Archive for December, 2009

Building back better – tsunami five years on

Wednesday, December 23rd, 2009 by

As Christmas Day came and went five years ago, the world look on in shock as on Boxing Day one of the biggest diasters the world had ever seen struck.

No one could imagine the devastation the 2004 tsunami would leave in its wake; news coverage showed horrific images in the hours following it, then hours rolled into days.

Leaving more than half a million people dead it was almost impossible to imagine what could be done to help communities who lost their homes, families and livelihoods.

Yet work carried out by Practical Action has had a major positive impact on the lives of thousands and thousands of people in Sri Lanka.

While the statistics painted a grim picture; in Sri Lanka alone more than half a million people were displaced, 31,000 people died and thousands more were missing. In addition 150,000 people lost their livelihoods, 25,000 acres of farm land lost due to salinity and 120,000 houses had to be rebuilt.

However through working with more than 120,000 people, people’s lives were transformed in the months following the devastation, by using a mix of traditional and innovative ways to rehabilitate communities, homes and businesses.

We worked with farmers such as Ranjith, with a toddler and a young baby, struggling to grow rice as land became more saline. He told us how his plants stopped yielding rice as his land was too salty. By working with him – and others like him – to grow traditional rice varieties which were saline reisistant, people like Ranjith were able to earn more money. The rice was easier to sell at market and also meant he could pay off loans. And as the rice didn’t need fertisiler or pesticides, he had more money to invest.

Hardest hit was the fishing industry with a third of Sri Lankan fishermen killed and more than 80 per cent of their boats destroyed – which equated to 30,000. By introducing boat building yards to produce high quality canoes, based on these fishermen’s needs, people were able to earn a living. Many boats donated by other organisations after the disaster were often unsuitable and discarded.

By helping to rebuild and repair boats, it meant people could regain their independence, not having to rely on food aid but starting up successful and vital businesses.

One of the charity’s biggest successes was house rebuilding. By using technologies developed by Practical Action and locally available materials, people were trained in how to rebuild their homes. This work led to the charity becoming a finalist in the World Habitat Awards, which recognises practical and innovative solutions to housing needs and problems.

As Vishaka Hidellage, Director, Practical Action Sri Lanka, said: “The 2004 tsunami devastated so many lives, yet people wanted to know what they could do move on to rebuild their lives with pride and dignity. Five years later we are still working with communities; whether it is supporting lagoons and fisheries, paddy farming, or working with people on new enterprises such as dairy or growing new crops, the people of Sri Lanka refused to let this devastating event beat them. While we will all remember what happened with tremendous sadness we will continue to look forward to a brighter future.”

While no one will ever forget the tragic events which unfolded five years ago, Practical Action’s ‘small is beautiful’ approach – so appropriate to an organiation founded by Schumacher – along with people’s determination, hope and independence, shows what can be achieved in the face of what may have seemed hopeless to the rest of the world.

We should celebrate what people have achieved in such desperate circumstances, while hoping communities will never have to face such losses ever again. This work still goes on and we regularly hear inspiring stories of how people continue to thrive. Let’s hope this festive period brings joy to people in Sri Lanka and the rest of the world.

Climate hopes for new decade fade away as Copenhagen fails

Sunday, December 20th, 2009 by

RATHER than starting a new decade full of hope, developing countries have been failed by the outcome of the United Nations climate change talks in Copenhagen.

In the run up to the summit, hopes were high for a fair and just deal for those most vulnerable to climate change, yet no legally binding deal was agreed.
At the last minute a ‘deal’ was agreed by world leaders, but the ‘Copenhagen Accord’ leaves much to be desired.

The main points include:

• No emission reduction targets for industrialised counties
• No plan for how to implement adaptation support for developing counties
• No timeframe for resolving these issues

It is felt the Copenhagen Cop has put talks back by two years, leaving developing countries not further forward than they were following the Bali talks in 2007, where it was decided 2009 would be the final deadline for a post Kyoto successor.
And while NGOs and key members of country delegations were effectively locked out of the talks or forced to queue for hours, celebrity and rock stars seemingly had easy access to the conference.

