For years the ocean licked the shores of Buchanan, Liberia’s second largest port city. The water eroded the shoreline and eventually began to swallow people’s homes and livelihoods. Under the mounting threat of climate change, the government of Liberia and the United Nations (UN) are working with global climate finance institutions to plan a nation-wide climate adaptation strategy to protect development gains and sustain peace.
In 2008, Liberia launched its National Adaptation Plan of Action (NAPA), responding to the already increasing “adverse effects of climate change.” Given that Liberia had only recently ended its civil war (1989-2003), this plan was in part developed to rebuild agricultural infrastructure and technical capacity to monitor weather patterns. According to a 2011 stocktaking report, Liberia’s NAPA brought the “first systematic adaptation actions taken in Liberia with a focus on coastal defense and agriculture,” yet there remained “no coherent existing national plan or strategy on climate change adaptation.”
But the NAPA did set in motion projects for responding to climate change. One of the three priority projects developed a coastal defense system, which created a Breakwater Revetment System to act as a physical barrier against excessive wave action. UNDP also led a project on mangrove conservation in the west of the country, particularly in the town of Robertsport where traditional fish drying involves heavy use of mangroves.
“What we have done there is to introduce some improved [more efficient] ovens that we hope will reduce the pressure on the mangrove vegetation,” Moses Massah, Program Specialist on Energy & Environment with UNDP in Liberia, told me.
These adaptation projects, and others to improve climate resilient farming practices, were made possible through the Global Environment Facility (GEF), which acts as a financial distribution centre for plans and projects to meet environmental challenges. Founded out of the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, the GEF has served as a major financing institution for the projects and plans developed out of international climate meetings and agreements. The 2015 Paris Agreement, for example, restated developed countries’ 2009 commitment to jointly raise $100 billion per year by 2020 for developing countries’ climate adaptation and mitigation.
As the majority of Liberia’s existing UN-led adaptation projects come to a close in December 2016, the government applied for and received $2.2 million from another major financing institution for climate adaptation – the Green Climate Fund (GCF). The money will be used to support the Liberian government’s ability to continue preparing their first National Adaptation Plan (NAP). It is a “watershed moment for Liberia to develop medium and long-term adaptation measures for addressing climate change through country-driven approaches,” Urias Goll, Deputy Executive Director of Liberia’s Environmental Protection Agency, told me.
This planning comes at a time of transition for Liberia. The UN Security Council (UNSC) is considering the draw down of UNMIL, and a general election is scheduled for October 2017. While a strategic assessment mission concluded by the UN Department for Peacekeeping Operations in September 2016 found “no credible imminent external threat to Liberia’s security,” it also said that, “peace remains fragile” and “long-term peace and security will hinge on a far broader range of reform processes.” As a capacity building process for the Liberian government, the NAP has the potential to promote stability during these transitions.
Liberia began putting together its NAPs process in 2015, in alignment with the NAP technical guidelines produced by the Least Developed Country (LDC) Expert Group in 2012. To support this, the $2.2 million grant from the GCF aims to improve the government on four areas:
- Strengthen institutional frameworks and coordination for climate change adaptation programming;
- Expand the knowledge base for increasing adaptation efforts, which includes economic impact studies and climate risk assessments on energy, waste management, forestry, and health;
- Improve the ability to integrate climate adaptation into planning and budgeting, which experts say is ambitious because it involves developing criteria to assess adaptation benefits for public investments; and
- Create mechanisms for scaling up adaptation investments and addressing financial gaps by improving adaptation investment plans by sector or geographic area.
Planning processes develop the knowledge of national climate vulnerabilities and costs, which is valuable for efficiently allocating further investment from funds like the GEF and GCF, as well as from bilateral donors and domestic resources. The NAPA process has given Liberia a reference point for what kind of projects work well, the coastal defense system for example, but also for where gaps remain and how to begin responding to them with their NAP. These plans are important for developing coherent and proactive responses that may reduce climate change’s ability to act as a “multiplier” of existing threats to social stability.
Liberia’s NAP will also be a learning experience. “If you have a good NAPs process, in about two years’ time you should have a much clearer idea of your priorities,” Rohini Kohli, Lead Technical Specialist for National Adaptation Plans at UNDP, told me. “You have to look at what you are already doing, gather evidence and learn from this, and see in some kind of systematic way which priorities should be scaled up, and if so, where and how.”
For countries that did not develop a NAPA process, precedent for successful adaptation projects may be lacking. But LDCs, through a NAPA and vulnerability and risk assessments, have established these frameworks. “They’re patchy and small scale, but it’s there,” Kohli continued.
While a NAPA process is not a requirement in order to request GCF support for adaptation projects, many low-income countries do not want ad hoc adaptation. They want a strategy and with it the technical support of the UN’s economists and planners to improve their domestic resilience building capacity. This, however, also involves promoting connections among different government ministries.
The EPA of Liberia, which after 2003 was tasked with “supporting the connection between good environmental governance and peace,” has been responsible for adaptation planning. This is typical, as environmental ministries are usually responsible for driving NAP processes. According to Kholi, however, finance and planning ministries must become much more involved because long-term adaptation requires sustained financing and feedback between ground-level projects and national economic and infrastructure planning. Climate action is not only an environmental issue – it’s an issue of sustainable development for sustainable peace.
As Per Thöresson, Vice-Chair of the Peacebuilding Commission noted to the Security Council in his December 2, 2016, report, the exit of UN peacekeepers from Liberia should be followed by “residual peacebuilding tasks” and the maintenance of international attention. “An immediate task is to ensure that the remaining UN presence is set up and resourced to respond to the continuous need for peacebuilding support,” Thöresson continued, encouraging the whole UN system to “intensify collaborative strategic planning.”
The threat to development gains posed by climate change means that plans like the NAPA and NAP should be considered beyond the immediate reduction of climate change impacts. Research conducted by ISS in Mozambique during 2015 identified the value of a broad cross-section of peacebuilding plans and processes that look beyond short-term needs and involve sustained international support.
Recognizing these lessons and the risks posed by climate change, implementation of Liberia’s NAP with cooperation from climate finance institutions offers an opportunity to plan and create an environment for sustainable peace.
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