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Culture and systems of knowledge, cultivation and food, population and consumption

Posts Tagged ‘tipping point

Water spikes of the 48,000 large dams that humans have built

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This is a three-minute film that narrates the impact of humans on the planet and on the water cycle. The global footprint of human habitation – built-up regions, water extraction, industrial agriculture, mineral and fossil fuel extraction – has driven Earth into a new geological epoch: the Anthropocene.

Human activities such as damming and agriculture are changing the global water cycle in significant ways. The film quickly and dramatically describes Earth’s changing global water cycle, why it is changing and what this means for the future. The vertical spikes that appear in the film represent the 48,000 large dams that have been built. The film is part of the first website on the concept of humans as a geological force and was made for the the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme.

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Traditional knowledge and climate change

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The Enawene Nawe people live in the basin of the Juruena River in the southern Amazon rainforest. They perform the Yaokwa ritual every year during the drought period to honour the Yakairiti spirits, thereby ensuring cosmic and social order for the different clans. The ritual links local biodiversity to a complex, symbolic cosmology that connects the different but inseparable domains of society, culture and nature. Photo: UNESCO ICH / IPHAN

The connection between traditional knowledge and climate change is one that inter-governmental agencies really ought to pay a great deal more attention to. Several UN agencies, amongst them UNESCO and FAO, have done some sustained work on the subject. Their work, together with that of researchers and community leaders amongst indigenous peoples, has deserved a closer look for many years. Now, when ‘tipping points’ have been reached in several agro-ecological zones, it does seem gratuitous to look for ‘solutions’ (as they like to call it nowadays) from those who don’t see the world in terms of ‘problems’ and ‘solutions’.

The traditional knowlege of tribal peoples, indigenous peoples, ‘adivasi’ (an Indian/South Asian term which means original inhabitant), or first peoples as they are called in parts of the northern hemisphere is now being seen as being a repository for all sorts of ‘solutions’ for problems caused by global warming, but also by the reckless growth of countries fixated on economic development. On the United Nations University (UNU) website, an article about ‘Why traditional knowledge holds the key to climate change’ by Gleb Raygorodetsky does a very good job of explaining the links and how they may, respectfully, be consulted.

I replied and commented on several of the points raised by Raygorodetsky. These appear below, and follow significant passages or statements in his article (in italics):

“Although indigenous peoples’ ‘low-carbon’ traditional ways of life have contributed little to climate change, indigenous peoples are the most adversely affected by it. This is largely a result of their historic dependence on local biological diversity, ecosystem services and cultural landscapes as a source of sustenance and well-being.”

The Limbe is a side-blown flute of hardwood or bamboo, traditionally used to perform Mongolian folk long songs. Through the use of circular breathing, Limbe performers are able to produce the continuous, wide-ranging melodies characteristic of the long song. Players breathe in through the nose while simultaneously blowing out through the mouth, using air stored in their cheeks to play the flute without interruption. Single stanzas of folk long song last approximately four to five minutes. A single song consists of three to five or more stanzas, which requires performance of the flute to continue uninterrupted for twelve to twenty-five minutes. Photo: UNESCO ICH / Ts.Tsevegsuren

It’s a good thing you’ve enclosed ‘low carbon’ in quotations here. Within these societies – indigenous, first peoples, tribal – this label has little meaning – as unhelpful as calling certain communities ‘low-hydrological’ (if the ecosystem they inhabit is a semi-arid zone) or ‘low-pelagic’ (where a coastal community practices only artisanal fishing).

“The very identity of indigenous peoples is inextricably linked with their lands, which are located predominantly at the social-ecological margins of human habitation…”

As urbanisation has proceeded these margins have become clearer. The homogenous economic choices made by many state governments in the last 60-70 years has encouraged urbanisation and the consequent marginalisation of the indigenous – a Hobson’s choice for many of these communities: ‘assimilate’ (and thereby run the risk of losing your identity) or be marginalised.

“…they utilize 22 per cent of the world’s land surface. In doing so, they maintain 80 per cent of the planet’s biodiversity in, or adjacent to, 85 per cent of the world’s protected areas. Indigenous lands also contain hundreds of gigatons of carbon — a recognition that is gradually dawning on industrialized countries that seek to secure significant carbon stocks in an effort to mitigate climate change.”

