Colin McQuistan

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I am the Climate Change and Disaster Risk Reduction senior adviser at Practical Action working in the Policy and Practice team. I am responsible for our global development work ensuring that we are not only adapting to the challenge of climate change and reducing risk, but that this is done in a way that builds the resilience of current and future populations. Practical Action work in five regions with a focus on the role of technology in reducing poverty, specifically the concept of technology justice how to ensure the design, development and mobilisation of technology is responding to the key development challenges.Before I joined Practical Action I was the Senior Adviser, Agriculture and Climate Change at Oxfam GB. I have over 30 years professional experience in the UK and overseas, and spent 20 years living and working in South East Asia working on a variety of development projects with local NGO’s, Governments and International agencies, including 6 years with WWF Greater Mekong as regional policy advisor. This provided direct field experience exploring community development and conservation through innovative approaches to sustainable development. Areas of special interest include systems approaches to development, sustainability, the challenge of Climate Change and building resilience in development.I am the chair of the U.K. Interagency Resilience Learning group coordinated by DFID and BOND made up of over 100 representatives of civil society, academia and the private sector exploring the challenge of resilience in development. I am also a member of the Rockefeller Community of Practice on measuring resilience a global network exploring the challenge of resilience measurement and a technical mentor to the Waterwindow the flood specific component of the Rockefeller global resilience partnership.

Recommended reading: http://www.practicalaction.org

Posts by Colin

  • Making climate Information services work for poor farmers in Africa?

    Cape Town, South Africa, Cape Town
    February 23rd, 2017

    Next week in Cape Town the African climate and weather forecasting community will gather for the fifth global conference on Climate Information Services (CIS). A conference organised to share knowledge between climatologists, meteorologists and practitioners in key sectors such as agriculture, water, and health etc., sectors that can be better planned and managed if access to up to the minute climate information is available. Over the last decade there has been considerable investment in improving the technology, equipment and capacity of meteorology and forecasting departments across Africa. This is in recognition that accurate weather and climate information can deliver tangible benefits. However, despite these investment the benefits have largely been recovered at scale with less impact on the ground. The poor and marginalised communities, those with the most to gain from this information have largely failed to see these benefits. Therefore, Practical Action has been invited to attend the conference and present our innovative approach to CIS systems mapping that aims to respond to recognised deficiencies in existing CIS systems;

    1. Firstly, coming up with a simple system mapping process that is understood, owned and works for actors and for beneficiaries;
    2. Making sure that the system map can adapt CIS delivery in such a way that complements (and not replaces) existing local, indigenous knowledge systems; and
    3. That the CIS reaches those who would benefit the most, those facing famine if crops fail, those on the frontline of climate disaster.
    94% of farming in sub Saharan Africa is rain fed and highly susceptible to drought

    94% of farming in sub Saharan Africa is rain fed and highly susceptible to drought

    Practical Action has spent many years developing and perfecting the Participatory Market Systems Development (PMSD) approach, one of the central components of PMSD is co-producing a map of the value chain for the selected commodity. For mapping climate information, we have refined the methodology replacing the value chain with the information services chain. In discussion with partners we have focussed the CIS system map on the network that connects CIS producers with CIS users. CIS producers are the operators of weather stations, satellites etc. with CIS users being rain fed farmers. Existing challenges include;

    • Mapping how information moves across this system;
    • What are the boundaries to this system;
    • What are the nodes in the information service network, and;
    • What are the flows of information that take place.

    The value of a systems map is that it not only identifies existing blockages and barriers, but also allows different users to interrogate the system to identify alternative pathways which might deliver improvements. Finally, the systems map is inclusive allowing non-traditional and informal components of the system to be included.

    Generic map of a Climate Information Services system

           Generic map of what a Climate Information Services System map may look like

    We recognise that CIS on its own may not be practical or valuable, so we will be looking at information carriers, alternative systems such as information on markets prices that could be linked to CIS information to enhance their delivery. In all cases we will use the CIS system maps as a planning and learning tool. Therefore the map once produced will not remain static but it will live and be owned by the systems actors and be refined as we learn more about how they system behaves and adapts over time. We recognise that we are working in a space where there is already a lot going on, so we need to ensure that our systems approach is open and inclusive of these other initiative so that they are complementary and we can learn and share between them.

    Access to reliable climate information should make investment in market opportunities less risky

    Access to reliable climate information should make investment in market opportunities less risky

    What are we aiming for? We are looking at making improvements to the CIS system. Making sure that information reaches rain fed smallholder farmers in drought prone areas and enables them to make the right short and long term choices about their farming practices. It is not enough to just supply the information, they also need to be able to act on it. Therefore if we make the existing system operate more efficiently or faster, but the farmers do not benefit then we will have failed. This is a unique focus for this project and challenges us not to think of what changes can we make to improve the system, but what are the systemic changes that need to take place to benefit rain fed farmers (CIS information users).

