The Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences is being shared this year by Elinor Ostrom, a political economist at Indiana University, and Oliver Williamson, an economist at UC Berkeley. The award could not be more appropriate in these times of rethinking what markets can and cannot do.
The award to Ostrom, who has spent her professional life studying how societies manage common resources is particularly relevant as we draw closer to the Copenhagen summit and countries are busy defining what they are willing to do to protect the global atmospheric commons.
In fact, Ostrom wrote a background paper for us earlier this year for the World Development Report 2010: Development and Climate Change. In it, she took exception to the notion that a solution to global change must be global. Such a solution would take too long, she argued. She also reminded us that a solution negotiated at the global level, if not backed up by a variety of efforts at the national, regional, and local levels, was not guaranteed to work well. This is because climate change is the result of many individual and local decisions.
Written with Paulo Nobre
Both authors are with the Center for Earth System Science, INPE, Brazil
At present, there are a number of early warning systems based on seasonal-to-interannual climate forecasts in several countries (for example, Ogalo et al., 2008). These systems are based on the use of available monitoring data and state-of-the art climate models. Both observations and model-based predictions are analyzed by climatologists to predict climate anomalies one or two seasons ahead.
|Photo © iStockphoto.com|
Much of the success of such short-term climate predictions is based on the ability of current climate models to predict the evolution of the coupled tropical upper ocean-atmosphere state over seasons. The best example of this is the prediction of El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) episodes.
Such climate predictions have been used in an array of applications, ranging from seasonal rainfall predictions guiding agriculture, fisheries, and water resources to natural hazards and health applications (Meza and Osgood, 2008; Abawi et al., 2008; Connor et al., 2008).
|Photo © iStockphoto.com|
Economists may have caused some of these misunderstandings by laying out simple principles that are useful as a introduction to the underlying economic parameters of climate policies: first, a unique carbon price (through carbon taxes or a cap & trade system) to foster carbon saving behaviours without distorting international competition; second, compensatory transfers to offset the adverse impact of higher energy prices for the most affected countries. But this has resulted in climate policies being considered a cost-minimization exercise conducted regardless of the nature of development issues.
Svalbard Global Seed Vault. Photo © Mari Tefre/Global Crop Diversity Trust
If you are not familiar with it, I highly recommend taking a look at the TED website. TED is a small nonprofit devoted to “Ideas Worth Spreading”. It organizes conferences where people from different fields and walks of life, scientists, engineers, and politicians, can present their ideas and projects.
The talks are filmed and made available for free on their website, which now contains a vast collection of brilliant presentations and speeches, always informative and at times downright jaw-dropping (in fact, “jaw dropping” is one of the categories you can use to scan through the presentations.)
The presentation that recently caught my attention is one by Cary Fowler, about the importance of genetic diversity in agriculture. Dr Fowler is Executive Director of the Global Crop Diversity Trust, whose mission is to conserve Earth’s agricultural biodiversity. Jointly funded in 2004 by FAO and Biodiversity International the Trust worked with the Norwegian Government and the Nordic Gene bank to create the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, also dubbed by the media “the Doomsday vault,” which was officially opened on February 26, 2008.
300 miles. Starting September 26, about 200 cyclists, including myself, will embark on a 300 mile, 5-day ride from New York City to the steps of the Capitol in Washington, DC to promote awareness for climate change and to raise money for rails-to-trails conservancies and clean energy NGOs (http://www.climateride.org/). If I were to drive the same distance, using my beloved '93 Ford Probe (Ford Mustang Lite), my gas consumption would produce about 100 kilograms of carbon dioxide.
|Photo © World Bank|
The booklet draws attention to the urgent need to tackle the varied impacts of climate change on Africa’s agriculture, forests, food security, energy, water, infrastructure, health, and education. The continent’s natural fragility means that changes in rainfall patterns, increased droughts and floods, and sea level rise are already causing damage and affecting people’s lives.
It is difficult for many of us to focus on more than one thing at a time. Maybe we are hard-wired that way. But if ever our species needed to evolve such an ability, now is the time. At the same time that we urgently need to decarbonize the global economy, we also need to plan for a very different and much more unstable climate. It’s adaptation time too.
The World Development Report 2010 brings home the urgent need for both decarbonization and adaptation planning. There is a new realism afoot in both the climate change science community and in the development community, brought about by mounting scientific observations of change but also some sobering numbers and projections.
There is, I would say, very little realistic probability of avoiding cumulative emissions that will force the climate system beyond 2°C—unless, of course, there is a significant breakthrough in Copenhagen on mitigation targets, beyond what is presently on the table, and immediate implementation of those targets.
I saw one of the World Development Report’s recommendations in action yesterday. Kenya’s Green Belt Movement (founded by Professor Wangari Maathai) is working with the Kenya Forest Service, with support from the French Development Agency, a grant from the Government of Japan (PHRD) and carbon credits (both managed by the World Bank), to replant native forests.
|Mercy Karunditu, Project Officer|
The original forest had been cut down and a tough native grass had taken over. Patches of grass had to be cut in order to plant the seedlings of native trees and the grass constantly managed for the first years until the trees were strong enough. The team told us how the carbon credits were planned for 12 years from the start of the project, though it was clear that the trees would still be small at that point. Up front financing for a period of many years is clearly essential.
Project officer Mercy Karunditu told us of the multiple challenges the team faces in nurturing these seedlings. First, villagers grazing their animals on the land where the year old seedlings stand at just ankle height. Second, elephants which destroy the seedlings. Third, fires set by villagers in the native forests to encourage growth of new grass for their animals. And fourth, climate change.
“We used to be sure when the rains would come, now we cannot be sure and when they do come they are very strong and last only for a very short period,” Mercy said.
Getting the operational details right so that teams like this can succeed will be key to making this tool, which brings both mitigation and adaptation benefits, succeed.
After more than a year of research, consultation, and writing, I’m happy to announce that we have just released a “pre-press” version of our report: World Development Report 2010: Development and Climate Change. While the printed books won’t be ready until the end of October, the advance files (subject to correction and change) are now available on our website, so please feel free to download them and let us know what you think via comments on this blog!
The report, which is the latest in the World Bank’s long-running series on development, emphasizes that developing countries are the most vulnerable to the negative impacts of climate change. In fact, they face 75 to 80 percent of the potential damage from climate change. The latest and best scientific evidence tells us that at global warming of more than 2°C above pre-industrial temperatures—an increase that will be extremely difficult to avoid—more than a billion people could face water scarcity, 15 to 30 percent of species worldwide could be doomed to extinction, and hunger will rise, particularly in tropical countries. So it’s overwhelmingly clear that developing countries need help to cope with these potential impacts, even as they strive to reduce poverty faster and deliver access to energy and water for all.
Sub-Saharan African countries are bracing for dramatic impacts of climate change. As Andrew Simms of the UK-based New Economics Foundation has aptly put it, they are “caught between the devil of drought and the deep blue sea of floods.”
Africa’s greenhouse gas emissions have been minimal because of its low levels of industrial output. Yet African countries are likely to suffer disproportionately from global warming. They are therefore right to demand that international climate negotiations be based on principles of historical justice.
But behind this seemingly dismal outlook lies a unique opportunity for Africa to lead the way in adopting low-carbon growth strategies. The region is not too heavily committed to the same damaging industries that its industrial counterparts are having difficulties abandoning. African countries therefore need to complete their demand for historical justice with the design of climate-smart policies.