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

  • Resilience in the face of increasing risk and uncertainty

    September 14th, 2017

    Practical Action’s strategic plan 2017-2020 states “Our vision is for a world where all people have access to the technologies that enable them to meet their basic needs and reach their potential, in a way that safeguards the planet today, and for future generations”. But with development gains being eroded by natural hazards, I sometimes wonder if we are fighting a losing battle?

    Volunteers rescuing people in Bardiya, Nepal Photo: Nepal Flood Resilience Project

    According to the Economist, there are now 400 extreme weather events every year, four times as many as in 1970[1]. A trend demonstrated vividly by the extensive flooding in South Asia and the impacts of the current North Atlantic hurricane season with the devastation caused by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. Although Practical Action does not work in developed countries, the fact that cities in the United States, cities with planning agencies, building regulations and investment in mitigation, have been devastated by natural hazards demonstrates the increase in climate risk for communities in the developing world, that lack similar government capacity and struggle with limited budgets.

    In a world of increasing risk, resilience is a useful concept to explore the capacities, assets and behaviours that people, their communities and the societies in which they belong, need to be resilient to shocks and stresses. But resilience itself as an outcome of development, may be foolhardy to pursue.

    Practical Action recognises that technology is a key enabler of human development, that technological innovation has the power to enable a better world. Technology can advance the adaptive capacity of communities to cope with risk. For example a community protected by an Early Warning System have access to the information to allow them to act in advance of a flood event. As more EWS messages are received and successful responses are triggered, the community starts to learn what behaviour keeps them safe and the actions needed to limit the destruction of the flood event. Access to knowledge and information and their increased safety, nurtures experiential learning, they start to learn how to live with the flood.

    In a world in which there is no clear endpoint for development, in which resilience becomes ever more distant, enabling communities to experiment, to learn and adapt their lives and livelihoods will be vital if they are to survive and flourish. Resilience as an outcome is dangerous, it suggests an end state of resilience, whereas resilience is more dynamic. Resilience must consider the role of culture and human agency, and that the development aims of all people, communities and countries need not necessarily align to the same outcome. What builds the resilience of a farmer with a tractor may not be the same as what would build the resilience of a farmer dependent on livestock for motive power. Different vulnerabilities, different contexts, stress the need for different resilience building processes. We must stop focussing on the outcome of resilience and instead concentrate on learning from what we are doing, be brave enough to adapt when things start to diverge from the expected, and most importantly we mustn’t forget that it’s ok to learn from failure.

    [1] https://www.economist.com/blogs/graphicdetail/2017/08/daily-chart-19

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  • Ecosystems underpin Sustainable Development

    June 30th, 2017

    There is incredible generosity in the potentialities of Nature. We only have to discover how to utilize them. E. F. Schumacher

    Practical Action have just attended the 11th international conference on Community Based Adaptation (CBA) a global platform of practitioners at which Practical Action country staff can share lessons learned and knowledge from our projects while also networking, sharing and exchanging ideas with practitioners working around the world. This year staff from Nepal, Bangladesh and Peru[i] were able to attend the conference, joined by two staff from the UK.

    This year the CBA took place in Kampala, Uganda. The conference lasted for three days and was attended by more than 300 participants from over fifty countries. The theme of this year’s conference was Ecosystem Based Adaptation (EBA), a theme that would ring true to our founder Dr Fritz Schumacher who spent his life highlighting the fundamental interdependency between human existence and a healthy planet.

    The conference brings together an incredibly vibrant community of practitioners, and in its 11th year builds on over a decade of shared learning. One piece of common understanding is that climate change is happening now and is impacting the poorest the most. Those whose daily lives balance precariously on the frontlines of numerous threats many of which are exacerbated by climate change. Therefore a key driver for CBA practitioners is that we have to act quickly to reduce this threat.

    One cost effective way we can do this is to utilise the potential of nature and this is the basis of EBA. EBA is the conservation, sustainable management and restoration of natural ecosystems in a way that helps people adapt to climate change, coupled with people’s wise management of these natural components to ensure their preservation, to support the wellbeing of current and future generations. The key element is that ecosystems enhance the adaptation capacity of communities and community action protects the ecosystem services upon which they depend.