    For more information on the conference follow @ColinMcQuistan, #ICCS5 and @maryallenballo

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  • Can Climate Information Services be mapped? 

    February 2nd, 2017

    “This is one time where television really fails to capture the true excitement of a large squirrel predicting the weather”.  Groundhog day 1993

    Practical Action has been approached by a consortia of partners to explore the issue of Climate Information Services in West Africa. We have been posed the question “Is it possible to map the Climate Information Services system in the region and would mapping help to make the system work better for rain fed marginalised farmers?” This is partly to respond to the challenge of why despite investment in rolling out modern forecasting systems on the continent, farmers especially small holder farmers fail to benefit from these investments? Why is crop productivity still lagging behind other regions and why is food and nutritional security still highly susceptible to seasonal and shorter term weather events?

    We are interested in mapping the CIS system for both long range forecasts of the season ahead as well as shorter duration forecast of the week or day ahead.  These forecasts must consider and accurately reflect weather, climate variability and must also anticipate the uncertainty surrounding the consequences of climate change for the region.

    Weather, climate variability and climate change

    Weather, climate variability and climate change

    Accurate seasonal forecasts can help farmers make the right crop choice for the subsequent growing season, for example if the predictions are for a wetter or dryer season then the farmer can adjust the seed they purchase to grow crops best suited to the expected conditions. By contrast accurate weekly and daily weather forecasts can enable farmers to choose the right husbandry activities for the crop at that particular moment in time. For example advance warning of heavy rain may prompt a farmer to speed up harvest to prevent storm damage to a standing crop or perhaps for a herder to find safe high ground prior to heavy rains leading to flash flooding.

    However in both cases there are a number of issues that need to be considered to make the forecast practical. These include;

    Believable, currently many farmers have zero or limited access to climate information services and have for generations relied on traditional knowledge systems.  These include observational information on the behaviour of species, timing of events or observation of atmospheric conditions.  It is vital that modern climate information services respect these indigenous approaches and compliment or reinforce these messages. Over time as reliability increases farmers can make a shift in trust and belief, but even in the developed world many farmers still look to local signs to interpret the outcome or as back up to the information provided by the climate information service for their locality.

    Actionable, the farmer needs to be able to make a change based on the information they receive.  For a farmer to switch crops based on a seasonal forecast they will need access to those alternative crops, not just access to seeds but also the activities that support these crops, such as technical knowledge, extension services and other supporting services. If the information cannot be acted upon by the farmer with the resources they have to hand it is next to useless.

    Understandable, providing blanket forecasts will not be useful if they cannot relate the forecast information to their individual situation. As we move down to finer scales weather forecasts become less reliable and it is therefore vital that CIS delivery is tailored to what we know about local conditions. We are all aware of the anomalies in the landscape and these are usually best known by local people. So tailoring the forecast to the local conditions will be vital.  Related to this is the need to make forecasts practicable to the diversity of users in the area. Forecasts need to explain the application of what the information means for different farming systems. The forecast may predict favourable condition for certain crops or livestock species but may herald warnings for others, so tailoring the advice to specific cropping recommendations will make the climate service more user friendly.

    Rough outline of what a Climate Information Service system might look like

    Rough outline of what a Climate Information Service system might look like

    We have started to elaborate a participatory mapping approach which builds on the success of our Participatory Markets Systems Development (PMSD) approach. This has been adapted to map not a value chain but to focus on the transmission of climate services from information sources to information recipients. We will aim to map the transmission of information across the system as it is converted from one form of information to another and turned into action through different service providers.  Crucial to the success of this approach will be the need to make it bottom up and as participatory as possible.

    There are plenty of other issues that we will consider as this project develops. For example the use of SMS messaging and other types of Information Communication Technologies to disseminate climate information.  However, one of the most important aspects that we are hoping the system approach will help us understand is the role and potential for feedback loops. Established Climate Information Service systems work because they are reliable and trustworthy. This is only possible if regular experiential learning and feedback takes place between the end users and the CIS system components. We are excited to be a part of this project, but recognise that there is a lot still to learn about climate information services and what makes them tick.

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  • Now we have ratified the Paris Agreement what next?

    November 18th, 2016

    Today, the UK ratified the Paris climate agreement[1]. This means that we join a group of over 110 countries that have so far ratified a global agreement in record time, less than one year since its inception[2].

