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Climate Change

New evidence on coastal wetlands as carbon sinks

Marea E. Hatziolos's picture

In the corridors of COP 16 in Cancun last December, `blue carbon’ was being discussed in the context of Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+). The notion that wetlands and near-shore marine habitats constitute significant but largely unaccounted for natural sinks of atmospheric CO2 was just beginning to surface. Since then, there has been a surge in interest in Coastal Carbon Sinks, as evidence begins to mount on their ability to suck up CO2 and store it in their biomass and in deep sub-surface soil layers. A recently published study in Nature GeoScience cites evidence from field measurements that mangroves in Indonesia can actually store carbon at four times the rate of their terrestrial forest counterparts.

In contrast to terrestrial forests, mangroves and other wetlands store most of the carbon below ground, in a rich organic soil layer, which can run several meters deep. When this soil layer is disturbed—as happens when wetlands are drained or converted for other land use—huge amounts of carbon are released into the atmosphere in the form of CO2, and centuries or millennia of accumulated carbon can be emitted over the course of a few decades.

The extent of these emissions in estuaries and deltas, is highlighted in a detailed World Bank technical report. The preliminary findings of the report were summarized for decision-makers in a brief issued last December at the COP 16. The technical report, Mitigating Climate Change through Restoration and Management of Coastal Wetlands and Near-shore Marine Ecosystems: Challenges and Opportunities, is available on line and is being launched today in Indonesia at a Workshop on Tropical Wetland Ecosystems of Indonesia,in Bali.

Scaling up community-based adaptation

Robin Mearns's picture

Charting a course among the long, narrow fishing boats that plied back and forth across the river, the ferryboat pulled in to Chila market. Election posters fluttered in the breeze. A young man pedaled past on a rickshaw, his distorted voice blaring out campaign slogans from a large megaphone. Flashes of electric blue caught the eye where women, men, boys and girls drag-netted the river banks in search of shrimp. A day and a half’s drive, river-ferry crossing and boat-ride to the south-west of the capital, Dhaka, Chila is one of the last villages on Bangladesh’s mainland before you reach the Sundarbans – the world’s largest area of mangrove forest and an essential protective barrier against floods and storm surges which climate change is only expected to exacerbate. We had come to see for ourselves how local communities are adapting to some of the changes that climate change is expected to bring.

This week in Dhaka, over 350 people from 60 countries met to exchange knowledge on ways to meet the challenge of scaling up community-based approaches to climate change adaptation. This was the fifth such international conference, organized by the Bangladesh Center for Advanced Studies (BCAS) and the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), and supported by 37 other international NGOs and bilateral and multilateral development agencies including the World Bank. In her inaugural address, the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina, called upon participants to come together in a spirit of mutual learning, not just from each other, but also from the communities that a number of us visited during three days of field visits.

The trip I joined to Chila took place on an historic day. Over the holiday weekend marking this young country’s 40th anniversary since independence, local elections were also taking place for the first time in 12 years. On the way to the ferry, our bus driver took us on an unannounced detour so he could go and vote. Once in Chila, we talked with community members at the local market and in their homes, often precariously balanced between shrimp ponds, stretching as far as the eye can see, where not so long ago there were only rice paddies.

Can East Asia do for Green what it’s done for Growth?

Andrew Steer's picture

East Asia has shown us how economies can grow at a pace unparalleled in human history. What made it happen? Key ingredients included high savings rates and a willingness to invest them for the long term in people and infrastructure, leaders who kept their eyes on the long-term transformation of the economy, and a lot of serious attention to how investors respond to incentives.

But aren’t these some of the same ingredients we’ll need to make growth green?

This was one of the topics we discussed this week at the first Annual Conference on East Asian Development in Singapore organized by the Bank’s East Asia Pacific region and Singapore’s Institute for Policy Studies.  This brought together senior policymakers and academics from throughout the region. Is it possible that the Region that brought us growth, could also be the leader in making that growth green?

