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Cold comfort for islanders

Angus Friday's picture

Nero fiddled while Rome burnt. The band played while the Titanic sank. And today, it could be said that a cacophony of international climate voices muse in discord, while the sea level rises. These were my thoughts when colleagues and I received the news of the latest report by Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program (AMAP), the scientific arm of the eight-nation Arctic Council, asserting that sea-level rise could reach 1.5 metres by 2100. This is from the executive summary of their report while the full version is awaited. It is a sharp contrast to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC’s) 0.58 metres in its worst case scenario.  This latest warning from the Arctic Council must now serve as a new score, with an urgent tempo, with which to conduct, orchestrate and harmonize international efforts towards rapid action on climate change.

The IPCC’s 2007 findings on sea level rise in its fourth assessment report was an important milestone helping to mobilize political momentum and to build a robust international process around the climate challenge. But at the time, as related to us in a recent presentation byDr. Robert Bindschadler, Emeritus Scientist on Hydrospheric and Biospheric Sciences at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, ice sheet dynamics were not accounted for in these projections. 

In the tropics, far away from the polar ice caps, the difference between “accounted for” and “not accounted for” is not merely a margin of error in a report. For the 41 million people living on the 43 island nations that girdle the planet, it is a matter of survival. With this new information, low-lying coral atolls in the Indian and the Pacific Oceans are facing a real and present danger of sovereign extinction. Caribbean islands face inundation with storm surges heightened by more intense hurricanes due to sea temperature rise. 

Diet for a low-carbon planet

Alan Miller's picture

Most of the proposed solutions to climate change such as substitution of fossil fuels require large investments, policies that are politically contentious or difficult to enforce, and years to fully implement. However, some of the most effective and lowest cost opportunities for greenhouse gas (GHG) reductions are lifestyle choices that can be made today that cost little, and that are actually good for us. Chief among them is the decision to adopt a healthier, less meat intensive diet. 

The significance of this opportunity was emphasized in a recent presentation at the World Bank by Jonathan Foley, director of the University of Minnesota Institute on the Environment. According to analysis by the Institute, every pound of meat is equivalent to about 30 pounds of grain production in its contribution to climate change when allowance is made for the full life cycle of livestock production. This is primarily because methane emissions from ruminants have a GHG impact roughly 25 times that of carbon dioxide.

Another expression of the resource intensity of meat production, Foley explained, is that even highly efficient agricultural systems like that in the US only deliver about the same calories per hectare in human consumption terms as poor African countries with more grain based diets. The surprisingly large role of livestock in global warming was explored in a 2009 article by Robert Goodland, formerly a World Bank economist, and Jeff Anhang, an IFC environmental specialist. They estimate that when land use and respiration are taken into account and methane effects are properly calculated, livestock could account for half of current warming when using a 20 year time-frame. According to Goodland and Anhang, replacing 25% of livestock products with alternatives would liberate as much as 40% of current world grain production with comparable benefits in reduced burdens on land, water, and other resources. 

Why Jane Goodall sees redd when she thinks of forest protection

Benoît Bosquet's picture

When Jane Goodall spoke Tuesday at the World Bank, she said she had recently begun to understand the exciting potential value of REDD – reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation. For decades, Dr. Goodall and others have been fighting for the conservation of forests to preserve and protect animal habitat– in the case of Dr. Goodall, that of chimpanzees in Tanzania. And now, many people like Jane Goodall are making the connection between this battle and the fight against climate change.
By granting greater value to trees that are alive and standing rather than cut down, and making payments to reduce emissions by preserving forests, not only does the climate benefit but biodiversity is also protected, including species that are under the threat of extinction.

In her talk to staff, Dr. Goodall spoke about her shock when she discovered the extent of deforestation surrounding the national park in Tanzania in which her famous study of chimpanzees has taken place over the past 50 years.“It was in early 1990 that I flew over the Gombe National Park – it’s tiny, it’s only 30 square miles, but we flew over all the land around it and it was absolutely horrifying to me to see that, yes, I knew there was deforestation outside the park but I had not realized it was total deforestation“, said Dr. Goodall .

REDD provides a new opportunity to scale up initiatives like those of Jane Goodall to the national level, raises the profile of conservation work, and potentially creates new sources of funding for forest protection. But REDD also has a lot to gain from Dr. Goodall’s experience and wisdom. She is arguably the greatest ambassador for wildlife and forest conversation in the world today. Now she squeezes the annual UN conferences into her astounding, 300-day-a-year travel schedule. Anywhere she goes, she greets audiences with the call of the chimpanzee, and proceeds to make a compelling case about what REDD could be on the ground – forest protection, stewardship of flagship species, but also socio-economic development (the Jane Goodall Institute funds myriad projects aimed at improving communities’ well-being).

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.

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