilience: Managing Risk in a Changing Climate”. Mr. Ali Tauqeer Sheikh of the Climate Development Knowledge Network (CDKN) whose South Asia office is based in Pakistan, talked about “Understanding Urban Vulnerability and Resilience” highlighting perspectives from the 5th Assessment report of the IPCC. A presentation on “Urban Landscapes and Governance: Responding to Disaster Risk and Communicating Decisions” was then delivered by Mr. Naseer Kashani, Director General of the Environmental Protection Agency in Baluchistan, Pakistan.

In the second session on Rural Areas: Food and Water Security; the Regional Director, Dr. Syed Javed Hasan Rizvi, of the South Asia World Agroforestry Centre based in New Delhi, India, spoke on “Agroforestry: Food and Nutritional Security in South Asia”. This was followed by a talk from Prof. Toshio Koike of the Asian Water Cycle Initiative, Tokyo, Japan (AWCI) on issues of “Water Security in South Asia” and then a talk on “Perspectives on Adaptation Challenges for Food and Water Security from the Policy Community” was given by Mr. Tenzin, Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, Royal Government of Bhutan.

The third session on Low Carbon Society and Sustainable Pathways was opened by Prof. Shuzo Nishioka of the Low Carbon Asia Research Network (LoCARNet), based in Hayama, Japan on “Low Carbon Development and Sustainable Consumption and Production in South Asia”. This was followed by a talk on “Policy perspectives on Sustainable Consumption and Production in South Asia” given by Ms. Janet-Amani Salem of UNEP regional office for Asia and the Pacific in Bangkok, Thailand. A third talk on “Green Policy and Mainstreaming Environment and Sustainability into Development Programmes” was delivered by Dr. Ugyen Tshewang, Secretary, National Environment Commission Secretariat, Royal Government of Bhutan.

The first of two participatory games ensued that were adapted from the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre, based in Boston, USA. Adapted for the audience and theme, participants actively engaged in a decision-making game “Paying for Predictions” which attempted to convey the importance of seasonal forecasting in preparation for disasters in order not only to reduce risk, but to increase resilience. Players had to decide whether they should be prepared and pay in advance for preparation or whether they would wait it out and act only when a disaster was in place. This was a fun game that showed the value of using forecasts to make decisions on climate impacts. Both climate variability and change were factored into the game, which added more “serious” fun to the activity.

The second game of the event “Dissolving Disasters” was a physical participatory activity aimed to support experiential learning and dialogue on the concept of “resilience”. Participants played as subsistence farmers in villages faced with changing risks, in this case of drought and flood. These “farmers” had to make individual and collective decisions, each with different consequences. Discussions emerged about the importance of such decision-making, particularly under uncertainty.

The café kiosks provided informal “chat rooms” where participants enthusiastically debated the themes of the dialogue. Some key messages from the kiosks were that ministries often still work independently, in “silos”, and more cross-cutting discussions on the impacts of climate change across ministries, especially environment and planning ministries is needed in South Asia. Despite years of dialogue in international arenas, communication barriers remain one of the most common problems facing the science, policy and practitioner communities not only because of the different language each speaks, but the different modes of operation and timescales in which each work.

Translating actionable science into practice needs much more work and a new generation of communicators who may be able to act as intermediaries is needed. Consensus was that this is not going to be easy. Providing key science messages to policy makers is simply not effective. Implementers need to be informed, advised and engaged in order for effective decisions to be taken and implemented. In this context too, many participants agreed that there are enough policies in place already, but what is lacking is the implementation of these policies.

Media participants spoke of climate changes as not being “newsworthy” these days. In this context, providing on-the-ground situations that clearly show how the “human factor” is impacted is the best way to sell a story to the public at large.

With such active engagement and rich discussions, it was not easy to highlight the most important messages that came out of the dialogue, except to say that these kinds of dialogues should be a “starting point” on strengthening the bridges between science, policy and practitioners. Clearly, a lot more work is needed for a common language to be generated among these different stakeholders to ensure a resilient mankind in a warming world.

More information on the outcomes of the dialogue can be obtained by contacting Dr. Linda Anne Stevenson of the Asia-Pacific Network for Global Change Research at lastevenson@apn-gcr.org. More information on the dialogue and the APN in general can be found at www.apn-gcr.org.