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Miren Gutiérrez - Part 2

El problema de la pesca perdida tiene un impacto mundial

Mbour (Senegal)

El informe Los peces perdidos de África occidental (Western Africa’s missing fish), publicado el pasado 29 de junio como fruto de la colaboración entre porCausa y el Overseas Development Institute (ODI) ha tenido una gran acogida en los medios, en los que se han publicado más de 136 reportajes sobre la pesca perdida.

Querido lector de porCausa, parte del trabajo de nuestra organización consiste en intentar hacer visible lo invisible, hablar de las realidades que no tienen cabida en la información del día a día y, en definitiva, lograr que el foco de atención recaiga sobre ellas y sus protagonistas sean escuchados. Ese ha sido el objetivo del informe Los peces perdidos de África occidental (Western Africa’s missing fish), publicado el pasado 29 de junio como fruto de la colaboración entre porCausa y el Overseas Development Institute (ODI).

Alfonso Daniels, Miren Gutiérrez, Gonzalo Fanjul, Arantxa Guereña, Ishbel Matheson y Kevin Watkins han elaborado el primer análisis sobre las actividades de los buques frigoríficos y procesadores que faenan frente a las costas del África occidental. Para ello han empleado la mayor base de datos de buques pesqueros del mundo, facilitados en exclusiva por la organización española FishSpektrum.

¿Cuál es la realidad sobre la que arroja luz el informe? La sobreexplotación de los recursos pesqueros en los mares del mundo ha provocado que numerosos caladeros estén reduciéndose y una alarmante cantidad de especies se vean empujadas hacia la extinción. La pesca ilegal, no declarada y no reglamentada (INDNR) es uno de los principales motivos de esta sobreexplotación. Hasta una quinta parte de las capturas pesqueras de todo el mundo proceden de la pesca INDNR, un elemento que vincula a los consumidores de Europa, EE. UU. y Asia con una práctica que está propiciando una tragedia global de la que África occidental constituye el epicentro.

El problema de la pesca perdida en las aguas occidentales de África tiene un impacto mundial, y prueba de ello es la repercusión a nivel internacional que el informe ha tenido en los medios y en la población global. En su primera semana de presencia en la Red se descargó 480 veces y alcanzó la cifra de 1.583 páginas vistas únicas desde la web del ODI. De estas descargas, el mayor número se realizó en Reino Unido, España, Estados Unidos, Francia y Bélgica, si bien también se produjeron en países como Nigeria, Noruega, Suiza o Senegal.

“La lucha contra la pesca ilegal en África Occidental podría crear 300.000 puestos de trabajo”

Mientras tanto, para el 15 de julio ya se habían publicado 136 reportajes sobre el tema que continuaron en aumento. La BBC titulaba: “Cómo los barcos traineros de China están vaciando los océanos de Guinea”, The Guardian se centraba en las cifras: “La lucha contra la pesca ilegal en África Occidental podría crear 300.000 puestos de trabajo” así como CNBC África: “Tomar medidas contra la pesca ilegal para proteger a millones de trabajadores en África occidental”.

En España la mayoría de los medios de comunicación también se han hecho eco del problema. Como recoge El Confidencial, las medidas adoptadas para controlar la pesca ilegal en esa zona del continente africano están abocadas al fracaso si las autoridades comunitarias no reforman la normativa vigente. Ante esta situación, como señala El País, “el informe no solo denuncia, sino que también hace un llamamiento a mayores intervenciones de los gobiernos regionales, conjuntamente con la inversión internacional, para establecer medidas disuasorias y sanciones para quienes se dedican a la pesca ilegal”.

Gracias a la difusión del informe estamos un poco más cerca de acabar con una realidad que, como señaló el exsecretario general de Naciones Unidas, Kofi Annan, en el informe “Cereales, pescado, dinero”, produce devastadoras consecuencias sociales, económicas y humanas.

Se trata de una sobreexplotación de los recursos pesqueros que está destruyendo el sustento de los pescadores artesanales, está perdiendo una fuente vital de proteínas y provoca que estén desapareciendo oportunidades para el desarrollo de la producción y el comercio regionales, una realidad con un impacto mundial ante la que también las soluciones deben ser globales.

 

OPINION: Mary Robinson on how tackling climate change can have positive outcomes for justice, gender and economic development

Mary Robinson is a former President of the Republic of Ireland (1990–1997) and former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (1997–2002), founder of the Mary Robinson Foundation – Climate Justice and a human rights and climate justice activist. She spoke with Mairi Dupar (CDKN) and Miren Gutierrez (ODI) about gender, development and climate change ahead of the 19th session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Warsaw, 11–22 November, 2013

Q: You have advocated that climate justice – linking human rights and climate change — has to be central to the international climate negotiations. How do you see this happening?

The world cannot have climate justice without first realising the injustice of climate change, and the steps needed to address the crisis. As weather shocks, such as droughts causing mass starvation or unexpected floods leading to the destruction of crops and homes, impact on the basic human rights of those affected, it is clear that the poor and vulnerable people who have done the least to cause climate change are those who suffer most from its impacts.

Climate justice can be central to international climate negotiations if the political will exists for a truly equitable and ambitious agreement. Such an agreement would recognise the impact climate change has on the most vulnerable now, while understanding the unimaginable world we would leave to future generations if we continue the ‘business as usual’ approach.

Previous COPs have proved disappointing in the lack of commitment given by Parties to act equitably and with ambition. But all sectors of society can help change this, by pressurising their political leaders to take climate change seriously.

Q: You’ve also said that climate justice should feature in the post-2015 United Nations agenda for Sustainable Development. Recent ODI research indicates that ‘natural’ disasters, especially linked to drought, can be the most significant cause of impoverishment, and can cancel progress on poverty reduction. With 2015 approaching, the UNFCCC and the post-2015 debate on Sustainable Development seem to be running on parallel tracks. Do you think they should be more integrated? And if so, what needs to happen?

The fact that 2015 has been set as the deadline for both processes provides us with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to act in an integrated and effective way. To those who live on the front line of poverty, climate change and development are the same issues. At the grassroots level people don’t put issues of rights, development and climate in boxes. The reasons they are poor have to do with a combination of factors – access to health care, gender inequality, access to food and shelter, access to decision making, etc. Climate change exacerbates these factors.

To adequately address the needs of the poorest, international processes have to be more coherent and respond to the interconnected nature of the issues that make people poor and vulnerable. This means that climate change must be addressed as a development issue in the post 2015 development agenda, while the UNFCCC produces the legal agreement needed to keep global warming below 2°C in 2015. The two processes must work in tandem, support each other and drive each other to be ambitious and fair. Climate justice lies at the nexus of these two processes connecting their shared objectives with a focus on people and rights.


Q: At the last Conference of the Parties of the UNFCCC in Doha, Qatar (2012), you were successful in advocating for a resolution to establish equal participation of women and men in the UNFCCC process. What was the status of women’s representation until then, and how quickly do you hope it can change?

You may remember a previous decision (Decision 36/CP.7), which encourages Parties to actively consider nominating women for elective posts in any body established under the UNFCCC or Kyoto Protocol. However, ten years on from that Decision, a very obvious gender imbalance still existed in various bodies, with women’s representation as low as 10% in some cases.

