Interview with Joan Ferreira Franca, International Relations Officer for the State of Rio de Janeiro and former Project Manager of the RegionsAdapt initiative.
nrg4SD: The RegionsAdapt initiative was created by the State of Rio de Janeiro in partnership with the Government of Catalonia, and was launched in 2015 during the emblematic COP21 in Paris, bringing together 27 founding members. Until January of this year, we had the privilege of having you as Project Manager of the initiative, following closely the main steps and challenges of the current 69 member regional governments. In your opinion, as a founder of the initiative, has RegionsAdapt fulfilled its objectives in this first two years of initiative? Could you tell us more about the main achievements and learnings of the project?
JFF: First of all, the privilege was mine, I must say. From both a professional and a human perspective, it was really interesting to work even closer with nrg4SD´s staff and other members´ representatives. The Government of the State of Rio de Janeiro is very proud to be one of the fathers of RegionsAdapt, and we hold nrg4SD in high esteem for making it come true. By looking at the figures included in the 2017 Report, I believe we can affirm, without a doubt, that these first two years were definitely successful. A sound example is the fact that 81% of disclosing governments adopted a strategic approach and prioritized adaptation actions within this two-year period. These results show that one of the most important aims behind the launching of RegionsAdapt has been fulfilled: to engage regional governments in addressing climate adaptation through holistic approaches. Another goal towards which we have made progress was to increase international recognition of the key role in climate adaptation that regional governments usually play in the global climate agenda. The visibility that the initiative has been leveraging amongst practitioners and academics is quite impressive in this sense. Among others, it is worth to mention the participation of RegionsAdapt in the UNFCCC´s coalition of non-state actors “Global Climate Action.” Last but not least, one of the objectives that the founding members had in mind was also to bolster technical cooperation between regional governments. In this first phase, the initiative´s Working Groups represented a privileged platform to make this happen. Taking all the aforementioned into account, I believe it can stated that RegionsAdapt accomplished its mission in these first two years, even if there is much potential still to be explored.
nrg4SD: We know that the Government of Rio de Janeiro has been facing a severe economic crisis in recent years. How is this situation affecting the plans and commitments of the Environment Department related to climate change, especially adaptation? How are you managing that?
JFF: Indeed, since 2016, Rio de Janeiro has been undergoing its worst economic crisis in history. In this context, the State Government has been operating under an extremely constrained budget, which impacts public policies in all areas, including those of the Environment Secretariat. Hence, our scarce resources are being channelled to the most pressing environmental-related issues currently affecting the population. Within the climate change agenda, the Secretariat had to prioritize deliverables that were pre-determined through legal obligations. This was especially the case of carrying out the State GHG-emission inventory, whose accomplishment was only possible thanks to a partnership with the local private sector. So we applied the same logic of focusing on top (and feasible) priorities regarding adaptation. Because water-related impacts are the most immediate effects of climate change in Rio State, we launched a Water Pact to protect and restore riparian forests that are strategic to the conservation of our water bodies, in addition to other water security measures.
nrg4SD: What kind of progress has the RegionsAdapt brought to the Government’s efforts in risk and adaptation management?
JFF: The first feedbacks I have received from my colleagues were from those attending the online meetings of RegionsAdapt´s Working Groups. Comments were really positive. They told me that the interaction with staff from other administrations was exciting and inspiring. It served as a source of new ideas to improve some of their operations and project designs. I am sure that the more I will talk to my colleagues at the Environment Secretariat in the next weeks, the more I will learn about the different benefits from RegionsAdapt to our administration. Yet, there is one specific contribution that I would like to highlight already: committing to RegionsAdapt proved absolutely essential to maintain adaptation among the Secretariat´s top priorities in a period of extreme budget constraints when public policies usually tend to become mostly reactive. The aforementioned water security preventive actions testify to the fact that adaptation remained prioritized despite all difficulties. Moreover, since we accomplished the GHG inventory (which was an obligation enshrined in a State decree), the launching of our State-wide adaptation plan became priority number one within Rio State´s climate change agenda. The Environment Secretariat is now searching for external funding sources to make it happen.
nrg4SD: Between the 18th and the 23rd of March, the 8th World Water Forum will take place in Brasilia, Brazil, and the Government of Rio de Janeiro will be present there. We know that in recent years the Government has also faced the worst water crisis in its history. Could you comment on how Rio de Janeiro is facing this challenge, also mentioning some concrete actions and plans taken by the Government?
JFF: Indeed. In 2015, the State of Rio de Janeiro was affected by a drought whose severity and duration were unprecedented. As a matter of fact, this extreme event was one of the factors that prompted us to reach out other regional governments and to suggest them the creation of a global partnership on adaptation, which would ultimately become RegionsAdapt. Since then, we have been prioritizing water security in our State and implementing concrete actions that combine short to long-term outcomes, such as the previously mentioned Water Pact. As per the 8th WWF, by following on the preparatory process, we believe that an important matter in this event will be (once again!) to stress the key role that regional governments play in water management. Similarly to what happens sometimes in climate change and sustainable development Conferences, political and thematic “subnational” discussions tend to focus almost exclusively on the local level. As if cities could tackle all mankind´s problems and solutions alone. In reality, when we move from discussions to practice, we quickly understand that water management is one of these matters that most of the times cannot be effectively addressed exclusively within municipal borders. In Brazil, for example, State agencies are usually the entities in charge of managing watersheds. So we hope to take advantage from the 8th WWF as an opportunity to showcase the added value that regional governments can offer to cross-cutting issues like water management and its interlinkages with climate change, biodiversity and the SDGs.
nrg4SD: Earlier this year, you ended your cycle as a RegionsAdapt initiative Project Manager to dedicate to other professional projects. The initiative will now enter into a new phase, with new challenges, constraints and a new coordinator. Thinking about the future, what recommendations would you give to member regional governments so that we can continue to take great strides with the initiative and global commitments?
JFF: RegionsAdapt was thought as a continuously participatory process. A partnership done by and for regional governments. In these two years working as its Project Manager, it became crystal clear to me that the most engaged regional governments are usually those members who benefit the most from it. This happens not only because they are those interacting the most with other colleagues, but also because they become better suited to influence the directions of the initiative as a whole according to their views and priorities. Moreover, considering the limited resources RegionsAdapt Secretariat has to date, the continuity of the initiative only makes sense if members remain engaged and take the lead in its activities. Their engagement makes all the difference and, at the end of the day, it is the essential variable that will define how bright RegionsAdapt´s future will be.
To end this interview, the nrg4SD would like to reiterate our gratitude for these two years in which we had the privilege of having your professionalism, friendship, and dedication. This was fundamental to the development and the current success of the RegionsAdapt initiative, as well as the recognition and growth of nrg4SD.