The Face of Fellowship

November is a month to reflect on what makes us thankful, and this month we are excited to share with you some stories of START fellows past and present. We are so thankful for our relationships with these fellows and the unique ways they are helping the world understand and adapt to climate change.

START Fellowships impact real individuals. Through your support, we offer life-changing opportunities and put high quality science into action on a local and global scale. Please help us continue to offer these high-impact fellowships by making a donation to START today.



The Face of Fellowship: Aparna

Aparna is a PhD student in her final year of studies on ‘flood risk vulnerability in peri-urban areas’ at CEPT University, Ahmedabad in India. She first learned about START’s Pan-Asia Risk Reduction (PARR) Fellowship program from her PhD advisor.

During her PARR fellowship in 2014, Aparna worked on a project exploring flood risk vulnerability in Surat city of Gujarat. Her PARR experience helped round out her research by incorporating disaster risk elements in urbanization processes. Aparna describes her PARR fellowship as “a very valuable experience because of the kinds of people it brought together from academics, policy and practice.”

The most beneficial part of the fellowship was her interaction with other PARR fellows and new institutions. She realized the benefits of interdisciplinary collaboration and how important it is to integrate disaster risk reduction into development. She notes, “The culmination meeting was so important to keep fellows connected. I now know people in Asian countries such as Japan, Indonesia, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Philippines, Thailand, Malaysia and Taiwan as well as from within India at different institutions who are working on disaster risk reduction.”

Fund-a-Fellow FB postAfter she returned home from the fellowship, Aparna was grateful to receive a follow-on grant to continue her research with a new focus on flood risk vulnerability. Looking toward the future, Aparna knows she has a whole new network of colleagues and connections with institutions across Asia thanks to PARR.

Aparna is not only a START fellow, but also a START donor. When asked why she donated to START, Aparna explained that she wants to support organizations like START that build networks between different communities, disciplines and countries. She says, “There is a lot of value in PARR and START. START brings science to the people.”

Please help us continue to offer high-impact fellowships by making a donation to START today.


The Face of Fellowship: James Oladipo Adejuwon

Prof. James Oladipo Adejuwon has a distinguished career in the field of climate change that’s taken him all over the world and back home again to the Obafemi Awolowo University in Ife, Nigeria. He began as a professor there in the 1970’s studying rural energy and agriculture and advanced to Deputy Vice Chancellor by the 1980’s. His career path has intersected with START several times over the years, beginning in 1998 when he received a Visiting Scientist Fellowship from START to travel to the US and work with scientists at Penn State University to improve African cereal crop yields by developing a system to link seasonal climate forecasts to agricultural management practices. That work led him to collaborate just a few years later on START’s Climate Prediction and Agriculture (CLIMAG) interdisciplinary projects in Africa. About this time, Prof. Adejuwon was invited to participate in the 2001 report on climate change from the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and he has been very involved with IPCC and other global initiatives ever since.

Fund-a-Fellow FB postProf. Adejuwon has participated in numerous programs with START, lending his climate change expertise to the very successful 2004 Assessments of Impacts and Adaptation to Climate Change (AIACC) Program, 2010 Nigeria Science-Policy Dialogue, and our 2011 Urban Agriculture Assessment in the city of Ibadan. Over the years he has also received prestigious research grants and worked with organizations around the world such as: FAO, Rockefeller Foundation, NOAA, IDRC, and SEI.

Prof. Adejuwon has a foot in the past and an eye on the future, and we are proud to call him a START Fellow.


The Face of Fellowship: Mzime Ndebele-Murisa

Mzime Ndebele-Murisa first heard and learned of START when she attended the 2007 Advanced Institute on water resources in Africa that START co-sponsored at the UNESCO-IHE Institute for Water Education. Participants were invited to submit follow-on research proposals to the International Foundation of Science (IFS). Mzime’s proposal was funded, which helped her complete her field research for her PhD in aquatic ecology.

