Resources Research

Making local sense of food, urban growth, population and energy

Archive for November 2009

Monsoon as ‘tipping point’

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A hugely important report has been released by Allianz, a leading global financial service provider, and WWF, a leading global environmental NGO. Both do work (commercial and conservation respectively) in India. The report is titled: ‘Major Tipping Points in the Earth’s Climate System and Consequences for the Insurance Sector‘.

Monsoon tipping point reportWhat is a ‘tipping point’ and how does it apply to India and our agriculture? The phrase ‘tipping point’ means that a small change can make a big difference for some systems – which for our project is the agro-ecological systems inhabited by our farming households. In addition, the term ‘tipping element’ has been introduced to describe those large-scale components of the Earth system that could be forced past a ‘tipping point’ and would then undergo a transition to a quite different state. That’s the context in which the drought of 2009 can be examined.

You can find the report and more information here. I’m quoting the short summary of the report’s chapter on the Indian monsoon:

Indian Summer Monsoon – shifts in hydrological systems in Asia as a result of hydrological disturbance of monsoon hydrological regimes (particularly Indian Summer Monsoon) combined with disturbance of fluvial systems fed from the Hindu-Kush-Himalaya-Tibetan glaciers (HKHT)

Overview – The impacts on hydrological systems in India under a ‘tipping’ scenario are expected to approximately double the drought frequency (2) and effects from the melting of the Himalayan glaciers and reduced river flow will aggravate impacts.

Drought costs – Extrapolating from the 2002 drought using a simple calculation would suggest that the future costs (in today’s prices) might be expected to double from around $US 21 billion to $US 42 billion per decade in the first half of the century. However, a range of other factors are likely to act to increase these costs and consequences in the same period. The most significant of these are likely to be the combined effects of:

• decreasing probability of consecutive ‘non-drought’ years from which to accumulate surpluses (the probability of two consecutive ‘non-drought’ years is halved from 64% to 36% and for three consecutive years reduced from 51% to 22%);
• the pressures of increasing population on food and food surpluses (identified as equal to an increase in production by >40% by 2020 and continuing thereafter); and
• impacts of climate change on irrigation (with up to a 60% reduction in dry season river flows).

The effect of all of the variables is to increase the likelihood, severity and exposure of populations and the economy to potentially devastating conditions within the first half of this century with implications for water resources, health, and food security, and major economic implications not only for India but for economies regionally and worldwide.

Insurance aspects – The potential scale of drought losses could abort the initiatives to extend insurance more widely into the rural sector. The wider repercussions of drought through an economic slow-down and deterioration in public finances would impact insurers strongly, through the liquidation of private savings and the impairment of investments in public sector securities.

Written by makanaka

November 29, 2009 at 04:07

Carpets and climate change

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What does climate change have to do with Kashmiri carpets? A lot, as it turns out. Here’s why.

A few days ago I met Firdaus Ahmad, who with his brother manages two handicrafts shops in the hill station of Panchgani, in the hills of western Maharashtra. You can find shops like those of the Ahmad brothers in most hill stations and tourist spots in India, for domestic tourists are very likely to wander in and buy a few of the items on display to take home as gifts or keepsakes.

Firdaus Ahmad and his carpets

The Ahmads stock carpets too and these tend to be the highest priced goods in the shops. The most common size is 5×3 feet (left picture) which currently costs around Rs 2,300 (you can bargain, naturally). There is a larger size and a couple of smaller sizes.

“It is getting more difficult to find new stock, that’s why we have to keep what we have carefully so that it doesn’t get spoilt,” said Firdaus. Why more difficult, I asked.

“The younger generation doesn’t like to do this work much any more,” he said. “They want education.” Surely they could have education and learn a traditional skill at the same time, I suggested.

“Yes, but there’s also less snow now.” What did that have to do with carpet weaving, I wanted to know.

Papier-mâché boxes and decorations

“There is less snow because the winters are less cold. In earlier years, there was so much snow we would stay indoors most of the day in the winter months. That’s when the families and all family members would sit down to do carpet weaving and other handicrafts all day.”

