Friday, 28 October 2016

Dancing for environmental change and climate action

David Katoatau dances after his last weight-lifting attempt
Photo credit: Stoyan Nenov / Reuters

Weight-lifter turned dancer

You probably heard of or read about David Katoatau who danced during the recent Rio Olympics to let the whole world know about his country (Kiribati)’s plight. His somewhat well-crafted moves are shown in the video below.

Unlike the usual victory dances we are used to watching in most Olympics, David danced even after failing at his third and last weightlifting attempt. This must have sounded like the most absurd reaction to 'failure'.

Problem-Induced dance?

It later turned out that the dance was actually for a noble cause. Just last year, David made a passionate appeal through a letter to the nations of the worlds to save his beloved country of Kiribati.

The republic of Kiribati, which constitutes 33 atolls, is ranked by United Nations among the least developed countries of the world, and hailed as the only country in the pacific that spans all the hemispheres – North, South, West and East. The latest data (2015) from World Bank shows that its population is approximately 112, 423 and it continues to grow at an average of 1.8 per cent per year, down from 2.2 per cent in 2008.Due to the dominance of atolls in Kiribati, the ecological and human systems are highly sensitive to any changes in the environment.  The growing population immensely relies on ecosystem services especially those derived from the sea like fishing and tourism, as source of livelihood. The video below summarizes the plight of Kiribati.

How many more dances?

The Pacific Climate Change Science Program 2014 report documented observations and projections for Kiribati; 
  • Temperatures will continue to rise and warming is highly likely to hit a record 1.2 degrees by 2030
  • In a scenario of increased greenhouse gas emissions, most models project an increase in the long-term average rainfall
  • General increase in extreme temperatures, precipitation and drought (medium confidence)
  • Increased acidification as a result of the increased concentration of carbon-dioxide in the atmosphere and subsequent warming of the oceans
  • Very high confidence for projected rise in sea level especially in the 21st century
  • Spatial variations in projected wind-waves
In agreeing with the above projections, Wyett,2014 suggests that an 'escape route' grounded on a number of policy options should be established. The author also proposes planned migration to nearby countries like Australia and New Zealand need, population regulation, preservation of the national heritage, and mobilization of funds.  These suggestions are consisted with Donner and Webber, 2014 's recommendations who underscores the need for periodical review of decisions that are backed up with reliable data, observations and predictions.
"I beg the countries of the world to see what is happening to Kiribati. The simple truth is that we do not have the resources to save ourselves. we will be the first to go. It will be the extinction of a race. Open your eyes and look to the other low lying level islands around the Pacific - they will soon fall with us. "David Katoatau, 2015.

Friday, 21 October 2016

Can the New Urban Agenda reduce loss and damage in cities?

Good news?

So finally the New Urban Agenda has been adopted by countries adding onto the list of international agreements that have been reached within the last nearly 12 months! The recently celebrated first anniversary since the 2030 Agenda for sustainable development (SDGs) was adopted, the Paris Agreement on climate change that continues to be ratified by parties, and the Sendai Framework Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) 2015-2030. The New Urban Agenda outlines provisions that would ensure, among other things, integrated urban planning that includes climate change aspects.

Urban population at a glance…

"By 2050 the world urban population is expected to nearly double, making urbanization one of the 21st century’s most transformative trends."  
The distribution of the  regions' population from 1950–2010, with 2030 and 2050 projections are summarized below;

 Source: EM-DAT: The OFDA / CRED International Disaster Database as compiled in IFRC, 2010 

A few more facts from the UNHABITAT report

  • Urban population likely to double by 2050
  • Roughly 7 out of every 10 urban dwellers are found in developing world accounting for 82% of the world population
  • Cities in Africa among the fastest growing in the world
  • Latin America is the most urbanized with 80% of population living in urban areas. This is expected to be 87% by 2050.
  • European population increasing at an average of 0.67%
  • Africa and Asia are ranked least urbanized despite the high urban population in urban areas.

How are cities vulnerable to loss and damage due to climate change?

The greenhouse gas emissions are highest in cities due to exponential growth in industrialization (hence intensive use of energy), human population and related activities.  If we treat cities as closed systems with inlets but no outlets, you can picture a situation where the system itself is overstretched to its limits. The unprecedented increase in urban population and the subsequent overutilization of resources, especially in least developing countries, by no means places enormous pressure on urban resources and the capacity of existing systems to cope or respond to any uncertainties.

UNHABITAT and International Federation of the Red Cross reports agree that cities, especially those that are unplanned, continue to be susceptible to natural disasters like flooding, extreme increase in temperature, drought and earthquakes. The table below summarizes the major losses and damages faced in some of cities around the world due to natural disasters.

Can the New Urban Agenda address loss and damage in cities?

