These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.
Does talking about corruption make it seem worse?
What do most people immediately think of when you ask them why poor countries are poor? We’re pretty confident that it will be corruption. Whether you ask thousands of people in a nationally representative survey, or small focus groups, corruption tops people’s explanations for the persistence of poverty. Indeed, 10 years of research into public perceptions of poverty suggests that corruption “is the only topic related to global poverty which the mass public seem happy to talk about”. Which is odd, because it’s the absolute last thing that people actually working in development want to talk about.
Africa’s moment to lead on climate
Climate change is the greatest threat facing humanity today. To avoid catastrophe, we must dramatically reduce the carbon intensity of our modern energy systems, which have set us on a collision course with our planetary boundaries. This is the challenge leading up to three key international events this year: a July summit on financing for new global development goals, another in September to settle on those goals and — crucially — a global meeting in December to frame an agreement, and set meaningful targets, on climate change. But focusing on ambitious global climate goals can mask the existence of real impacts on the ground. Nowhere is this truer than in sub-Saharan Africa. No region has done less to cause climate change, yet sub-Saharan Africa is experiencing some of the earliest, most severe and most damaging effects. As a result, Africa’s leaders have every reason to support international efforts to address climate change. But these leaders also have to deal urgently with the disturbing reality behind Africa’s tiny carbon footprint: a crushing lack of modern energy.
These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.
Most sociologists consider the family unit to be a fundamental building block of society. However, it is largely absent as a topic in international development goals. Should this be the case?
"The great danger for family life, in the midst of any society whose idols are pleasure, comfort and independence, lies in the fact that people close their hearts and become selfish." - Pope John Paul II
A recent report led by Stanford, Princeton, and Berkeley universities said vertebrates are disappearing at a rate 114 times faster than normal. These findings echo those of a similar report published by Duke University last year. One of the new study’s authors said: “We are now entering the sixth great mass extinction event.” The last such event was 65 million years ago, when dinosaurs were wiped out, in all likelihood by a large meteor hitting Earth.
In light of this apocalypse-like news, I would like to take a closer look at yet another endangered, but a bit more tangible element of life on planet Earth, namely, the family. As humankind, along with plants and animals approach what is being called the sixth great mass extinction, I wonder if it will be an event that humans go through en masse as loners, (the atomistic man as the only unit in society), or as people knit together by ties to a nuclear and extended family. I often think that the role of the family is too-often neglected and has been taken for granted in our day. The all-consuming drive and ambitious personal priority of the individual in today’s world makes me worry that families may one day go, and, as the family goes, so will go civilization.
At the Aspen Ideas Festival, World Bank Vice President and Special Envoy for Climate Change Rachel Kyte talks about climate resilience and how it can create opportunities for all people while protecting all people. Women and children make up a large number of the extreme poor, who are among those most at risk from the impacts of climate change.
At the core of the encyclical is both a concern for the health of the planet and for the earth’s poor, reflected in a commitment to social values and integrity, environmental resilience, and economic inclusion.
The stock-taking begins, aptly, with pollution: “Some forms of pollution are part of people’s daily experience. Exposure to atmospheric pollutants produces a broad spectrum of health hazards, especially for the poor, and causes millions of premature deaths.” The World Bank’s latest edition of the Little Green Data Book finds indeed that in low and middle-income countries, 86% of the residents are exposed to air pollution levels (measured in exposure particulate matter less than 2.5 microns in diameter) that exceed World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines. The WHO last year made headlines when it calculated that 7 million people had died prematurely from indoor and outdoor air pollution in 2012. From safer cookstoves in rural areas, to better air quality management in fast growing cities, this is an area where solutions are known and must be urgently applied.
In a joint post, World Bank Director for Climate Change James Close teams up with Environment and Natural Resources Global Practice Senior Director Paula Caballero and Health, Nutrition and Population Global Practice Senior Director Tim Evans to comment on a new report released by The Lancet, which touches upon aspects of each of their portfolios and underscores the value in working collaboratively toward development solutions.
In a new report released today, the Lancet Commission on Health and Climate Change tells us that “tackling climate change could be the greatest global health opportunity of the 21st century.”
Among its recommendations, it calls on governments to invest in climate change and public health research and monitoring and surveillance, and to scale-up financing for climate-resilient health systems worldwide.
At the World Bank, we couldn’t agree more.
Let me begin with a disclaimer. I attended Jesuit schools as a boy and adolescent. Belief in the sanctity of human life and the principles of social justice, which were at the core of the teaching imparted there, shaped me. The vision and language spoken by Pope Francis, himself a Jesuit, with an emphasis on the “preferential option for the poor and vulnerable”, profoundly resonate with me.
