Sometimes going back can spoil a good memory.
On my first visit to Bangladesh, to Gaibandha in the north, I was taken by boat across a broad, slow moving river to islands of homes created by Practical Action and riverside communities, whose homes, livestock and sometimes lives, were being lost on a regular basis, to increasingly severe flooding.
The project was called, ‘Disappearing Lands’, and had been funded by the Big Lottery Fund. The team worked with the communities to identify the poorest families who were most vulnerable to the floods and created a safe island home for them by building a raised platform of earth, on which were clustered one room homes, with space for a small homestead garden, together with emergency shelters for their livestock for when the floods came. The pleasure and pride these families took in their new homes was evident by their eagerness to show me inside. There was room to store pots, pans, clothes and blankets and a space for the parents to sleep on one side of the room, the children on the other.
Even in the last village I visited, completed only a few weeks before, small homestead gardens had been demarcated and the first shoots of spinach were unfolding. Seeing such obvious pleasure in their new, safe homes, was moving and was a good memory to leave with.
That was four years ago. I’m back again in Bangladesh with Karin Reiter, Group Corporate Responsibility Manager for the Z Zurich Foundation. The Foundation has supported Practical Action’s work with communities in the district of Sirajgonj, also vulnerable to flooding , where extremely poor families have so little that even a small life shock, such as illness, is enough to destroy their ability to survive. So flooding is truly devastating. We’re here to see how the project, V2R (Vulnerability to Resilience) is progressing and what lessons can be learned for the future.
Using the principles and lessons learned from Gaibandha, the V2R project is taking an holistic approach. As well as ensuring people’s homes and livestock are safe from rising water, people now have choices in the way that they can support themselves, so that they are no longer reliant on a single livelihood option, which could easily destroyed by one flood. They are also involved in preparing plans to respond to flooding so that people know what to do in times of emergencies, such as which evacuation route to take, where the shelter areas are, and how to ensure the safety of their livestock. And when the rising waters isolate them, they have the means, in an emergency, to transport a seriously ill person to a hospital using an ambulance boat.
We visited a cluster village, now home to 25 extreme poor families. We were shown round neat rooms, with outside cooking areas, and access to clean water with tube wells. They also have thriving businesses such weaving, crocheting and tailoring, as well as raising chicken and ducks, and the newly introduced rabbits – a sure-fire high production product!
What struck me most forcibly is that it’s the women who are the running these businesses and their confidence and determination is inspiring. With the money they’re making, they are paying for their children’s education, investing in their businesses and putting money by for emergencies.
There are still issues to be solved – how to provide affordable and sustainable energy, for example, to the communities (ensuring technology justice) – but the partnership between the Z Zurich Foundation and Practical Action is changing lives for the better for many children, women and men living beside the river in Sirajgong district, and the good memory of Bangladesh, and the impact of Practical Action’s work, remains very firmly intact!No Comments » | Add your comment
I’ve just finished the first part of Practical Action’s European speaker tour on climate change, having visited Germany and the Czech Republic.
In both countries I was talking about our adaptation work in Bangladesh, including our ‘Pathways from Poverty’ project.
Despite Bangladesh being one of the poorest and most climate affected countries in the world, many other countries could learn a lot from the way it has adapted to the increasing floods and other climate related disasters caused by climate change.
In Germany, I presented our project at a major conference in Bonn from 1-3 November called ‘Dialogue Towards Transformation’ organised by our project partner, Germanwatch. The conference was attended by 140 NGOs from 22 countries around the world including both developed and developing nations.
It highlighted the synergies and tensions which exist between climate change and other subjects such as food security, energy and poverty reduction. This is also one of the issues addressed in Practical Action’s new five-year strategy from 2012-2017.
One of the major talking points at the conference was the need for NGOs or Civil Society to agree on development priorities in the run up to the adoption of the new Sustainable Development Goals. There was also a lot of debate about the extent to which NGOs can really influence international negotiations like the Rio plus 20 conference and the global climate change talks or whether our job is to build a mass movement outside these processes calling for change.