With the adoption of Decision 23/CP.18 in Doha last year, Parties to the UNFCCC sent a political signal calling for gender balance in the UNFCCC process. The Decision not only sets the goal of gender balance for elected bodies, but also encourages future chairs of such bodies to be guided by this goal when setting up informal negotiating groups and consultation mechanisms. Furthermore, it encourages Parties to strive for the goal of gender balance in the composition of delegations. The Decision also adds gender and climate change as a standing item on the agenda of sessions of the COP; at COP 19, in Warsaw, the Secretariat will host a workshop that focuses not just on gender balance in the UNFCCC process but also gender-sensitive climate policy and capacity building activities. Parties have also committed to review progress made towards the gradual but significant increase in the participation of women and the achievement of this goal at the 22nd session of the COP in 2016.

It is important to bear in mind that the achievement of gender balance is certainly not an end in itself. The decision taken by the COP to strive for this goal is the starting point for the strengthening of gender-responsive climate policy, and a means towards promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment more broadly. What is critical now is the implementation of the decision so that climate change norms and policies genuinely incorporate a gender perspective and integrate women’s rights and women’s voices.

Q: You’ve travelled extensively and listened to women’s concerns about, and experiences with, climate impacts, and their involvement in the solutions. What are they telling you? While recognising that equal representation for women is an important outcome in its own right, what extra value do you think women might bring to the climate negotiations, once they are better represented?

In April of this year, as part of a conference my Foundation co-hosted with the Irish Government on the links between hunger, poor nutrition and climate change, I spoke with many women representatives of grassroots communities at the frontline of climate change. From what they told me, it is clear that they have a lot to contribute in the climate debate. As one of those women – Esther Jabesi from Malawi – said: “you have to listen to me because I have experience – what I know isn’t written in your papers.”

Greater representation of women on UNFCCC bodies and in negotiations can provide the crosscutting experiences necessary to ensure that the decisions taken and the resulting actions at a national and international level are more responsive to the differing needs of women and men in national and local contexts. There is no doubt that the empowerment of women will have a long term positive impact on both the decisions being taken and the process by which they are reached.

Q: Evidence indicates that some of the responses to climate change run counter to principles of sustainable development. What’s more, few plans for promoting sustainability have explicitly included adapting to climate change impacts. How do you see these complexities playing out? And what implications do they have for vulnerable groups?`

There have been responses to climate change that have not delivered the desired sustainable development outcomes. For example, the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) was designed to deliver sustainable development outcomes but failed to do this due to a tendency to focus on a narrow range of emissions reductions projects. Certainly CDM did not deliver for Africa or Least Developed Countries (LDCs).

Biofuel policies are another well-known example – they were well intentioned to shift energy supplies away from fossil fuels. But in diverting land use away from food to fuel they have been associated with rising food prices, and as a result, food insecurity. Clearly this runs counter to the aims of a holistic sustainable development approach.

On your point about sustainability plans not including adaptation – I think it depends who the actors are. Governments of LDCs and Small Island Developing States (SIDS), as well as development agencies, tend to have a strong focus on the adaptation aspects of climate action. Business and developed country governments have tended to focus primarily on mitigation. But this is changing – for example, a recently-published Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES) report, Weathering the Storm: Building Business Resilience to Climate Change, found that 90% of S&P Global 100 Index companies identify extreme weather and climate change as current or future business risks, while 62% say they are experiencing climate change impacts now, or expect to in the coming decade. The effects of climate change on production supplies and operational costs are a real concern, which is forcing many businesses to adapt.

What is essential is that we move away from seeing climate change as an environmental issue and address it as a development issue through solutions that protect rights and enable equitable access to the opportunities of a transition to low carbon, climate resilient development.

Q: Is economic development and protecting the environment an “either-or” dilemma? What are the trade-offs?

There is no reason why both issues can’t be tackled in tandem. The smart investor will already know that the corporation that remains over-reliant on fossil fuels won’t be worth their long-term investment. The majority of these fossil fuel reserves will have to be left unburned if the world is to stand any chance of avoiding a planet that is more than two degrees Celsius warmer – the limit which governments have decided on in order to side-step the prospect of unimaginable climate conditions.

As the public becomes increasingly cognisant of how their products are sourced, and more motivated to act due to the rise of social media, the need for companies to be accountable for their actions grows. Financial reports alone can no longer be considered the only measure of a corporation’s value. Sustainability needs to be viewed as a sustained societal value. Transparency and accountability are essential in winning over the credibility and trust of their potential customers.

The just transition to a low-carbon economy will be a challenging one, but there are significant potential benefits. In its report The 3% Solution the World Wildlife Fund and the Carbon Disclosure Project state that the US corporate sector can achieve cost savings of up to USD 190 million in 2020 if it reduces emissions by 3% annually by committing to ambitious but feasible climate actions. There are rewards for business if they make decisive changes in the way they operate. But they must act urgently if they are to capitalise on this opportunity.

FEATURE: Quito’s chance for leadership on urban sustainability – as Habitat III host

Quito, Ecuador has been announced as the host city for the UN Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development in October 2016 (Habitat III). Does Quito have the potential to show leadership? Miren Gutierrez of CDKN reports.

In Quito, ‘over 670,000 people live in these high-risk areas, and overall, 43.5% of its inhabitants live below the national poverty line’, says a report published by ELLA –a knowledge sharing and learning platform on selected economic, environmental and governance issues.

On top of this, climate change has increased temperatures in the Ecuadorian capital between 1.2°C and 1.4°C over the last 100 years, and the future seems bleak: more intense rainfall and flooding are expected.

Climate impacts are likely to exacerbate landslides and mudslides, stress the existing transportation infrastructure, affect food production, and endanger indigenous and migrant populations living on the city’s hillsides and slopes, says the ELLA report.

Facing these and other challenges, Quito has made great efforts in adaptation and risk management. These efforts have been rewarded with the inclusion of the Ecuadorian capital in a 100 resilient cities list published by the Rockefeller Foundation, whose website says: “Quito’s resilience has been tested many times…The metropolitan district faces risk on a daily basis due to massive seismic movements, floods, and forest fires. The poor are most at risk in the event of a high-magnitude earthquake, which would devastate the city’s irregular, unplanned settlements in steep-slope areas.”

Another initiative has been the City Footprints project, which focuses on assessing the carbon and water footprints of the municipal government’s own operations together with the larger metropolitan area of Quito: promoting actions to reduce the footprints, and creating the conditions for implementing mitigation and adaptation measures.  This project – which runs concurrently in La Paz, Bolivia and Lima, Peru – has been co-financed by CDKN.

It is clear that Quito faces great adaptation challenges; and the city’s capacity for adaptation will be examined and showcased in 2016, during the UN Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development: Habitat III, which takes place in Quito itself. Here,  the New Urban Agenda will be decided. This has put Ecuador’s capital at the centre of one of the most important discussions for the future of development.

Quito will have to embrace “institutional strengthening to improve intervention capacity on the ground with tools that generate data, information and knowledge, and incorporate planning, territorial and management indicators,’ according to Nixon Narvaez, from Quito’s Secretariat of Environment.  “We need to consolidate programmes and generate local project packages, linked to local participatory processes, which can be monitored and evaluated, and scaled up.”

Habitat II was held in Istanbul, Turkey, in 1996. Two decades later, cities face a critical moment in history to reflect on what has been done a face the future. On the positive side: 80% of the global GDP is generated in urban centres, according to the World Bank. Our cities are generators of productivity, innovation, communication and, in many ways, have become laboratories of sustainability.

But for many people, cities have become too a focus of exclusion, overcrowding, pollution and poverty. According to the UN, about 863 million people live in slums in the world. Cities also represent a clear sustainability challenge: they consume two thirds of the energy and generate about 70% of the total GHG emissions, says UN Habitat.