In 2009, Mzime received an African Climate Change Fellowship Program (ACCFP) fellowship that allowed her to travel from her home institution, the University of Zimbabwe to the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa that specialized in climate data analysis in support of her PhD dissertation research. Working with START, Mzime was introduced to a more collaborative and interdisciplinary approach to science through interactions with other fellows and networking at relevant workshops and conferences. She was researching dynamics of climate and Kapenta fish production in Lake Kariba (Zimbabwe) but she began to consider how her work affected the fishermen’s livelihoods and the broader economic and environmental impacts of climate change on the entire lake system. (You can read more about Mzime’s research in the ACCFP magazine.) START encouraged her to think beyond basic scientific methodologies to a broader research approach that included integration of climate modeling. “With ACCFP I had to think outside the box to other sectors since climate change is such a cross-cutting issue.”

In 2011, Mzime re-engaged with another START program, the CO-ordinated Regional Downscaling Experiment (CORDEX Africa), led by the Climate System Analysis Group at the University of Cape Town. The CORDEX group has a lot of experience in climate modeling but was seeking input from those outside of climate modeling to provide more relevant and useable data to end-users. Thus, Mzime was brought in to help understand how projected climatic changes impact ecosystems. Her climate change expertise was further recognized when she was invited to contribute to the IPCC Working Group 2 as a contributing author on the Africa chapter of the IPCC’s 5th Assessment Report.

In less than a decade, Fund-a-Fellow FB postMzime has advanced through the ranks of PhD student to regional climate change expert at Chinhoyi University of Technology, and graciously credits the key role that START’s opportunities played in her success. Mzime has chosen to give a monthly donation to START for the past year. In her words, “My experience with START beyond the programs has enriched me as a researcher. I’ve seen great capacity built within myself and I would love to see many more young researchers have that opportunity… I give to START at a level I’m comfortable with. Instead of a one time significant gift, I prefer to partner consistently with START at a level I can afford.”


The Face of Fellowship: Suryakant A. Sawant

Suryakant is a PhD research scholar at the Centre of Studies in Resources Engineering within the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay (India), working on a PhD thesis entitled “Sensor Web Enablement for Water and Pest Management in Horticulture (Citrus).”

Suryakant is one of our newest START Fellows having just completed remote sensing training in July-August 2015 through START’s Global Observation of Forest Cover and Land Dynamics (GOFC-GOLD) program. GOFC-GOLD Fellows completed a one-week data download training course at a US Geological Survey facility and then a two-week data analysis course at Boston University where they refined their techniques in data collection, classification and accuracy assessment. He notes the relevance of the event, “when we initiate any project related to land water resources monitoring and management the remote sensing data availability is always a major issue.”

By participating in the GOFC-GOLD Fellowship, Suryakant was able to: (1) advance his skills in satellite data processing for vegetation monitoring, (2) use more advanced data analysis techniques in his research of Citrus crop management and (3) establish a regional community in India to share data and provide continuing education opportunities. Of his Fellowship experience, Suryakant says, Fund-a-Fellow FB post“I am ready to facilitate a similar training in my regional GOFC South Asia network. This training has helped me to improve land use land cover classification and change detection module in an Image Interpretation Laboratory class at Centre of Studies in Resources Engineering, Indian Institute of Technology Bombay.
Thank you organizers (START, USGS-EROS, Boston University and others) and sponsor agencies for starting this initiative and supporting this training program. In my opinion the investment made by you both in terms of finance and time is really well utilized. Overall this training has facilitated to expand my research ideas over larger spatio-temporal scale.”



Engaging Stakeholders and Initiating Fieldwork in West Africa: ASSAR Update

Adaptation at Scale in Semi-Arid Regions (ASSAR) is one of START’s newest programs. In the last several months, ASSAR regional teams in West, East, and Southern Africa as well as in India have been busy disseminating the findings of the Regional Diagnostic Studies (RDS). This diagnostic research is aimed at understanding what people in semi-arid regions currently know about climate change, and what they’re doing to adapt to these changes.

In West Africa, district level RDS dialogue events have been held with stakeholders from Lawra and Nandom districts in Ghana and from Koutiala in Mali. National level events have also taken place in Accra and Bamako. These events provided opportunities for stakeholders to learn about RDS findings and to give feedback to inform the second phase of the ASSAR project, the Regional Research Phase. More information is available here.

ASSAR stakeholder RDS dialog in MaliStakeholder RDS dialogue participants in Koutiala, Mali in July, 2015.