Like the UK and Bangladesh, flooding is the major climate impact in both the Czech Republic and Germany. Just two years ago, flooding there and in Poland killed nine people and resulted in over 1,000 having to be evacuated from their homes.
Despite the recession and the EU bailout, Germany continues to be a leader in climate change and promoting the green economy. In contrast in the Czech Republic there is still a lot of scepticism about climate change among the public and politicians and their current President, Vaclav Klaus, is a well known climate sceptic. The Czechs also have one of the highest carbon dioxide emissions per head of population in Europe due to their heavy industry and car manufacturing.
To highlight the issues, I spoke to business studies and social geography students at two universities in Prague and also to international development students at Olomouc university. The debates were organised by our Czech partner, Glopolis. Before my presentation I asked all the students how many of them thought climate change was real and was happening now. Only about half put their hands up.
So a major challenge for the Czech NGO movement in the next few years will be to transform public and political opinion in relation to climate change. This was the subject of a round table debate I attended with many of the Czech Republics, leading NGOs and a representative of their Department of Energy and Climate Protection. We agreed an important opportunity to do this will be the publication of the fifth Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report in 2013/14. This is likely to contain a wealth of evidence that many of the extreme weather events like flooding both in Europe and Bangladesh can now be directly linked to climate change.
Our adaptation work in Bangladesh (promoting technologies like floating gardens, sand bar cropping and duck farming) was well received in both Germany and the Czech Republic. Many delegates, students and NGO staff came up to me afterwards and said that too often in the debate on climate change the voice of the poor isn’t heard and that policy needed to be much better informed by what is happening on the ground. Practical Action, with its wealth of experience working with the world’s poor and knowing what works in the field, is in a unique position to do both.
Among many of those I spoke to in both Germany and the Czech Republic there was strong agreement that adaptation must now go up the UN and the EUs agenda and that we need to see a far greater political and financial commitment to helping people in countries like Bangladesh adapt to a future in which once rare events like flooding become part of the everyday struggle for survival. One student I spoke to in Prague summed up the situation well when she said “Your work in countries like Bangladesh buys vital time for the world to adapt to climate change and gives the poorest people most affected by it a fighting chance of a future.”
The speaking tour now moves on to the European Parliament and then the United Kingdom before attending the climate talks in Qatar.No Comments » | Add your comment
Have you heard the joke about the drowning man? You know the one in which a man is stuck on his rooftop during a flood and prays to God who first sends a rowing boat, then a motor boat and finally a helicopter to save him… *
In terms of the climate talks in Bangkok which have just finished on 5 September they will probably go down in history as being the motor boat. However, the next set of climate talks in Doha beginning on 26 November will definitely be the helicopter.
So what have the talks in Bangkok achieved? Commentators are divided from the United Nations who have, predictably, praised the talks as making “concrete progress” to the Bangkok Post who have said they have made no progress at all and ended in “stalemate”. The NGOs here represented by Climate Action Network International believe they have made technical progress, which could pave the way for an extension of the Kyoto protocol up to 2020 at Doha but that there are still a large number of unresolved issues on the table. These include the level of cuts different countries are willing to adopt, who is going to pay for climate change and whether the world can agree a new legally binding agreement post 2020. In other words the Bangkok talks have kept hope on climate change afloat – just.
I’ve been attending the talks on behalf of Practical Action and promoting our event at the next climate talks in Doha on 28 November called “Learning the lessons from flooding in climate adaptation”. It reflects the fact that for many vulnerable people around the world in flood prone countries like Thailand, the Philippines and Bangladesh, it is not a case of trying to stop climate change but living with it now.