Firdaus said that the handicrafts work done through the three coldest winter months – when the snow outside had piled high and movement was limited – was often enough to sustain the families for the rest of the year. Smaller works are made out of papier-mâché, the distinctive lacquered boxes and balls, leather and wood (right picture).

“Less snow now means the younger ones want to be out more and spend less time at home working on these,” he said, gesturing at his stock of carpets. “It is climate change, this less snowfall. It is bad for our handicrafts.”

Written by makanaka

November 27, 2009 at 11:13

The 15-minute Copenhagen trip

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This is a climate change survey that is worth your time and effort. It has been put together by the Center for Global Development (they’re also the people behind the excellent Carma global power stations CO2 database).

Climate change negotiations are almost on the rocks

Climate change negotiations are almost on the rocks

It is what the negotiators at the Copenhagen climate negotiations will have to deal with between 7 and 18 December. There will be many of them and it will take several days and cost quite a lot. This will take you 15 minutes and cost next to nothing. My wager is that the results will show that CGDev’s survey will prove that distributed decision making is more effective that international conferencing.

What’s nice about the survey is there’s enough space to express oneself about the choices made in the multiple choice questions. Here are some of my responses:

On funding models –

We need to recognise that the funding flow has followed a ‘market’ model. This is not the optimum solution for finding ways to encourage cities, towns and industrial settlements to manage their impacts. We also need to recognise that sub-national administrations can be politically motivated and outright corrupt, so monetary and tech support can be misallocated under these conditions. Finally, fees, auctions, permits, quotas etc will all find their way into a grey trading system which we will collectively have to guard against.

On reporting-

Reporting rules must apply fairly and equally to all countries. And must be at least annual, because administrative and corporate budgets are annual.

On spending priorities-

We know already how large the most vulnerable populations are and how inadequate their coping ability to the climate change events of the last two years. That alone gives us the best set of indicators about how to proceed.

On choosing a fund amount-

This is difficult to answer without evidence of how independent this funding can be (ie independent of trade for example or reciprocal tech transfer), Just as important, we don’t know enough about how to deal with the overlap, which is now large, of conventional development aid and climate change adaptation and mitigation.

On administering a financial process-

I favour a UN-managed system. (1) This will help standardise the administration of fund flows (2) It will support UN leadership in place of fractured regional system.

On a funding management model-

The problem is being framed in terms of per capita, of efficiency per unit of GDP, and that is why current UN, Adaptation Funds and CI Funds methods will not work. A combination of share + need voting would do best.

On funds being linked to trade-

It really is quite plain. Climate change methods cannot be linked in any way to trade access and markets. It is plain folly to do so. Trade and business are not the aims here. Planet-wide systems are being dangerously altered.

Written by makanaka

November 20, 2009 at 22:39

FAO’s popcorn moment

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IPC Food Sovereignty

The civil society organisations forum

Proceedings so bland one can hardly believe they have come after a 2008 of extreme food price volatility, price rises worldwide which have kept millions on the poverty line as their food budgets take precedence over everything else.

“The three-day World Summit on Food Security ended here today after committing the international community to investing more in agriculture and eradicating hunger at the earliest date,” said the FAO solemnly. ‘Commiting’ to ‘invest’ at ‘the earliest date’? The FAO knows well (go over to the Global Forum on Food Security and Nutrition to read excellent accouns of field work) what the truth is. That commitment comes from those who work the land, that they invest their lives and that of their families and communities in that land, and that they do this every day.

The Summit is over, and for all it has achieved it may as well have not happened. Sad, when there was so much potential. But as the hyperactivity at the IPC Food Soveriegnty group proves, there’s lots happening outside the FAO world.

Written by makanaka

November 19, 2009 at 20:17

The trouble with big uncomfortable numbers

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459,698,885 people hit by drought

Who's counting? There are 459,698,885 people hit by drought in India.

The Government of India doesn’t like troublesome numbers. And it especially doesn’t like very big troublesome numbers.

That’s why, all through September, October and November 2009 you haven’t heard India’s central ministers talk about just how many people have been affected by the Drought of 2009. Twelve states have 299 drought-affected districts.

How many people affected? This post on the agriculture-ICT website Agropedia has the details in two tables. I’ll put up the detailed spreadsheets in a couple of days.

Written by makanaka

November 19, 2009 at 19:22