    The UK delegation stand at the recent COP22 in Marrakesh

    The UK delegation stand at the recent COP22 in Marrakesh

    Last week on the 14th November, the Prime Minister, made a call. She said “Britain has ‘historic chance’ to give leadership to world[3] Today, in Marrakesh, the climate change negotiations enter their final day, with the negotiations having been laboured unlike in Paris and Lima before them. In Marrakesh there has been a lack of urgency, leadership and as a result the negotiations have stalled in lengthy discussion around protocol and rules. Bogged down around difficult issues such as Loss and Damage, or how to respond to the immense challenge of climate change particularly for those who are least able to respond themselves. This is an issue that chimes well with the PMs words last week, “To be the true global champion of free trade in this new modern world, we also need to do something to help those families and communities who can actually lose out from it”. I know she wasn’t specifically referring to climate change, but we have long recognised the link between climate change and the economy and how our collective failure to act on climate impacts the global economy.

    Loss and Damage was added as a third pillar under Article 8 of the Paris Agreement. In responding to the Prime Minister’s call for leadership, in the climate arena there is no better issue where our collective skills could deliver real progress. This is something we have done before. In 2006 the government of the day published the Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change[4]. For the UK government to take leadership – climate leadership – we could be instrumental in breaking the log jam on Loss and Damage. Currently Loss and Damage is stuck in a blame game between developed countries seen as responsible for causing the problem and developing countries seen as suffering from the problem – we must move away from this polarisation, but how?

    TheresaCurrently the UK provides 5.8 Billion pounds in global assistance to tackle climate change. According to policy, half of this is for mitigation. Investment in developing countries to deliver renewable energy, energy efficiency and transform the power sector. This leaves 2.9 billion to respond to the very real threat of climate change, half should be invested in adaptation to changing climates and the remainder dedicated to support the most vulnerable people for who climate change adaptation is already too late.

    For many people in small island states losing their land to sea level rise is a real problem; or to the multitude of small holder farmers forced to give up on agriculture due to seasonal shifts in climatic conditions, and we must not forget the voiceless the species, habitats and the ecosystem services they provide, upon which our daily lives depend; for food, freshwater, clean air and recreational space. The poorest and most vulnerable are running out of choices, these people are driving political and social change around the world and as we see reported in the news daily they form the climate migrants threatening to imbalance global systems as they seek refuge around the globe.

    On Africa Day, 

    This situation could be reversed if we could progress with the Loss and Damage debate. This is where the UK could take decisive action and be recognised for our bold commitment to not only act on climate change but also to provide a long term resilient solution to a global problem, one our close economic and political partners are struggling with too. Here at the negotiations we hear on an almost daily basis the challenge of how to unlock the missing trillions of global investments and how can they be diverted to drive climate smart investment?

    First demonstrate UK commitment to the Loss and Damage debate by taking forward the proposal for a centre of excellence in the City of London on climate insurance, but broaden this away from purely insurance based solutions to more holistic investments. Insurance we know is unaffordable to the people that Loss and Damage needs to help. Now is the time for leadership, come up with some innovative suggestions on how to finance Loss and Damage with the deadline for submissions the 27th February 2017. We know if it’s not led, the process will move slowly and could be framed under a context we are not comfortable with.

    Secondly – this is why a clear distinction between Loss and Damage and Adaptation and Mitigation is urgently needed. The UK has significant leadership in the thought debate related to climate change, so we are well placed to influence. A definition of a clear space for Loss and Damage would halt the waste of time spent arguing about “what it is” and “what it is not”. This would focus efforts on developing solutions. Defining the space for Loss and Damage brings together what are currently different perspectives. Different perspectives imply different priorities so coherence on Loss and Damage would help consolidate action.

    Session photo

    And finally, the missing piece of the jigsaw the missing trillions. Current UK investment exposure is considerable, especially in respect to retirement and insurance funds exposed to increasing climate, social and political risk. These funds well directed could be catalytic in transforming the role of private sector investment in driving climate smart development. Exploring innovative finance by eradicating outdated fossil fuel subsidies or from new sources from the aviation or shipping industries. We need a global finance system that works for the planet. The UK could contribute to develop pro poor and climate smart investment principles, which deliver for the planet and for the poorest, therefore building the ecological and social stability we all need.

    The UK Is well placed to contribute to moving forward the Loss and Damage debate as we have the technical and thought leadership necessary to explore the debate in detail. This was something that Practical Action along with the MET Office, Oxford University, Lund University and IIASA did in Marrakesh last week in our side event titled “Loss and Damage; Perspectives and options”. We have the global skills in innovative financing, insurance and investment necessary to unlock the missing trillions, and finally whatever we recommend, Loss and Damage has got to be about more than just insurance.