This meant experts were unable to scrutinise text coming out of the conference and raise important questions regarding the detail.

This year’s indecision and lack of leadership means millions of people across the world will continue to suffer as climate injustice adversely affects the lives of those who have done little to contribute to the problem.

‘COP’ out for world’s most vulnerable

Saturday, December 19th, 2009 by

The Copenhagen climate conference has failed the most vulnerable people.

We hoped that justice would prevail; that in 2009, those responsible for climate change would face up to the crisis looming and act – stop contributing to the problem and start compensating those already suffering. This was has not happened. Fairness and ambition were apparently too much to ask of leaders from the major emitters.

Perversely, when it came to it, the futures of the people vulnerable to climate change were left for an exclusive club of nations to bodge in a backroom. Now we know that they left the science of global warming locked out as well.

The are calling it the ‘Copenhagen Accord’ which the most powerful nations agreed. Discussions are still ongoing, yet the key players have now left the building. The main points are:

  • No emission reductions targets for industrialised countries
  • No mechansim for adaptation support for developing countries
  • No timeframe for resolving these issues

Copenhagen has failed on all aspects of necessity. Two years ago in Bali, the UNFCCC managed to get nations to agree that 2009 would be the final moment for deciding a successor treaty for the Kyoto Protocol. As absurd as it sounds, we are now in a worse position.

Back in Bali, a deal was reached when developing countries pleaded the rich countries to either lead or get out of the way. Last night the richest countries said we’re not ready to lead, and then promptly buggered off leaving this message:

Despite the impacts of climate change already pushing the most vulnerable people in to grave danger, despite the science compelling emissions to peak and decline in the next decade, and despite two years of concerted civil society action to ensure leaders know that Copenhagen 2009 was the final deadline, we are still not ready to act and we will leave millions of people unprepared for the consequences.

It remains to be seen which will come first: action from rich countries, or catastrophic climate change. Many people who rely on the climate to survive will sadly find out the hard way.

Crunch time: Copenhagen’s climate checklist

Thursday, December 17th, 2009 by

Tomorrow is deal day. At some point – maybe not until the wee hours – the world will get an announcement about a plan to tackle climate change. Since nations pledged to address global warming 17 years ago in Rio de Janeiro, we have waited about 17 years for governments to take the problem seriously. Tomorrow is their chance.

They go it alone. Civil society has ostracised from the proceedings, forced, because of ‘overcrowding’, into a renovated cattle market miles away. Huddling before two screens streaming footage from the conference, people that have been fighting for environmental integrity since the Rio Earth Summit in 1992 (find a politician that can say the same) try to decipher what is really happening behind the scenes.

Fortunately, civil society has put the hours in over the last twenty years; closely monitoring the science, addressing the impacts of climate change on vulnerable people, and campaigning for climate justice. If nothing else, we are certain what the deal must look like. Here is list of the essential components to measure whether tomorrow’s announcement is everything it should be:

1. Mitigation targets

The science for avoiding dangerous tipping levels is unequivocal; industrialised nations must cut their emissions by at least 40 percent by 2020 and 80 percent by 2050 compared to 1990 levels. These measures should limit increases in global temperatures to 2 degrees, but this could still be too much for parts of Africa and small island states.

Look out for: Anything less than these figures; baselines other than 1990; loopholes for offsetting responsibility.

2. Adaptation support

Developed nations have contributed the most to global warming, yet the poorest people in vulnerable countries are hit first and worst by the consequences. Compensation is due in the order of $100 billion a year by 2020. Without this, those who have not caused the problems will be forced to pay for the impacts.

Look out for: That the funding is additional to existing (unrealised) development aid targets; big headline grabbing figures masking a lack of long-term support; funding must given as grants, not loans.

3. Finance for mitigation

The levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere mean that developing countries, although not historically responsible, will have to take action too. Rich nations are required to fund clean development in these countries.

Look out for: Figures in the region of $100 billion per year

4. A legally binding deal

An outcome that will compel industrialised countries to take action.

