Climate change in the news (Mar 13- 18, 2010)
Agriculture and Rural Development
My foray into climate change in the World Bank Group started with the drought-affected regions in Andhra Pradesh, India in 2003. The WB had just started thinking about adaptation to climate change and was trying to begin a dialogue with developing countries dealing with overwhelming challenges of poverty. With my colleagues in India, we began looking at drought-proofing in Andhra Pradesh without labeling this a `climate change’ study. In many ways, this was probably the first attempt to integrate adaptation into a Bank rural poverty reduction project. Two years later, the study was well received and became the pilot for drought-adaptation, to be linked to India’s National Rural Employment Guarantee Program.
This experience served as a laboratory for us to learn lessons that have helped mould Bank’s engagement with climate change. It went on to shape the key features of the Strategic Framework on Development and Climate Change (SFDCC) that was approved a year ago. Connecting with client countries and listening to their concerns became the cornerstone for the SFDCC. The Framework was formulated through an extensive global consultation with both World Bank Group staff and external stakeholders. It was the process itself that helped build ownership for climate change work inside the Bank Group and among client countries.
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.
|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.
Last week , I had nine cattle.
But two of my cattle have died since then, and four are close to death. I cannot replace my loss with cattle from my father as four of his cattle have died too.
I am not sure what I am going to do.
|Another Masai cattle owner. Photo © Ann Phillips|
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.
| Photo © World Bank/
Tree planting: Professor Wangari
Maathai with Johannes Zutt
I spent yesterday in rural Kenya with the World Development Report (WDR) team and the inspirational activist Professor Wangari Maathai, the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize laureate. Professor Maathai graphically showed us the problems across multiple areas of the economy when the climate does not behave as predicted. The visit powerfully demonstrated how much worse the effects are when the changing climate combines with a poorly managed environment. Only 1.7 percent of Kenya's territory has forest cover, compared to about 10 percent a century ago. And the forests are increasingly fragmented. Yet these fragments protect water towers that are the source of the country’s rivers. The diverse natural forests regulate rainfall, provide homes for Kenya's stunningly diverse flora and fauna, and of course they also help our planet to store carbon. But human activity in and around the forests continues to threaten their survival. Over recent decades, plantation forests have replaced much of the natural forests that once covered Kenya, but they are much less effective at regulating rain, preventing soil erosion and protecting diversity. As I said on our visit to the Aberdare Forest yesterday, in many places I did not see forests; what I saw instead were tree farms.
No one in Nairobi—where we just released pre-press version of the World Development Report—needs to be reminded about the effects of climate change. Four consecutive rains have failed, and on 80 percent of the country’s land area, water resources are at a tenth of their normal levels.
|Photo © Ann Phillips|
Everyone is feeling it.
Farmers see dying crops. The harvest is 28 percent of normal amounts. The Minister of Environment reported at the WDR launch yesterday that ten million Kenyans were going hungry because of the drought. Herders see their cattle dying or have to sell them for low prices. Some are shipping their cattle to areas that still have grass only to see them die of cold at the higher altitudes.
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.
I grew up in a small village in South-Western India, which is known for evergreen forests, wildlife, and spectacular landscapes. That was in the 1970s and 1980s. My interests in forests began then, as I spent many hours wandering off into the woods on my way back from school. When I was six years old, my father bought five acres of pristine forest land and converted them into a coffee plantation. He wasn’t the only one. In just three decades, much of the forest around where I grew up has been either converted to crop lands or cleared for logging.
This loss grieves me. Although I have worked on a broad range of issues as a professional economist, my concerns for forests and the environment remain high. In a recent note, I’ve tried to show the complex links between deforestation, climate change, and food security with a simple diagram. The note can be easily downloaded and is meant for students.