Resources Research

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

Posts Tagged ‘vulnerability

The fifth tolling of the IPCC bell

with 3 comments

The first release of the IPCC's AR5.

The first release of the IPCC’s AR5.

The Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) will begin to be released this week. Between 2013 September and 2014 November, what is now widely referred to as the ‘AR5’ (the fifth assessment report) will be released in stages as the three working groups present their completed work and finally when the overall synthesis report is delivered. AR5 will be the most comprehensive assessment of scientific knowledge on climate change since 2007 when Fourth Assessment Report (AR4) was released.

From around early August, the popular media has begun – in a typically lethargic and lazy manner, choosing to look for controversy rather than the very clear IPCC warnings – to report on the series of releases that will be AR5. But despite the strenuous efforts of the oil and gas industry PR firms, of the automobile industry lobbyists, of the carpetbaggers for the financiers and the banks that have propped up for decades the whole damned mess, even so, the messages have come out and together they are stark and strong.

IPCC_WG1_processExtreme weather events, including heatwaves and storms, have increased in many regions while ice sheets are dwindling at an alarming rate. In addition, sea levels are rising while the oceans are being acidified. From climate change experts to spokespersons of small island states, governments have been told bluntly to end their dithering about fossil fuels and start working to create a global low-carbon economy to curtail global warming.

What it all coalesces into we will begin to see this week. Consult the handy factsheet for WG I that explains how much drafting and reviewing the first release has emerged from. And here is the time-table for the AR5:

The contents of the Working Group I report in 14 packed chapters.

The contents of the Working Group I report in 14 packed chapters.

Working Group I assesses the physical science basis of the climate system and natural and anthropogenic climate change (release 2013 September 23-27 in Stockholm, Sweden). [You will find all material for this release at the website devoted to this group’s work.]
Working Group II assesses the vulnerability of socio-economic and natural systems to climate change, negative and positive impacts of climate change, and options for adapting to it (release 2014 March 25-31 in Yokohama, Japan).
Working Group III assesses options for mitigating climate change through limiting or preventing greenhouse gas emissions and enhancing activities that remove them from the atmosphere (release 2014 April 07-12 in Berlin, Germany).
The Synthesis Report will integrate material contained within IPCC Assessment Reports and Special Reports, based exclusively on material contained in the three Working Group Reports and Special Reports produced during the 5th or previous Assessment Cycles, and will be written in a non-technical style suitable for policymakers and address a broad range of question relevant to policy (release 2014 October 27-31 in Copenhagen, Denmark).

[You’ll find more on the websites of the IPCC’s three working groups – Working Group I: The Science of Climate Change; Working Group II: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability; Working Group III: Mitigation of Climate Change – and the Task Force on Greenhouse Gas Inventories. See the chapter contents of the World Group I report here.]

IPCC_AR5_technical_summary_imageThese details have been missed by the press, some of whom are still spreading the canard that climate change science is beset by uncertainty (it is not, dear biased editor of the Los Angeles Times), or that the IPCC will try “to explain a hiatus in the pace of global warming this century” (look at the charts and read the graphs, Reuters), or that a “global warming pause is central to IPCC climate report” (tell me, BBC, where is the real centre of 14 dense chapters?), or that “the findings muddy the picture about how much carbon dioxide output is affecting the climate” (why, Bloomberg Businessweek, is the truth of climate data so difficult to digest for a news group used to copious amounts of finance data?).

IPCC-AR5-WG1-reviewBeyond and above the efforts of the mainstream press and media to play down the stark and clear warning that demands immediate action, the AR5 will place greater emphasis on assessing the socio-economic aspects of climate change and its implications for sustainable development. New features to look for in the AR5 will include: a new set of scenarios for analysis across Working Group contributions; dedicated chapters on sea level change, carbon cycle and climate phenomena such as monsoon and El Niño; much greater regional detail on climate change impacts, adaptation and mitigation interactions; inter- and intra-regional impacts; and a multi-sector synthesis.