Yaokwa, the Enawene Nawe people’s ritual for the maintenance of social and cosmic order, is integrated into their everyday activities over the course of seven months during which the clans alternate responsibilities: one group embarks on fishing expeditions throughout the area while another prepares offerings of rock salt, fish and ritual food for the spirits, and performs music and dance. The ritual combines knowledge of agriculture, food processing, handicrafts (costumes, tools and musical instruments) and the construction of houses and fishing dams. Photo: UNESCO ICH / IPHAN

They are therefore the earth’s primary stewards, and what we today call ‘earth science’ would have had no baselines to build upon had it not been for their culturally-rooted practices of conservation and thriftiness. However, I don’t know that an altruistic recognition is dawning. It has dawned on those of us who work in related areas, who read and write about TK and exchange notes, but the industrialised countries and the ’emerging economies’ alike today tend to see carbon stocks as market commodities – their preservation, and through such preservation the protection of tribal homelands, becomes a by-product, not a constitutional guarantee.

“The ensuing community-based and collectively-held knowledge offers valuable insights, complementing scientific data…”

The other way round!

“While unmitigated climate change poses a growing threat to the survival of indigenous peoples, more often than not they continue to be excluded from the global processes of decision and policymaking, such as official UN climate negotiations, that are defining their future.”

This is sadly, clearly, starkly true. They are excluded not only from climate discussion and negotiations, but also from many other policy fora. This is how tribal communities, indigenous peoples are treated both by international treaties and within states. Within countries and nations, the degree of exclusion is often greater in fact, and they have negligible or no political voice and weight, are economically impoverished and turned into dependants on welfare formulae that are constantly under threat. It is a precarious existence within states.

“The consequences of such marginalization are that many globally sanctioned programmes aimed at mitigating the impacts of climate change — such as mega-dam projects constructed under the Clean Development Mechanisms (CDM) framework — further exacerbate the direct impacts of climate change on indigenous peoples, undermining their livelihoods even more.”

Well said. The CDM has brought havoc to tribal folk and rural communities alike and ought to be wound up as soon as possible – and not replaced by another ‘market mechanism’ invented by global finance. As you point out in the following paragraph, the mutations of REDD are hardly better.

“One significant manifestation of the marginalization of indigenous peoples from the climate change policy and decision-making is the paucity of references in the global climate change discourse to the existing traditional knowledge on climate change.”

Visible here is the tendency of ‘science’ – a formalised system based on a ‘method’ that is seen today as an internationalised standard which evolved from 20th century Western civilisation – to disregard any other form of knowledge repository as equally valid and therefore worth learning from.

“The last IPCC Assessment (AR4, published in 2007) noted that indigenous knowledge is ‘an invaluable basis for developing adaptation and natural resource management strategies in response to environmental and other forms of change’.”

Naqqa-li is the oldest form of dramatic performance in the Islamic Republic of Iran and has long played an important role in society, from the courts to the villages. The performer – the Naqqa-l – recounts stories in verse or prose accompanied by gestures and movements, and sometimes instrumental music and painted scrolls. Naqqa-li was formerly performed in coffeehouses, tents of nomads, houses, and historical venues such as ancient caravanserais. Photo: UNESCO ICH / Department of Traditional Arts at the Research Center of ICHHTO

Then we must from the ‘outside’ take forward the UNU Traditional Knowledge Initiative (UNU-TKI) and the IPCC partnership to impress upon the IPCC AR5 authors, more than 800 of them, that TK must move from being a peripheral acknowledgement to a cornerstone of the IPCC’s work. Here is their calendar.

To the four points you have listed I would add a fifth, that of pursuing these four strenuously at the national and sub-national levels, for it is there that such recognition is most needed, and it is from there that reporting to the IPCC (and to the UNFCCC) is done.

The five points you have mentioned as being covered in more detail by the technical report currently being finalized for the IPCC are excellent summaries. When turned into guidelines they will go a long way towards educating ‘the scientific method’ about cosmologies that currently exist among indigenous societies, in which expressions of culture, transmission of values and inter-dependence are intrinsic elements. These are the subject of a UNESCO Convention, the 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, and their importance to what we currently call ‘sustainable development’ cannot be over-emphasised.