But first, just how green has East Asia’s growth been so far? To over-simplify, the region has made pretty good progress in reducing the environmental damage per unit of output, but this hasn’t been able to keep up with the astonishing growth of the output. So, real GDP is up by near 400% since 1990, while energy use is up by 150%, sulfur dioxide emissions up by about 60%, and carbon dioxide up by nearly 200%.

This is a lot better than it might have been – but the environment is still getting worse at a serious rate. And this says nothing about water stress, loss of biodiversity and a host of other issues. (On a positive note, particulate emissions are down by 50%, and lead in fuel has almost disappeared).

Does East Asia need to lower its growth to ensure that the environment doesn’t deteriorate further?  No, but it will require the same degree of commitment and long term focus that inspired the strong growth in the first place – but this time by internalizing environmental costs.   

The revival of cookstove research

Daniel Kammen's picture

It may come as a surprise to know that half of the global population uses biomass (wood, agricultural wastes and dung) and coal for cooking.  For Sub-Saharan Africa where electrification rates outside of South Africa are only 28%, biomass and coal are the primary cooking fuels for over three fourths of the population. Combustion of unprocessed biomass fuels, especially in open or poorly ventilated stoves, emits high concentrations of pollutant mixtures – particulates, and carbon dioxide, methane, and carbon monoxide – associated with a number of respiratory and other diseases and is the leading cause of death among infants and children worldwide.

 

Since the task of cooking is mainly done by women and girls, it is they who face daily exposure to levels of pollution which are estimated to be the equivalent of consuming two packets of cigarettes a day (Kammen, 1995; Ezzati and Kammen, 2001).

 

Smoke from domestic fires kills nearly two million people each year, and sickens millions more. This places indoor air pollution as almost as critical a health threat as poor sanitation and AIDS, and a greater threat than malaria. Without systematic changes, household biomass use will result in an estimated 8.1 million Lower Respiratory Infection (LRI) deaths among young children in Sub-Saharan Africa alone, between 2000 and 2030 (Bailis, Ezzati, Kammen, 2007).

 

All of these factors highlight the critical need to evaluate the effectiveness of cookstoves at not only reducing emission, but in impacting health.

Three 'tribes' within development can work together

Robin Mearns's picture

Social protection, disaster risk reduction, and climate change adaptation – how do they relate to one another? Are they still largely separate communities of practice or ‘tribes’ within development or humanitarian contexts? Are there signs that they are beginning to work together to help us deal with the increasingly risky and uncertain world in which we live – one in which life comes at you fast?

 

The devastating earthquake and tsunami in northeast Japan have reminded us just how precarious people’s lives and well-being can be, even in the world’s richest countries. But in the world’s poorest countries and communities, the threat of drought, floods and other climate risks looms large in everyday life, and is a major reason why many people are held back from transforming their livelihoods and permanently escaping poverty.

 

Rehabilitating degraded lands by water  harvesting in Lemo Woreda, Ethiopia. Picture by Cecilia Costella

Last week in Addis Ababa, 120 people from 24 countries gathered in UNECA’s historic Africa Hall – an architecturally significant symbol of African independence and optimism – to learn from each other how best to make social protection work for pro-poor disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation. Ethiopia was the ideal venue for this international workshop. One in three people in Ethiopia lives in poverty, largely dependent on rain-fed agriculture for a living, and is highly susceptible to droughts, floods and other climate vagaries.

 

As the President of Ethiopia, H.E. Girma W/ Giorgis, remarked in his welcome address, Ethiopia is also proud to be breaking new ground in social protection for climate risk management through the flagship Productive Safety Nets Project (PSNP). In his video message to the workshop, the World Bank’s Special Envoy for Climate Change, Andrew Steer, applauded Ethiopia for its part in being a “pioneer in the revolution that is under way in social protection programs for the poor”. Ethiopia also displays global leadership in the ongoing climate change negotiations under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. As Andrew Steer observed, just as the Government of South Africa is determined that the Durban Conference of the Parties (COP) in December this year be seen as “Africa’s COP – just like the World Cup”, the agenda discussed in this workshop was very much “Africa’s agenda, and the agenda of all vulnerable countries everywhere”.