    [1] http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-38014611

    [2] http://unfccc.int/paris_agreement/items/9444.php

    [3] http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-37966519

    [4] https://web.archive.org/web/20081211182219/http://www.hm-treasury.gov.uk/stern_review_final_report.htm

     

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  • Insurance is no silver bullet

    November 16th, 2016

    Parties will be leaving Marrakech with plenty of work ahead to enhance action and support in order to address loss and damage. With key decisions now reached, let’s take a moment to look at the main tool in the loss and damage toolbox: insurance.Marrakesh COP

    The ability to cope with loss and damage from climate change is going to involve financial mechanisms, including insurance. ECO hopes and expects that many more vulnerable communities will be supported in their efforts to cope with the losses and damages they are already facing. Such support must be guided by pro-poor principles including accessibility, participation of affected communities in designing the support, and the integration of insurance within a comprehensive risk management approach. Importantly, those who have contributed fewer emissions to global carbon pollution cannot and should not be expected to pay for protection against mounting climate risks. In other words, an equitable and rights-based approach to insurance must include financial support to make premiums affordable.

    flooding in SiragonjBut let us get one thing straight: it’s not possible to insure ourselves out of the climate change problem!

    So whilst ECO strongly welcomes efforts to expand climate risk insurance, we urge Parties to waste no time in developing a comprehensive approach to loss and damage that includes raising finance, addressing slow-onset events and non-economic losses, and a long-term, rights-based approach to migration, mobility and displacement, in the context of climate change.

    The framework for the Warsaw International Mechanism’s five-year work plan shows us where we need to start. ECO urges Parties to give the WIM the resources and support it needs to expedite its work, and become an effective tool for addressing loss and damage in all its dimensions. 2016 very sadly gave us many examples of loss and damage, so it’s now vital for the world to get cracking!

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  • Why is Loss and Damage critical?

    Marrakesh, Morocco, Marrakesh
    November 6th, 2016

    Or why is Loss and Damage different from Adaptation and Mitigation and why serious political will to integrate Loss and Damage in the global climate regime will be vital for the success of the COP22 climate change negotiations.

    Marrakesh COPThis week the world gathers in Marrakesh for the 22nd Conference of Parties (COP22). This is the next instalment in the annual climate change negotiations at which governments as parties, alongside observers in the form of academics, NGO’s, civil society, community representatives and the private sector gather to report on progress to tackle the challenge of climate change. Apart for a few politicians that shall remain nameless, most global politicians, their political parties and the overwhelming majority of scientists recognise that climate change is a very real danger to our lifestyles, wellbeing, and if we fail to act decisively our future survival. So the COP22 talks in Marrakesh are a timely opportunity to check on progress.

    Last Friday 4th November, the world ratified the Paris agreement. The speed at which the world has come behind this agreement has been unprecedented. But now the difficult work begins. Putting the Paris Agreement into practice.

    Mitigation, here progress has been strongest, efforts to transition to carbon neutral energy systems, along with meeting energy poverty targets has continued to accelerate. However still approximately 3 billion people have either inadequate, or simply non-existent, access to modern, safe, affordable, and appropriate energy while the imbalance in subsidies between fossil fuel technologies and renewables technologies requires further work. Last month Practical Action released the 2016 Poor Peoples Energy Outlook (PPEO) documenting the opportunity for international attention to respond to the needs of those lacking access to modern, safe, affordable, and appropriate energy.

    PPEO

    Adaptation, has finally started to be prioritised with national adaptation plans to tackle the consequences of climate change being shifted from cherry picked lists of isolated programmes to more holistic assessments of the adaptation priorities across national development systems. Practical Action’s work in Nepal supporting the government develop a national adaptation plan is an example of our contribution to this work. But problems still remain especially trying to understand the scientific, technological and socio-political limits to adaptation possibilities complicated by future climate uncertainty.

    One of the most significant achievements of the Paris COP was the separation of Loss and Damage in its own article under the agreement. Article 8 resolved the question of whether or not Loss and Damage was a part of adaptation and therefore belonged under the Cancun Adaptation Framework. Article 8 creates a separate pillar of climate change actions. The third pillar of the agreement formally recognises Loss and Damage and the need to put in place separate measures to coordinate global efforts to respond for those who are already experiencing the irreversible impacts of climate change.

    Climate change is driven by greenhouse gasses produced as a result of human activities. We have already pumped loads of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and we cannot suck up all that extra CO2, NOx, SOx, CH4 etc. overnight, so we are going to need to put in place measures that help those people and communities that have been irreversibly impacted by this pollution to survive and thrive. These greenhouse gasses are causing temperature rise, changes in rainfall patterns, seasonal shifts, acidification of seas and oceans and rising sea levels.

