Interview with Baas Brimer, Expert for environment and climate change, LuxDev

  1. As an expert on environment and climate change, how do you see the evolution of climate change over the past decade and its impact on human rights?

The current situation is not improving and is likely getting worse… Over the last two decades the international community witnesses a rapidly deteriorating situation when it comes to the effects from climate change and extreme weather events on the natural and built environment, but also the rapid loss of biodiversity and an increase in conflicts. With the five warmest years on record happening during the past five years — and the 20 warmest occurring over the past 22 — a consistent warming trend couldn’t be clearer. If the stock exchange could place bets it would be bullish. The exodus of heat energy in the atmosphere results in more frequent and severe weather events (droughts, floods, storms) causing loss of lives and livelihoods, destruction of homes, land, livestock, crops and essential infrastructure.

As such climate change is already negatively impacting human rights, including, among others, the right to food, clean water and sanitation, health, housing, equality, self-determination, development, and even the right to life. The new report Rights in a Changing Climate by the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) and released at COP25 in Madrid, recalls that “human rights and climate change are deeply intertwined, and the climate crisis is increasingly being understood to be a human rights crisis.”

Climate change acts as a risk multiplier, especially in parts of the world which are prone to social tensions. While climate change cannot be identified as the only reason for conflict, it amplifies and compounds those inequalities and vulnerabilities that often underpin conflict. In the global South many peoples’ livelihood is related to agriculture and the use of natural resources and the majority of them live in fragile, disaster-prone, often degraded areas with limited resources to adapt to climate change.

Rainfall variability and water scarcity can lead to tension, even conflict, among people who rely on seasonal rainfall as a source of water for consumption, livestock and agriculture. There is evidence that a 1°C higher temperature can lead to a drop of more than 2 percent in economic growth in poor countries. This can result in increased food prices with a higher likelihood of violent conflict.

Further low-income countries with degraded environments face a higher risk of economic shocks, internal displacements, forced migration and disruption of political institutions, which can expose young, unemployed people to recruitment by armed groups.

  1. What is the strategy of Luxembourg’s Cooperation for development to help communities in the South to cope with climate change and environmental degradation?

In 2018 the Directorate for Development Cooperation and Humanitarian Affairs has elaborated in a participatory approach its new general strategy for development cooperation titled “The Road to 2030”, hence aligning the development cooperation to the global UN-led Agenda 2030 with its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The main objective of Luxembourg’s development cooperation remains the targeted contribution to the eradication of extreme poverty and the promotion of economic, social and environmental sustainability.

While climate change is clearly identified as a risk multiplier in the Sahel with a risk to fuel conflicts, forced displacements, refugee movements and migration, we seem to ignore the fact that climate change puts at risk decades of development achievements.

The Strategy further reminds the reader that both international climate finance and in-donor refugees’ costs are “additional” to the official development assistance (ODA). With regards to international climate finance this means the money comes from a different pot – the Climate and Energy Fund – managed by the Ministry of Environment, Climate and Sustainable Development. The good news here is that in September 2019 the Government confirmed a total commitment of €200 million under the international climate finance initiative for the 2021-2025 period. Until recently the bilateral development cooperation projects could focus exclusively on climate change adaptation, mitigation, combat desertification, or the sustainable management of natural resources. For the future it is not yet clear how the additionality and complementary of the climate finance should work in practical terms and the question remains if the ODA will reduce its investments for specific climate and environmental topics at a time where it should be ramped up. Listening to the public debates and speeches by our ministers in Luxembourg or on the international stage at the climate summit, or even the State of the Nation address by Minister Bettel, it seems that everyone finally agrees that we need to take immediate action.

There is a risk that “we” lose valuable time discussing on how and where to account for our climate expenditures instead of moving full speed ahead – It’s the discussion if it is the left or the right pocket that pays for the required measures. Waiting longer will only make it more expensive.

  1. The recent reports of IPCC (on climate change, state of the oceans) and Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) have documented some extremely worrying developments in terms of climate and environment. How does Luxembourg’s Cooperation for development intend to integrate the recommendations of these reports ?

The message from scientists around the world is clear. Lead authors of the new the IPBES Global Assessment Report say that the challenges posed by biodiversity loss and climate change are deeply interconnected and need to be addressed holistically at all levels. Reversal of recent declines – and a sustainable global future – are only possible with urgent transformative change tackling the interconnected economic, socio-cultural, demographic, political, institutional and technological indirect drivers of nature’s deterioration.

If we want to halt biodiversity loss, slow the deterioration of nature and meet biodiversity, climate and sustainable development goals by 2030, “business as usual” will not work and will instead drive societies and economies to more risks. In the new general strategy for development cooperation “environmental sustainability” is defined as a crosscutting priority, meaning something like a precondition, a factor that is required that the other priorities can be achieved. How this should be materialised and how one will check if this has been done (and if ever this is sufficient) is not yet defined. Personally, I regret that this is all very vague and that there is no further guidance for development practitioners.