World Risk Report 2011 – which world and whose risk?

leave a comment »

This is a document which does much to ensure that there is a North-South development divide and which also ensures that the flow of ‘aid’, of ‘development’ theory and of ‘development’ competence is one way only – North to South.

In the World Risk Report 2011, the philosophy of this view of the world is as much political as it is racially biased. I’m sorry for having to say that as bluntly as that, but there’s no getting around it or away from it. You can’t dress it up in pseudo-scientific gibberish and expect readers in the Brown and Black Two-Thirds World not to notice.

This philosophy is contained in the six maps that describe, in this strange way, ‘risk’ to the countries of the world. As you can see, the pinks which represent risk are overwhelmingly in Africa and Asia and in general in countries of the South. The green hues represent little or no ‘risk’ and are used to shade the countries of the North – USA, western Europe, the OECD countries.

I have extracted the maps and provide their titles so as to better understand why ‘aid’, ‘development’, ‘technical assistance’ and ‘knowledge’ flows the way it does, helped along its magnetic North-to-South channels by arm-twisting, by WTO, by the World bank and International Monetary Fund and their lesser lending cousins in all continents, and particularly by the thousands of economists who have been installed in the countries of the South, who have been trained and programmed by these institutions, and who are the purveyors of disastrous neo-liberal economics and social destruction from Manila to Morocco.

Internationial aid agencies and their partners large and small will use documents such as this and indices of misery such as this to deepen the dependencies of the poor, the marginalised, the vulnerable and the voiceless in the South, photographs of whom in poster size will nevertheless adorn the walls of Northern exhibitions and collaborationist Southern conclaves.

On to the maps. These are captioned with their titles and followed by short commentaries guided by the experiences of our ‘developing’ peoples and their tribal roots.

Map 1 – “susceptibility, dependent on public infrastructure, nutrition, income and the general economic framework”. What we say: True, true, public infrastructure in the Brown and Black Two-Thirds World is lousy, fly-ridden and stinks. But, comrades, have you noticed how the working classes of the First World have, for well over a decade now, been complaining mightily about privatisation and its ills? Susceptibility to nutrition? Why, now, we didn’t invent Starbucks and KFC did we? We’re the ones who like our indigenous millets and tasteful tubers to be untouched by GM. Income? No we’re flat broke. But listen to the moanings of the European Central Bank these days and you’ll notice we’ve plenty of company.

Map 2 – “lack of coping capacities, dependent on governance, medical care and material security”. What we say: Let’s take this governance thing first shall we. You comrades in the First World long ago, for reasons unknown to us but risky in the extreme, ditched your tribal roots and turned to markets and finance and supermarket shopping carts. Shame you did, for that was the abandoning, the throwing away, of the original caring sharing wise governance that’s brought humans through generations. Coping capacities is a good one. We hereby solemnly invite all friendly First World comrades to come and spend a week in our shanty towns, our barrios and our favelas where they can learn what coping is and how to go about it. For medical care we recommend to you a journey to Havana, Cuba. For material security we recommend to you a rereading of any holy book of your choice.

Map 3 – “lack of adaptive capacities, related to future natural events and climate change”. What we say: Comrades and friends, we don’t sadly have as many shamans, diviners and ancient wise folk as we used to, but we can surely tell you this: future natural events and climate change is not going to choose between us and you, and you and them. We’re all in this together, you with your food coupons and us with our kitchen gardens. Adaptive? I do think we’ve got that covered good and proper.

Map 4 – “exposure, of the population to the natural hazards, earthquakes, storms, floods, droughts and sea level rise”. What we say: Friends and fellow inhabitants of Gaia, if we stop making Mother Earth angry every single day, She may relent. It’s up to you too. Oh and as for exposure, we’re used to it, you’re not, sad but true.

Map 5 – “vulnerability, of society as the sum of susceptibility, lack of coping capacities and lack of adaptive capacities”. What we say: Well, we’ve had quite enough of these colour combinations now. Our sincere and heartfelt advice is that you turn us all the same shade of pink, or turn us all the same shade of green. But that will ruin the difference between Us and Those Danged Others, you protest. Dear comrades, we do share the same air, water and sky. It’s about time you stopped seeing people coloured differently and started seeing people.

