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Economics of Climate Adaptation: An Expert Examination

Tom Grubisich's picture

Adaptation to climate change presents a cluster of question marks for developing countries:  What works, and where? How can different cost estimates be reconciled?  How should adaptation be integrated with agriculture and other development that are increasingly threatened  by flooding, drought, and rising sea levels?

Answers will be offered by top experts from the World Bank Environment Department's Climate Change Team in the special program "The Economics of Adaptation to Climate Change: The Global Report" on Tuesday, Jan. 12.  The place is the World Bank "J" Building on 18th Street NW between G and H Streets, Room B1-080. This blog will do a followup on the program.

Presenters will be World Bank environmental economists Sergio Margulis and Urvashi Narain, who were lead authors of the widely quoted report "The Costs to Developing Countries of Adaptating to Climate Change: New Methods and Estimates." The report says the cost of adapting to an approximately 2° C warmer world by 2050 is in the range of US$75 billion to $100 billion a year between 2010 and 2050.  The authors note the cost is about the same amount that developed countries now give in aid to developing countries.

How Social Media Transformed DM2009

Edith Wilson's picture

Through the Web and social media, DM2009 became a truly global event.  The competition among the hundred finalists and the week of dialogues, panel discussions, and other activities unfolded in Washington, but people around the world were able to become virtual participants.  From Russia, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Djibouti, Uganda, Belize, and scores of other countries, instant connections were made via YouTube, Twitter, Flickr, and the DM blog.

During the four-day competition, more than 180 videos about what local communities are doing to adapt to climate change were posted on the DM2009 Channel on YouTube. Since the channel launched in late October 2009, it has drawn 12,000 views. Ninety percent of the viewing audience comes from outside the United States, mostly from the developing world. Videos have been recorded in 14 languages. (Visit the Channel on the right side of this page.)  More than 300 photos were posted on the DM2009 Flickr site, which attracted more than 8,000 views during competition week.

The DM2009 blog has posted more than 32,600 page views since its re-launch in late October, and the DM Twitter account enlisted more than 123 global followers who tweeted 600 times. New social media connections continue to be made weeks after the competition, and, as you can see, this blog continues to draw new posts and comments.

The World Bank tells the story of DM2009 here.

(Photos, on DM2009's Flickr pages, are [above] from competition-week video of "Meet Climate Change Practiontioners" featuring [from right] Valerie D'Costa, Product Manager of infoDev, and interviewer Habiba Gitay, Environmental Specialist at the World Bank Institute, and [right] DM video command center.)

In Vanuatu, Let There Be Light

David Stein's picture

David Stein is the founder of Vanuatu Renewable Energy and Power Association (VANREPA), whose Solar-Powered Desalinator Would Serve as Model for Small Coastal Communities for the Pacific Island country of Vanuatu was a finalist in DM2009.  In this post, David talks about a crippling human, economic, and environmental problem shared by 260 million mostly rural people in poor countries globally.

Most of the people of Vanuatu spend half their day in darkness.  For them, there is no electric grid.  Instead they must rely on kerosene and other polluting and sometimes dangerous power sources.  But safe, cost-effective, environmentally friendly, and accessible power sources are coming on the market in Vanuatu and other, mostly rural countries in the Pacific islands and elsewhere. 

The devices are are battery-charged, easy to maintain, and simple to install, and they outperform other rural options like "two-light" solar home systems.  Costing from US$20-$100, depending on the product type, they are cheapter than solar home systems, which are priced from US$800-$1,000, and far more affordable than kerosene, which can cost a rural family US$30 a month.

The devices are described as"picosolar" ("pico" meaning very small).  They usually consist of a solar panel and a combination light emitting diode (LED) and built-in battery.

Thanks to a partnership between VANWODS (Vanuatu’s premier micro-finance institution), VANREPA (Vanuatu Renewable Energy and Power Association), and Green Power (VANREPA’s “trading arm”), thousands of rural Vanuatu households are enjoying solar-powered electric lighting this holiday season.

Civil Society and Climate Change: Some Ill Winds

Tom Grubisich's picture

Will civil societies be real as opposed to figurehead partners in what are sure to be numerous climate-adaptation projects in developing countries in the decade of the 2010s?  Accumulating comments from DM2009 finalists who have had experiences dealing with governments in their countries suggest the question is, at the very least, an open one.

Ann Kendall, whose Cusichaca Trust project in Peru was a winning DM entry, had this to say: "Currently NGOs [in Peru] are undervalued, with exclusion from paid participation in government programs because of the support of some activists to communities in some notably conflictive situations."

To be eligible for international donor-country funding that's beginning to gather momentum post-Copenhagen, Least Developed Countries (LDCs) are mandated to give highest priority to partnering with civil society in developing their National Adaptation Plans of Action (NAPAs).  Completed country plans generally pledge there will be such partnering, but here's what DM2009 finalist Nazrul Islam, Country Director in Bangladesh for the finalist project of RELIEF International, said: "Certainly we would love to be part of the [Bangladesh] NAPA since my project perfectly fits into the government's current agenda to educate people about climate change. Since the government agencies themselves will implement most of the projects, I am afraid it would be a little challenging for civil society organizations to join directly in this NAPA."

From Brian Peniston of the finalist project in Nepal developed by the Mountain Institute: "My experience is that host governments will only share resources with NGOs under duress."

In this mini-interview, Carlos Daniel Vecco Giove, whose Native Community Kechwa Copal Sacha project in Peru was a winner at DM2009, offers further corroboration that there are problems, but holds out some hope:

Q. Is your country in its adaptation program doing enough to develop capacity -- knowledge and learning -- among government and civil society organizations?