Habitat III represents an opportunity to address these and other challenges, rethinking how cities are planned and managed. City officials and development workers and planners in the city of Quito know that none of these challenges are easily addressed; but they are in a perfect position to share their experiences of adapting to climate change as part of this crucial Summit.

 

Image: Quito, flickr.com

DESTACADO: Adaptación frente a las inundaciones e incendios forestales en Quito, Ecuador

La ciudad de Quito enfrenta grandes retos en su adaptación al cambio climático. ¿Cuál es la situación en la que se encuentra la capital a mayor altitud en el mundo? Miren Gutiérrez, de CDKN, informa que la Estrategia de Quito frente al Cambio Climático está empezando a producir ganancias después de casi cinco años de su ejecución.

Las ciudades de todo el mundo se enfrentan a nuevos patrones climáticos, por lo que la elaboración de estrategias de adaptación en el ámbito municipal es más importante que nunca. En Quito, los retos para alcanzar la adaptación son exigentes: su población está compuesta por 2.24 millones de personas que se espera se duplique en 2025, y se localiza a 2,800 metros de altitud. Sus calles son empinadas y obstaculizadas por barrancos. Las inundaciones, temblores y huaicos regulares han causado daños generalizados principalmente en los asentamientos humanos que se encuentran en las laderas de los montes.

Entre los retos que Quito enfrenta para la adaptación, se destaca la integración de un criterio estandarizado en la planificación del desarrollo, según Nixon Narváez, representante de la Secretaría de Ambiente de dicha ciudad. En una entrevista por correo electrónico el señor Narváez añadió que otro ejemplo de ello es que Quito debe aplicar medidas  de adaptación sistemáticas en el cultivo de la papa, ya que ésta es un alimento básico en Ecuador, y en Quito ocupa el primer lugar de preferencia en el grupo de tubérculos, según el informe publicado por  INIAP-CIP.

En un nivel distinto, “un reto más grande es compartir la agenda con los diferentes actores: gobiernos locales, comunidades, despachos de la localidad (tal como CONQUITO –a cargo del desarrollo local— o Quitoturismo), empresas que brindan servicios públicos (agua, obras públicas, movilidad, transporte), sindicatos, y sociedad civil, incluyendo activistas, ONGs y academia, para generar más transparencia al aplicar las medidas de adaptación y mitigación, y reforzar la gobernanza.

Los expertos en la materia concuerdan en que es de vital importancia que el compromiso para estas estrategias se produzca en todos los niveles, desde el local al nacional e internacional.

“Con toda seguridad, cuando las labores de adaptación al clima se avanzan basándose en el aprendizaje, la sensibilización y construcción de capacidades, el proceso conducirá a políticas y planes más sostenibles, legítimos e integrales que mejoren la resiliencia de los residentes y de las áreas urbanas más afectadas” según un artículo sobre  la variación en los enfoques de adaptación en Quito y otras dos ciudades, una en la India y otra en Sudáfrica, publicadas por la editorial Elsevier.

Dicho artículo señala que “en un inicio no existían leyes o políticas nacionales ni marcos internacionales o esquemas de financiamiento nacional para guiar y respaldar los esfuerzos de Quito para prepararse a las consecuencias del cambio climático”, hasta que las inquietudes urgentes surgidas a mediados de 1990 movilizaron al concejo municipal y a las autoridades de la empresa suministradora de agua potable y desagüe metropolitana a “tomar medidas preventivas para garantizar el abastecimiento de agua urbano”.

Los autores de la nota añadieron que a través de un proceso interinstitucional se elaboró la Estrategia Quiteña al Cambio climático (EQCC) de 2007, den la que se revela que ‘no se trata de una tarea fácil,’ y que las actuales medidas de adaptación al clima solo están parchando problemas específicos por lo que hace falta una visión a largo plazo.

Después se incorporó el factor de “riesgo” al proceso y la Estrategia Quiteña al Cambio climático (EQCC) fue aprobada en octubre de 2009. Desde entonces es la política ambiental oficial. A mediados de 2010, el debate en torno al apoyo de CDKN estaba ya en marcha. Como resultado de un análisis conjunto entre CDKN y la Secretaría de Ambiente, se llegó a un acuerdo sobre las tres áreas de colaboración inicial: Plan de Acción, Estudio de Vulnerabilidad y la implementación del Plan de Acción.

CDKN brindaría asistencia técnica en metodología y talleres destinados a preparar el Plan de Acción para cinco años, que comprende una cartera de unos 50 proyectos, de los cuales se dio prioridad a 21. Para ello, fue preciso llevar a cabo un Estudio de Vulnerabilidad a fin de consolidar la información dispersa. En mayo de 2011 se llevó a cabo un taller de ‘Clima y Vulnerabilidad’ el cual proporcionó la base de los debates entre distintos sectores tales como académicos, científicos, técnicos y políticos para definir las directrices que guiarán el trabajo de un equipo interdisciplinario para realizar un Estudio de Vulnerabilidad de nueve meses. El Centro Internacional de Investigación del Fenómeno de El Niño (CIIFEN) se encargó de elaborar los términos en julio de 2011.

La Fundación Futuro Latinoamericano, socio de CDKN, iniciaron sus labores en junio de 2011. Hace poco, Quito acogió la Cumbre Nacional de Autoridades Locales. Los asistentes a la Cumbre, de Quito y otras ochenta ciudades más, suscribieron el Pacto Climático de Quito, comprometiéndose a reducir las emisiones de gases de efecto invernadero a nivel local.

En la actualidad, CDKN ayuda a la ciudad de Quito a calcular la huella de carbono e hídrica, la vulnerabilidad del sector salud de la municipalidad: enfermedades transmitidas por vectores, y una medida de adaptación piloto. Entre las otras organizaciones que apoyan la aplicación de medidas de adaptación en Quito figuran el Banco Interamericano de Desarrollo (AIDB), el Banco de Desarrollo de América Latina (CAF), y el Fondo Mundial para el Medio Ambiente (GEF).

Se pueden hacer mejoras. Según Narvaez “debido a la escala de la diversidad institucional, cultural, social, económica y ambiental comprometida, y su alcance, no se logró coordinar los grandes esfuerzos realizados en cuanto a los mecanismos de la integración de desarrollo en lo relacionado a la adaptación ni a nivel local ni municipal de manera óptima.” Señaló que la aplicación de algunas de las iniciativas de mitigación fue más fácil, incluyendo, por ejemplo, el “fortalecimiento del transporte público o el aumento de eficiencia energética  con un sistema de iluminación de exteriores basado en LED.”

Pero ya algunas de estas iniciativas están generando ganancias. Según Narvaez, la Secretaría, el concejo municipal y las empresas públicas que brindan servicios municipales han empezado a elaborar una agenda o programa común. “La Secretaría de Ambiente ha generado un conjunto de indicadores de sostenibilidad que nos ha permitido evaluar sectores tales como el de manejo de residuos, suministro de agua, movilidad, saneamiento, energía y calidad de aire y contaminación. La EQCC ha sido calificada como ‘mediana’ con potencial para ser mejorada en las áreas rurales y estabilizarse en las áreas urbanas.”

“Entre los pasos que debemos dar hacia el progreso tenemos, entre otros, la mejora del manejo de incendios forestales (otro peligro importante) y las inundaciones producidas por el desborde o la crecida, en la que participan más de veinte instituciones,” añadió Narvaez. “La Secretaría de Ambiente ha gestionado información y conocimientos en materia de las decisiones que se deben tomar en cuanto a prevención y respuestas a fenómenos naturales, dando como resultado una mayor eficiencia en reducir el nivel de vulnerabilidad.”