    Healthy ecosystems underpin people’s wellbeing and can help them adapt to climate change in four fundamental ways;

    The rapidity of climate change relative to the speed at which natural adaptation, otherwise known as evolution, takes place is challenging existing capacity to adapt. The exposure of people, their communities and societies to climates not experienced during their lifetime, or reflecting the period over which their complex wellbeing strategies have developed is placing new challenges on natural and human systems to adapt. Not only with the pace of adaptation required, but also in a way that can anticipate the uncertainty that the future will undoubtedly bring.

    CBA combined with EBA offers huge potential to reduce people’s vulnerability to a range of climate change impacts and provide significant co-benefits for biodiversity and people, especially those most vulnerable to climate change. We need to overcome any existing conflict between the two approaches, and then scale up from the tens of thousands to the tens of millions as rapidly as possible.

    [i] Unfortunately our Peru colleague was unable to join us although her paper was presented by Chris Henderson in her session on day two.

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  • Flood Resilience in Practice the potential for gaming

    June 27th, 2017

    In June 2017 at the 11th international conference on Community Based Adaptation (CBA11) Practical Action and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Environment and Disaster Management (EDM) program collaborated to present a session on Community Based Adaptation exploring with practitioners the linkage between flood risk and heathy ecosystems, using a game. This game builds on Practical Action’s extensive experience on flood risk management, early warning systems and participatory flood resilience building, combined with WWF’s expertise on ecosystem and nature based approaches. The session was well aligned with the conferences objective to harness natural resources and ecosystems for adaptation, especially for the poorest and most vulnerable those least responsible for the global challenge of climate change.

    To introduce the session Anita Van Breda from WWF, introduced the Flood Green Guide. A guide developed in partnership with USAID Office of US Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) to support using natural and nature-based methods for flood risk management.

    We had a total of 59 people plus rapporteurs and facilitators at our session. This group was very diverse so to ensure each game group was made up of a mix of experienced and less experienced practitioners we undertook a few ice breaker activities. The final activity asked them to line up from least to most experience in regards to climate change adaptation based on the number of years they have been working in the field, they then numbered off from 1 to 5 to create five groups made up of experienced and less experienced members.

    The aim of the game is of course to win by gaining the highest score. To achieve a high score the group need to reduce losses from flood events and manage the river basin for the triple objectives of social, environmental and economic wellbeing. However, as well as having fun, and 98% of the participants reported that they had fun, we are also trying to impart some key lessons. By playing the game participants learn how to integrate social, environmental and economic considerations into disaster recovery, reconstruction, and risk reduction programs, specifically;

    • How natural capital and ecosystem services combined with more traditional approaches can build resilience to floods.
    • How to make the difficult trade off decisions between different mitigation options, hard infrastructure versus soft ecosystem based approaches and the implausibility of a one size fits all approach
    • How to build the soft capacities and skills needed by stakeholders to enable them to do this.
    • Highlight the diversity of actors and the challenge of bringing these actors together as a single river basin management institution, the idea of the river basin commission.

    Each group of 9 to 10 people was asked to form a river basin commission and to decide among the groups the role they would play. Ideally the group should be made up of a mix of government, private sector and communities, with representation across these broad groups including upstream, urban and downstream communities, national and local government, etc. The groups then elected a chairperson and a treasurer. The commission were then asked to make plans and implement these in rounds based on a map detailing a hypothetical river basin. As background they are informed that the river basin is highly susceptible to floods due to maritime location, mountainous watershed and high precipitation levels.

    The game is played in rounds representing a year, which includes the commission planning their annual activities based on their available budget, implementation of the plan, the arrival of the annual flood and responding to the consequences of the flood event.

    https://youtu.be/mypkJo-nk3o

    We were only able to play two rounds but provided enough time for a question and answer session at the end. One participant raised a very valid question on the validity of game playing to influence policy and practice. Game playing can provide multiple benefits in the challenging international development process. Firstly by playing a game such as this you can bring together diverse stakeholders who often do not work together. Role playing different roles allows local stakeholders to view problems from an alternative perspective. Most importantly allows different stakeholders to explore critical issues in a natural environment, this not only promotes understanding of different perspectives but can also aid in defusing future conflict.