    Loss and Damage is about helping the poorest and most vulnerable respond to the consequence of these changes. Communities around the world are losing land to increased erosion and sea level rise, they are facing shifts in seasons and cropping patterns which are forcing major shifts in livelihoods and occupations, cultural resources are being lost or eroded and ecosystems are facing major impacts. At COP22 we need to put in place concrete measures that help them cope and transform to survive. It’s not just about putting things back as they were, it’s about helping the most vulnerable shift to more sustainable lives and livelihoods. Insurance may be part of the solution but it will never finance the sorts of transformational shifts that will be necessary to respond to Loss and Damage at the scale and intensity that is becoming necessary.

    Extreme poor group of Gaibanda district, Bangladesh

    As eloquently articulated in the Stern report, the cheapest and most sensible response to climate change is to maximize mitigation efforts. At the same time we must not forget to put in place measures to help adapt where it is possible. But perhaps most importantly, for those where it is already too late the global community must act swiftly. They must put in place measures that support the financing, technological support and capacity building necessary to enable the transformational shifts that will be necessary to support the wellbeing of the millions of people for which climate action is already too late. If we fail to do this it will not only be climate injustice, it will also mean significant upheaval, forced migration, social and political turmoil, with the price for failure being paid by our children and future generations.

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  • Climate change is fuelling extreme weather events

    October 13th, 2016

    On International Day for Disaster Reduction, Hurricane Matthew is a timely reminder of the consequences of inaction on climate change. Changing climates exacerbated by years of ineffective development generates risk for everyone, especially the poorest and most vulnerable those least responsible for the climate change problem.

    We have all seen the news of the devastation that Hurricane Matthew has wrecked on the Caribbean. Matthew, which spawned late in the hurricane season, first struck Jamaica, Haiti and Cuba before turning its attention to the more prepared population in the south eastern United States, and despite diminishing in intensity it has still caused massive devastation and resulted in huge losses.

    Empty shelves as in the US as people stock up on supplies

    Empty shelves as in the US as people stock up on supplies

    So what was so special about Hurricane Matthew? Matthew was a multiple record-breaking weather event. Matthew first became a Category 3 (major hurricane) on September 30, and maintained that status for a remarkable period of time. Making it the longest-lived category 4-5 hurricane in the Eastern Caribbean. Not only did Hurricane Matthew end a nine-year streak without an Atlantic basin category 5 hurricane, it did so at an unusually far south latitude. Its rapid intensification was not forecast by any model, highlighting the need to revise our models based upon climate uncertainty and recognition that warming is making storms more intense and less predictable. Matthew along with the developing storm Nicole both showed very rapid rates of escalation, totally unexpected for storms so late in the season.

     

    Impacts in the USA and Haiti following Hurricane Matthew

    Impacts in the Haiti and USA following Hurricane Matthew

    We need to start thinking seriously about reversing climate change and we need to start preparing for the worst. This is why Disaster Risk Reduction is vital. Preparedness and response should be a last resort, we must focus on preventing disasters before they happen. We have got to get better at assessing risk and we have got to stop building things in the wrong way and in the wrong place. Despite uncertainty about the consequences of climate change one thing we do know is that sea levels are rising. We know that increases in sea level caused by climate change result in higher and more destructive storm surges so why do we continue to build houses and critical infrastructure on the coast and alongside rivers? This is placing lives and assets in harm’s way.

    Sea level rise 1992 to 2016

    While we fail to act effectively on climate change the world will continue to warm, with more moisture in the atmosphere and higher seas, and it’s hard to dispute that won’t have significant implications for our disaster risk, whoever we are and wherever we live.

    http://blogs.edf.org/climate411/2016/10/07/hurricane-matthew-and-climate-change-what-we-know-so-far/
    https://www.wunderground.com/hurricane/?mr=1
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  • Making up time on Loss and Damage

    September 23rd, 2016

    This week the world passed a benchmark when the 56th country submitted documents of ratification for the global climate change agreement that was signed in Paris in December 2015[1]. This was a significant step and raises the likelihood that the Paris agreement will be ratified in advance of the next global climate gathering in Marrakesh, Morocco in November 2016.

    Paris agreement status

    One of the significant achievements (aside from it actually being passed!) was the inclusion of Article 8 on Loss and Damage. Loss and Damage recognises that for many, action on climate change is already too late. That for the poorest and most vulnerable climate change has exceeded the point at which adaptation might help, they are already facing the irreversible consequences of climate change. Climate conditions have already made traditional cropping practices redundant, the rate of sea water acidification has reduced fisheries upon which their livelihoods depend and for many living in coastal areas and especially small island states, sea level rise is already making their homes uninhabitable.