START has been working closely with graduate student researchers and others from the West Africa team to prepare for the fieldwork of the Regional Research Phase. This work has already gotten underway with a preparatory field visit to research sites in northwestern Ghana and will continue to roll out from October through January. This work will be focusing on ASSAR’s three research streams of social differentiation, governance, and ecosystem services along with two crosscutting themes of gender and knowledge resources. In order to generate creative and novel thinking about adaptation futures in the region and to inform our ongoing research, a Transformative Scenario Planning exercise will also be undertaken as part of the West Africa team’s Regional Research Phase. For more information on ASSAR, theTransformative Scenario Planning and the work of the regional teams please visit START’s ASSAR web page or the global ASSAR website.

ASSAR TSP training in Accra

West Africa student researchers participating in a Transformative Scenario Planning (TSP) training exercise in Accra, Ghana in September 2015. Photo Credit: Lucia Scodanibbio  

Pack Your Bags and Join the Journey

Our 2015 Fund a Fellow campaign is an epic journey, starring you!  START Fellow, Jessica Dator-­Bercilla (photo below), compared her fellowship experience to the movie “Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring” and we think she’s onto something.

Jessica is a Science-Policy Research Specialist at the Manila Observatory in the Philippines. As a Pan-Asian Risk Reduction (PARR) fellow, she traveled to the National Science and Technology Center for Disaster Reduction in Taiwan to study integrated risk analysis. Of the experience, Jessica said:

“What sets this [START Fellowship] apart is having the privilege of time to study, witness the practice, engage in discussions in the spirit of solidarity and genuine intent to complement each others’ work from a range of perspectives. This is Fellowship. While we learned, we were treated as having the potential to share knowledge and experience and also enrich … the other fellows. This reminds me of the movie The Fellowship of the Ring — where each force was recognized as having equal power and valuable contribution to make significant change that matters to humanity.”

We hope you’ll join us on this journey by funding the next generation of START fellows. Please consider making a donation to START today.

Booming with Confidence – the GOFC 2015 Data Initiative

GOFC satelite 2 cropped

Nine fellows from Vietnam, Zimbabwe, Uganda, Bulgaria, South Africa, Togo, India, Nepal, and Madagascar attended this year’s GOFC-GOLD Data Initiative Advanced Training from July 20 to August 8, 2015 in the United States.  Each participant has their own unique story of what the training meant to them.  One of the participants, Godfrey Pachavo, reports that “today I boom with confidence due to the knowledge they imparted on me.”  You can read more about Godfrey’s journey below.

The first week of the training took place at the USGS EROS Center in Sioux Falls, South Dakota where the participants received advanced training on data management and archiving practices.  They learned how to access, download, and compile pertinent regionalGOFC training class_cropped and country-level data sets on land cover, land use, and fire observations.  Fellows then headed to Boston University to get advanced training on use of relevant software for data processing and application.

Each participant received fully functional and open-source software for processing Earth observations data, which would allow them and (their colleagues back home) to employ recent advancements in remote sensing analyses without spending large amounts of money on proprietary software. Back in their home regions, these GOFC-GOLD fellows will distribute their acquired data, software and skills and provide training to their colleagues.


“Before and After” with Godfrey Pachavo

Godfrey Pachavo gained both his BSc and MPhil degrees from the University of Zimbabwe. His research interests include earth observation science and spatial ecology, where he produced research output on net primary productivity modelling and its distribution patterns in relation to land use/tenure and biomass assessment for thermal power generation. He is a Research Associate in the Geo-information and Remote Sensing Institute (GRSI) of the Scientific and Industrial Research and Development Centre (SIRDC).

Before the training, Godfrey said “I want to understand the USGS EO data server (EarthExplorer) in order to effectively utilise its EO products when back home. I expect to gain capacity especially on Image processing methods for biomass and biodiversity monitoring applications.”

Afterwards, he reportedThe experience I had in Sioux Falls and Boston is one of the best I ever had in my life time. The two sessions were well organised and packaged with quality detail useful to forestry and land use/cover research studies in our countries.

