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Reporting from COP 17 in Durban

02 December 2011, The Rockefeller Foundation

December is Climate Month at the Rockefeller Foundation, and for the first time since our founding in 1913 we will begin a month-long tribute to climate adaptation and resilience. We are doing this for two main reasons: first to showcase the work of our grantees in this area; and second to begin a conversation on the issue of climate resilience that we hope extends far beyond December.

On November 28th the attention of the entire global community turned to Durban, South Africa for two weeks for COP17, or the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Seventeenth Conference of Parties. Since 1995 the UNFCCC has convened the international community to cooperatively consider what they could do to mitigate climate change and to manage its impacts. Since then, the COP has met once a year to drive global climate agreements forward, commit financing, and assess progress in dealing with climate change.

2011 marks a seminal year for the COP. The Kyoto protocol – a landmark international agreement to cut carbon emissions which been a significant focus of the COP in years past - expires in 2012, and leaders in Durban will focus their efforts on adopting a new international framework for climate change mitigation. And while we are eager for a new framework to be established, we are realistic in our expectations. We have been disappointed before, most recently at COP meetings in Copenhagen and Cancun.

Perhaps even more importantly to the Rockefeller Foundation is that with the COP back in Africa - for the first time since 2006 – we have a real opportunity to focus the discussion and the decision making on how to build the resilience of communities that are already feeling the impact of extreme weather because of climate change.

Guided by our dual mission to build resilience and promote growth with equity, the Foundation focuses on building resilient communities that are able to weather the effects of climate change. In 2007, we launched our climate change resilience initiative – a $90 million commitment which focuses on urban environments in Asia, agriculture in Africa, policy research, and replication efforts. In Africa, our climate change resilience work is focused on helping smallholder farmers adapt to more extreme and difficult to manage weather patterns. For example, in Ethiopia, we support Oxfam America's work to provide some of the poorest farmers in the country with access to crop insurance through an innovative program that allows farmers to trade work for insurance. In southern Africa, drought tolerant maize developed by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center – a Rockefeller Foundation grantee - is transforming growing seasons – with a 25-30% increase in yields.

To help rapidly growing cities in Asia develop resilience plans to help them prepare for the current and future impact of climate change, the Foundation formed the Asian Cities Climate Change Resilience Network (ACCCRN). This network helps city managers and key stakeholders in 10 Asian cities develop and identify best practices for manageable, resilient urban growth and develop effective, agile ways to implement those practices, with a focus on improving the resilience of poor and vulnerable populations.

Many ACCCRN cities are fast growing coastal cities, particularly vulnerable to climate change and in desperate need of adaptation strategies. For example, Surat, India has a population of over four million and is built on the River Tapti. Through the ACCCRN process, the city developed climate projections that suggested more intense and frequent rainfall, leading to rising river discharges on the Tapti. As a result the city linked the agencies responsible for upstream dam management (a federal responsibility) with downstream disaster management (under state authority). Now these actors, along with the Municipal Corporation, development authorities, catchment managers, and rainfall forecasting units and a local university are coordinating to form an early warning system to warn citizens of potentially catastrophic flooding.

Our climate change resilience work, focused at the local and regional level, proves that building real adaptive capacity to climate change is possible. So, as government leaders, climate experts, and representatives of the private sector discuss and debate the future of an international climate change framework in Durban, we hope that the COP community also focuses on the success that local governments and communities have already achieved in resilience-building and will find pathways to support and scale these innovations.

As we set out to mark Climate Month at the Rockefeller Foundation, we hope that the COP sparks a discussion around climate change resilience that continues through the month of December and well into the months and years ahead. We further hope that the international community comes together and develops fair distribution mechanisms that allow funding to flow into local hands and toward projects that we know already work.

So please join me in making December Climate Month: engage with your online communities, share with us your climate work, and drive the discussion forward. I encourage you to follow me as I tweet throughout all of COP17 and Climate Month - @cristina_rdr.

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