    For these people our fixation with fossil fuels meant the loss of their homes and livelihoods, our efforts to decarbonise the global energy systems took too long. So the Loss and Damage article in the Paris agreement goes a little way to start to decide what to do for those people where climate action has been too little, too late. Unfortunately, negotiations to take forward action on Loss and Damage are progressing too slowly, as I found out in Bonn this week.

    WIM Ex Com Meeting Bonn September 2016

    WIM Ex Com Meeting Bonn September 2016

    The fourth meeting of the Executive Committee of the Warsaw International Mechanism (WIM) met in Bonn, Germany to discuss progress on their two year work plan. It’s clear that a political dance is underway in which everyone recognises the challenge but nobody is willing to step forward with the bold political agenda necessary to deliver climate justice. The developed countries are fearful of any notion of compensation, afraid of mega-lawsuits for Loss and Damages already incurred. Developing countries are trying to build on progress but cannot find the necessary levers to unlock the political impasse.

    One of the first challenges is getting Loss and Damage recognised as a priority issue. Global temperatures have already risen 0.85oC from 1880 to 2012[2]. So immediate action to limit warming further is a priority. There are no scientific nor technological barriers to keep global warming within a 1.5oC envelope and therefore minimise Loss and Damage due to climate change. The only obstacles are social and political, an unwillingness to recognise reality and an unwillingness to accept responsibility.

    Consequences

    The hurdle we have to overcome is not a difficult one. Best estimates for current climate change based on national commitments has warming in excess of 2.7oC[3]. Switching to a 1.5oC trajectory will deliver numerous social and economic benefits in addition to reducing the potential impacts of Loss and Damage, although this should be sufficient in itself to drive action now. Renewable energy technologies already exists and are not being exploited to their full potential. A switch to renewables would have stabilising effects on national economies as fuel prices spikes would be eradicated, with demand for fossil fuels falling and more energy being supplied for free. A switch to renewables would boost energy security. Already many counties especially small island states with the most too loose are well on the way to 100% renewable power generation. For example Costa Rica made headlines earlier in the year when it emerged that the country had been running on only renewable energy for 100 days of 2015[4]. A switch to non-polluting energy production would improve air quality considerably with reduced health burdens on national budgets, a win-win with reduced expenditure on health with increased productivity as health levels improve.

    I’ll explore the impacts of Climate Change and the consequences of Loss and Damage in our work next week.

    [1] http://unfccc.int/paris_agreement/items/9485.php

    [2] http://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment-report/ar5/wg1/WG1AR5_SPM_FINAL.pdf

    [3] http://climateactiontracker.org/assets/publications/briefing_papers/CAT_Temp_Update_COP21.pdf

    [4] http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/costa-rica-renewable-energy-100-days-power-climate-change-a7217441.html

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  • Natural Capital the basis for effective flood protection?

    Bourton on Dunsmore, Warwickshire CV23 9, UK, Bourton on Dunsmore
    August 26th, 2016

    The year has been marked by a number of unusual climate events. Not only was 2015 the hottest year on record[1], with 2016 appearing on track to exceed this[2], but the year has also been unusually wet. In the US state of Louisiana, 13 people died and large areas are still struggling to cope when a “no-name storm” dumped three times as much rain onCan you swim Louisiana as Hurricane Katrina[3]. This disaster manifested despite the US having the largest global disaster emergency organisation and associated budget on the planet. But in countries with limited resources the challenge of flooding is more severe. Northern India went from extreme drought to flooding in 45 days[4] with the poorest and the elderly struggling to survive as a scorching summer gave way to an above-average monsoon; people who were praying for rain are now fleeing from it.

    So how can we respond to this increasing flood risk in a way that doesn’t waste valuable resources? For example in Assam state, India, the state government depends on embankments to protect communities from the routine flooding of the Brahmaputra River. This year the Narayanguri embankment in Baksa district was washed away, this is the third time this has happened since 2004. Each time it is rebuilt to protect the local communities. Despite the presence of the embankments, villagers in Assam report losing their houses on multiple occasions[5]. Why have successive governments in Assam continued to rely on hard infrastructure as the only solution? Especially when the local development needs are huge and local government budgets are limited. Embankments are not cheap with an estimate that for the last three years Assam has spent £56 to £80 million, building and repairing flood embankments each year.

    Flooding India

    People forced to flee when the Narayanguri embankment failed

    How can local governments and communities maximise their investment in flood resilience building in the face of a changing flood situation. Clearly floods are getting worse, more people are living in flood prone areas and money alone does not seem to be the solution. So how can we maximise investment in floods management to minimise the negative consequences? Last week I was fortunate enough to join colleagues from a number of global organisations to explore the potential that nature based solutions offer in the face of this challenge.