Image: Quito panorama, cortesía de la Oficina de Turismo de Quito (flickr.com)

FEATURE: Going smart in Nepalese farming: Part One

Generating knowledge that can be integrated in ‘climate-smart’ policy and practice could be one of the keys to Nepal’s future development. Miren Gutierrez of CDKN reports.  This is Part One of a two-part series, read Part Two here.

Small, extremely diverse and landlocked, Nepal confronts special development challenges in the face of climate change. Its orography determines that only less than 20% of its land is cultivable, yet about 39% of its GDP and 75% of its exports depend on agriculture, which is also the main source of food, income and employment for the great majority according to a reports published by Cornell and USAid.

“Nepal’s geography is incredibly diverse and complex. Within a short distance, you can see a lot of variety… Climatic conditions range from sub-tropical to Arctic,” says Ram Chandra Khanal, CDKN’s country leader, in a telephone interview. The Climate and Development Knowledge Network supports decision-makers in designing and delivering climate compatible development.

Recently, there has been new evidence of increasing impacts of climate change in the agriculture sector, which, by contagion, can affect the livelihoods of millions. On the other hand, Nepalese farmers have limited access to new technologies and market opportunities.

Climate shocks can derail economic projections easily.  For example, in 2009 growth was, at 4.7%, ‘a bit slower than in the previous year as a result of prolonged winter droughts and delayed monsoons’, says a report published by USAid.  The same report notes that Nepal’s economic performance is ‘heavily dependent on subsistence rain-fed agriculture’, so output is ‘perennially susceptible to exogenous climate shocks —drought, floods, and irregular rainfall.’ USAid ends up saying that this dependence makes growth performance ‘highly erratic’.

Last month, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) projected Nepal’s economy to grow between 4-5% this fiscal year, a lower than first expected and last year, based on the assumptions of two scenarios of agricultural, industrial and service sector growth. According to the ADB ’s Macro-Economic Update on Nepal the country’s economy will grow by 4% if farm production diminishes abruptly and 5% under another scenario where agricultural output deteriorates marginally. (The scenarios take into account different performances in the industrial and service sectors too).

“Delayed and abnormal monsoon rains affected last crops like paddy (semiaquatic rice) and maize leading their output to decline by 5.1% and 6% respectively. The government has projected that winter crops like wheat will be good, but due to a decline in the summer output which contributes heavily to the total agricultural output, the farm sector is expected to rise by just 1.8%,” says a report published by ekantipur.com.

Rice is not only a staple food here, it is also Nepal’s main crop, and both the economy and the food security depend on rice production, according to another report issued by Hydro Nepal.

“The recent Economic Impact Assessment of climate change study carried out with the support from CDKN also showed that the direct losses of climate change on agriculture are equivalent to around 0.8%/year of current GDP,” reveals Mr Khanal.

That is why climate-smart agriculture is at the centre of Nepal’s strategy to develop.

Climate-smart agriculture is defined as agriculture that integrates the three dimension of sustainable development (economic, social and environmental) by incorporating adaptation and mitigation elements and addressing food security and climate issues at the same time. It promotes production systems that sustainably increase productivity and resilience (adaptation), while reducing Green House Gas emissions (mitigation), and enhancing food security and development.

Climate-smart agriculture is so fashionable nowadays that the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation has set up a dedicated web site, not surprisingly called ‘Climate-smart agriculture’. According to FAO, global food production will have to increase by at least 70% to satisfy the demand of a growing population by 2050. But climate change will to reduce food productivity, or worsen its stability in some areas that already have high levels of food insecurity.

Although there is consensus on the need for climate-smart strategies, “there are still knowledge and gaps at the methodological, policy and financial levels”, says FAO. “These gaps hinder the ability of actors of development (farm smallholders, policy makers and development agencies) to successfully implement climate smart actions.”

That is where projects like CDKN’s come into play.

Explore CDKN’s Nepal country programme on www.cdkn.org/regions/nepal

Watch this space for the second part of this two-part series on climate-smart agriculture in Nepal by Miren Gutierrez.

Image: Nepali farmer, courtesy CCAFS.

FEATURE: Going smart in Nepalese farming: Part Two

Climate change in Nepal poses great dilemmas affecting agriculture that need answers for this small, extremely diverse and landlocked country’s future development. This is the second article on Nepal’s climate-smart agriculture prospects by CDKN’s Miren Gutierrez. Read Part One here.

Nepal is a country with diverse agro-ecological systems, farm conditions and socio-economic dynamics. This creates complexity and a need for “robust strategies to serve local needs”, says Ram Chandra Khanal, CDKN’s country leader.

When it comes to the prospects for climate-smart agriculture in Nepal, “it poses a great dilemma… whether to focus on subsistence agriculture (self-sufficient farming) or on commercial, larger-scale agriculture, where climate-smart strategies can really make a difference in our economy.”

According to the CDKN expert, about 64% of farm households in Nepal are less than one hectare, whereas the remaining farms control about 60% of land. “Various evidence shows that smallholding farmers have weak adaptive capacity to climate change, and that the government support systems are inadequate.”

In Nepal, “only 10% rice is irrigated, and you need monsoon rains to water these crops. The lives of people are also synchronised with these weather patterns. There is a time of the year when transplant must happen, and traditionally you only had a period only about a month for to do so.  With the change in delayed monsoon and unavailability of rain forecast systems, there is small window of opportunity to prepare their seedlings and transplant their paddy in time.  As a result productivity can suffer,” says Chandra Khanal, who owns a farm and can speak from first-hand experience.

“Many smallholders cannot respond to these changes, they have almost no information, no risk-bearing capacity and no adaptive capacity,” he adds.

Transforming conventional approaches

Agriculture planning in Nepal is still dominated by conventional approaches of an era without palpable climate change impacts, while the methods and tools to assess climate change risk and integrate it in planning are ‘considerably weak’, explains the expert. National Adaptation Programmes of Action (NAPAs), strategic programmes for climate resilience, climate change policies and other planning processes have also branded the adaptive capacity at national, institutional and local level as ‘weak’.

Chandra Khanal calls for ‘immediate interventions’, ‘a holistic approach’ and a ‘creative engagement with government, stakeholders, market agents and NGOs’.

CDKN is supporting the government – especially the Ministry of Agriculture – by providing decision-making tools for climate-smart agriculture, and “in identifying climate smart or resilient agricultural technologies and practices for both subsistence and commercial agricultural farms in Nepal’s three major agro-ecological zones. We also intend to develop some climate-smart agricultural pathways and implementation plan so that these technologies and practices can be scaled out in future,” he adds.

A matter of food security

Agriculture production is not evenly distributed in the country, and this creates food security concerns for many. Nepal is topographically divided into three regions: the Himalaya to the north, the middle hills and the Terai (low-altitude plain) in the south. The Himalaya and its foothills represent 35% of the total land area. The middle hills cover about 41% of the total land area. The Terai covers 23% of the total land and is home to around half of the population. The elevation of the country ranges from less than 100 metres above sea level in the Terai, to the highest point on earth, the summit of Mt. Everest, at 8,848 metres, all within a distance of about 150km.

“Mountainous Nepal, one of the poorest countries in South Asia, is notoriously food insecure”, says a report published by UNICEF. “Its topography is partly to blame. The mountains isolate many of the poorest people, who struggle to feed themselves and to ensure that they have clean water, adequate sanitation and healthcare.”

The challenges are, thus, both at macro and micro levels, with a great degree of diversity on the ground.

