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Migration Woes

January 9, 2016

“We are living in an era of forced mobility.”

– William Lacy Swing, Director-General of the International Organization for Migration


As Yilin rightly pointed out in a previous post, migration, or “human mobility”, has become the new buzzword in climate change negotiations. More people, in particular in developing regions of the world, are getting displaced by the day due to climate-induced changes such as droughts and conflicts. There is an urgent need for better research, data and capacity building to address issues related to human migration in the coming years.

I attended a side event in Paris that consisted of two consecutive panels, each with 5 high-profile speakers who discussed the drivers of the problem, its impacts, and the measures urgently needed to address it. But exactly how serious is the issue?

Consider Bangladesh. According to the 5th Assessment Report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the country has been losing 6% of its Gross Domestic Product per annum due to storms alone, while a one-meter rise in sea level would likely result in the covering of 1/6 of its total land mass. Worldwide, up to 2.5 billion people will be living in areas subjected to intense drought by 2025. These all mean serious business that would have consequences beyond the national level; the displaced will find their way elsewhere, as the current case of the conflict in Syria has already shown.


People displaced from their homes after a storm in Bangladesh. (Source:


On this basis, United Nations Assistant High Commissioner for Refugees Volker Türk emphasized that global environmental challenges have become “breeding grounds” for social tensions. The issues also tend to be highly politicized amidst calls for compassion in dealing with any refugees.

What is needed? The experts are optimistic that we can increase opportunities for land-based investments to develop resilient communities. According to Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs in the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) Kang Kyung-Wha, this means investing in education of the people to increase capacity and to empower the most vulnerable to more effectively respond to crises. This also means shifting towards crisis risk management away from crisis response, to focus on minimizing the unforeseeable risks by preparing well ahead and to manage risks already known to us. Thus development planning has to ensure that all possible scenarios are considered, and to ensure that people have the means to obtain assistance to avoid displacement.

Overall, the issue on climate migration is complicated and multi-faceted. For one, a direct causation between climate change and the migration of people is difficult to establish. Many factors ultimately determine an individual’s movement beyond his or her homeland. This is nonetheless an emerging research field to explore in further detail at future COPs.


Understanding Climate Change induced Migration

January 6, 2016

At COP21, I attended a side event on the importance of social science research on climate induced migration. Having had a vague understanding of it prior to that, I learnt alot from the speakers and it sparked an interest inside me to know more about this area. This post will briefly highlight some areas of climate change induced migration.

Natural disasters alone have caused about 19.3 million people worldwide to be displaced from their homes in 2014 and 90% of it are weather-related events. The extreme weather- intense rains, typhoons and climate variability (affecting agriculture) have forced people to move elsewhere, mostly within their own countries, with some, though rarely, crossing international borders. There is a multi-causal relationship explaining climate induced migration; while there is a connection between the movement of people and natural disasters, climate change is one of the several factors causing it, rather than it being a direct cause.

Migration as a form of Adaptation

The term ‘migration’ has been viewed as a negative phenomenon, with deep historical and colonial ties, and caused as a reactionary response after a disaster.

The two main responses to climate change are mitigation and adaptation. Traditional forms of adaptation are ‘hard’ measures like building defences to protect against sea-level rise and developing drought-resistant crops.


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With displacement occurring due to natural disasters and environmental related factors, climate change could increase the frequency and need for migration. Thus scholars feel that it is important to recognise migration as a form of adaptation strategy.

The issue with migration

Climate Change Image

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The term ‘refugee’ is used for people forced to leave their homes because of war, persecution or other violence. A person seeking refuge from an environmental disaster cannot apply for the refugee status and lacks protection under the U.N. High Convention for Refugees.

Migration is a complicated issue as it also involves border politics and arouses patriotic and xenophobic feelings.


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In October 2015, the poor and developing nations known as the Group of 77 and China submitted a proposal for the Paris talks to deliver a plan for climate migrants. However, industrialised countries are wary about talks of migration or having to compensate those affected by climate change.

‘Displacement’ in the Paris Agreement

Before Paris, there was no mention of displacement or migration linked to climate change. Now, there is an agreement for countries to address displacement linked to climate change impacts.

The outcome to the Paris negotiations creates a “task force” whose job will be to “develop recommendations for integrated approaches to avert, minimize and address displacement related to the adverse impacts of climate change”

Though not as ambitious as some would have hoped, it is a start to a process that would address these climate change induced migration.


