Last week, a group of around 30 made a transect from West to East across Sumatra, Indonesia, to learn about forests, trees, landscapes, and the people whose livelihoods depend on them. We were often shocked by what we saw. After camping overnight in Tesso Nilo National Park, Riau province, we lumbered slowly on the backs of elephants through tracts of newly logged and burned forest land, some planted with rubber, and learned that over half the park area of 83,000 hectares was encroached and deforested. Tesso Nilo has the highest biodiversity index for vascular plants in the world, and is the last remaining habitat in Riau for elephants and the Sumatran tiger. With their habitat shrinking, elephants often stray into surrounding villages, causing significant economic damage. Villagers retaliate by poisoning the elephants. With support from the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF)-Indonesia, an elephant ‘flying patrol’ has been established within the park, staffed by skilled mahouts who have trained six elephants to help chase wild elephants away from villages and back to the park, thereby reducing conflict with the local population.
We raised glasses and cheered to the future success of Mr. Minh’s company. I had just visited his manufacturing facility where his company ASAMLED produces light-emitting diode (LED) lights for a variety of applications. A 40 person start-up and the only LED lighting company to manufacture over 90% of the final product locally, ASAMLED had the makings of Vietnamese clean tech success story. But as the day rolled on, we began discussing the real challenges the company and industry face. Starting an energy efficiency business in a country where energy is cheap and Chinese importers (who he called ‘screw-driver innovators’) are plenty, is not easy.
He told me how ASAMLED was conducting market tests with dragonfruit farmers. Using LEDs at night, dragonfruit production could jump from four harvests a year to nine – good news for the Vietnamese farmers who supply 40% of the fruit’s market in Europe. But he explained research like this was expensive and difficult to do with limited resources. According to him, the World Bank-run Climate Innovation Center could help him advocate his technology, inform consumers and access funding to market test a host of new LED applications.
Ever wonder what the subway map of Seoul, Korea has to do with social resilience? A group of policy makers, insurance experts and development practitioners wondered the same thing as they mapped risk management strategies and political economy issues onto the subway line maps of different cities. While it seemed absurd, the exercise forced them to think about connections and relationships they may not have considered before. The exercise was part of a retreat recently held at the Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Center to advance a study led by the Social Resilience Cluster on Financial Innovations for Social and Climate Resilience (FISCR). The FISCR initiative is assessing the impacts of index insurance on the welfare and risk management strategies of poor households (for more details on the study, see here).
The format and structure of the Bellagio retreat and was co-designed by the Bank team and by faculty and a student from the trans-disciplinary design program of Parsons the New School for Design. The study team’s partnership with Parsons is a key innovation that integrates design thinking throughout the study’s design, implementation, and dissemination in order to increase its impact. Index insurance and social resilience are complex topics that are challenging to communicate. Working with designers from the beginning of the study allows us to view the issues in different ways and consider the ways to engage and empower the target audience throughout the entire process of the study.
The FISCR study is unusual as well in that it examines insurance through a social lens. Index insurance schemes (mainly targeting poor farmers and in a couple of cases herders) have been piloted in a number of countries for more than 10 years now, as a way to help the poor protect their livelihoods. Its proponents speak of great promise: engaging the private sector in the protecting the assets of the poor from climate shocks; enabling the poor to make more productive investments, and encouraging investments in disaster prevention. With these promises, index insurance and other market-based risk financing mechanisms have received a great deal of attention in the global discussion on adaptation financing, including the possibility of developing a climate risk insurance facility (see related Cancun agreement).
Apps For Climate enters a new phase this week. The World Bank’s innovation competition, which was launched at COP-17 alongside the Open Climate Data Initiative and the Climate Change Knowledge Portal, attracted about 50 qualifying entries. These are now on public display on the Apps For Climate website. Take a look.
For those who have been watching the competition and wondering what developers might cook up, now comes the fun part: trying out the dozens of interesting apps and voting for your favorites. Voting for the Popular Choice category is now open and runs through April 27, 2012, with the winner receiving US$5,000. The entry pool contains something for everyone, including web apps, mobile apps, visualization programs, and games. Some apps focus on taking actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and others on different aspects of development and adaptation.
