Climate change in the news (Mar 29 - Apr 2, 2010)
|Futuristic water design that would provide water for food in the desert, featured in The Guardian in 2008. Photograph: Exploration Architecture.|
“What are the new developments in water? Are there new technologies that developing countries could use to bypass expensive and cumbersome systems? What’s the next big thing that could solve the water crisis?” Politicians and the media often ask experts for new ideas to make water “interesting”. Yet, on the whole, water systems constructed today use much of the same technology they did 100 years ago.
People skeptical of hearing water experts talking about water crises put their faith in the human capacity to innovate. They point to the rapid decline in costs of taking the salt out of sea water as evidence that – when we really have to – we will innovate and make sure we can meet our water needs.
Necessity is the mother of invention. Israel, one of the driest countries in the world, has invested heavily in non-conventional sources of water. Desalination currently provides around 40 percent of Israel’s municipal water supply and the plan is for this source to provide 70 percent by 2015. In March, a team from the the World Bank's WDR2010 and Middle East North Africa units visited the largest operational reverse osmosis desalination plant in the world, in Hadera.
Desalination does indeed have potential to meet the municipal water needs of many people in the world – but only those who live near the sea.
Costs have come down to about $0.55 per cubic metre, about half what it was a decade ago. How have engineers managed this? Economies of scale are important. They have also been able to save on costs by designing an efficient system within the plant and by clever energy saving technology. Will the costs come down much further? About 10% say the Israeli experts. Not more.
Israel’s very careful management of every drop of water has led to an interesting problem.
Climate change in the news (Mar 20- 26, 2010)
The perceived communications fiasco of the last few months about what is known and not known about the science of climate change led one of my students, Andy Lubershane, to try a different approach—animation. His effort is meant to communicate in a clear, humorous, memorable way the reasons why we need to put a price on greenhouse gas emissions.
Andy is one of 160 Master’s students using the World Development Report 2010 as a textbook on Environmental Assessment at the University of Michigan.
Today is World Water Day, a good time to ponder the impacts of global climate change on water availability and quality. Julia Bucknall was part of a team of experts from the WDR2010 and the World Bank's Middle East and North Africa region visiting Israel last week to learn about innovation in water. The blog below is the first in three installments.
Can high-tech agriculture help developing countries get more from their water?
Israel invented drip irrigation, a technology that has spread rapidly since its introduction in the 1960s and which is widely touted as a key way for countries to close their water gap and be more adapted to climate change. It certainly does reduce evaporative losses, is often associated with a switch to high-value crops, and reduces fertilizer use when liquid fertilizer is added to the mix and delivered precisely to the root of the plant (a process that delights in the name “fertigation”). We often see important productivity gains.
Yet it’s not as simple as that.
"Bicycle bicycle bicycle
I want to ride my bicycle bicycle bicycle
I want to ride my bicycle
I want to ride my bike
I want to ride my bicycle
I want to ride it where I like..."
Earlier today, I was stuck in a herd of slow-moving, smoke-belching traffic (also known as the Beltway in Washington D.C.), when I heard an uplifting feature about electric bikes on the radio. Electric bikes are apparently all the rage at this year’s ongoing bike show in Taipei.
The WDR 2010 described in its chapter on innovation how the electric bike market took off in China over the last 10 years as a result of “technological improvements, faster urbanization, higher gasoline prices, and increases in purchasing power.” Not surprising, in the Kingdom of the Bicycle. But will e-bikes sway car addicts elsewhere?
On today’s “Science Friday” radio show, callers shared their enthusiasm for Do-It-Yourself mitigation. There are now dozens of kits out there to help retrofit ordinary bicycles -- so you can chug up a hill without a sweat. A brother and sister team, 59 and 61, are setting off on Earth Day on an electric bike tour of the United States to show that older people are never too old to pedal.
|Photo © istockphoto.com|
Here is the sad truth: Presently, the resources available for developing countries to address the impacts of climate change cover 5% of estimated needs by 2020.
One of the challenges is to mobilize the resources needed without dipping into the same basket of current official development assistance (ODA). Another challenge is to measure and monitor what is 'new and additional' from the complex web of sources and channels.
More than a technical exercise, it is a useful tool to build trust and accountability with developing countries to show that assistance is being delivered in line with promises made.
Green growth has been in the news lately with much talk about greening the fiscal stimulus for a triple bottom line. Yet there are worries and the question remains as to whether green growth means slower growth with resources diverted to cleaning up the growth process. And what would happen to countries who unilaterally decide to impose domestic environmental regulations and/or a carbon price?. Will this lead to jobs moving abroad—to poorer or less-green countries that would become pollution havens?
|Photo © iStockphoto.com|
Unfortunately much of the green growth discussion has been of the proselytizing or the scare-mongering kind, with not enough analysis of the potential trade-offs between greening and growing, and not enough thought devoted to ways of minimizing these trade-offs.
In this context, a new paper by Philippe Aghion, Daron Acemoglu and two Harvard graduate students, on “The Environment and Directed Technical Change” (pdf) is a much needed contribution. It also makes for a fascinating read: do not let the large number of equations scare you off! As in all of Aghion’s work, the key insights of the papers are fully captured in crisp writing in the first few pages of the paper.
In his presentation at the World Bank on March 8, Aghion explained the motivation of the paper: most economic models looking at the trade-offs between acting aggressively or not on climate change assume technical change is exogenous—i.e., does not respond to changes in energy prices (for example through a carbon tax) nor to environmental regulation (like a cap on emissions). This results in green growth being slower than dirty growth, at least if the negative impacts of climate change are small, and/or results in the need for permanent subsidies.
|In Ethiopia, Humbo mountain is thriving after early regeneration efforts. Photo © World Vision|
What are the obstacles to implementing carbon projects in Africa?
This was the question underlying many of the discussions at the Africa Carbon Forum, which took place in Nairobi, Kenya on March 3-5, 2010.
Over 1,000 participants attended the conference to discuss obstacles such as lack of financing, lack of experience and technical skill, land titling and monitoring challenges, and the complexity of Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) rules. These hurdles have to date resulted in low numbers of African carbon projects: only 2% of CDM projects registered by the UNFCCC are in Africa.