'Our window to act is closing fast'

Last Updated: 23 Jul 2022

Global Environment Facility feature (view original)

As UNDP’s Head of Climate Change Adaptation, Srilata Kammila works to support countries and communities’ efforts to build more resilient livelihoods, ecosystems, and economies in light of a changing climate. In an interview, she described what keeps her motivated and shares her hopes for the coming year as international negotiations gear up on ways to meet critical climate and nature goals.

Why is climate adaptation important to you?

Climate action is development action – we can’t build a safer, more sustainable future without more resilience to the climate emergency, the impacts of which are already all around us. These are most acutely felt by Least Developed Countries and disadvantaged people in all societies, who will be at extreme risk if we do not act quickly.

At UNDP, acting on this crisis with adaptation support is core to our efforts to end poverty, help people build a better life, and Leave No One Behind.

I recall once visiting a coastal adaptation project under implementation in Mozambique. The village I visited was extremely vulnerable to devastating storms and floods, with women and children especially affected. The increasing intensity of these events was further pushing them below the poverty line.

Communities like these need reliable early warning systems, disaster preparedness, and support to climate-proof their livelihoods. It was satisfying to see the project making a real difference to people’s lives – for example through improved climate information and forecasts, and access to microfinance for diversifying employment.

What do you enjoy most about your work?

Climate adaptation is multi-faceted – its solutions relate to agriculture, energy, nature protection, urban planning, disaster risk reduction, waste, and more. I find it fulfilling to work across these sectors with a clear goal in focus – to help vulnerable people address the impacts of climate change on their lives.

I’m proud to work with an amazing team of specialists from around the world, each of whom is supporting countries to meet international climate goals and incorporate resilience into their economic and social planning. Because of UNDP’s breadth, we are able to connect the dots and advance holistic solutions that make a lasting difference to how countries will fare in challenging times ahead. It is very satisfying to see this come together.

What are you currently focused on?

One major priority as the world looks beyond the COVID-19 pandemic is ensuring that climate adaptation is properly factored into planning and policy-making processes.

We are helping 59 developing countries do just this through the National Adaptation Plan Global Support Programme, in partnership with the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and with financing from the Global Environment Facility. This work is helping countries meet their obligations under the UN Framework Convention for Climate Change and make progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), many of which relate to climate resilience.

Another area UNDP is championing is locally-led climate adaptation – as there are incredible efforts and innovations happening at the grassroots level with great potential to be expanded. The Adaptation Innovation Marketplace, launched last year with partners including the GEF, Adaptation Fund, and European Union, is an example of this. It supports entrepreneurs and problem-solvers who are seeking to address climate vulnerabilities through technologies, practices, and business models that can be scaled up.

We are also working through the GEF Small Grants Programme to continue supporting ground-up resilience projects that are easing local pressures while raising awareness in remote communities about how to prepare for and address the climate crisis day-to-day.

Is there a GEF-supported project that is close to your heart?

Much of UNDP’s climate adaptation work is funded by the GEF and its two adaptation trusts – the Least Developed Countries Fund and Special Climate Change Fund. The GEF is also a trusted partner in our work to deliver the SDGs, Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, Paris Agreement, and other global accords.

From advancing climate-resilient agriculture in Comoros and building early warning systems in Sierra Leone, to promoting sustainable livelihoods in Turkmenistan, to increasing flood protection in Samoa and building coastal resilience in Timor-Leste, together we have worked to design more climate-resilient cities, to empower women, and to build climate information and early warning systems.

One top success story comes from Bhutan. Over the past decade, with GEF support, the country has been able to advance a number of its adaptation priorities, including addressing the risk of glacial lake outburst floods, increasing national, local and community capacity to prepare for and respond to climate-related disasters, and, most recently, building the resilience of people, forests, and wildlife.

The latter project, in its final year, is extremely impressive – it has supported rural families’ livelihoods in the wake of COVID-19, but also achieved significant conservation milestones. More than 102,000 people – almost half of them women – have directly benefited from more sustainable land management, improved custodianship of forests, and marketing infrastructure support. The project has brought more than 162,500 hectares of forest under sustainable forest management, exceeding the project’s target of 100,000 hectares.

This is an excellent example of the effectiveness of cross-cutting, integrated solutions that support ecosystems and the lives and livelihoods that depend on them, with a focus on community engagement. The benefits of its environmental achievements extend beyond the borders of Bhutan.

Environmental issues are very often concerning. What gives you hope?

For more than two decades, UNDP has supported developing countries, including Least Developed Countries and Small Island Developing States, to adapt to the impacts of climate change. Now, over 96 percent of the 120 developing countries that UNDP has supported with its Climate Promise have enhanced their adaptation ambitions in their Paris Agreement pledges, known as Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), increasingly pointing to issues related to food and water security, safeguarding economic assets from extreme climate events, and protection and regeneration of natural capital.

It is positive to see this commitment at the global and national levels, and to see more and more stakeholders, including young people, acting as agents of change. Urgency is growing, and we are making an impact. All of this gives me hope. However, our window to act is closing fast. Now is the time to scale up proven approaches and embrace transformational solutions.

What are you looking forward to in the year ahead?

2022 is the year to build on the climate commitments made at COP26 in Glasgow and define a pathway toward achieving the goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement.

Climate finance is one key area. Commitments at COP26 called for doubling adaptation finance from $20 billion to $40 billion per year. As we build toward COP27 in Egypt, we need to work across all levels of governance, and across borders and regions to build the capacity of countries to prioritize climate-resilient development and hasten achievement of all the SDGs.

This year, I look forward to building and strengthening UNDP’s partnerships and collaborating across governments, donors, civil society, and the private sector to accelerate action for climate-resilient development. We do not have a moment to waste!