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Workshop: Climate change from a Southern perspective

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Last week a group of us from the FFRC team took part in a workshop organized by Kepa, an NGO that functions as a service base for Finnish development NGOs. Titled “Climate change from a Southern perspective”, the workshop presented the view from the grassroots level of how climate change and the increased amount of climate change projects and funding have affected local NGOs and civil society in the South. These perspectives were delivered to us by people from four of Kepa’s regional offices in Nicaragua, Tanzania, Mozambique and the Mekong region. Besides hearing of the climate policies and actions of these countries, the workshop also presented the concerns of local NGOs and civil society. The diversity of all the countries presented and their differing circumstances make it quite a challenge to generalize results, however, a few themes did stand out. A cross-cutting concern voiced by all regional offices was the simultaneous challenge and opportunity presented by the increased amount of climate change funds available. On the one hand, there are large amounts of money available from both development banks and bilateral initiatives. Then again, it appears that national climate change policy planning debates are still very top-down, and civil society participation occurs late, if at all. The processes tend to be donor or money-driven, which raises the question of diverting attention away from more pressing issues, for example land grabbing in the Cambodian case. Finally, a large part of the money available is intended for mitigation projects, and especially local advocacy work receives little funding. Another concern filtered from the various countries was the lack of knowledge at all levels of administration and public awareness. For example, the representatives from Tanzania and Mozambique told us several answers to the question “What is climate change?”, ranging from ideas about drought and floods to confusion with ozone depletion. The confusion over the causes and consequences of climate change is heightened by the lack of reliable data. In many cases, climate change seems to have become an umbrella term under which to pinpoint all local environmental problems. Despite all the concerns voiced, there arose possibilities for local NGOs and civil society. Since a large part of climate finance projects are still at an initial level, the opportunities for influencing their direction still exist. However, many voiced concerns that local civil society would merely be used to legitimize government policies or implement projects as advised by international donors. Specifically from the Mekong region, we heard the insights of Timo Kuronen from Kepa’s regional office in Bangkok. Timo commented on the difficulty to find information on climate change funding in the region. Certainly the rapidly increasing amount of funds, especially to Clean Development Mechanism projects in Thailand and Vietnam, affect this. Otherwise the civil society concerns voiced by Timo differed greatly based on national circumstances. For example, Cambodian NGOs were mainly concerned about climate change projects diverting attention and funds away from more pressing issues. In Thailand, the active discussions on climate justice by the Thai Working Group on Climate Justice (TCJ) succeeded in pushing local mitigation effects into the agenda of the Thailand’s National Master Plan on Climate Change (2010-2019). On the whole the workshop gave us at FFRC an overview of what is currently happening and how local civil societies are reacting. Based on the active questions and discussions, I’m sure we all left with new information and a will to attend more events like this.