Formal judging also kicks off this month. The judging panel includes Christiana Figueres, Rachel Kyte, Rajendra Pachauri, Juliana Rotich, Andrew Steer, and Patrick Svenburg. This group will be reviewing the qualifying entries, and making awards based on originality, design, performance, and potential impact. We will announce these awards in June. There are 15 awards in all, with the first place winner receiving US$15,000.
Earlier this week, I read an article in Scientific American that had an ominous warning ‘global warming is close to becoming irreversible’. In typical cautionary climate-speak there’s a hope stated that “we can cap temperature rise to two degrees”. This is followed by a more subtle message, “we are on the cusp of some big changes”.
‘On the cusp of changes’ is an understatement. There are a half-dozen possible tipping points, crossing any of which gets us into scary unchartered territory. Ocean acidity and coral die-off; drying the Amazon rainforest; run away growing fossil fuel use; loss of ice sheets; large scale melting of permafrost: and the biggest tipping point of all – our amazing inability to come anywhere near an agreement limiting global GHG emissions and warming.
The article argues that unless we seriously curb the rate of growth of GHG emissions within the next 10 years, we will cross tipping points that lead to significant and irreversible global warming. And yet, all that was agreed at COP17 in Durban last year is for countries to reach an agreement by 2015 for action that will not start until 2020. Too little too late, according to the science.
The world will likely only see 450 ppm CO2 concentrations from our rear-view mirror as we hurtle down the express lane to at least 550 ppm CO2 and a 5 degree warming. What the article doesn’t say is that we will need to figure out how to geo-engineer some sort of amelioration. Good luck with that. We can’t agree on the much easier aspects of limiting GHG emissions; how will we ever agree on something as complicated as managing the planet’s climate?
Last week I went swimming with manta rays, sharks and dolphins along some of the world’s most spectacular reefs. Well at least, it felt like I was swimming among them. With my special 3D glasses on, it was as if I was flying across coral atolls, plunging through clouds of jellyfish and darting in and out of brightly colored corals alongside hundreds of thousands of tropical fish.
In a new film by Luke Cresswell and Steve McNicholas – The Last Reef 3D: Cities Beneath the Sea – viewers embark on a worldwide journey to explore coral reef habitats from Palau and French Polynesia in the Pacific to the Bahamas in the Caribbean.
As visually stunning as the film is, it carries a very sobering message: human activity is having a significant negative impact on the world’s oceans.
Many of us who work on climate change and oceans have known about the threat from ocean acidification and warming for a long time. Increasing carbon dioxide emissions have resulted in rising surface and air temperatures. Moreover, ocean acidity is rising owing to an increased absorption of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Increasing acidity levels in turn make it harder for corals to grow and for shell-forming animals like mussels to build their protective housing, leading to knock-on effects of biodiversity loss in ocean called “dead zones”.
The movie’s message is reinforced by a recent report published in Science Magazine which says the oceans are acidifying at a pace not seen in 300 million years. Historically, ocean acidification has led to mass extinctions. What makes today’s situation particularly alarming is that the rise in CO2 is not due to volcanic eruptions or other natural occurrences but is the direct consequence of human behavior over the course of the last century or so.
Henry Ford once famously said that if he had asked his customers what they wanted they would have asked him for a faster horse. If he had listened to his customers, the Ford Motor Company may never have existed, or would be called the Ford Faster Horse Company. The automobile became what is called a “disruptive innovation” meaning that it radically displaced the incumbent technology (the horse and carriage) by not listening to the demands of mainstream consumers, but trying to uncover their real needs.
This is the approach the World Bank is now prototyping in Indonesia: Trying to uncover the real clean energy needs of rural communities by understanding their underlying energy-related problems rather than simply asking them what technologies they want. The Indonesia Green Innovation Pilot Program is prototyping a new approach to fostering green disruptive innovation. The first stage of the program is being launched this week, and consists of identifying possible challenges – or problems – linked to energy in rural communities. In keeping with the logic of disruptive innovation, the program does not start with a market demand study, or a survey of clean energy solutions in the market, but with uncovering stated and unstated needs that affect the population of a rural community in their everyday lives. This is being done in three ways: One is through field research by a team of designers from Inotek and Catapult Design, a second way is through consultative workshops in Jakarta and in the rural communities, and a third is through a “call for challenge” where the program is using a crowdsourcing approach to collect problems linked to energy in rural Indonesian communities. If you are in any way familiar with rural Indonesia and its energy challenges, the program invites you to submit a challenge through this website.