    Following good development practices we asked all participants to fill in an evaluation form. Overall they enjoyed playing the game and found the interactive learning approach refreshing. They provided some excellent feedback on how to improve the game, such as thinking about upstream downstream linkages more, make the scoring system simpler, and provide fewer options for flood actions. Many participants commented on the economic centric decision making, although they recognised that this is a common problem. One key learning from the CBA conference is that if we continue with economic decision making then the social and environmental costs will continue to be overlooked. All participants enjoyed the participatory nature of the game, the fact that they were involved and were able to engage with their colleagues in developing their annual plan. This facilitated sharing of knowledge and experience and contribute to collaborative learning.

    Keep following the Practical Action colleagues at the conference and come back for a daily update.

    @Chris_P_Hen, @RiganAliKhan, @Sunilnpl, @gehedragurung and @ColinMcQuistan

    For more on the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Environment and Disaster Management (EDM) program: http://envirodm.org/

    The 11th International Conference on Community-Based Adaptation to Climate Change (CBA11) https://www.iied.org/11th-international-conference-community-based-adaptation-cba11

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  • 2017 Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction

    May 27th, 2017

    The Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) takes place every two years. The platform is the foremost gathering on reducing disaster risk and building the resilience of communities and nations. The platform is convened by the UNISDR the United Nations office for DRR[1] and this year was hosted by the government of Mexico. More than 4,000 participants and delegates from over 180 countries attended the meeting. This is a rich and diverse group of actors that bridge the worlds of humanitarian aid and development, representing, indigenous communities, gender groups, the disabled, academia, research, the private sector and civil society organisations.

    Practical Action had a team from Nepal, Peru and the UK attending the meeting and we contributed our practical expertise to a number of events. On days one and two Gehendra Gurung participated in the multi-hazard early warning conference sharing experience of our work in Nepal. Early Warning Systems (EWS) are a critical tool to inform local people as well as national and regional institutions about risk. Our innovative systems that link appropriate technology to deliver EWS to the poorest and most vulnerable, provide not only advance warning of the peril, but also contribute to learning about the dynamics of the hazard event, allowing appropriate and timely response. EWS are a critical component of risk informed planning and action.

    On day two of the conference Practical Action and Zurich insurance as representatives of the Global Flood Resilience Alliance participated in an official side event presenting progress on developing tools for measuring resilience and the forensic analysis of post events. This is part of our work with Zurich Insurance along with the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), the International Institute of Applied Systems and Analysis (IIASA) and the Risk Management and Decision Processes Center at the Wharton School. I presented the lessons learned from the use of the Flood Resilience Measurement Tool. The tool has been piloted by alliance partners in over 75 communities in 9 countries selected based on their flood risk.

    Michael Szönyi from Zurich Insurance presented lessons learned from the use of the Post Event Review Capability (PERC) tool in 9 countries. The tool is a post event tool to learn making recommendations to address things that went wrong, strengthen things that went well, notifying leverage points that reflect actionable, feasible, equitable and just actions that benefit the most vulnerable.

    On the final day Pedro Ferradas presented on the Ignite stage. He shared lessons from the recent destructive Peru floods of 2017. This session highlighted the need for effective representation especially of the poorest and most vulnerable in risk reduction and most importantly in post event reconstruction. We must ensure we do not lock in risk by repeating the mistakes of the past. Critical to this is not only participation from the local population, but recognition and respect for local and traditional knowledge. They may not be able to articulate risk factors using scientific or technical terminology, but they know how local conditions shape the underlying risk environment.

    The global platform was an inspiring event despite the scale and diversity of DRR challenges articulated. The platform is an inspirational market place of knowledge, skills, ideas and passion. However we still have a lot to do. Climate change is exacerbating existing risk and continuing unsustainable developments continue at a greater pace than risk reduction measures. So despite progress the risk reduction task grows with each day.