Map 6 – “world risk index as the result of exposure and vulnerability”. What we say: We must correct you. The real risk is to your perception, friends, which you can remedy by coming to live with us and learning our ways.

More about the World Risk Report 2011 – “The Bündnis Entwicklung Hilft (Alliance Development Works) publishes the World Risk Report to examine these issues at the global level and to draw conclusions for future actions in assistance, policy and reporting. The core of the World Risk Report is the World Risk Index, which was developed on behalf of the Bündnis Entwicklung Hilft by the United Nations University Institute for Environment and Human Security in Bonn, Germany. The World Risk Index indicates the probability that a country or region will be affected by a disaster. The index is the result of close cooperation between scientists and practitioners. Experts in the analysis of natural hazards and vulnerability research as well as practitioners of development cooperation and humanitarian aid have discussed and developed the concept of the index. Globally available data are used to represent the disaster risk for the countries concerned.”

“In the framework of the World Risk Index, disaster risk is analysed as a complex interplay of natural hazards and social, political and environmental factors. Unlike current approaches that focus strongly on the analysis of the various natural hazards, the World Risk Index, in addition to exposure analysis, focuses on the vulnerability of the population, i.e. its susceptibility, its capacities to cope with and to adapt to future natural events as well as the consequences of climate change. Disaster risk is seen as a function of exposure and vulnerability. The national states are the frame of reference for the analysis.”

[World Risk Report 2011, Published by Bündnis Entwicklung Hilft (Alliance Development Works) of Germany in cooperation with: United Nations University, Institute for Environment and Human Security, Bonn (UNU-EHS)]

The advance guard of climate change

leave a comment »

Winter sky over the Deccan plateau, India

Winter sky over the Deccan plateau, India

From late 2003 to early 2005 I was part of a small group in south Nagaland (in India’s north-east region) conducting a study on natural resource management and the prospects for tourism in the region. The study was funded by a Indian central government ministry, was ‘supervised’ by the state government and was made possible by the village community of Khonoma, in the Naga hills.

At around the mid-point of our study, when the time had come for the paddy seedlings to be transplanted, that the convergence of climate change and scarce labour resources became obvious. The seedlings were not ready to be moved at the time of year they were usually expected to be. By the time they were, the extra labour each rice farming family had mobilised in preparation for the hard work ahead, had their regular jobs and occupations to return to. The hill villages were in turmoil. Practically every single family that had a plot of terraced rice field to attend to was caught in a dilemma.

If they insisted that those who had come to the villages to help them – daughters, sons, cousins or aunts – stay back to complete the work, those helpful souls would certainly lose salaries and wages. If they let them return, they would have to look for very scarce hired labour, whose per day wage was high and which would certainly rise given the scarcity of hands available and time. It was for most families a Hobson’s choice, and by either reckoning only made the socio-economic cost of rice cultivation dearer. This was the most dramatic impact of climate change that I saw at the time, for the shift in transplanting season was considered very odd indeed by the villages, almost unprecedented.

Extracting riverbed sand in North Goa, India

Extracting riverbed sand in North Goa, India

We know now that local observations of direct effects of climate change by tribal populations and indigenous peoples corroborate scientific predictions. In a very real sense, indigenous peoples are the advance guard of climate change. They observe and experience climate and environmental changes first-hand, and are already using their traditional knowledge and survival skills – the heart of their cultural resilience – to respond. Moreover, they are doing this at a time when their cultures and livelihoods are already undergoing significant stresses not only due to the environmental changes from climate change, but from the localised pressures and economic impulses of global trade and movement of capital.