    This workshop brought together experts from the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), WWF, Asian Institute of Technology, the Asian Disaster Preparedness Center, the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) with Zurich flood project staff from Practical Action. We gathered to explore how natural and nature-based methods can minimizing flood risk while maximizing social, environmental, and economic co-benefits of flood management approaches[6].

    One of the sessions explored the question, “if nature based solutions are relatively cheap and freely available why aren’t they used more often”?

    Why are we not seeing more natural and nature based techniques in flood risk management

    The underlying logic of two of the groups are presented above. Based on these examples, clearly, political will, entrenched positions and understanding are vital obstacles to the mainstreaming of nature based solutions. As one participant eloquently put it, local politicians are unwilling to risk nature based solutions, fearing the question “How will planting trees protect me from a flood event, what am I supposed to do, climb the tree when the flood comes?”

    There is clearly a knowledge gap. We need to do more to highlight not only the potential that nature based solutions offer in the face of increasing flood risk, but also the economic potential of nature based options to expand flood resilience to greater populations. The knowledge gap of appropriate nature based solutions, understanding of how nature based and more traditional approaches can be combined and a lack of evidence of how they can work and the benefits they can deliver. Nature based options are locally available and in many cases much cheaper then hard infrastructure. They can be managed using existing traditional practices and can therefore be maintained and repaired using local knowledge and local materials. Without even realising the workshop was making a great case for why Technology Justice[7] must be central to deliver effective flood resilience building efforts for current and future generations.

    “The system of nature, of which man is a part, tends to be self-balancing, self-adjusting, self-cleansing. Not so with technology.” E.F Schumacher

    [1] http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/news/releases/archive/2016/2015-global-temperature
    [2] http://www.nasa.gov/feature/goddard/2016/climate-trends-continue-to-break-records
    [3] http://news.trust.org/item/20160822234817-jobqu/
    [4] http://indiaclimatedialogue.net/2016/08/03/drought-floods-45-days/
    [5] http://www.ndtv.com/india-news/assams-embankments-crores-washed-away-1440868
    [6] http://envirodm.org/post/need-a-new-approach
    [7] http://policy.practicalaction.org/policy-themes/technology-justice
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  • Can you trust technology to provide protection from flooding?

    June 30th, 2016

    Practical Action has been working with a number of different partners in the Zurich Flood Resilience Alliance[1] to explore the factors that build the resilience of communities in developing countries to the threat of floods. One of the features of flood prone communities is the fact that these communities are often fully aware of the risk, but some economic or social benefit leads to them discounting the risk to live in the at risk location.

    We are now entering the monsoon season and once again the flood protection and early warning systems will be tested. Is it right to trust in technology alone? The story of what happened in Nepal during the monsoon season of 2014 is a timely reminder, when several communities along the Babai River learned the hard way of the problem of discounting risk and relying on technology.

    Nepal Monsoon 2016Rainfall maps for June 2016 the start of the Monsoon

    In mid-August 2014, three days of torrential monsoon rainfall led to the widespread floods in Western Nepal. The floods killed 222 people and had a major impact on 120,000 others, damaging infrastructure and property and displacing households[2]. The communities along the Babai River were particularly badly affected whereas neighbouring communities on the Karnali River were not. We have learned some interesting insights into how two apparently similar situations impacted the local people in very different ways.

    Trust in Early Warning System

    The communities along the Babai River had just been provided with a brand new flood early warning system. This system copied a system installed by Practical Action on the Karnali river but had only just been installed and had therefore not been tested in a flood. Unexpected and extreme rainfall in the catchment led to a rapid rise in the river. The rapid rise in the waters resulted in the gauge reader abandoning the gauge station to find safety on higher ground, unfortunately in an area with limited cell phone coverage. The gauge reader was finally able to contact the authorities but the river was already above danger levels and floodwaters had engulfed villages downstream of the gauge. Unfortunately, the communication chain via radio had not been practiced. The police did not know who to contact next, leading to delays. The local government office finally received the gauge reader’s warning, but did not understand its implications. Ultimately, sirens in Bardiya only sounded to indicate warning levels had been reached, but the sirens did not sound to communicate danger levels.

    Guage Reader Mrs Gurung (Chaisapani)The Early Warning station on the neighbouring Karnali River

    Trust in River Protection measures

    The warnings that did reach communities along the Babai River were not well heeded. Those who thought they were not in the path of the flood judging, by previous experience, did not move to safety. For others, it had been over six years since the last large flood and they were sceptical that significant flooding was imminent. In addition they thought that the new irrigation canal constructed upstream would siphon flood water away from their community. Others believed that the river protection measures recently installed along the river banks would protect them. But this trust was flawed. Floodwaters flowed from unexpected places due to embankment failures; due to floodwaters being transported via irrigation canals; and due recent constructions blocking, disrupting and shifting flows. In addition the theft of large stones from the embankments weakened them when otherwise they may have prevailed.

