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The climate change deal: from Paris to the peanut crop

The historic accord reached at the Paris climate conference will determine the global response to climate change. But is the agreement strong enough to protect the world's poorest? WaterAid's CEO, Barbara Frost, examines the deal.

16 Dec 2015
Diallo Adana's peanut crop failed last year.

As the only crop that she cultivates, the 60-year-old was relying on it as a vital source of food for both her own family and for other children in her village in central Burkina Faso.

The crop failed after the rains stopped unexpectedly and the soil dried up. Research shows that the rains in many parts of West Africa have been diminishing steadily for decades and are becoming more unpredictable, arriving later than they once did and ending sooner.

Diallo told us: "It rains and then it stops and the plants die. This didn't happen before. I don't know why it has changed."

Diallo Adana, 60, washes her hands at her home in Nabitenga, Burkina Faso, October 2014.
© WaterAid/ Andrew McConnell
© WaterAid/ Andrew McConnell
© WaterAid/ Andrew McConnell

Diallo Adana, 60, washes her hands at her home in Nabitenga, Burkina Faso.

What the deal means

Diallo and her village are nearly 6,000 miles away from Paris where world leaders have just finalised a significant agreement to tackle the future of our world's climate.

There are many possible causes for drought but as our Earth's climate changes, it is resulting in increasingly unpredictable and extreme weather patterns. Climate change manifests itself as water change: flooding, drought, extreme and unpredictable weather shocks and rising sea levels, often resulting in poor quality water that is saline or polluted.

In so many ways, this accord represents hope for the world's poorest, who are most affected by climate change and have contributed least to the emissions that have created the problem. The Paris agreement calls for nations to hold the global temperature rise to 'well below' 2 degrees Celsius -- necessary if we are to avoid catastrophe for millions of people in island nations and low-lying towns and cities.

Importantly it has strengthened financing to help developing nations adapt to the impact of climate change and, to manage the cost of losses and damages. There is also emphasis on climate-resilient development and work toward eradicating extreme poverty.

This agreement is critically important to the future of our world.

Less than three months ago, world leaders gathered in New York to agree the new UN Global Goals for sustainable development, promising to eradicate extreme poverty and create a fairer, more equitable planet. Without a deal on climate change, these goals had little hope of being realised and the poorest and most vulnerable would be left behind.

Resilience and adaptation

While a huge step forward has been made it is worrying that the accord does not address water security, or improving access to water, sanitation and hygiene - critical factors in building resilience.

Access to safe water, reliable latrines and the ability to wash with soap and to maintain a clean and hygienic environment are essential for the health and the recovery of communities trying to cope in the aftermath of extreme weather shocks.

Diallo Adana, 60, prepares food at her home in Nabitenga, Burkina Faso, October 2014..
© WaterAid/ Andrew McConnell
© WaterAid/ Andrew McConnell
© WaterAid/ Andrew McConnell

Diallo Adana, 60, prepares food at her home in Nabitenga, Burkina Faso.

Communities that can rely on effective rain water harvesting, deep wells and boreholes are more resilient to drought than those who still draw water from polluted ponds and streams. However, with the water table dropping in many countries and increased demand, those living in water-scarce areas are experiencing increasing difficulties.

Communities in countries like Bangladesh where flooding is increasing and water sources more frequently contaminated are also prone to cholera and water borne diseases. Good sanitation can help minimise the risk of disease outbreaks like cholera after a flood.

For WaterAid, helping communities like Diallo's adapt to drought, flooding and extreme weather worsened by climate change through improved access to water, good sanitation and hygiene education is an important part of our work.

Keeping the promise

With the Paris agreement signed, the focus now turns to how nations live up to their promises. The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has estimated that even if the average global temperature rise is kept to 2°C, poorer countries will need $70 to $100 billion annually until 2050 to help them adapt.

Finance alone won't be enough; developing countries will also need support to help them get ready to use climate finance.

The future of the UN's new Global Goals and the promises to end extreme poverty, the health and well-being of those who are most vulnerable, and even the fate of peanut crops like Diallo's are all at stake as these world leaders return home to consider the promises made.

What is needed next is action to ensure finance for adaptation goes where it's most needed, and that the poorest and most vulnerable are given priority.

Barbara Frost tweets as @barbarafrost.

Find out more about our work in Burkina Faso >