Adaptation is an issue that has been little on the agenda in Bangkok but needs to urgently be in Doha. Many of the delegates I’ve spoken to here over the last week agree that climate adaptation must go up the UN’s agenda and there needs to be a much better balance when it comes to funding (currently only about 10% of climate finance is spent on adaptation). To do this, they have formed an Adaptation Committee which is due to meet for the first time immediately after the talks in Bangkok. A big part of their work will be to mandate countries to draw up National Adaptation Plans, both for developed and developing nations.
Nationally, the UK should be in a good position to do this, having formed an adaptation sub-committeee of its own following the passing of the Climate Change Act in 2008. Their latest report, published in July, on the affects of flooding and water scarcity, makes fastinating reading. Other developing countries will need more help in drawing up plans but the critical issue, like so many issues to do with climate change, will be who will pay for implementation of the plans.
At the moment for developing countries that funding is due to come from the Green Climate Fund. However, at present the GCF doesnt even have a bank account, let alone a means of distributing money. One of the key success criteria for the Doha talks will therefore be that developed countries including the UK make rapid progress in committing the $100 billion a year they have promised the fund by 2020 and ensuring that at least half goes on climate adaptation.
* A man was stuck on his rooftop during a flood. Despairing of any help he started praying to God. Soon a man in a rowing boat came by and shouted “Jump in, I can save you. The stranded man shouted back, “No, thanks, I’m praying to God and he is going to save me.” So the rowing boat went by. Then a motor boat came by and the driver shouted “Jump in, I can save you.” “No thanks” shouted back the man ” I’m praying to God and he is going to save me.” So the motor boat went by.
Finally a helicopter came and the pilot shouted down, “Grab this rope and I will lift you to safety.” The stranded man again declined, convinced God would save him. So the helicopter reluctantly flew away. Soon the water rose above the rooftop and the man drowned. In the next life he finally met God and angrily exclaimed “I had faith in you but you didn’t save me, you let me drown. Why?” God replied, “I sent you a rowing boat, a motorboat and a helicopter, what more did you expect?”No Comments » | Add your comment
Last year large areas of Bangkok, the capital of Thailand, were underwater and on the verge of being evacuated. Fast forward nine months and from 30 August to 5 September the capital is host to the latest United Nations conference on climate change, talks which are also entering deep water. The outcome could determine whether or not the Kyoto protocol sinks or swims and with it many flood prone countries around the world.
The 2011 floods in Thailand were the worst in 50 years. Afterwards Thailands Prime Minister, Yingluck Shinawtra, said “We need to learn a lesson from the big flood last year”. That lesson is that once rare and extreme weather events associated with climate change are increasingly becoming a part of everyday life for many vulnerable people around the world.
Thailand’s floods claimed over 800 lives, directly affected over 2.5 million people and cost the insurance industry an estimated $20 billion. It is a salutary lesson that the 164 delegates from around the world attending the Bangkok conference would do well to remember as they negotiate the agenda for the next round of climate talks in Qatar in November in their working groups and round table discussions.
In the plenary session Nauru representing the Alliance of Small Island States - the 44 countries whose very survival depends on getting an outcome said: “We have three months left to deliver a Kyoto plus outcome. It cannot be window dressing or full of accounting tricks and conditionality. Kyoto runs out on the 1st of January 2013. But there are still so many unresolved issues from ambition to the length of commitment period”.
Although the conference is not decision making, over the next week they will discuss a range of important issues from extending the existing Kyoto protocol which runs out at the end of the year to a detailed work plan for a legally binding climate change agreement post 2020. Also at stake are whether developed countries who did not sign the Kyoto agreement will adopt stringent targets, the role that developing countries should play in climate mitigation and funding new forms of climate finance including the Green Climate Fund.
I’m covering the talks on behalf of Practical Action and am lobbying the delegates to attend an event we have organised at the climate talks in Qatar on 28 November. Entitled “learning the lessons from flooding in climate adaptation” it will highlight the work that Practical Action is doing around the world with flooding victims in countries from Bangladesh to Peru. For many of them climate change is already a reality and whatever the outcome at Qatar, putting serious money into climate adaptation measures over the next few years will be critical.