What is CDKN doing about it? We are generating evidence-based knowledge to overcome one of the biggest obstacles in climate-smart planning in Nepal: There is almost no documented evidence of how climate-smart agriculture is working, and what practices are appropriate in what conditions, both socio-economic and bio-physical.

“It is not clear whether, with this changing altitude and climate diversity, the same set of climate-smart agriculture practices work. We have traditional knowledge systems in place, but climate change is a new phenomenon,” says Chandra Kanal. “So we need to understand the dynamics generated by climate change along with other socio-economic drivers, and generate knowledge that can provide a foundation to take appropriate decisions.”

According to the CDKN expert, other facets add to the complexity but should be integrated in policy, including gender-sensitive issues in a sector where women are very much involved; the food systems perspective, which should include technology, but also new ideas and approaches that can be adapted to Nepal; what people are doing right now to cope with climate shocks, including indigenous knowledge; and finally Nepal’s ‘moving’ climate, from lower altitude to higher altitude, and the south-north connections.

“The challenge is that most of these experiences are being implemented in isolation, without making connections to the overall system”, he concludes. “We are trying to integrate everything for better planning in the agriculture sector. We have realised we need to go a long way to address these mega challenges, but working with the government and developing their capacities would help to achieve those targets faster.”

Flood-affected people in Sindh, Pakistan, recipients of UK humanitarian aid in response to the 2010 floods.

Miren Gutierrez investigates how a CDKN-supported project in Central America has produced tools to help communities assess the climate risks to their food supply and to build resilience.  

A report published by Oxfam in 2014 says that “climate change will strongly affect the production of food and the life conditions of the farming and indigenous families in Central America. The increase in temperatures and the modification of the rainfall cycles will impact the availability of water for the food production and for the populations.”

This summer, the so-called Dry Corridor – a subtropical highland area stretching from Guatemala to Costa Rica — was hit by the most severe drought in more than four decades. “Not a drop of rain has fallen there between July and September. In Guatemala alone, some 300,000 farming families have lost 70-100 percent of their crops. In El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua, the production of corn, a staple product, has fallen by over 10%. All in all, an estimated 3 million Central Americans are struggling to feed themselves,” says Jan-Albert Hootsen in a recent report for the World Politics Review.

The accumulated effects of climate change are already clear in this region. Since the 1990s, the coastline has receded about 300 metres inland in Southern Honduras, said Danilo Manzanares, member of the CREFSCA technical team, in a report published by CDKN in May 2013. In Honduras, the biggest loss of terrain happened in 1998, when hurricane Mitch touched land. Today, tides are higher and, if this trend continues, many of the black-sanded beaches of that are will be lost, together with hundreds of houses, according to the same report. Most of the affected areas, about 90%, are fishing communities.

“In Latin America and the Caribbean, in the past decade, more than 15 million people were affected by floods while more than 3 million were affected by extreme droughts and almost 5 million by extreme temperatures. Furthermore, according to the predictions of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the increase in the number of people at risk from suffering from famine could concern 5 million people by the year 2020, and reach up to 26 million by the year 2050,” says the Oxfam report.

Central America has contributed very little to climate change, but it already endures some of the most negative consequences. That is where projects such as the Climate Resilience and Food Security in Central America (CREFSCA) come into play.

With CDKN’s support, the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) launched the CREFSCA project in January 2013 in ten communities in each of the targeted countries: Honduras, Nicaragua and Guatemala.

They found that these communities had some shared “commonalities”, namely, they all have assets and linkages to external systems “that are critical to ensure food security in light of disturbances created by climate change. For example, the importance of storage (including refrigerated storage) and supporting energy systems, and access to markets and food prices which are influenced by national and international policies and processes,” says Alicia Natalia Zamudio, Project Officer of IIED’s Resilience Programme.

Using a systemic approach, “we identified that supporting resources, like water and land, are very important; that the accessibility and management systems of those natural resources were key too. We also realised that the capacities of key actors are crucial,” she says. Finally, governance aspects and local participation in decision making processes made a difference to food security in the three countries.

However, even if there are similarities, local context is also important: “Vulnerability to climate change and the differences in its cascading impacts through food systems can have diverse effects according the different exposure and adaptive capacity of people,” explains Ms Zamudio. “Coastal communities, for example, are much more reliant of fishing than inland communities, which rely more on agriculture. Some coastal communities are very isolated, and depend totally on external markets for other kinds of food. Any change in their access to food markets for example through a disruption in roads or transport systems can seriously affect their food security. The system perspective allowed us to identify these commonalities and differences.”

It is now barely a year since the project has ended, and there is evidence of some changes in the way food systems are managed. The project’s main outputs were two decision-making support tools, in the form of two spin-wheels, designed to enable community members and policy-makers to assess vulnerability and resilience of food systems, develop resilience actions and generate indicators to monitor that resilience over time.The tools were developed and tested through an iterative process grounded in practical field applications.

“Food security is looked upon from a systemic perspective where issues like storage, related infrastructure, and other supporting natural and built-in elements are taken into account. The Spin-wheels (which are the conceptual framework) and CRiSTAL Food Security tool were very useful to identify and understand the impacts chains, how the climate impacts cascade through the food system,”says Ms. Zamudio.

“With this systems conceptual approach, we also produced theFIPAT (Food Security Indicator & Policy Analysis Tool) –she adds—which focuses its analysis on the national and subnational levels, including public policies and their capacity to support resilience.”

During the project, local and regional governments have received capacity-building to use these tools in their context, improving knowledge on climate change and understanding of key concepts. “The communities we worked with were empowered by their better understanding of food security issues. They became more aware of some linkages and answers to questions that were not explicit before,” says Zamudio.

For example, users developed indicators to help them measure their resilience to climate change shocks, such as:

  • Percentage of households with family orchards or gardens, which could determine the level of vegetable consumption and the diversity of the food. “Family gardens help diversity income strategies for women, who are most of the times in charge of the household. We have found, for example, that many households that produce vegetables do not eat them (except, for onions),” says Ms Zamudio.
  • Percentage of households with more than one storage facility or percentage of households with refrigerated storage. This is linked to access to electricity and whether you can refrigerate and cook food. Cooking with electricity, instead of wood or charcoal ovens, can benefit human health by reducing indoor air pollution.
  • Percentage of paved roads, which increases access to food, as unpaved roads are even more vulnerable to climate shocks.

The results of using the tools to analyse climate risks to the food system were used to design policies for the Mancomunidad Montaña El Gigante (Guatemala), a rural community that depends almost exclusively on agriculture.

And now, in Honduras, use of the CRiSTAL Food Security Tool has spread beyond the original communities that were part of the project, because it is being used more widely by NGOs. The tools could soon be incorporated in the university curriculum of the Universidad Autonoma de Honduras (UNAH), too.

Two years down the line, the experts participating in this programme found: “[A] resilient food system is a system that is able to withstand shocks and stresses (including climatic shocks), a system that is ultimately able to deliver food security,” says Ms Zamudio. “Climate variability affects food security directly and indirectly. Climate change can directly disrupt food production and generate crop loses through climatic events, for example. Many other impacts are indirect, though. Climate change can disrupt supporting systems, like roads that take food and people to markets, and thus affect access to food.”

Further reading

 Image: Honduran farmer, courtesy CIAT.

 

 

FEATURE: Resilient housing – A flourishing sector

CDKN’s Miren Gutierrez looks at the potential for the prebuilt housing sector to increase the resilience of its products to climate change.

Flood-affected people in Sindh, Pakistan, recipients of UK humanitarian aid in response to the 2010 floods.Modular, prebuilt homes are in fashion to the point that, in the United States, the demand for prefabricated housing is forecast to expand 15% annually through 2017, according to a 2013 report. Some of the expertise in the prebuilt housing sector is also dedicated to exploring new ways in which a house can withstand climate-related disasters.