  1. “Migration as adaptation: exploring mobility as a coping strategy for climate change” report; Kayly Ober;




Carbon Offsets – Boon or Bane?

January 5, 2016

“Offsets are merely permissions to pollute for corporate entities!” she exclaimed.


Photo Credits:

My present work in the project delivery team at Sindicatum Sustainable Resources “Sindicatum” enables me to have a deeper insight on two key approaches to addressing the climate crisis; Mitigation and Market Mechanisms.  The former abates the impacts of climate change by reducing emissions fast enough to achieve the temperature goal – Sindicatum is developer, operator & owner of clean energy projects worldwide. These projects reduce the need for carbon-intensive fossil fuel based energy, thereby reducing the quantity of Greenhouse Gases (“GHG”) released into the atmosphere.

A market mechanism on the other hand, is a key instrument used to implement a carbon price that enables the transformation to a pathway of low-carbon and climate resilient economies. Market mechanisms or Emission Trading Schemes (“ETS”) to be exact play a critical role in stabilising anthropogenic emissions in the most cost-effective manner.

I was ready to engage my recent acquaintance from Puerto Rico in a debate to highlight the benefits of ETS but I needed a key ingredient before we commenced – Caffeine! The Paul Cafe right across Hall 4 in Le Bourget would come to my rescue and provide a good venue for us to continue this conversation.

“Hot chocolate for the lady and a cappuccino with an extra shot for me please. Merci Beaucoup!”

Part 1 – What is Emissions Trading and how does it work?

This “Cap-and trade” system is a market-based approach to resolve the climate conundrum. As the phrase suggests, this mechanism is comprised of two parts: The CAP and the TRADE.


The core tenet of the cap involves setting a ceiling or a limit on the total quantity of GHG emissions to be released into the atmosphere by entities within a geographical boundary over a period of time. Each allowance is equivalent to one tonne of carbon dioxide equivalent. Every participant in the scheme receives allowances that permit them to release the equivalent amount of GHG into the air that we breathe.


The trading aspect establishes a market for these permits by allowing entities to buy and sell depending on whether they have a shortfall or surplus in allowances. This provides incentives for companies to consistently find ways to reduce emissions from their operations or resort to accruing additional expenses in the form of purchasing allowances or carbon credits to account for their additional carbon footprint. The limit or the cap is reduced over time to ensure that aggregate emissions fall below allowable levels whilst also ensuring that these entities become more efficient in negating their impact on the environment.

Carbon Credits

Carbon credits are units (or commodities) that represent the emission reductions that arise from GHG abatement projects around the world.  Whilst climate change is a global problem with profound immediate and long-term impacts, the impacts and the costs required to mitigate them are not equally distributed. It does not make a difference to planet Earth where the emission reductions are made and GHG abatement projects in developing countries optimize this process. To elaborate this with an example, it would be much cheaper and efficient to develop a Landfill-gas-to- energy project in Thailand as compared to one in the UK but regardless of where the project is developed, Earth’s denizens reap the benefits of reduced GHG emissions in the atmosphere.

The Defining Concept – Additionality

To qualify as a genuine carbon offset, the emission reductions achieved by the project would have to be beyond what would have occurred if the project was not implemented – Business-as-Usual. If a project is viable on its own accord either via electricity revenue, Government funding & mandates and policies, then this does not qualify as an offset project as it would have occurred regardless of the finance secured through carbon markets. These carbon offsets are means of channelling finance to low-carbon and emissions abatement projects that would not have occurred as per the baseline scenario. These projects MUST represent net environmental benefits to guarantee that the project activities will lead to a reduction of GHG into the atmosphere. These net benefits are further validated and verified by 3rd party independent organizations with the support of robust methodologies and genuine carbon standards.

How can I be certain that an emission reduction is real?

Robust carbon standards with independent verified assessments of the emission reductions produced by a project provide assurances that the emission reductions are real, quantifiable and additional. There are “premium” accreditations such as the Gold Standard that incorporates stringent methodology requirements for sustainable development in the local communities. As a result, local communities not only experience environmental benefits but also technology and skills transfer, improved safety, job creation for the local population and indirect economic benefits to name a few.