The first session at the USGS EROS Center in Sioux Falls enlightened me so much on the freely available data from the USGS and how to fully access the different datasets using different web sites. This session also gave us an insight on how to manage large data sets and archiving practices even when back at our institutions. The tour of the Centre made us appreciate how other scientists have worked hard to make the world a better place for the scientists of this generation. The hands-on experience of downloading different datasets from different websites with the help of USGS Team was also of great help. All the USGS Team was very welcoming and supportive during our stay in Sioux Falls. Special mention goes to Anya, Charlie, and Dr. Loveland. I really enjoyed every minute of my stay in Sioux Falls and the Barbecue and the excursion too.

The second session at the Department of Earth and Environment, Boston University provided us with great deal of essential skills on the analysis and application of earth observation data for research and management of forest and land cover dynamics. This session was divided into theory and practical sessions for each day. The theory gave us a detailed insight of major remote sensing aspects. Also the presentation of scientific papers published in high impact journals provided us the opportunity to understand some of those applications and concepts, which we deemed complicated and difficult to replicate. The practical sessions in new open source software gave us the hands on experience of applying certain algorithms for our studies. I learnt quite a lot of remote sensing aspects during this session including multi-date change detection and accuracy assessment. For me, I had always thought the Kappa statistic was enough yet it’s very weak for accuracy assessment. I would like to thank the Boston Team for the amazing package they gave us and for organising a Barbecue for us. Special mention goes to Prof. Curtis Woodcock, Prof. Pontus Olofsson, Christopher and Eric. Today I boom with confidence due to the knowledge they imparted on me. Special mention also goes to Senay for making sure all our needs and logistics including the hard drives were met and the USGS and START for the funding.

Sitting at the Table Together

Good meals are better when shared.  Identifying and solving the challenges of urban agriculture requires bringing diverse groups of people to sit down at the table together and “meal plan” for the future.


UPA - IndiaSTART recently partnered with UNEP, the WMO, and organizations from throughout Africa and South Asia to undertake a nine-city assessment of urban and peri-urban agriculture (UPA) across Africa and South Asia. The assessment teams examined key environmental and governance dimensions of UPA in order to advance understanding of how increasing urban pressures on land and water resources, and intensifying climate risks, are undermining the resilience of UPA in the face of rapid urban development. The UPA assessments help to advance understanding of how urban planning can better accommodate food production in and around cities.

Click here to download the assessment reports and a summary article.

The assessment teams prioritized engagement with key decision making groups that have a stake in UPA, including the research community, urban planners, city government officials, NGOs and farmers.

UPA - senegalThe engagement process began through city inception meetings that garnered input from diverse stakeholder groups regarding city-specific decision making priorities and knowledge needs, and continued throughout the assessment with periodic stakeholder forums. Engaging stakeholders repeatedly throughout the assessments will allow these reports to have a positive impact on decision making.

Below is the story of Dr. Ibidun Adelekan from the Ibadan, Nigeria Team.  Her personal experience highlights how stakeholder engagement was foundational to the project.




Outreach in Ibadan: Promoting Stakeholder Engagement in Urban Agriculture Assessments


ibidun_adelekanDr. Ibidun Adelekan (photo left) helped lead the Ibadan, Nigeria Team’s assessment effort.  Her team had a strong link into policy that began at the kick-off meeting with a lively exchange of ideas amongst different stakeholder groups including city government officials, the Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Environment and Water resources, the Oyo state urban and regional planning board, Oyo state Agricultural Development Programme, local government authorities, research institutions, and farmers representing vegetable, rice, maize, cassava, poultry and small livestock.

The link into city policy was further advanced by including a city government official, Mr. Adedayo Ayorinde from the Ibadan Urban Regional Planning Board, as an author in the assessment. Having a government connection on the team allowed the team to relay recommendations from the assessment to city officials. Mr. Ayorinde’s involvement in the assessment has made him a much more knowledgeable resource person to interface with city officials around agriculture, land-use change, flooding and climate. He is now the project coordinator of the World Bank-funded Ibadan Urban Flood Management Project.

The efforts of the Ibadan Team also helped a young researcher, Ms. Betty Adegebo, who served as a student research assistant for the UPA assessment. Ms. Adegebo was able to parlay her experience in the assessment into a fellowship with the American Association of Geographers under the MyCOE/SERVIR 2013 Initiative in West Africa where she studied the ‘Effect of rainfall variation and extreme rainfall events on cassava production and processing activities in Ibadan, South West Nigeria’. Her work with women processors of cassava identified alternative sources of water for cassava processing so that they don’t have to be situated so close to rivers where they face high risks of floods damaging their business assets and livelihoods. Ms. Adegebo has given city officials better understanding of how to work with women involved in Ibadan’s vibrant urban agriculture sector.