The housing problem is no longer quantitative, but qualitative, according to the Global Compact Cities Programme. The organisation notes that “people tend to constantly improve and adapt their dwellings in order to better accommodate their changing needs.” Because housing is “a process, not and end”, say authors Sandra Moye-Holz and Constanza Gonzalez-Mathiesen in a report about Chile’s case published by the Global Compact Cities Programme.

But what does it all entail? Do all hazards pose the same sort of challenges? Is resistance the same as resilience? Tuan Anh Tran notes in a book about “Developing Disaster Resilient Housing in Vietnam” that there is a lack of consensus in defining resilient housing and a gap in academic literature on this vital matter for many communities around the globe.

For example, with regard to flooding, one of the most destructive climate-related disasters, Planning Practice Guidance  notes that “flood-resilient buildings are designed and constructed to reduce the impact of flood water entering the building so that no permanent damage is caused, structural integrity is maintained and drying and cleaning is easier”, while “flood-resistant construction can prevent entry of water or minimise the amount that may enter a building where there is short duration flooding outside with water depths of 0.6 metres or less.”

Picturing a flood-resistant house, one can think of most constructions along the channels of Venice, which are protected by double, water-resistant barriers. But what does a resilient house look like?

Under the Sheltering from a Gathering Storm project, with CDKN funding, the Institute for Social and Environmental Transition-International (ISET-International) –an organisation that works with local partners to build resilience— launched in 2012 a “Resilient Housing Design Competition.”  It called for innovative storm resistant shelters for low-income households, and the winning model selected to be constructed was analysed for its resistance to typhoons, including strong winds and heavy rainfall.

Characteristics of these resilient houses include: the ability to absorb shocks; reinforced spaces that can protect inhabitants even if other parts of the house are destroyed or flooded; escape gateways; the employment of water-resistant materials in sections that are likely to be hit by floods; redundancy and modularity that allow the interaction of different components of the building; solid structures; simple forms easily built locally with local materials; and a flexibility allows expansion and adaptation when needed.

(Double click on the graphic below to increase its size for ease of reading.)

da nang
Source: A CONCEPT OF RESILIENT HOUSING DA NANG, VIETNAM, ISET

The competition involved local architecture schools and professional businesses, and called for climate-adapted shelter designs that are low cost, technically effective and culturally acceptable; the best-judged shelters were the subject of the cost-benefit analysis research.

“Shelter accounts for the highest monetary losses in climate-related disasters and is therefore a significant cost for governments, the private sector and non-governmental organisations working on disaster risk reduction or post-disaster reconstruction,” according to findings from the CDKN project.

The Sheltering From a Gathering Storm: Typhoon Resilience in Vietnam – one of three case studies in this project— focuses on key issues related to housing and providing insights into the economic and non-financial returns of adaptive, resilient shelter designs that take into consideration hazards such as typhoons, flooding and temperature increases.

The two-year research programme targeting peri-urban areas in India, Vietnam and Pakistan –where cities face risks from typhoons, flooding and extreme heat— identified practical solutions for resilient shelters and the long-term economic returns of investing in such shelter structures. The project was led by ISET-International in partnership with Hue University (Vietnam), Gorakhpur Environmental Action Group (India), ISET-Pakistan and ISET-Nepal.

The Vietnam report concludes that some of the innovative housing solutions are affordable and economically viable, and replicable in other regions. In spite of this, since families with low incomes have limited resources, new public policies are needed to provide subsidies, promote micro-insurance, require multi-hazard construction standards, bridge low-income communities with experts, and improve awareness.

In Pakistan, in 2010, about 12 million homes were destroyed or damaged by heavy monsoon rains, according to a report by the Disaster Emergency Committee (DEC). This is especially serious at the household level, since “the shelter is often the single largest asset owned by individuals and families, and the failure of shelters to protect people from hazards is a significant risk to lives and livelihoods,” according to the CDKN project.

Resilient housing is even more important when post-disaster response and relocation is considered. According to HPN, “normally, only 10 to 20% of housing needs are met, frequently with temporary rather than more permanent housing. To cite a few examples: one year after Cyclone Sidr the number of dwellings built by aid agencies in Bangladesh (2007) represented 7% of need; in Padang, Indonesia, after the 2009 earthquake it was 14%; and in the Pakistan floods (2010) it was 2.5%.”

In Da Nang, Vietnam, the community was involved in the “Resilient Housing Design Competition  and participated in voting for the winning designs. “This helped to create awareness of the possibility to build homes which could withstand recurrent storms at little additional cost,” says a CDKN guide[1]. A total of 244 climate-adapted houses were built. And the structures “withstood Typhoon Nari, which hit during the course of the project, and minimised human and economic losses compared with other homes.” The Da Nang city government has since introduced a policy that means all housing plans in the city should apply resilience principles.

[1] The guide’s title is “What does it take to mainstream disaster risk management in key sectors?” And the Da Nang case is already part of the literature on the subject.

Image credit: DFID

FEATURE: The Zambezi – Competing claims and climate change

Climate change is increasing the competition for freshwater resources in the Zambezi River Basin, as CDKN’s Miren Gutierrez reports.

The Zambezi River Basin is home to about 40 million people who depend on the river for fish, drinking water, agricultural irrigation, electricity production, mining, and other uses. Yet until recently, nobody had thought of examining how these competing uses might be impacted by climate change, and how this could affect some of the most important regional energy investments – hydropower plants on this shared river.

One of the challenges has been putting hydropower production in the river basin management equation, says Randall Spalding-Fecher, Project Research Director of ‘Climate Change and Upstream Development Impacts on New Hydropower Projects in the Zambezi’. This project was funded by CDKN and implemented from 2012 to 2014 by a consortium led by University of Cape Town’s Energy Research Centre, including Centre for Energy Environment Engineering Zambia, University of Zambia, University of Eduardo Mondlane, Pöyry, and OneWorld Sustainable Investments.

“While investment in power supply is catching up, the gap between electricity supply and demand in the region persists”, says Mr. Spalding-Fecher. “There is huge potential for Southern Africa to develop hydropower production as part of increasing supply, which has not kept up with population increases and economic growth. Electrification levels in many countries of the region are still some of the lowest in the world and power shortages frequently impair regional economies.”

“There are many hydropower plants in the pipeline, but the planning for these rarely considers climate change in any meaningful way and often ignores potential increases in upstream demand for other uses. Some of these plans are outdated; their designs were formulated based a historical climate that will be quite unlike the future climate”, he adds. “Although there uncertainties in the absolute magnitude of changes, we know that there is the potential for dramatic changes in rainfall patterns in Southern Africa in the next 30 or 40 years, and these hydropower plants are  expensive, long-term commitments.”

Projected climate change, economic and urban development, and population changes are expected to have sweeping consequences in the Zambezi River Basin. That is why, in 2012, CDKN set out to develop a spatial water allocation model for the Zambezi River Basin that would include hydropower plants and other infrastructure vulnerable to climate change (e.g. irrigation).

The idea was to provide scientifically robust and integrated information and tools to allow policy-makers to make informed choices on how they might respond to the impacts of climate change, and how current development plans might need to change. The objective of this work was to assess how upstream changes in climate and irrigation demand would affect water availability for major downstream hydropower plants. The analysis covered major existing plants (including the Kariba dam, on the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe, and the Cahora Bassa dam, in Mozambique), extensions to existing plants, and major new plants (such as the Batoka Gorge dam, also on the Zambia–Zimbabwe border).