The United Nations University’s Institute of Advanced Study has just released an advance copy of what promises to be a goldmine of such observation. The volume is entitled ‘Advance Guard: Climate Change Impacts, Adaptation, Mitigation and Indigenous Peoples – A Compendium of Case Studies’. The 402 case studies summarised in this densely packed volume mention a host of specific vulnerabilities and early effects of climate change being reported by indigenous peoples (and these include cultural and spiritual impacts): demographic changes, including displacement from their traditional lands and territories; economic impacts and loss of livelihoods; land and natural resource degradation; impacts on food security and food sovereignty; health issues; water shortages; and loss of traditional knowledge.

: Climate Change Impacts, Adaptation, Mitigation and Indigenous Peoples

The cover graphic of the UNU-IAS compilation 'Climate Change Impacts, Adaptation, Mitigation and Indigenous Peoples'

Impacts are felt across all sectors, including agriculture and food security; biodiversity and natural ecosystems; animal husbandry (particularly pastoralist lifestyles); housing, infrastructure and human settlements; forests; transport; energy consumption and production; and human rights. The entire range of effects on habitats and their biomes are supplied: temperature and precipitation changes; coastal erosion; permafrost degradation; changes in wildlife, pest and vector-borne disease distribution; sea-level rise; increasing soil erosion, avalanches and landslides; more frequent extreme weather events, such as intense storms; changing weather patterns, including increasing aridity and drought, fire and flood patterns; and increased melting of sea-ice and ice-capped mountains.

“In spite of these impacts,” states the UNU-IAS compilation, “indigenous peoples also have a variety of successful adaptive and mitigation strategies to share. The majority of these are based in some way on their traditional ecological knowledge, whether they involve modifying existing practices or restructuring their relationships with the environment. Their strategies include application and modification of traditional knowledge; shifting resource bases; altering land use and settlement patterns; blending of traditional knowledge and modern technologies; fire management practices; changes in hunting and gathering periods and crop diversification; management of ecosystem services; awareness raising and education, including use of multimedia and social networks; and policy, planning and strategy development.”

From Asia, I’ve picked out three cases which illustrate just how important it is to observe and learn from these responses:

BANGLADESH | Indigenous forecasting in Maheshkhali, using meteorological indicators and animal behaviour to predict cyclones. Maheshkhali Island is situated off the Bay of Bengal coast with an area of approximately 60 square km. Cyclones are the greatest disaster threat of coastal people. Research has revealed that certain indigenous prediction capacity possessed by the local people always helped them to anticipate cyclones and take necessary precautions. The indigenous cyclone prediction is even more important as it was revealed during interviews with the Maheskhali islanders that they do not understand the modern warning system with its different numerical codes (1-10) and elaboration on wind direction, as explained in the warning bulletins.

Buffalo at work, Kolhapur district, Maharashtra, India

Buffalo at work, Kolhapur district, Maharashtra, India

INDIA | Indigenous forecasting in India using meteorological indicators, plant features and animal behaviour. Researchers from Gujarat Agricultural University have evaluated eight indigenous forecasting beliefs between 1990 to 1998. For each year, the data was tabulated and analysed on the basis of Bhadli’s criteria. Based on the findings the researchers concluded that many of the beliefs are reliable indicators of monsoon. The study has helped to restore the people’s confidence in their own traditional knowledge and skills. As climate change occurs, these traditional forecasting indicators may change. Locals have to continue their observations and adjust their predictions accordingly to ensure that correct coping mechanisms will be applied.

INDONESIA | Customary Iban Community. This study examines the social and institutional practices of a sedentary Iban sub-tribe in the upstream part of the Kapuas system in governing their life. In 2008, the Sungai Utik community acquired a formal, recognition of their institutional capacity to live at the center of one of the most complex ecosystems that is the tropical rainforest of Kalimantan. The Indonesian Eco-label Institute provided the community logging practice of the Sungai Utik Ibans its “seal of ecological appropriateness”. The Sungai Utik life-space is part of the bigger climatic zone just north of the Equator that has been predicted to experience higher precipitation over the course of climate change in this century, particularly in comparison with the last three decades of the last century. It means that the community should learn to adapt to a transformed rainy season—the duration of which and the timing of its start and ending are also subject to change—for the crucial nugal (planting) rituals.