• Humanitarian Affairs Asia

Discussing Climate Change Action with Ambassador Therese Adam

Interview conducted by Meagan Torello

“[Climate change is] destroying human lives physically, emotionally, and infrastructurally. Climate change has broken bridges, roads, harbors, and social facilities like schools and houses which are big emotional and infrastructural losses.”

In this interview, Ambassador Adam discusses the roles of governments in past climate change mitigation frameworks, the crucial involvement of civil society, and how international institutions are changing today to better combat this seminal issue.

Could you please discuss your background in the foreign service?

For 28 years I was in the Swiss foreign service serving in different functions. I started in the late 80s as a foreign service officer. First, I was an analyst for the Africa region and after this period I was sent abroad and was the Head of Mission in the Republic of Niger. As I have an environmental science background, I was asked to take the lead of the global environment division in the Ministry which was a new division created shortly after the Rio Convention. I was also in charge of representing the Swiss government for the UN Convention to Combat Desertification. For five years I did this among many other tasks, and it was a good initiation to multilateral negotiations. Then I was the Assistant Director-General of the Directorate of Bilateral and Multilateral Cooperation of the Ministry and was also the Director of Cooperation for Eastern European countries for 9 and a half years. When I left this position, [Kosovo] had gotten their independence, making it very rewarding to be part of the peacebuilding process. Later, as an Ambassador to Mozambique, I was very much involved in peacebuilding issues too. In a nutshell, these are some of the highlights.

From your experience as a diplomat, do you feel that states are adequately addressing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which concern the environment in their foreign services (mainly goals 6, 7, 11, and 12, which are clean water and sanitation, clean and affordable energy, sustainable cities and communities, and sustainable consumption respectively)?

This question is many-fold. Internally, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has a coordination with domestic affairs ministries for negotiations and also reports what has been implemented. I wouldn’t say that this is the same for every country, but a lot of European countries, namely Nordic countries, follow a similar framework. In this respect, I can say yes, countries are addressing the SDGs, because we have to represent the whole agenda through negotiations. In Switzerland, specifically in relation to the UN Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs does the reporting and coordination to implement the SDGs.

To address the specific targets, I would add goal 13 because we must take urgent action to combat climate change. I think they are all well considered except for goal 11 about city planning because it is considered to be a sub-national agenda item. Another important factor regarding the SDGs in many countries, cooperation or support of least-developed countries is integrated in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It’s not a separate agency, and in this respect, there is even a stronger link to implementation of support and partnerships to pursue goals like drinking water, sanitation, or access to affordable and green energy which cannot be supported by LDCs alone.

Women and girls face more challenges than men when it comes to climate change since they are statistically more likely to be impoverished, live in environmentally insecure areas (i.e. living close to or in flood plains). They also often bear the sole burden of childcare, thus making relocation and the ability to easily source drinking water and food more difficult. Where can international institutions and governments begin to help remedy and alleviate some of these climate burdens/pressures?

It’s a well-established fact that the negative impacts of climate change affect women and girls more as the victims of such hazards. Floods and draughts impact access to drinking water when there may already be little access. This is not only isolated to rural areas where the problem is more extensive, but also in urban areas also face similar issues. There’s not always running water in houses, requiring women to get drinking water, which is a very hard and time-consuming task even in normal climate conditions. Investing in drinking water facilities is a very important project which can greatly help women and make it safer for them since they won’t have to travel for hours every day just to get drinking water. It’s also about sanitation. It’s important to see that sanitation problems are tackled to combat disease. For example, investing in toilets, or public toilets if it’s not possible in every house, will provide for safer management of sanitation for healthier environmental conditions.

The government can also invest in amendments or new laws which grant women access to land and have their own property titles. Often, women cultivate land but do not have the right to own it. This can be changed. Women must also have access to finance mechanisms so that they can get credit to start a business if they have lost their land due to climate change impacts or they cannot cultivate anymore, thus demanding a new means to sustain their families. If women don’t have access to credit, they will continue to get more and more impoverished. Access to finance is a very important tool to raise the status of women and to involve them in public life. Women’s financial advancement is a good way to ensure a better outlook for a country in regard to climate change. They must also have access to education for themselves or their children since they are more sensitive to the fact that all their children will succeed.

For the full PDF version of the interview, please visit here.

For the original interview and more articles concerning climate change and diplomacy, please visit The Journal of Diplomacy.

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