    River bank protectionLow tech embankment being constructed to protect communities

    The installation of physical capital in the form of early warning systems and the construction of flood barriers are only part of the solution. People’s perceptions of flood risk are greatly influenced by their knowledge of the cause of floods[3]. For a holistic approach to flood resilience building it is vital to build social and human capacities as well as physical. Increasing the knowledge of citizens about the causes of flooding will increase flood risk awareness, and it is particularly important to target individuals who are unaware of or ignore the high risk exposure they face. In addition the underlying foundations of resilience depend on respect for the natural capital the foundation upon which the flood events unfolds. Finally in poor community’s access to financial capital will be required to implement protection and preparedness measures and to ensure an adequate and robust social safety net is in place to provide for people when things go wrong.

    [1] http://policy.practicalaction.org/policy-themes/disaster-risk-reduction/partnerships-drr/zurich-flood-resilience-alliance

    [2] https://www.zurich.com/_/media/dbe/corporate/docs/corporate-responsibility/risk-nexus-karnali-river-floods-nepal-july-2015.pdf?la=en

    [3] http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1029/2009WR007743/full

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  • Loss and Damage, why it’s vital to get it right.

    May 27th, 2016

    At the COP21 Paris climate talks the issue of Loss and Damage was firmly cemented in the global agreement under Article 8[1]. This agreement sets the agenda for climate action and the inclusion of a separate article on loss and damage recognises that for many people climate change is already a reality. Climate change is impacting people’s lives and livelihoods and for some adaptation is already too late.

    Climate change exacerbates existing hazards

    Climate change hits the poorest hardest, those who are least responsible for the problem in the first place. In Practical Action projects across Africa, South Asia and Latin America we are hearing stories about the heightened uncertainty as changing climates exacerbate existing hazards. Poor people do not differentiate climate change from climate variability, for them the consequences are the same: crops are failing, water supplies becoming less reliable, ecosystems are changing and lives and livelihoods are under threat.

    CC Impacts

    The impacts of climate change are well documented, global and affect small island states, Africa, South Asia and the Arctic the most[2].

    In May 2016, Practical Action attended the climate change talks in Bonn. The first global gathering since 177 countries signed the Paris Agreement in New York one month ago. The urgency to sign the agreement is a clear demonstration of its importance. Climate agreements have previously taken months if not years to get the signatures necessary to start talking about their implementation. At last political will for action is growing but for loss and damage there is still a lot to do.

    Climate justice

    Critical to progress on loss and damage is the recognition that this is a rights issue. The climate agreement must integrate the rights package in its entirety; this means: human rights, the rights of indigenous people, gender equality, food security, ecosystem integrity and intergenerational equity. To protect these rights means we need to stay below 1.5oC. If we can reduce emissions drastically with ambitious mitigation action; then the challenge of adaptation will be lessened and the loss and damage burden will be reduced.

    12106

    Poor people around the world are facing climate impacts everyday.

    In Bonn Practical Action along with partners in the loss and damage network highlighted this challenge in a well-attended side event. We started the session with a presentation of the collective impacts of climate change on the poorest, highlighting that for many these impacts are irreversible. Many of our Pumpkin communities in Bangladesh are families that have lost their land to accelerated erosion. Compensation and pumpkins will help, but it will not restore their fields, their houses and the numerous cultural sites that have been washed away. Many poor people are dependent on ecosystem services for their livelihoods, but what do you do when the ecosystem faces irreversible impacts? For many coastal communities sea water acidification is destroying once productive coastal fisheries, and sea level rise is converting coastal fields into areas only suitable for aquaculture due to rising salinity.

    Bonn session - Copy

    Loss and Damage side event organised by the @lossdamage Network held at Bonn Climate Change talks

    Recognising irreversible environmental change

    Loss and Damage is an opportunity to raise the profile of our collective inadequacy to mitigate emissions. Our addiction to fossil fuels, to easy solutions and to profit over the environment or human society, and our inability to prioritise long term, social and environmental benefits in favour of purely economic returns. This goes to the heart of what Fritz Schumacher wrote so eloquently in 1973 in “Small is Beautiful” and it is vital today that we heed this message, before it is too late for everyone.

    Man talks of a battle with Nature, forgetting that if he won that battle, he would find himself on the losing side” E.F Schumacher

    [1] https://unfccc.int/resource/docs/2015/cop21/eng/l09r01.pdf

    [2] http://www.ipcc-wg2.gov/AR5/images/uploads/WG2AR5_SPM_FINAL.pdf

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