“It is unfortunate, however, that many government policies limit options and reduce choices, thereby constraining, restricting and undermining indigenous peoples’ efforts to adapt. This is reflected in counterproductive policies, including those leading to increased sedentarization, restricted access to traditional territories, substitution of traditional livelihoods, impoverished crop or herd diversity, reduced harvesting opportunities, and erosion of the transmission of indigenous knowledge, values, attitudes and worldviews.”

That is a cogent, if depressing, summary of the many limits that government policy binds itself with. If we are urban, we are economically discriminated against if our consumption is less than a current optimal mean; if we are rural, we are gradually forced into producing goods and relinquishing our scarce natural resources in order that this consumption mean be satisfied; if we are indigenous and tribal, we are utterly ignored and our customary rights and traditional livelihoods are trampled upon.

Can the UNU(TKI)-IPCC cooperation remove this blind spot and right some of the wrongs committed in the name of ‘development’? I should hope so. It sounds like a careful and considered beginning, and yet we can’t see more time spent on ultimately inconclusive negotiations on climate, as happened recently in Durban. M K Gandhi had once said it well: “Make haste slowly.”

How business-as-usual is shutting climate out of the Durban negotiations

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The IPCC released an early report on managing the risks of extreme events and disasters in time for Durban. Pity they haven't paid attention. Photo: IPCC

The Durban climate negotiations will plod noisily towards 9 December and end with nothing to show for it all, at this rate. A handful of wealthy countries – including notably the United States – are now seeking to move the goalposts. They want to dismantle the rules for developed countries’ emissions reductions, shift the burden to developing countries, and renege on the Bali Roadmap. In the process, they are trying to end the Kyoto Protocol, and even the Convention, and replace it with a weak, ineffective “pledge and review” system that may take years to negotiate. The Durban climate change negotiations are a clash between those who believe that the world deserves and needs a science- and rules-based multilateral climate system to tackle perhaps the greatest challenge to face humanity, and those who are seeking to dismantle the existing one.

The replacement of George W Bush by Barack Obama as US president in 2008 has seen a change in rhetoric on climate change coming from the White House, but no major policy shift regarding the Kyoto Protocol and the development of a successor agreement. The priority has remained to ensure that nothing is agreed that either impinges on the interests of US corporations or harms the economic and geo-strategic position of US imperialism against its rivals.

Climate models project more frequent hot days throughout the 21st century. In many regions, the time between '20-year' (unusually) warm days will decrease. From the IPCC Special Report on Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation

According to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), “the United Nations Climate Change Conference, Durban 2011, brings together representatives of the world’s governments, international organizations and civil society”. The UNFCCC says the “discussions will seek to advance, in a balanced fashion, the implementation of the Convention and the Kyoto Protocol, as well as the Bali Action Plan, agreed at COP 13 in 2007, and the Cancun Agreements, reached at COP 16 last December”. The UNFCCC is either misguidedly optimistic, or uses the words “advance” and “balanced” differently from the way we do.

In 2009, CO2 emissions in developing countries grew at 3.3%, primarily due to continued economic growth and increased coal demand, while in developed countries emissions fell sharply by 6.5%, mostly attributable to the decreased use of coal, oil and natural gas as a consequence of the global economic recession and financial crises. Emissions in developed countries in 2009 therewith fell 6.4% below their 1990 level. 1990 is often used as a reference year for greenhouse gas emissions reductions, for example in the 1992 UNFCCC and the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. This makes sense, as 1990 was the year when UN-steered climate change negotiations started, and when the issue first received prominence on the international political agenda.

All that talk, in the interests of the 99% we hope.

A closer look at the IEA data reveals interesting trends. The five largest CO2 emitters – China, the United States, India, the Russian Federation, and Japan, in the order of emissions – account for about half of the world’s population, emissions, and gross domestic product (GDP); however, the CO2 emissions per unit of GDP as well as per capita are not at all equal across the five. The two largest emitters, China and the United States, together contributed 41% of the world’s emissions in 2009, and both almost have the same share compared to one another. On a per capita level, though, the average American emitted more than three times as much CO2 as the average Chinese citizen.