What has carbon got to do with kids going to school?

Idah Z. Pswarayi-Riddihough's picture

Last week, I headed to Ibi Bateke plateau in the interiors of Democratic Republic Republic of Congo (DRC) to see the country’s first project approved and registered under the Kyoto Protocol.  We set off on a long winding road taking us quickly from Kinshasa to the Ibi plateau – 150 kms away from the daily hustle of the over 9 million inhabitants of Kinshasa. Ibi is characteristically thinly forested, partly a result of the poor porous soils. Despite the vast lands, the majority of the land is uninhabited with villages dotting the landscape.

 

The community is replanting its degraded forests with trees like acacia, pines and eucalyptus that absorb carbon from the atmosphere, allowing the project to generate carbon credits which are purchased by the World Bank’s BioCarbon fund. This project is a trail blazer as some of the revenue from the sale of carbon credits is providing basic health care and schools, offering an integrated vision of development.

 

As we entered the village, we met a group of children walking home. Among them was one older kid who chaperoned the smaller ones - the youngest must have been about five. They chattered enthusiastically about their new school. The school was negotiated as one of the benefits for the participatory management of the plantation. Gautier Tschikaya a resident who was accompanying us told us that one day they were driving around on the plantation and found a whole bunch of kids squatting in an abandoned building so that they would not have to walk the 10+ km every day to get to school. At that point, they built a dormitory for those kids and we visited it - situated just below the school now. 

Your local power source may be responsible for climate change but it gets impacted by it too

Daniel Kammen's picture

Brazil relies heavily on its abundant hydropower resources to meet electricity demand, which is rising by about 5% a year. These resources have helped Brazil hook up more than 2.4 million rural homes since 2003, in addition to delivering electricity to its big cities. But hydropower is vulnerable to drought too, and the Brazilian Amazon—home to most of the country’s hydropower potential—has had two devastating droughts since 2005.

 

That’s just one example of the exposure of the energy sector to climate impacts. Up to now, most of the focus for the discussion of the energy-climate nexus has been on the impact of fossil-fuel energy use on climate change, the need to mitigate it, and the shift to renewable energy sources. This week, two World Bank colleagues of mine have just launched a new study that looks at the issue from the opposite side of the equation: climate impact on energy systems.

 

The study is entitled Climate Impacts on Energy Systems, Key Issues for Energy Sector Adaptation, by Jane Ebinger and Walter Vergara. It provides a framework for further analysis of vulnerability indicators for climate impacts on hydropower, wind, solar, wave and tidal energy. It also offers analytical tools that experts and policymakers can use to construct vulnerability and impact metrics for their energy sectors, along with a review of emerging adaptation practices.

To address climate change, we need to measure poverty better

Otaviano Canuto's picture

Increasing food and oil prices are making life miserable for millions of people. According to our World Bank estimates, the food price hike since last July has already pushed another 44 million people around the globe into extreme poverty –those living on less than US$1.25 a day. But beyond these latest shocks, the truth is that poverty reduction overall had continued in most countries, even after the financial, food, and fuel crises of 2008-2009.

In 1981, for instance, the percentage of the world population living below $1.25 a day was 52 percent. By 2005, that rate had more than halved to 25 percent. However, a growing concern is that climate change could slow or possibly even reverse progress in poverty reduction. Why? Because most developing countries are highly dependent on agriculture and natural resources. And also because poor countries lack sufficient financial and technical capacities to manage climate change.

 

For example, climate change may have a negative effect on agricultural productivity, particularly in tropical regions, and also affect poor people’s livelihood through its effects on health, access to water and natural resources, homes, and infrastructure.