When the World Bank launched the Open Climate Data Initiative and the Climate Change Knowledge Portal last December, the goal was to make essential climate and climate-related data more readily available to the development community and others trying to address the difficult challenges posed by a changing climate. As was noted at the launch event, making data available is “one of the crucial steps toward building resilience to climate change,” as countries consider a range of measures to protect ecosystems, key infrastructure, and adapt critical economic sectors such as water and agriculture.
Availability of data, however, is only one piece of the puzzle. For example, while the Climate Change Knowledge Portal helps users interpret climate data in the context of development, it does not by itself provide solutions for all sectors or users. So what can we do to encourage the transformation of data into simple and innovative solutions and decision-making tools that accelerate climate resilient development?
Accelerating this transformation is the impetus behind Apps For Climate, an innovation contest currently underway and running through March 16 2012. Apps For Climate encourages people or organizations (World Bank employees are not eligible) to create climate data “apps”—an intentionally ambiguous term for anything from a website to a mobile app to a widget—and enter them in the contest. Winners, as determined by a judging panel, receive prizes up to $15,000, along with public recognition for their efforts. Such contests are increasingly popular tools for organizations to encourage innovative thinking and engagement beyond their traditional audiences. For instance, Apps For Development, the World Bank competition on which Apps For Climate is modeled, received over 100 submissions in 2011, many from developing countries.
What does climate finance really mean? Do we mean dedicated funds mobilized by donors in the carbon market, or do we mean funds actually used for mitigation and adaptation action? Definitions and publications abound, but the Climate Policy Initiative (CPI) has now taken the bull by the horns and launched two initiatives with an attempt to lend clarity. Last week, Director of the CPI Venice office, Dr. Barbara Buchner, was a guest speaker at the World Bank’s Washington DC office.
There have been a plethora of reports on climate finance by UN agencies, IFIs and think-tanks, but by far the most comprehensive attempt is a report The landscape of climate finance, launched by CPI last October. It describes the flows of finance, including the sources, intermediaries, instruments, channels, and end-users. After presenting estimates of current flows based on available data, describing the methodology, and discussing the sources of data, the paper offers recommendations on how to improve future data-gathering efforts.
CPI research suggests that at least US$97 billion is being provided to support low-carbon, climate-resilient development activities, US$55 billion by the private sector while at least US$21 billion comes from public budgets. Most of the flows can be classified as ``investment’’ or more generally including ownership interests.
In 1980, the biologist Paul Ehrlich and business school professor Julian Simon famously wagered on the likelihood of resource scarcity over the coming decade. Based on his expectation that population growth would lead to a rapid growth in demand for basic resources, Ehrlich bet that the prices of five commodity metals would increase; Simon, argued that rising prices incent human innovation and consequently that resource prices should be stable or declining. In the decade that followed, despite population growth of 800 million, the prices of all five commodities chosen by Ehrlich declined and he paid the bet. In July 2011, the investor Jeremy Grantham noted that if the bet had been extended to 2011, Ehrlich would have won – by a lot.
McKinsey Global Institute, a research arm of McKinsey & Company, recently revisited the debate about economic growth and resource scarcity with the release of a major study, “Resource Revolution: Meeting the world’s energy, materials, food, and water needs”. One of the lead authors, McKinsey partner Jeremy Oppenheim, recently visited the World Bank in Washington DC to describe the report’s conclusions and discuss its implications for development strategy, particularly for the World Bank. His presentation captivated a large audience and provoked a lively discussion.
The key findings of the report can be summarized in two categories – challenges and opportunities. The former starts from the projected increase of up to 3 billion more middle class consumers in the next 20 years, driving up demand at a time when finding and extracting resources is becoming increasingly difficult and expensive, while also resulting in enormous environmental pressures.
The good news is the existence of sufficient technically and economically feasible efficiency improvements and alternative technologies to meet nearly 30 percent of predicted demand and offset much of the projected growth. Some of these measures are already identified and well understood, such as improving the efficiency of buildings and irrigation – a “resource productivity revolution”. These measures would, however, not be sufficient to alleviate poverty and avoid global warming in excess of the two degrees Centrigrade widely considered the threshold.
To meet these goals, McKinsey outlines an additional level of ambition with respect to clean energy and carbon sequestration.