The analysis showed that some of these new investments are vulnerable to potential drying climate. Some new investments, such as Batoka Gorge, might struggle to produce their target output under either a wetting or drying climate.  For others, the combined effect of climate change and “prioritising irrigation demand in the upstream catchments could compromise hydropower output”, says a policy brief summarising the findings. “Over time, the combined effects of climate change and the competing uses accumulate, and these effects are more pronounced further downstream in the basin”, says Mr. Spalding-Fecher.

A final report looking at the water supply and demand scenarios warns that, ‘while future climate is subject to scientific uncertainty, the impact of irrigation is a policy uncertainty. This both because the level of irrigation investment is driven by political and economic priorities, but also because the priority given to irrigation demand versus hydropower demand for water is a political decision.’

The report offers scenarios testing the impact of different future climates and levels of irrigation development assuming that both hydropower is prioritised over irrigation, and the opposite. The reason for exploring these alternatives is not to arrive at a single ‘right’ answer, but to show the implications of different decisions and possible futures.

During this first phase of the project, CDKN sought to generate buy-in among stakeholders, including the Zambezi River Authority (ZRA), The Southern African Power Pool (SAPP), and the Zambezi Watercourse Commission (ZAMCOM), and SADC Energy, among others.

“But we knew this was not sufficient. This (first) phase looked at individual plants, but not at the entire power system”, says Spalding-Fecher. Phase 2 will address impacts on national and regional electricity grids, by “linking water modelling with a regional electricity model in a way that is sophisticated enough to include robust projections, but user-friendly for decision-makers”. With World Bank’s financial support, Mr. Spalding-Fecher and his team are leading this second phase.

Challenges ahead…

The Zambezi is the fourth-longest river in Africa, and its basin covers about 1.37 million square kilometres across eight countries: Angola, Botswana, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. Transboundary management of these shared water resources has been an ongoing challenge.

“Water management in the basin is especially difficult because countries have multiple and competing interests; inadequate basin-level institutional structures; institutional, legal, economic, and human resource constraints; poor data collection, poor communication; and inadequate training”, say Christine J. Kirchhoff and Jonathan W. Bulkley in a paper published in 2008.

In fact, one of the main challenges, according to Mr. Spalding-Fecher, is coordination. For example, so far the project has had ‘nointeraction’ with the African Ministers’ Council on Water (AMCOW) –formed in 2002. “There is a long way to go in terms of coordination both across sectors and between different levels of governance (e.g. regional, sub-regional, national, basin/sub-basin)”.

Mr. Spalding-Fecher groups the existing challenges into three categories: institutional, policy-related, and technical.

“More institutional dialogue and communication is needed across sectors and countries. For example, the energy people need to talk to food people, etc.”, he says. “There is some level of dialogue across most sectors, but the energy sector tends to be less connected to any of the others. We need to bridge that gap.” There is the challenge of enabling structures, and bilateral and multilateral agreements, and policy. And there is the need for technical analysis and decision support tools to inform those discussions. Until now, there was some data and modelling available, but “they were not integrated and user-friendly enough to support that work, and were often not in the public domain”.

The solutions need to work across sectors, but also across scales. Mr. Spalding-Fecher mentions one example: “One decision we had to make was whether to look at water use by mining across the entire basin or not. At a local level, it is big issue in the Northern Zambia, where copper is mined. But if you look downstream, the other flows are large enough that mining is unlikely to impact major downstream investments … There is a historic lack of coordination across sectors and across scales. You need to look at how you use regional agreements to facilitate the best choices at national and local levels.”

 

Image: Zambezi, courtesy Mags pics for everyone, flickr.com

INTERVIEW: ‘While the rainforest is politically divided, the biome is one’ – Kakabadse

Yolanda Kakabadse – the indefatigable defender of sustainability – is a former Ecuadorian Minister of Environment and the current International President of WWF. Kakabadse also founded CDKN alliance partner Fundacion Futuro Latinamericano, is a member of CDKN’s Network Council and has been involved in the Amazon Security initiative. In this interview with Miren Gutierrez, she explores the challenges facing Amazonian countries in managing this key resource.

You have been reported as saying that people, and more importantly decision-makers, pay more attention to sudden weather-related disasters than to biodiversity loss in Amazonian countries? Is that so? What can be done?

Members of the Cofán Dureno community in northern Ecuador have suffered numerous problems from oil production on their lands. Laura Mendo, 59, recalls a time when the Cofán wandered freely and lived off the land. Now the rivers are contaminated, crops don't grow, and new illnesses and cancer have been introduced.Sudden weather related disasters create a sense of urgency. They usually come along with casualties, people’s losing their housing and livelihoods, damaged infrastructure and many other impacts that affect a society’s dynamic. These events create commotion and the need for immediate government action; there is no discussion about the importance for decision-makers to pay close attention to weather disasters since they are becoming more frequent and intense with climate change. Implementing adaptation plans that reduce their population’s risk and vulnerability is a priority and action is needed now

The need to urgently tackle biodiversity loss is equally important. Yet, this issue seems to be a laggard in the government priority agenda. Most people do not realise the direct relation between biodiversity and our well-being. Biodiversity plays a key role in creating resilient ecosystems and providing vital services such as water, clean air and climate regulation. Additionally, for thousands of years, species have inspired our cultures and helped us build our identity. A world only inhabited by humans is unviable.

The Stockholm Resilience Centre has identified 9 planetary boundaries within which humans can live safely. According to their studies, we have transgressed the biodiversity boundary to such point that we might be entering the sixth extinction phase in the planet. Sadly, humans drive this one. The latest Living Planet Report by WWF affirms that the state of the world’s biodiversity is worse than ever: during the last 40 years vertebrate species have halved. Most of these losses are occurring in the most biodiverse regions in the world. In the Amazon continent, the report showed an 83% loss of the species analyzed. So if you look at scientific evidence, you will see that it is truly dramatic what is happening with biodiversity and the ecosystems on which they depend; this destruction is one of the most important causes of the devastating sudden weather events we are experiencing. Unfortunately, we are still unable to feel the urgency and this inaction will bring irreversible consequences.

CDKN has reported a ‘human security crisis’ caused by climate change and ‘mismanagement of natural resources’ in the Amazon. As habitat destruction trends interact with climate change, the concern is that the Amazon will be caught up in a set of “feedback loops” that could dramatically speed up the pace of forest loss and degradation and bring the Amazon Biome to a point of no return, reports WWF. How are initiatives such as Amazon Security initiative going to contribute to improving the situation?

Climate change is the greatest challenge we will face in this century. Especially, because it will impact health, water, food and energy security and will increase vulnerability and risk for the region’s growing economies and populations. Climate change will transform the Amazon ecosystem. If climate impacts are not managed to avoid getting caught in a set of feedback loops, the transformation will be amplified until there is a point of no return. If we do nothing, climate change will bring devastating consequences and neither the Amazon nor the world will be as we know it. If we avoid this scenario and work together to build a resilient ecosystem, Amazonia can help us adapt better to climate change.                               

A rainforest not only stores carbon, it has a natural ability to regulate and stabilise the climate. Just imagine the power of Amazonia, the largest rainforest on Earth. Protecting the Amazon can protect the climate. In fact, that is precisely what the Amazon Vision seeks: to strengthen the Protected Areas Systems of Amazonia shared by Brazil, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Peru, Suriname and Venezuela, in order to increase the ecosystem’s resilience to the effects of climate change and to maintain the provision of environmental goods and services benefiting biodiversity, local communities and economies.  The Amazon Security agenda will contribute to tackling climate change since it intends to guarantee water, food, health, energy and of course, climate security throughout the Amazon biome.