Introducing the regional diagnostic study for West Africa

START is pleased to announce the release of a regional study on climate change in West Africa. This study is in support of the Adaptation at Scale in Semi-Arid Region (ASSAR) project funded by Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC) and the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) through the Collaborative Adaptation Research Initiative in Africa and Asia (CARIAA).The study was undertaken through a partnership between START, the Institute for Environment and Sanitation Studies (IESS) at the University of Ghana, and the International Centre for Research in the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) in Bamako, Mali. It aims to develop a systematic understanding of existing knowledge of climate change trends, impacts, vulnerabilities, and adaptation strategies, as well as to identify important barriers to and enablers of effective adaptation in the West Africa drylands.

This study report represents the initial step in ASSAR West Africa’s efforts to understand and unpack the complexities of vulnerability and adaptation within a dynamic development context that includes population and demographic change, urbanization, land-use change, and advancing communication technologies. The approach taken by the West Africa team in developing this study will set the stage for in-depth research to begin in mid-2015. The study provides:

  • A description of the major socio-economic, governmental and environmental characteristics as they relate to the region’s extensive dryland areas.
  • Regional analysis of climate trends and projections.
  • Exploration of how important development dynamics interact with climate variability and change to amplify vulnerabilities in this region.
  • Examination of key gender and governance dimensions of vulnerability and adaptation.
  • Elaboration of how current risk management practices in agriculture link to climate change adaptation.
  • Synthesis of important barriers and enablers of adaptation and identification of knowledge gaps and needs with respect to adaptation planning.
ASSAR report cover - summary
ASSAR report cover - full report

New microsites are up! Six research teams unveil their work on disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation in South Asia

We are excited to announce that six research projects supported by START and the Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN) have been completed and are on display through a series of microsites. Within the sites, you can explore different facets of the projects by clicking on modules to access project reports, policy briefs, academic papers, case studies, workshops and trainings, blog pieces, films, and posters.

Our South Asia grants program provides the means for scientists from different backgrounds and levels of career development to come together to engage in collaborative, transdisciplinary research. Together the scientists can thoroughly investigate the intstitutions and stakeholders of disaster-prone regions across South Asia in order to identify the policies that are needed for resilient development. The six teams that participated in this program come from environmental and social development organizations in Nepal, Pakistan, and India. Their projects range from developing disaster risk management plans to identifying infrastructural needs and investigating ways to strengthen regional institutions.


Click on a link below to go to the microsite.

The Catalyst Of Change

Mainstreaming DRR & CCA Into Development Planning In Gorakhpur

Getting Climate Smart For Disasters

Koshi At The Face Of A Changing Climate

Mainstreaming DRR & CCA In The Indus Ecoregion

Linking DRR, CCA & Sustainable Landscape Development Goals in the Eastern Himalayas

We will miss you, Skip!

Skip Kauffman, long time START Staff member, retired at the end of January. Skip began working at START in 2006 and has been integral to the implementation of the GEC Grants in Africa Program and the GOFC-GOLD Training program. Skip enjoyed working on the Calls for Proposals, the review panels and as the main grants administrator for the Primary Investigators, following through on the contract process, finances and the technical reporting.

Here are what a few START Alumni and Staff shared about working with Skip:

Dear Skip: My profound regards for your great service to the START and GOFC community. Working with you is one of the best professional experiences in my career. I learned a lot from you. Your absence will be felt; I will miss you. May you fare well. Regards, Krishna Vadrevu, USA I got this joke from Skip in May 2008 and a few others from “assumed” conversation with an auditor when he was about to wire my grant: “Well, you send money to such dreadful places. Who knows. They might just run off to the casino as soon as they get the check.” I wish him a happy retirement after many years of service to researchers. – Dr. Stephen RUCINA, Kenya
I consider my personal interaction with Skip Kauffman as a rare privilege. Meeting him in person in Ghana in November 2012 was the height of it all. Skip exudes compassion, generosity and humility. He is an individual who’s always quick to recognize and praise excellence. I’m sure the START family will miss him! May you walk and never stumble at the gate of success, Skip! – Oluwatoyin Dare Kolawole, Botswana My submission towards Skip can be summarized by comments from Mr. Mubarak, the START de facto taxi driver. The first time Mr. Mubarak picked me from the airport, he regaled me with his deep knowledge of START. His comment on Skip was “… as for Skip, he is a gentleman, he is a very nice man.” Of course I could have misheard and he meant ” a gentle man” either way I think this sums Skip up completely. All the best to Skip on his retirement. – Chris Gordon, Ghana
Dear Skip: It is amazing that you should be retiring so soon after knowing you for only a short (six years) time. I do remember your huge support for the African Oceanographic Community when we floated the idea of doing some research with START sponsorship. Among colleagues and friends in Africa, you have a special place in our heart and we are going to miss you. Remember that even if you are retiring, that doesn’t mean that we have to stop enquiring about the best ways of interacting with START and other programs. I am hoping to still meet you at a meeting, seminar or a conference in the very near future. See you at the next coffee break! Congratulations! – Regina Folorunsho, Nigeria Skip will be dearly missed in the START family and climate professional world. His genuine concern, wit and humour were second to none. I remember an incident in Dakar, Senegal one evening when about 30 of us (ACCFPers) went into town to buy souvenirs and artifacts. We had just disembarked from the bus when the electricity went out throughout the city; must have been load shedding. So there we were standing in the dark wondering what to do and starting to fumble our way around. Throughout the ordeal Skip repeatedly called out Chipo, Madaka and I’s names and wanted to know where we were and if we were ok until we got to the bus. We all (including Skip) were of course in stitches by the time we got onto the bus and back to the hotel. The three of us ALWAYS remind each other of that story because Skip CARED/S.” – Mzime Ndebele-Murisa, Zimbabwe
Working with you has been very fun and educational to me – THANK YOU! Thank you also for showing me how to breathe properly … and for teaching me many cool words: Gobbledygook, Schadenfreude, La-di-da … and a couple of other words that I’d rather not repeat here. Best wishes on your new chapter. Farewell – I will really miss you. Senay Habtezion, Fellow STARTer I remember Skip very well with his brown khaki bag! Whenever you see him holding the bag close to himself, you are reassured that your DSA is safe. But more importantly Skip almost turned everyone to accountant. You just must balance your books!! – Felix Olorunfemi, Nigeria

Skip has great plans for his retirement: Two new grandsons came into our family during 2014! Frank was born in May and Henry was born in November. After retirement, I look forward to being there for them. My wife and I bought a house in Durham, North Carolina, which is a small city and a college town in a warmer climate. I look forward to developing a garden and adding new landscape around the house. Even though Washington is a wonderful city, and has been my home for much of my adult life, I am looking forward to living in a place with a slower pace of living.

Everyone will miss his friendship, attention to detail, excellence in program management, and wry sense of humor.

Understanding the Lima Outcome

farrukh-headshotFarrukh Zaman is the Policy Officer at WWF-Pakistan, where he is part of the Climate Change team. Farrukh was a Co-PI under a CDKN-START sponsored grant on disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation in South Asia. At COP20, Farrukh was assisting Pakistan delegation on climate finance and adaptation issues

The general atmosphere leading up to the Lima climate talks was positively favourable. The political momentum created by the UN Secretary General’s Climate Summit earlier this year, the initial resource mobilization of the Green Climate Fund, and bilateral agreements between countries like USA and China for greater domestic actions to cut down their GHG emissions made many pundits anticipate an ambitious outcome at COP20 in Lima.

As these positive developments were taking place, the scientific community also issued its warnings to the leaders about the impeding climatic catastrophes if they failed to keep the world below a 2 degrees trajectory; also, urging the negotiators to find an urgent solution to the climate problem in Lima. In this respect, two reports, the UNEP Emissions Gap report and the World Bank Turn Down the Heat report, highlighted how current efforts to limit greenhouse emissions had already fallen short of what the science demanded and why urgent action was needed.

However, these instances failed to inspire negotiators to bring forth an ambitious deal in Lima that would form the basis for a global agreement to be signed in Paris next year. After 33 hours of additional negotiations (almost a norm now at these talks), a deal was finally reached with many important decisions left for countries to pick up next year in Paris, leaving the impression that the prospects of reaching an agreement in Paris would be even more difficult, if not impossible.