Despite the fact that the New Urban Agenda is non-binding and lacks clear strategy of tracking the progress, a number of provisions address key climate change and DRR concerns. For instance, the agenda envisages
"cities and human settlements that;…adopt and implement disaster risk reduction and management, reduce vulnerability, build resilience and responsiveness to natural and man-made hazards, and foster mitigation and adaptation to climate change … protect, conserve, restore, and promote their ecosystems, water, natural habitats, and biodiversity, minimize their environmental impact, and change to sustainable consumption and production patterns."
Perhaps some of the great environmental scores of this agenda is that it acknowledges threats posed by climate change and its related risk, and recognizes that vulnerabilities vary depending on various demographic characteristics. The agenda commits to promoting resilience within cities and reducing GHG emissions in line with Sendai Framework and the Paris Agreement respectively, and further to support “adaptation plans, policies, programmes, and actions that build resilience of urban inhabitants”

For cities to thrive, the provisions in the agenda  need to be implemented by countries. The Sendai framework emphasizes that;
“More dedicated action needs to be focused on tackling underlying disaster risk drivers, such as the consequences of poverty and inequality, climate change and variability, unplanned and rapid urbanization, poor land management and compounding factors such as demographic change, weak institutional arrangements, non-risk-informed policies, lack of regulation and incentives for private DRR investment, complex supply chains, limited availability of technology, unsustainable uses of natural resources, declining ecosystems, pandemics and epidemics.”
However, the resilience of cities also go a step further. Childers et al, 2014 argue that there is need for transformative integration where urban design meets the ecological realities of the time. The authors believe that such a model will enhance resilience of urban dwellers in the face of climatic hazards and future uncertainties. Taking the case of Indian cities, for instance, the animation below summarizes the how cities can build resilience.

Thursday, 13 October 2016

Unpacking Loss and Damage due to Climate Change

It is no longer news that the Climate Change trajectory is incredibly unpleasant and scary. The human and ecological systems around the world are faced with constant perturbations as a result of the changing climate. As pointed out in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) Fifth Assessment Report(AR5), the global surface temperatures have been on the rise since 19th century, with the 2000’s being the warmest years on record. Just recently, the atmosphere entered into an unfamiliar territory where the level of carbon dioxide (CO2) hit a record 400 parts per million in 4 million years. 

The results of such changes are further seen and felt in the day to day life. The risk of occurrence, frequency and intensity of extreme climate events like drought, heavy precipitation, floods and heat waves continue to be on the rise. The increasing climatic risks further and constantly expose vulnerable human and ecological systems to loss and damage. 

A boy quenching his thirst in Turkana, 
one of the arid areas in Kenya.

 What is Loss and Damage?

The recently released United Nations (UN) Environment report defines Loss and Damage as “the adverse effects of climate-related stressors on natural and human systems that cannot be, or have not been, avoided through mitigation or managed through adaptation efforts”.  The report extensively outlines a few case studies on loss and damage due to extreme weather events in Africa, Asia, Europe and the Americas. These are just but a tip of the iceberg – cases of loss and damage due to climate change and spread wide and deep. Verheyen (2012) argues that while mitigation and adaptation remain the most important actions for preventing future adverse effects, researchers, practitioners and policy-makers have realized that future losses and damages may be unavoidable. Furthermore, research has revealed that despite the on-going mitigation efforts, limits to adaptation are already being reached.

In highlighting the Local-level evidence of loss and damage from nine vulnerable countries, Warner and van der Geest (2013) conclude that loss and damage occurs beyond adaptation – either when adaptation measures are insufficient, not implemented, or impossible to implement in order to avoid the impacts of climate change; or when adaption measures themselves have costs that cannot be recovered, or in turn make people more vulnerable. It is also worth noting that loss and damage has two distinct faces – economic and non-economic losses – with the former referring to the loss of resources, goods and services that are commonly traded in markets due to their monetary value, and the later referring to those losses that are not commonly traded in markets, for example, loss of life, livelihood, territory, cultural heritage, biodiversity and ecosystem services.

Where it all began...

Loss and damage as a concept emerged from the international negotiations that resulted in the establishment of the UNFCCC back in 1991, when Vanuatu, on behalf of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), made a proposal for an international insurance mechanism to help them deal with future losses associated with sea level rise. Unfortunately, the proposed mechanism was not incorporated into the UNFCCC as the negotiations focused mainly on mitigation. However, following the findings from the IPCC’s Fourth Assessment in 2007 indicating that mitigation and adaptation alone cannot avoid all the impacts of climate change, the concept of loss and damage was then introduced in the 13th UNFCCC Conference of the Parties in 2007, in the context of disaster reduction strategies. The Warsaw International Mechanism (WIM) on Loss and Damage was then established in 2013 to address the many unresolved issues around the concept. The Paris Agreement adopted in December 2015 recognizes the importance of averting, minimizing and addressing loss and damage due to climate change through close collaboration between the Warsaw International Mechanism and relevant entities.

Dr Saleemul Huq talks about Loss and Damage and the “Road to Paris”

The policy environment

Dealing with loss and damage substantially depends on enabling polices at all levels - sub-regional, regional and global. Among the major policy instruments that contribute towards addressing loss and damage are the Sendai Framework on Disaster Risk Reduction, the Paris Agreement, Sustainable Development Goals and the New Urban Agenda set to be agreed upon in Quito, Ecuador during the Habitat III Conference. We can all agree that in the end, its the actions taken by countries that will determine whether the human and ecological systems will withstand the loss and damage force.

What next?

This blog is an assessment towards a Module in MSc Climate Change (GEOG3057: Global Environmental Change). In the subsequent posts I will endeavor to document cases, news and analysis of loss and damage issues around the world in the context of climate change. Keep reading