So as long as we are unable to measure the poverty impact of climate change better, we run the risk of either overestimating or underestimating the resources that will be needed to face it.  So that’s why at the World Bank we are exploring new approaches to measure how current climate variability affects poverty, as my colleagues do in this week’s Economic Premise. According to The Poverty Impacts of Climate Change, different estimates project the poverty increase between 9 and 10 million people by 2055, as the result of climate change.

 

These numbers might not seem like much, considering the catastrophic scenarios that have been portrayed by some. But  climate change will indeed slow the pace of global poverty reduction. And much of the poverty expected to occur will be concentrated in Africa and South Asia. In addition, the “modest” numbers of the poverty increases mentioned above correspond to baseline scenarios –they could be much higher if more extreme climate change damage occurs. So in light of all of this, more efforts have to go into measuring the poverty impacts of climate change better. Otherwise, we will certainly pay the consequences.

 

(This was originally posted on the World Bank Institute's Growth and Crisis blog)
 

People, plots and pixels

Chris Meyer's picture

Photo credit: Max Nepstad

 

If you are in a forest in Ecuador and see indigenous communities standing with an android phone, a measuring tape and a good pair of boots, don’t be surprised. These ‘indigenous forest carbon monitors’ have been trained to collect field data by measuring a 40m x 40m sample plot. They align the center of the square plot with a GPS coordinate associated with the center of a satellite footprint, and measure the diameter of the trees in the plot. Once the measurements of the trees are determined, they are sent via phone to scientists who use satellite images – and now even images available on Google Earth – to estimate the amount of carbon stored in forests.

 

These communities can efficiently traverse terrain that is typically inaccessible to foreign technicians. The result is better forest carbon density maps that can determine changes in the amount of forest carbon present over time.

 

With the cutting and burning of trees contributing to about 15% of global carbon dioxide emissions, any realistic plan to reduce global warming pollution sufficiently – and in time to avoid dangerous consequences – must rely in part on preserving tropical forests.

 

A critical part of ensuring that the rate of deforestation is decreasing - and the part where skeptics are most vocal - is monitoring, reporting, and verifying (MRV) the area and density of forests. The MRV process measures the amount of carbon stored in a forest, and also helps make sure that further deforestation and degradation do not occur. It also requires both modern technology and old fashioned boots on the ground.

Come to this Malaysian province to see an alternative path on energy

Daniel Kammen's picture

 

   Photo courtesy Willem V.
   Strien/Flickr under Creative
   Commons License

It is all too easy to see environmental protection and economic development simply as competing philosophies, and nothing more. A range of studies attest to the fact that this is a false dichotomy. In my earlier blog, I described the alternative vision that became a reality in a small Nicaraguan coastal community that chose to invest in a diverse set of clean energy alternatives.  Even with cases like this one described in the literature, there remains in some circles a sense that these must be concocted.

 

The headlines often reinforce this simple dichotomy of environment versus economic growth, where the choice presented is “preserve a forest and forego the lumber”, “save a river and deny a community hydropower”, or “find the financing for more expensive solar power or accept ill-health and global warming from coal.” I have been convinced that another path or paths exist, ever since reading a remarkable paper on the `valuation’ of a tropical rain forest (Peters, Gentry and Mendelsohn, `Valuation of an Amazonian Rainforest', Nature). This short paper got me thinking about how we ignore the longer-term economic wins of sustainability for short-term profit.

 

I recently had the wonderful fortune to get involved in a case that reinforced the fact that options always exist, if we work together to find them.

 

Early in 2010, a consortium of citizens from Sabah, Malaysia came to my laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley, convinced that unexplored options must exist to provide the energy needed for this Malaysian Province without placing a 300 MW coal fired power plant on the edge of the ‘coral triangle’ off the coast of North Borneo. This plant was planned at a site only 20 kilometers from the last remaining reserve for the critically endangered Sumatran Rhino of Borneo (of which there may be only 30 individuals or so remaining). This plan would have required the weekly import of coal from South Borneo (Kalimantan). Just a few years ago, the coal plant seemed inevitable.

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