On many fronts, decisions at COP20 or the Lima Call to Climate Action, as it is called, failed to meet the expectations of many countries and observers. For example, despite being recognized as a necessary mechanism for the most vulnerable countries to cope with climate related disasters, COP20 could not deliver a successful decision on loss and damage. While the possibility to resume talks on this issue is kept open in the final decision text, however, many see this as backtracking by developed countries on their previous commitments and widening the trust deficit between developed and developing world further. Similarly, despite a successful initial resource mobilization phase of the Green Climate Fund (mobilizing a total of USD 10 billion), countries were unable to agree on a clear strategy on how to scale up climate finance and meet the annual target of mobilizing USD 100 billion by 2020.

Yet, the most disappointing outcome of the Lima talks was perhaps the uncertainty that was reflected in the final decision relating countries’ intended nationally determined contributions or INDCs. In Warsaw, during COP19, all countries agreed to put forward their pledges by March 2015 that would be reviewed by UNFCCC and shape the 2015 agreement. What could have been a robust process to make countries commit to ambitious mitigation targets has now been downgraded to such a low level that whatever countries will put up front next year will be entirely voluntary and may not be ambitious at all. Also, considering that there are only few, if any, rules relating INDCs, it is likely that a diverse range of information will be presented with little common elements. A lack of clarity on the content of INDCs will have implications for their complete implementation and compliance.

Critics called it a “half-baked plan to cut emissions” with many expressing their resentment towards the inability of UNFCCC of producing a fair, ambitious agreement so far. Many even questioned if UNFCCC is the right forum to address climate change issues for it is inherently a political process that has failed to act according to what the science demands. This was apparent in the discussions that happened in a side event on “Building a common resilience approach through 2015 and beyond” organized by Climate & Development Knowledge Network (CDKN) that I took part in. Planned as an informal dialogue between government officials, development practitioners, donors, and UN agencies on resilience in context of climate change, it discussed the possibility of solving climate crisis through parallel UN processes such as the sustainable development goals and post-2015 framework for disaster risk reduction.

As another COP comes to end with no major breakthroughs on limiting global climate change, let’s remind ourselves about the impacts climate change continue to pose upon millions of people around the world. In South Asia, for example, climate change is responsible for affecting the lives and livelihoods of communities dependent on ecosystems through increased frequency of natural hazards and disasters. A global agreement on controlling dangerous climate change, therefore, becomes even more important for millions of poor people around the world. And as we enter 2015, when major international agreements on climate change will be finalized, let’s remember that it would require unprecedented global efforts to avert the climate crises through to the Paris conference and beyond.


From the START family to yours, have your self-ie a happy new year!


Top Ten START Highlights of 2014

10. START built Human Resource capacity as Clark Seipt's family added baby #3 (Hannah) and Skip Kauffman's family welcomed two grandchildren (Frank and Henry).
9. START and partners launched the new Pan-Asia Risk Reduction (PARR) Fellowship Program with 13 Fellows from seven countries representing policy, practice, and science.
8. Sarah Schweizer defended her dissertation proposal and became a doctoral candidate at the University of Colorado.
7. START started building new bridges between science and policy/governance communities with its workshop on "The Role of Earth Observations in Environmental Policy Support – Africa”
6. START welcomed Shayne Piltz as the newest START staff member and Ghassem Asrar and A.H. Zakri as its newest Board members.
5. START organized and facilitated a culminating Learning Forum for six South Asia research grants and has produced a manuscript resulting from a synthesis of the project.
4. Katie Dietrich taught MSc classes on climate change and sustainable development and helped train over 40 young faculty in academic writing during her visit to University of Dar es Salaam (Tanzania). 
3. START is teaming up with West African partners to initiate the Adaptation at Scale in Semi-Arid Regions (ASSAR) project under the IDRC-DFID supported CARIAA initiative.
2. START collaborated with the ACCFP Secretariat at University of Dar Es Salaam to announce 30 new Fellowships under the African Climate Change Fellowship Program (ACCFP).  (This Call is still open!)
1. START organized, facilitated or presented at 32 research and learning events in 18 different countries during 2014!