“Yes, I get how the mechanism works, but nowhere does it explain the escape route that it provides for these dirty companies to just pay their way out! Plus guess what I just saw earlier?”

Carbon trade

Photo Credits:

Yes, I am getting to the benefits of carbon offsetting right after this and I might as well debunk a few misguided perceptions about carbon credits. Let’s do this in three additional parts where (i) I’ll tell you a little bit more about Carbon markets and its benefits, (ii) other carbon pricing instruments and (iii) maybe a glimpse on what we can expect post-2020. Right now I want to get tips on getting those killer biceps from Mr. Arnold Alois Schwarzenegger. Help me return the Eco-Cup back will you?

The Road from Paris

January 3, 2016
As COP21 concludes, questions arise on its impact on our future. What near and long-term implications would the Paris Agreement have? How does it affect the common folk? What sort of responses are we expecting from civil society organizations, NGOs, academics and businesses?

What matters in particular are these reactions by non-state actors across the globe. At the opening of the COP, UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres expressed her wish to see an agreement that “enables the achievement of national climate change goals, delivers necessary support for the developing world, and catalyzes increasing action by all.” We would ideally expect to see scaled up efforts across all sectors, with governments working more closely than non-state actors than before. In particular, the issues surrounding finance would play a central role in the successes of global, national and local efforts.

On Finance, and Innovation

We’d ideally see a better elucidation of climate finance mechanisms. Most experts at COP21 were optimistic that UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner, at a speaker panel event on UNEP addressing the UNEP Emissions Gap Report, emphasized the need not to underestimate the capability of the world’s economies to reinvent themselves; by issuing the right incentives and signals, we could begin to drive transformation and scale up efforts in adaptation and mitigation.


Professor Daniel Esty at a panel discussion on Energizing Climate Action through Broader Engagement and City-Scale Climate Finance

A key component of successful climate financing is a broader engagement across all stakeholders – mayors, CEOs, governors, business leaders. As Daniel Esty (Hillhouse Professor of Environmental Law and Policy at Yale University) described, the COP21 talks in Paris offer room for innovation, allowing governments to eventually develop methods to utilize limited public finances to leverage on private capital. This is a crucial element in successful financing as we expect public funds to be inadequate for investments in new technologies or renewables. Hence experts emphasize that we need greater engagement with various stakeholders, as they too play increasingly important roles in the solution.

Furthermore, accompanying the development of new financing mechanisms is the need for measurement, reporting and verification (MRV) mechanisms. The processes of reporting progress transparently and regularly ultimately determines the success of the negotiations in Paris and the Paris Agreement.

Thus while Paris might have been a success to many, we would be unable to discover the true success of the conference until years later – when we then begin to look back to evaluate the actions and solutions that arose from the ‘landmark’ COP21 in 2015.

Can we silence the vrooms?

December 26, 2015

It’s a typical day. At dawn, Mr Tan ferries his children to school and his wife to work before he reaches his office. At noon, Mr Tan offers his colleagues a ride for lunch. At dusk, Mr Tan heads home with his wife.

Multiply the typical day by 365 days in a year, and Mr Tan would have clocked a mileage of 17,800km. That’s 3,293,000g of carbon emissions assuming that Mr Tan drives the average car.

And that’s just a Mr Tan in Singapore. It thus comes as no surprise that private cars contribute to 35% of Singapore’s land transport carbon emissions. In fact, globally, the transport sector accounts for 22% of energy-related greenhouse gas emissions.


Hence, in recent years, governments are looking at greening their transport networks. Even car firms are zooming into the electric vehicle market to stay ahead of their competitors. The sunk costs may be high, but the long-term rewards in the future clean energy era could be higher.

Read more…

The Copenhagen Failure vs. The Paris Success

December 14, 2015

In light of the failure to reach an agreement in Copenhagen in 2009, the adoption of the 2015 Paris agreement by 195 countries can be hailed a success. Parts of the agremeent are still ambiguous, NDCs still need to be reviewed, and there are still uncertainties of whether countries can carry out their commitments. But having an agreement is better than having none at all.

paris success

What youth want for Paris

December 12, 2015

Youth groups represent a growing constituency in climate change negotiations. Based on the latest draft text, YOUNGO and US Youth have separately held press briefings to share what they would like to see in the final agreement.

paris outcome.jpg


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