The meeting at Bangkok will be critical to ironing out those details. A failure to do so will result in the Kyoto protocol being buried in the sand in Qatar.
Climate change for a long time now has stopped being a question of ‘if…’ and more a matter of ‘how much’ (and the answer to that currently isn’t very nice).
To deal with this, enter technologies. They fall into three categories:
1) Mitigation – reducing emission from human activities, from home efficiency devices to renewables and nuclear energy;
2) Adaptation – ways of dealing with the impacts of varying rainfall, temperature, sea level rise and increased frequency and magnitude of disaster events. Most urgent for the poorest groups and those in low lying states where the most vulnerability lies, but planning is also under way for London, Durban, and other developed cities.
3) Geo-engineering – large and unproven projects to remove carbon from the atmosphere or reflect the solar radiation. Includes; ocean iron fertilization projects; mirrors in space; pipes; dreams.
Arguably, the most iconic climate change related technology is the wind turbine, used for clean energy generation. Less is known about the possibility of mirrors in space, and probably for the best. But adaptation technologies are equally mysterious for many people in developed countries. This is springs from a lack of awareness that people in developing countries feel climate change most acutely – “first and worst”.
Nevertheless, adaptation is happening spontaneously as people respond to the altered conditions they find in their area. Technologies, whether used to diversify livelihoods or protect assets, can make this easier, but people will also have to adapt their technologies in order to keep them appropriate.
Enter climate uncertainty – not knowing precisely how climate change will manifest in a specific area over the next two-three decades – and you have a problem that requires new ways of thinking about technology and a new way of doing development.
Today’s Geek Club (Practical Action’s online discussion forum) from 10am to 4pm will discuss the issues of technology for adaptation. This is set against the back drop of the current round of climate negotiations in Durban, South Africa, where countries are discussing proposals for ‘technology transfer’ to developing countries to support adaptation. Come and join us as we consider the how, what, and why not of adapting to climate change.No Comments » | Add your comment
I am feeling more positive than I expected to feel, about progress here, at least on adaptation. Discussions are still continuing on what should be written into the decision text on national adaptation planning. A decision on the Adaptation Committee, a new body that will have a significant role in overseeing adaptation at the national level in developing countries, is likely to be left for ministers to decide in terms of who will be on the committee – whether mainly experts in adaptation, and whether a majority from developing countries, and whether to have representatives from civil socieity as well. To keep positive I keep my head down, focusing on adaptation, as the discussions on addressing the desperate need to cut emissions are STILL not progressing much.
Meanwhile, I have also had a lot of opportunities to discuss how we need to change our global food production system towards one focused on an ecological approach – to strengthen resilience of small farmers, to strengthen ecosystems eroded by industrial agriculture, and to reduce the emissions created by intensive monocultures fed by chemical fertilisers. Yesterday I gave a presentation which will be put onto the web, and today I facilitated a wide ranging discussion between around 35 people from many organisations, including the World Food Programme – and we were all of a similar mind on the need for agriculture change, and the need to be vigilant, and mount a counter attach on teh strong lobbies of the agriculture industry and the rhetoric of teh World Bank, on what they call Climate Smart Agriculture. The rhetoric sounds quite good – but the money is not going to support the smallholders as they imply, but the opportunities for developing carbon markets in agriculture.
It’s great to find so many organisations who think along the same lines as Practical Action, both in the north and in the south, and to be able to work with them here to campaign for change.No Comments » | Add your comment
Yesterday though, I felt relatively proud to be a ‘Brit’.
- Firstly, the UK Committee on Climate Change called for the UK to raise the global bar – by setting the target of reducing UK emissions by 60% by 2030. It’s bold and ambitious but let’s hope our government listens to the advice from the Committee set up to … advise them on climate targets.
- Secondly, having attended a session with the UK’s Sir Nicholas Stern – an inspiring tour de force in the field – I’m more clear than ever that the neccessity to cut carbon emissions is also hugely desirable.