    To respond to these challenges we need to bring everyone into the discussion. Unsustainable development can only be tackled if we include environmental and social factors in decision making processes currently dominated by political and economic factors. So the excessive focus on governments and UN organisations on the plenary panels is a worry trend supporting a continuation of the status quo. These sessions are the key opportunities to influence the outcome document of the platform. Therefore the same debates are repeated. The limited panels limits the inputs and fails to recognise the value add of the very diverse audience. Let’s hope that Switzerland as host of the next global platform in 2019, can learn from the successes and limitations of the Mexican event. Some suggestions on how to do this include;

    • Break down the panels, be more inclusive of the diverse stakeholder present at the global platform. Too many panels were dominated by representatives of parties and UN agencies. Give space to the private sector, indigenous peoples, community representatives and civil society among the many other actors that can make a valid contribution to disaster risk reduction.
    • Centrality of the poorest and most vulnerable. I was surprised at the absence of community survivors in the panels, we need to learn from the mistakes of the past and hear these human stories to ensure they are not repeated.
    • Ensure every panel is at the very least gender balanced. Too many formal sessions had token female participation. The organisers need to do more to ensure gender balance at the next event.
    • The importance of EWS must be maintained in Switzerland, but there is a need to build on the utility of EWS to inform risk planning, preparedness and response, to recognise the needs to review their effectiveness post event, to ensure they are delivering for the most vulnerable and at risk. End to End EWS are vital, but experience from Latin America indicates this is the area receiving the least investment.
    • Recognise the power of alliance organisations. The Global Network for Disaster Reduction[2] (GNDR) celebrated its tenth birthday in Mexico, and as an umbrella organisation provides a mouthpiece for larger constituencies to engage in the platform in an effective and practical way.
    • Pay attention to the underlying messages that the venue delivers. The Moon Palace arena and hotel was a well serviced and secure location. But the massive development failed to reinforce messages of sustainability and appropriate development. Rather epitomising excessive consumption, ignorance of social and environmental sustainability and inequality of consumption in a resource finite world

    [1] www.unisdr.org

    [2] http://gndr.org/

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  • UNISDR 2017 Global Platform

    ,
    May 23rd, 2017

    Risk reduction must deliver for the poorest and most vulnerable

    In Sendai, Japan, a location that had been devastated by the eastern pacific Tsunami and subsequent Fukushima nuclear accident, the world came together in March 2015 to sign into force the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, 2015-2030. This framework aims to influence the policy and practice of national governments to reduce their risk, by providing practical guidance on how to reduce risk, how to prepare for disasters in cases where risk cannot be totally removed and to provide targets and indicators to monitor progress.

    This week in Cancun Mexico the world gathers for the first time since Sendai to report on progress. Cancun will greet world leaders, representatives from governments, the private sector, Non-Governmental Organisations (NGO) and community members. Practical Action is taking advantage of this gathering to demonstrate our expertise in community flood protection and will share our key lessons learned with this global audience.

    What are our key messages for this community? Practical Action along with our partners the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), Zurich Insurance Company and the International Institute for Applied Systems and Analysis (IIASA) will be presenting the lessons learned from our field projects at a number of key events. The messages that we will share with the global community are as follows;

    • Development must be restricted in hazardous zones and incentives for development that lead to urbanisation of risk areas should be avoided.
    • Investment is necessary in large scale flood risk management practices, including soft measures such as, erosion control, river widening, natural retention areas and hard construction approaches, levees, reservoirs, dams and weirs particularly to protect critical areas.
    • Nature based approaches to flood management are often overlooked, but healthy natural environments provide numerous services that help to reduce the impact of floods, from healthy natural habitats increasing infiltration and slowing run off, to a combination of nature based with more traditional flood mitigation measures to enhance the protection and reduce the investment and maintenance costs of hard infrastructure.
    • Hard infrastructure protection measures should be prioritised to protect essential infrastructure such as hospitals and power stations, etc. but must avoid incentivising the construction of new assets in the flood plain.
    • Pre-event financial options, including investment in pre event response measures, insurance, social support, and innovative risk transfer mechanisms are vital and must incorporate and respond to learning from advances in early warning systems and impact forecasting.
    • Post disaster streamlined access to these prearranged lines of credit and dedicated flood relief programmes, to ensure reconstruction can start promptly, while learning from the event to build back better.
    • Knowledge sharing and facilitation to all stakeholders is vital, but in particular honest reporting of lessons learned to communities enhances their self-protection and nurtures human agency. No one can be 100% resilient to flooding but by working in concert with neighbours benefits can be delivered at multiple scales.

