27 June 2024

The human dimension of climate change

Revisiting the Commission on Climate Change and Development in the polycrisis context

During the first decades of climate policy discourse and multilateral negotiations, most attention was given to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. Adaptation took a back seat and focused mostly on identifying the urgent and immediate needs of developing countries. There were limited efforts to integrate mitigation, adaptation, disaster risk reduction and development more generally. In late 2007, the Swedish Government launched the international Commission on Climate Change and Development (CCCD), chaired by its Minister for International Development Cooperation. 

The CCCD was tasked to present proposals on “how to design and support adaptation to climate change, how to reduce the increasing risk of weather-related disasters, and how to strengthen the resilience of the poorest and most vulnerable communities”. The Commission presented its report Closing the Gaps: Disaster Risk Reduction and Adaptation to Climate Change in Developing Countries (Commission on Climate Change and Development 2009) to the UN Secretary General in May 2009. The authors of this essay served as the director (JS) and senior programme officer (KLG) of the CCCD secretariat, and as an expert to the CCCD (RJTK). 

In 2007 and 2008, the global finance, food and geopolitical crises added urgency and complexity to climate policy. Multiple crises occurring at the same time are now referred to as “polycrisis”, which indeed is the world’s predicament again. We are now experiencing the interplay of climate change, war, Covid-19 and cost of living crises. As in 2007–08, the most vulnerable communities and households are hit the hardest. As the Earth continued to warm, awareness of climate risk grew. Impacts of climate change now occur at a more rapid pace than was foreseen by climate models, and they are more complex and difficult to manage than originally anticipated. 

In the words of the IPCC Sixth Assessment Report (AR6), “many changes due to past and future green house gas emissions are irreversible for centuries to millennia” (IPCC 2021). Adaptation is now a priority for all countries. Against this background, the purpose of this essay, written 14 years after the CCCD completed its task, is to reflect on the Commission’s impact on national and international policy and practice, and to identify lessons learnt from its achievements, structure and work process that may be relevant again today. We then argue for the creation of an international body whose functions mirror those of the CCCD, but this time not as a time-bound but permanent entity, aimed at better addressing today’s and tomorrow’s climate change and development challenges within the prevailing context of polycrisis

This is the introduction of a paper, published in May 2024 on Climatic Change, authored by Johan Schaar, Katell Le Goulven and Richard J. T. Klein. The full paper can be accessed through the link here.

Photo credit: Caleb Cook via Unsplash.