A. Definitely it isn't doing enough. The level of knowledge is very low among politicians and they aren´t able to design adequate politics to adaptation.

Q. Is the national government really listening to local communities in preparing adaptation plans and strategies?

A. Definitely it isn't. The government imposes programs and it usually doesn´t listen to local communities.

Q. Since you returned to Peru from DM2009, do you plan to work with government so that your project might be incorporated in national adaptation efforts?

A. Yes, we will do so. We hope to improve knowledge and sensitize politicians and urban people. We have good relations with technical units within regional and local governments and we are sure they will participate actively in our project.

What DM Finalist in Threatened Maldives Needs

Tom Grubisich's picture

One of the countries most threatened by climate change is the Maldives, the group of South Asian islands that are coping with the rising waters of the Indian Ocean.  One of the finalists in DM2009 was Innovative Gardening and Education to Adapt to Climate Change in the Maldives.  The Live & Learn project aims to "increase the quality and quantity of local food production, using new techniques resilient to increasing groundwater salinity" caused by the rising waters.  Innovative Gardening and Education would promote women as leaders in building a sustainable community network spreading the message of "no-till" resilient food production that combats encroaching salinity.  In this mini-interview Fathimath Shafeeqa, Country Manager of Live & Learn's environmental education operations in the Maldives, talks about climate adaptation in her country, the national government's relationship with civil society, and what she and other DM2009 finalists who didn't win at the competition need to move closer to success -- in particular, from the World Bank:

Q. Is your country in its adaptation program doing enough to develop capacity -- knowledge and learning -- among government and civil society organizations?

A. Not yet, but the government is still discussing adaptation measures.

Q. Is the national government really listening to local communities in preparing adaptation plans and strategies?

A. new government is in place and trying to decentralise a lot of the decision making.

Q. Since you returned from DM2009, do you plan to work with government so that your project might be incorporated in national adaptation efforts?

A. Trying very much to discuss with the respective government agencies. No luck as yet. However, if the World Bank decides to send a letter of acknowledgement re the finalists to the Finance Ministry of the respective countries, the process would be much faster.

Path to Innovation Success Is No Straight Line

Tom Grubisich's picture

Need drives innovation.  But even when the need is life-and-death, innovation often follows a path that is crooked and sometimes comes to a (temporary) dead end.  "Eureka" moments may prove to be just that -- momentary.

Consider the cooking stoves used by more than 2.4 billion poor people in developing countries.  The stoves -- fueled mostly by kerosene or biomass (e.g., wood, charcoal, dung) -- kill an estimated 1.5 million people annually because of indoor pollution that causes pneumonia and other diseases (photo from U.N. WHO report "Fuel for Life: Household Energy and Health").

There have been numerous attempts to develop a less dangerous stove, but success has been, at best, only marginal.  Innovative stoves often proved inferior to open fires in cooking local foods, and in other cases they actually turned out to be inefficient energy users.

The 30-year struggle by a group of altruistic American inventors/tinkerers, scientists, and other amateur and professional experts to design a stove that was safe, efficient, inexpensive, and met local cooking requirements and tastes across the globe is described in a fascinating article in the New Yorker magazine, "Hearth Surgery."  (The link requires a subscription; to read the abstract, go here.  Author Burkhard Bilger's blog is here.)

For all their altruism and expertise, not to mention innovation, the designers met setback after setback.  One big obstacle was getting international donor funding.  "For groups like the Gates Foundation and USAID, the metric is cost-effectiveness," said team member Jacob Moss.  "How many people are you going to save with a hundred million dollars?"

DM2009 Finalists Could Be Models for Climate Adaptation

Tom Grubisich's picture

The big question of whether developed nations will get serious about funding climate adaptation in developing countries was at least partially answered by the "Accord" at the recently concluded U.N. negotiations in Copenhagen.  Big global warmers -- the U.S. and the OECD nations primarily -- will pony up billions.  Exactly how much money and how it will be divided between mitigation (measures to hold  temperatures increases to under 2 degrees Celsius) and adaptation (proofing people, ecoysystems, and economies against the destructive impacts of worse weather) is not detailed.  But the developing world seems sure to get major help.

There's another big question that doesn't have even that half-answer: Will the unspecified billions that go to adaptation be effectively spent to do their intended work?  With adverse weather trends intensifying flooding, drought, and rising sea levels, especially in poor and other developing countries within the equatorial belt, adaptation is urgent -- particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa, low-lying parts of South Asia, and among the Pacific island states.  Much of the adaptation will require capacity development -- learning and knowledge that must reach broadly through the organizational fabric of government and civil society and foster innovative adaptation.  But developing nations and donors alike are having a hard time doing that. The World Bank Institute's new "Capacity Development Results Framework" (published in draft form in June 2009), says bluntly: " ...the results of efforts to develop capacity have persistently fallen short of expectations."

At a June 2009 forum co-sponsored by the WBI, consultant Robert Theisohn said: “You cannot do capacity development for others. Learning is voluntary and capacity development must be home-grown so we need to move from supply to demand, from delivery to acquisition.”

Interestingly, the projects of the 100 finalists at DM2009 were very focused on active as opposed to passive learning -- where participants don't just sit and take notes but become players in change that aims to protect people and natural resources and energize often faltering rural economies.  The DM projects would be great models for developing countries that want to start implementing their adaptation plans -- once those pledged funds from developed nations start to materialize.

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