"Before examining the main trends and implications of the 450 Scenario, it is important to highlight briefly why the scenario is needed. It is because neither the New Policies Scenario, our central scenario, nor the Current Policies Scenario puts us on a future trajectory for greenhouse-gas emissions that is consistent with limiting the increase in global temperature to no more than 2°C, the level climate scientists say is likely to avoid catastrophic climate change. The 450 Scenario illustrates one plausible path to that objective." From International Energy Agency (IEA), World Energy Outlook 2011, Chapter 6, Climate change and the 450 Scenario

The Obama administration now insists that there is no pressing need for a post-Kyoto treaty restricting carbon emissions. Jonathan Pershing, US deputy envoy for climate change, declared earlier this week in South Africa: “I’m not sure that the issue of legal form will be resolved here, or needs to be resolved here.” He hailed the voluntary pledges to reduce emissions that were announced at last year’s UN climate change summit in Cancún, Mexico. “To my way of thinking, that’s an enormous way forward in solving the problem,” he said. These remarks underscore Washington’s key role in sabotaging any progress toward a new climate treaty.

This is a step beyond grossly irresponsible. Current levels of warming have already begun triggering major “tipping points” in the Earth’s system – such as Arctic methane releases, Amazon dieback, and the loss of icesheets. 2°C of warming, as proposed by some governments, threatens to tip a cascade of events that will cause warming to spin out of control. We have known since 1986 that warming “beyond 1°C may elicit rapid, unpredictable and non?linear responses that could lead to extensive ecosystem damage”, the effects of which we’re seeing already.*

But rich countries risk climate anarchy. To address this crisis many countries – particularly developing countries – seek an agreement in Durban based on science, on the existing legally binding and multilateral system reflected in the Climate Convention and its Kyoto Protocol, and on the deal agreed by all countries in the Bali Roadmap.

"Energy-related CO2 emissions in the OECD decline by 50% between 2009 and 2035 in the 450 Scenario, to reach 6 Gt, and their share of global emissions falls from 42% in 2009 to 28% in 2035. CO2 emissions in non-OECD countries fall by a much smaller 9% over the Outlook period, to reach 14.3 Gt in 2035, though this is still a substantial 10.0 Gt of CO2 abatement, relative to the NewPolicies Scenario, in 2035." From International Energy Agency (IEA), World Energy Outlook 2011, Chapter 6, Climate change and the 450 Scenario

A report released on Monday by the British-based World Development Movement detailed the testimonies of “insiders” at the Copenhagen and Cancún events. The report stated: “The US said they would deny climate finance to Bolivia and Ecuador because they had objected to the Copenhagen accord proposal. The EU’s Connie Hedegaard had also suggested that the small island-state countries could be ‘our best allies because they need finance’.” One official explained that developing country negotiators who come to be regarded by the major powers as a nuisance “are taken out of delegations for one reason or another, or booted upstairs, or suddenly are transferred, or lose their jobs, as a result of external pressures, usually in the form of some kind of bribe (not necessarily money), or exchange.”

Furthermore, a lucrative trade and speculation in carbon credits, centred in London and Frankfurt, has emerged through the European Emissions Trading Scheme. This mechanism was established and developed within the legal framework of the Kyoto Protocol. The sovereign debt crisis in Europe has already badly affected the carbon trade, with the value of credits plunging in recent weeks. A purely voluntary framework for emissions, as urged by Washington, could further undermine the carbon credit market, in which British and European banks have a significant stake. Amid the manoeuvres of the major powers and the financiers of climate gimmicks, the representatives of the world’s smaller, impoverished states-including some whose very existence is threatened by climate change-are sidelined, bullied, and manipulated at the UN summits.

Rather than honour their obligations, many developed countries have now indicated their clear intention to avoid binding obligations to reduce their climate pollution by killing the Kyoto Protocol and replacing it with a weaker ‘pledge and review’ system. At the same time, they are seeking to retain and expand their favored elements of the Kyoto Protocol (i.e. market mechanisms) into a new agreement, and shift their responsibilities onto developing countries.

A ‘pledge and review’ system would mean that the rich countries most responsible for the problem would only reduce their emissions according to political pressures at home, not according to the increasingly dire scientific realities. There would be no internationally binding commitments, no comparability of efforts among developed countries, and no assurance of adequate efforts. The system of common rules and international compliance in the Kyoto Protocol that give meaning to these commitments would be abandoned. Such an approach would effectively deregulate the climate regime, thereby ensuring business as usual and a deregulated approach that could even be written into international law.

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