"Each new generation is reared by its predecessor; the latter must therefore improve in order to improve its successor. The movement is circular." - Emile Durkheim
How are Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations, Jim Yong Kim, President of the World Bank Group, Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, Bill Mckibben, Pope Francis, and Al Gore alike? The answer is very simple: they are part of a 60+ cohort, which includes baby boomers and their predecessors. And they are all very effective and passionate about how to tackle the biggest threat of our times: climate change.
I vividly remember that the first person who drew my attention as a child to the environment was my grandfather who was a small farmer in my native Poland. Around twenty-five years ago, during my first visit to Siberia, tribal seniors raised the issue of the melting of the “eternal ice” as well. Neither my grandfather nor the seniors were highly educated, but they were able to observe the rapid changes in their own environment. Despite this, we did not heed their concerns as they did not possess academic credentials. Now that over five thousand researchers have agreed that climate change is occurring, we are suddenly starting to pay attention.
Older adults constantly address the issues involved in global warming to Millennials, youth or even children, fully aware that their generation’s irresponsible behavior contributed immensely to the current state of the Earth. But why exclude the culprits? What happened to resocialization and second chances? Even James Madison was aware of generational responsibilities when he stated: “Each generation should be made to bear the burden of its own wars, instead of carrying them on, at the expense of other generations.”
The baby boomers and the silent generation are reaping the benefits of the “longevity dividend”. Why don’t we start working together towards the survival of our kind not only as preachers, but also in the trenches of the global climate change movement? Members of the grey generations are often bold, skilled, experienced, financially independent, and in most cases, are very active and sensitive to social inequity. As the old saying goes: the funeral shroud has no pockets. It is in their best interest to be part of this movement.
Every year, we lose 24 billion tons of fertile soil to erosion and 12 million hectares of land to desertification and drought. This threatens the lives and livelihoods of 1.5 billion people now.
In the future,. Land degradation could also reduce global food production by up to 12% and push world food prices up by 30%. In Egypt, Ghana, Central African Republic, Pakistan, Tajikistan and Paraguay, land degradation could cause an annual GDP loss of up to 7%.
Pressure on land resources is expected to increase as populations grow, socio-economic development happens and the climate changes. A growing population will demand more food, which means that unsuitable or especially biodiverse land will be claimed for farming and be more vulnerable to degradation. Increased fertilizer and pesticide use related to agriculture will increase nutrient loading in soils, causing eutrophication and declines in fertility over time.—especially in drylands, which occupy 40% of global land area, and are inhabited by some 2 billion people. Urban areas, which are located in the world’s highly fertile areas, could grow to account for more than 5% of global land by mid-century.
Unless we manage our land better, every person will rely on just .11 hectares of land for their food; down from .45 hectares in 1960.
Y Cham, whom I met during a mission to plan for our support for the coffee rejuvenation project, comes from the Ede ethnic minority in Dak Lak, the major robusta coffee-producing province in the Central Highlands of Vietnam.
The long-time farmer shared with me his worries about his four hectares of coffee garden which had not been watered enough due to the prolonged drought.
“If I cannot harvest as much coffee as last year, I cannot sustain the studies of my daughter who is a student at medical college in Hanoi”.
The Central Highland, home of 500,000 hectares of coffee, has recently been affected by severe drought. The drought this year is considered most the most serious in the last 10 years. Over-irrigation and inefficient water use, compounded by increasing periods of drought, makes coffee farmers highly vulnerable, unless they are prepared to better adapt to the changing weather patterns.
Among the crucial factors for coffee yield, water, according to Y Cham, has become the biggest challenge in the priority order of “water, variety, funding, and science.” Water availability and advanced varieties resistant to the conditions of climate change are considered the most important factors.
Duncan Green provides a series of lightbulb moments from a recent conference bringing together historians and campaigners.
Part of the feedback on last month’s post calling for a ‘lessons of history’ programme was, inevitably, that someone is already doing it. So last week I headed off to Kings College, London for a mind expanding conference on ‘Why Change Happens: What we Can Learn from the Past’. The organizers were the History and Policy network and Friends of the Earth, as part of its excellent ‘Big Ideas’ project (why haven’t the development NGOs got anything similar?) About 70 people, a mix of historians and campaigners. Great idea.
The agenda (12 UK-focussed historical case studies on everything from resistance to the industrialization of farming post World War 2 to municipal activism in Victorian Britain to why England (though not Scotland and Ireland) hasn’t had a famine since the 16th Century) was great, as was the format (panels, followed by table discussions, no Q&A).