    Strengthening community flood resilience requires a process this is multi-scalar, multi-sectoral and involves numerous actors; it cannot be achieved by governments, organisations of individuals acting alone. Flood risk reduction must be an integral part of policy making, planning and implementation. Effective flood risk reduction requires mutual partnerships with governments, private sector and civil society working alongside communities. With increased ability to learn, adapt and cope with shocks and stresses, communities can protect and build on development gains that they have already made, prevent their erosion, reverse accumulating losses and address the effects of underlying vulnerability that hold back their development potential. Floods are a natural phenomenon, and attempts to control flooding have proven short lived and futile, with climate change exacerbating the risk of floods we need to get smarter about our environment and learn to live with floods.

    http://www.unisdr.org/conferences/2017/globalplatform/en
    The United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction
    http://www.unisdr.org/

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  • An Innovative approach to measuring community resilience to flooding

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    April 27th, 2017

    The Zurich Flood Resilience Alliance Measurement Framework

    In 2013 the Z Zurich Foundation initiated a global alliance of partners to understand what builds resilience to flooding. This alliance has taken an innovative approach – linking academic insights, humanitarian and development sector capabilities, as well as Zurich’s skills and knowledge – to enhance community resilience to flooding. The alliance includes the Zurich Insurance Company, the Z Zurich Foundation, IFRC, Practical Action, the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) and the Wharton Risk Management and Decision Processes Center.

    The alliance have developed a measurement framework and corresponding tools in an attempt to measure flood resilience in communities in developed and developing countries around the world.

    Communities are struggling to come to terms with resilience what allocation of their limited resources will build resilience?

    The tool involves measuring the degree to which communities are endowed with the five capitals, described in the Sustainable Livelihoods Framework (SLF). These capitals characterize community assets and the complementary capacities that sustain and improve communities’ wellbeing. Theoretically, by tracking the capitals pre- and post-event, it is possible to observe how development, disasters, and risk management activities within the community are eroding or supporting wellbeing. Having time series information means the five capitals could be measured after a hazard event to assess how they were impacted or utilized to cope and recover. A grounded set of metrics could help to guide the exploration of potential sources of resilience and test their effect on outcomes in order to contribute further evidence to our understanding of resilience.

    The complexity of resilience leads to a huge diversity of elements which can be measured, and raises a number of questions about process and outputs:

    • At what stage is measurement appropriate?
    • Do we measure resilience ex ante during a state of normality which means a focus on ability to manage risk, or only ex post, which means a focus on ability to cope and recover?
    • Can we give an absolute value to a state of resilience or only one that is relative to a baseline or benchmark?

    In light of these challenges, we are looking for ways to explore the interdependencies among the capitals themselves, and between the capitals and other elements of the framework. It will be important to measure the capitals but also to understand the relationships among them, such as how social assets, or the wider governance context frame access to particular resources which may appear plentiful in the wider community but are inaccessible for a large portion of the population due to social barriers. We are aware that the mere existence of an asset does not necessarily imply that it is being used effectively to manage risk or enhance wellbeing. Conversely, the lack of an asset may be indicative of vulnerability, which raises further questions around the weighting of the measurements. By adopting a standardized approach, we are hoping to learn more about resilience, and how this knowledge can be applied in practice to enhance resilient wellbeing.

    We are currently testing the tool in a number of communities in different countries that have varying livelihoods and asset bases and face different flood typographies. This will help to test and refine the tool, and provide learning on the methods and processes. Representation of the results of the measurement tool for two different communities, is captured below.

    Although they score differently, one with strengths in the social and natural capitals (red) while the other (green) in the human and physical capitals which community will be more resilient to a flood event? This is something we are starting to unpack as we investigate the results coming from the community measurements.

    Further reading:

    • http://www.measuringresilience.org/pdfs/ODI_report.pdf
    • https://www.zurich.com/en/corporate-responsibility/flood-resilience/measuring-flood-resilience
    • https://policy.practicalaction.org/policy-themes/disaster-risk-reduction/resilience/measuring-resilience
    • http://pure.iiasa.ac.at/13279/1/Development%20and%20testing%20of%20a%20community%20flood%20resilience%20measurement%20tool.pdf
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  • 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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