In his words,’ … we are talking about a new industrial revolution, transforming the way we see and do things. It’s time we started looking at the opportunities rather than the costs’.
The task is huge – essentially to almost halve the carbon emissions of each person in the next decade (from 7 tonnes to 4) - but it’s this change of spirit, focusing on the positives, which will be the power behind the new industrial revolution.
I’m a romantic and an optimist.
I don’t believe you should settle for second best and I hold the same principle for the UN climate talks.
We all desperately want Cancun to be a success – it’s in the best interests of every one of the 6 billion of us on the planet.
So, Practical Action, with over 200 other NGOs is pushing to ensure that, at the very least, a fair ‘Global Climate Fund’ is launched during the negotiations. A tangible sign of progress.
However, in the rush to see the Fund established it’s crucial that it delivers in the best way possible for poor communities. The spirit of ‘if you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with’ cannot apply here.
The Fund has to be fair and should therefore cover the following:
1) The Fund needs to be managed under the UN process
2) It should be the ‘one stop shop’ for the vast majority of funds for climate change
3) 50% of all money through the Fund must be for climate adaptation
4) Its Board cannot be donor dominated – developing country voices must be heard
A fair Fund is overdue. Now is the time to deliver for the world’s poorest people.
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Yes, that’s right, I’m alluding to the popular Saturday night gameshow, ‘Family MISfortunes’.
Communications giant, Ogilvy, commissioned a survey on the attitudes of attendees at the UN Climate talks in Cancun. The results made for interesting reading so I thought I’d share a few with you:
- 56% of people interviewed believe that irreversible climate harm has now been caused
- The majority of people interviewed believe that efforts to limit human influence on climate change are at a standstill
- 83% of those questioned agree that climate change will only be addressed once countries are suffering real consequences
It’s the last statistic which startled me most.
Countries are suffering real consequences, right now.
Farmers in Sri Lankan paddy fields, Alpaca herders in the high Andes and fisherfolk in Bangladesh (to name just a few) are feeling the effects of our changing climate and have done for a number of years.
In fact, Practical Action only started focusing on climate change because the communities we work with made us take notice and challenged us to help them to adapt.
So it’s time for us to get real and start recognising that the time to act on climate change is now. Sod the survey results – the women, men and children across developing countries cannot wait â€¦
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Cancun is a pretty depressing place to be if you want to save the planet from humanity’s destructive tendencies. More than 100 hotels stand cheek by jowl along a dual carriageway; the white sands and blue sea are beautiful – but have been created by destruction of the mangroves, which were valuable ecosystems protecting the coast and fisheries. The climate is warm but not too hot, yet the conference centre is so air-conditioned that some of us have developed chills, coming without clothes warm enough to cope with the change of temperature from outside to inside.
In the conference centre, the tasteless food is heavily packaged, with concessions to the environment only in the biodegradability of the plastic and cardboard. Recycling bins request ‘concern for the environment’ while in the negotiations, this concern is far from uppermost in the minds of most of the delegates. Not only have we flown across the world to get here, but the logistics mean that we have to travel around 20 km to get to the security gateway for the conference, and a further 18km return (by special bus) to reach the grotesquely extravagant hotel where the actual negotiations take place. Up until last year, it seemed there was real space for NGOs to influence what happened, by talking to delegates, and writing articles and talking points. Now, it seems countries’ positions are determined by political considerations only, not technical concerns, and willingness to negotiate, which surely means making concessions to others in return for an outcome, is in short supply. In the fringes, I am having useful discussions on practical ways forward for implementing adaptation.
On a positive note – we had a very successful side event on Wednesday with up to 160 people in the room, and excellent presentations about valuable work. However, everyone in the room seemed to be on our side – about the need to change international agricultural policy away from intensive, environmentally destructive systems towards ones supporting small scale diverse production. Those we need to engage with to change minds and policy stayed away.No Comments » | Add your comment