What are the concrete obstacles right now to guarantee water security and protection in the Amazon? You have stressed the need to protect and guarantee access to water.

Water is the central and most important resource to guarantee health, energy and food security. A healthy water system is vital for providing clean drinking water, agricultural production and fishery, hydropower generation and regulation of water borne diseases. Water is the nexus that bounds everything. However, agriculture, cattle ranching and energy generation threaten water security through pollution and flow disruption. Hence, all securities are interdependent: If one of them is at risk, probably all of them are.

The Amazon is the largest river system in the world with more than 100.000 km of rivers and streams. The Amazon River on its own discharges an average of 6,300 km3 of water to the Atlantic Ocean annually, nearly 20% of global freshwater that flows into the oceans. Additionally, the rainforest releases 8 trillion tons of water vapor into the atmosphere each year and transports it thousands of kilometers away. Because of that, the Amazon plays a key role regulating the climate system around the continent.

In the midst of abundance, one would think that water security is not an issue but in fact, it is a serious one. Increasingly, water is facing more and more threats. Currently, more than 250 new hydropower dams are planned for the Amazon region. If they all go forward as planned, only three free-flowing tributaries of the Amazon River will remain, compromising the river network and the provision of ecosystem services to the societies and economies in the region. Besides, mining exploitation and pesticides from agriculture pollute the river system with heavy metals and toxins that are ingested by fish and later by humans. Furthermore, increased deforestation and land use change impact water availability since the forest recycles nearly 25% of the water it receives. All of these pressures are the main obstacles to guarantee water protection in the Amazon and hence, all other vital securities.

Specifically, how does the initiative recommend responding to extreme droughts that were once unthinkable in this region?

Extreme droughts that were once unthinkable in the region are now more frequent, intense and unpredictable. They are exacerbated by climate change and by the fact that the forest can no longer respond to this phenomenon and regenerate itself in the same way it used to. Future scenarios are less optimistic: it is projected that if warming trends continue, Amazonia will suffer from severe droughts every other year by 2025.

In the last decade the most severe droughts occurred in 2005 and 2010. During the first, 1.9 million km2 of the Brazilian Amazon were affected causing crop losses of 139 million USD, an 18.5% increase in healthcare costs due to more respiratory diseases and other environmental and social losses valued in 100 million USD. During the latter, 3 million km2 of rainforest were severely affected and economic losses were even worse. Forests fires increased dramatically (200% in 2010) accelerating forest degradation and leaving the Amazon even more vulnerable to mitigate the drought.

How to deal with extreme natural phenomenon such as droughts? Not difficult: protect the ecosystem so it can regenerate itself without fatigue. In order to do so, we must halt deforestation. Currently, the Amazon is the biggest deforestation front in the world and interventions are urgently needed to prevent a large-scale, irreversible ecological disaster. WWF estimates that 27 per cent of the Amazon biome will be without trees by 2030 if the current rate of deforestation continues. Without forest cover, droughts will increase and its devastating effects will worsen.

The majority of the Amazonian forest is contained within Brazil (60% of the rainforest), followed by Peru with 13%, Colombia with 10%, and with minor amounts in Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana. Is this variety a political challenge? Is there a good level of cooperation between these countries? Do they share similar concerns or competing demands?                                             

While the rainforest is politically divided, the biome is one. What happens in a country will have an impact in all Amazonia. Therefore, it is a common interest of all Amazonian nations to manage the rainforest sustainably since they have a joint dependence on its natural resources and a joint exposure to regional-scale risks.

We know that water, health, food and energy security are interdependent and that they are all vulnerable to what happens in nine different countries. This seems as a huge challenge. Actually, it is. However, it is also an opportunity to strengthen public policies at a regional level. The atmosphere, rivers, species are indifferent to political boundaries and that is why all nine countries must have a Pan-Amazon vision rather than a narrow country focused one. This means, sharing information to help informed decision making, mapping and monitoring areas where water, energy, food or health security are most vulnerable, creating a regional development agenda, strengthening protected areas systems, having common basin management policies and a joint zero net deforestation target, among others. Only by having a common and coherent agenda they will be able to overcome all the pressures the Amazon is facing and ensure the wellbeing of the region.                                                                              

Climate change acting in combination with biodiversity loss has had social impacts already. One of the conclusions of a report called ‘Amazonia Security Agenda’, published by CDKN and Fundación Futuro Latinoamericano, is that ‘widespread inequity in Amazonia will be exacerbated by threats to the securities, and is likely to lead to increased social conflict unless addressed.’ Is there any plan to address this challenge?

A huge amount of wealth is being produced in the Amazon: oil extraction, mining, agriculture production, cattle ranching and hydropower produce billions of dollars in revenues annually. For instance, in 2012 Brazil received US$8.8 billion a year from iron extraction in the Pará state, Bolivia US$3.8 billion for natural gas and Ecuador US$8.9 billion for oil in 2010. Yet, little of that wealth stays in the Amazon. Ironically, in the land of plenty, local communities suffer from high insecurity. Despite being surrounded by water, few Amazonians have access to a proper water supply, treatment and a basic sanitation infrastructure. Hence, they are particularly vulnerable to pollution and to everything that comes along with it: disease, malnutrition, among others.

According to a report published by A Articulação Regional Amazônica (ARA)  http://araamazonia.org/: 60% of people in the Bolivian Amazon, 37% in Ecuador, 23% in Peru and 17% in Brazil were estimated to be below the extreme poverty line in 2011. Inequity and vulnerability will accentuate if increasing threats to food, health water and energy securities are not properly addressed. Changing this trend without shifting the development paradigm will be impossible. All Amazon countries should adopt policies that secure equal and sustainable access to food, water, energy and land. Indigenous consultation rights should be respected before approving a development project that will impact directly or indirectly their territories. According to the Amazon Environmental Information Network (RAISG), 11% of oil blocks and 18% of mining concessions overlapped recognised indigenous territories in 2012.

If these challenges are not taken serious at a local, national and regional level, land conflicts will increase, inequity will rise and the Amazon ecosystem will have to bear even more pressures affecting everyone who benefits from its services but especially the most vulnerable and poor.

This is a crucial year in the life on this planet: in December we will see the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris and the UN summit for the adoption of the post-2015 development agenda in New York. What do you expect, realistically speaking?

We are witnessing a great and inevitable transition towards a sustainable development model. Indeed, 2015 will be a landmark year in this process. In September, countries will adopt the post-2015 development agenda and the sustainable development goals at the UN Summit. Three months later, Paris will host the Climate Change Conference (COP21) where a new global agreement will be signed. These two historic events will set a roadmap for that great transition.

The 17 Sustainable Development Goals will set targets for governments and redirect public policies and investment towards accomplishing them. The same will occur with the new climate agreement. We expect the Paris agreement to set commitments ambitious enough to ensure we stay below 2ºC warming, the temperature limit for a safe climate future. It will send a clear message to all the stakeholders in the world: climate change is a top priority in the world and everyone must do its fair share to address this global problem. Governments must take seriously the path towards a low carbon economy, business must lower their emissions while becoming energy efficient, investors must divest from fossil fuels and civil society must engage and change their carbon intensive lifestyle. That is what I expect: for everyone to be aware that the world is changing and that we must take part in that inevitable transition.

Visit the website of CDKN’s partner, the Global Canopy Programme, to view films on Amazonia and the climate security agenda, narrated by Yolanda Kakabadse.

 

Image credit: Rainforest Action Network