With regards to these recommendations from the scientific world it is not only the development cooperation that has to take these up. It is rather a wakeup call that the whole economic system needs to be adjusted and that business as usual is not an option. It will be important that we walk the talk when it comes to policy coherence – the free trade agreements (e.g. MERCOSUR), the EU common agricultural policy with its subsidies come at a high cost for the environment, biodiversity and the people in the South.

  1. Could you give us some examples of programs supported by Lux development which contribute to fight climate change?

In 2018 more than half of all the projects implemented by LuxDev had activities which contribute to a sustainable environment, and a quarter of all projects included targeted activities for climate change adaptation. Over the last 10 years environmental and climate considerations were mainstreamed in various ways into most development projects through e.g. technical assistance, training and capacity development, policy support, or investments in infrastructure.

Concrete examples include a Climate Change Adaptation and Resilience project in Thua Thien Hué, a coastal province in central Vietnam with a unique lagoon ecosystem. This fragile region is exposed to more frequent and severe typhoons, coastal erosion, salt water intrusion impacting traditional rice farming practices as well as overfishing. This project aims to strengthen the resilience of poor households to climate change, and specifically to assist local authorities and rural communities in coastal and lagoon communes to increase their capacity and resilience to deal with the effects from climate change. This includes training on disaster risk reduction, the development of alternative income sources, climate smart agricultural practices, the establishment of fisheries conservation zones, and small infrastructure (dykes, canals, sluices).

On Cape Verde LuxDev assists the government in its efforts to achieve the energy transition – away from imported fossil fuels to clean and renewable energy with the objective to reach the 50% percent renewables by 2030 for its electricity production. This climate change mitigation project provides technical assistance to shape the legal and regulatory framework, build institutional capacities, and use the private sector and market mechanisms and to make the required investments on this small island development state. It is noteworthy that for the first time, the renewable energy sub-sector is part of the priority axes of the Luxembourg Development Cooperation. The positive results should motivate us to do more renewable energy and energy efficiency related development cooperation with the South.

In Burkina Faso, a partner country of Luxembourg for more than two decades, LuxDev is a long-standing partner to support the forestry sector. The sustainable management of forest resources combines both climate change adaptation and mitigation efforts. The ongoing forest governance project provides support to authorities to better manage their forest resources, that supply the urban centres with wood energy. It supports the management of conservation areas, complemented by reforestation actions and the development of agro-forestry value chains for non-timber forest products sector benefiting local communities to derive an income from it.

Since 2019 LuxDev is accredited entity to the Green Climate Fund, the largest international climate fund, and can now take initiative to develop more specific climate projects complementing the development cooperation portfolio.

  1. What do you think of the measures taken by States at COP 25? What can we expect from States before the next COP? And from Luxembourg in particular?

COP25 was again the proof of the cyclic dynamic of the climate conferences. This were the longest UN climate talks on record and they didn’t produce the expected results and the signals that politicians should give if they listened to the people around the globe taking on the streets for more ambitious action. All parties will need to address the gap between what the science says is necessary to do to avoid dangerous climate change, and the current state of play which would see the world go past this threshold of global atmospheric CO2 concentration and temperature in the 2030s. Supported by the European Union, and small island states, the push for higher ambition was again opposed by a range of countries including the US, Brazil, India and China.

On the Luxembourg side things are moving too with the revision of our climate targets upwards, seeking to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 55% from the 2005 levels to 2030, instead of 40% and the ultimate goal to reach zero net emissions for Luxembourg by 2050 at the latest.

I think that in the coming years we will see a few states moving faster, being determined and grouping together, taking the lead and seizing the opportunity to decarbonise their economies, going the green-growth-path to do the technological leap frog. China leads on photovoltaic production capacity and also on electric vehicles. New partnerships for energy and technological cooperation between countries will emerge but on the other side some old rigid geopolitical relationships will be weakened and maybe break at the risk of new conflicts in other parts of the world. Also, the energy transition and the required resources (e.g. lithium, tantalum, cobalt, and other rare earth elements) for the digitisation come at a risk of new dependencies and it is important to ensure that the countries extracting these resources benefit from the global development and that inequalities will not further increase.

  1. What future developments could we expect in terms of climate change and its impact on human rights?

As the climate crisis worsens, so do the threats to the realisation of human rights. Many countries which yet have a hard time to respect and enforce the human rights are also those vulnerable to the effects from climate change. Countries restricting freedom of speech and other individual liberties including democratic values we enjoy here, will likely react in the same way to the climate movements than they would react to political opposition. Likely oppressing and smashing these movements and further eroding the human rights base. What is clear is that human rights cannot be separated from climate change, as climate change impacts the realisation of every single human right, and human rights are increasingly relevant for climate action.