Look out for: A ‘political deal’; statements about ‘intention to act’

Hard to be optimistic

Wednesday, December 16th, 2009 by

These last couple of days I have been feeling very uncomfortable here in the Bella Centre. Getting into the building, even with the correct badge, has been an endurance test through long queues and brusque policemen.

NGOs have been issued with a secondary pass to limit our numbers in a vast conference centre that not crowded with 15,000 people. Now, with the restrictions, it feels really empty. Is security the real reason, or the wish not to be scrutinised by civil society?

We have had to select people who will be among the 1000 NGO participants for tomorrow, on a strategic basis – trying to represent regions, key issues, ability to reach to high level people in delegations, as well as familiarity with the key issues that still need to be fought for. The rest of us will work from a nerve centre in Copenhagen, feeding messages to support those inside.

So we are shackled right when the negotiations really are on a knife-edge. With so many major unresolved issues left to the heads of state, it is hard to be optimistic unless either America or China is willing to accept legally-binding emissions reduction targets.

As weak or non-existent targets litter the negotiating table, the world is faced with warming of 3 or 4 degrees above pre-industrial levels – and even higher temperature rises for parts of Africa. Lack of ambition, morality and selflessness are currently putting these regions and small island states well beyond the reach of adaptation. Yet even this provision, a support system supposed to compensate for the loss associated with global warming, hangs in the balance and largely unsupported by developed countries.

Many of us have worked so hard to get climate justice for vulnerable groups, and find it very painful that at present these people are not even mentioned in the text – deletion at the express wish of their own governments, the majority (or loudest voices) within the G77 group.
It is indeed a dark day here. We can only hope, and those of faith should pray, for the world’s leaders to act in the world’s interest, not, as they seem to do now, for the greed of the powerful fossil fuel industry and their own short-term political survival.

Walking Africa, waking the world

Tuesday, December 15th, 2009 by

Yesterday the African Group walked out of discussions at the Copenhagen climate talks, but it feels more like the negotiations have walked out on Africa.

I am from Sudan, where we are currently experiencing a prolonged drought and many people are moving into urban areas, especially Khartoum, because it is too dry to grow crops on their land. Farmers in developing countries are on the front line of climate change and cannot wait forever for these negotiations to come up with a fair treaty.

The African Group are concerned that the industrialised nations, which are historically responsible for climatic change, want to ditch the Kyoto Protocol. It is not that they love the Protocol itself, but that it is the only legally binding treaty in existence.

They fear that by focussing on a new and alternative treaty, many rich countries will have shirked their responsibilities to reduce emissions and, worse, that it may not be possible to get a better treaty for some time. For a continent that stands to lose so much as the climate continues to change, this is too much of a gamble.

It would be absurd for Africa to sign on up something that will doom vast areas of the continent. So when we see the historic emitters proposing targets that take no account of science, we are of course frustrated. The issue is much wider than the Kyoto Protocol debate; it is about the widespread ignorance of African experiences and Africa’s needs.

I fear that many countries are busy protecting their economic interests when it is the world that is at risk. They are too cowardly to look at Africa, to look at the science, and to face up to the fact that serious changes are needed. If they do not look soon, they may not like what the see when they next visit Africa.

Bridging the ‘Gigatonnes gap’

Monday, December 14th, 2009 by

The weekend disappeared into seemingly endless work save for the NGO party on Saturday night, and it wasn’t great to have to attend a long strategy day at 11am on Sunday. This rolled late into the evening as we took to the serious issue of bridging the ‘Gigatonnes gap’ – the deficit between the emissions cuts proposed by developed and larger developing countries, and what science says is needed to prevent a rise in 2 degrees rise in global temperatures. I am no expert on this, but I went to offer some input on how to convey these ideas to developing country colleagues and delegates.

How nice then to be greeted by lengthy queues to get into the conference centre this morning! At 10 o’clock I met with the UK’s development minister, Douglas Alexander, to stress that the current offers from industrialised countries would undermine development totally. We urged him to pressure on the UK and his EU peers to ramp up mitigation targets to at least -30%, and to start making proposals on long-term adaptation finance.

Out of this meeting, I flew from being the interrogator to the interrogated, as I sat on panel of two side events – the first on ensuring finance for adaptation reaches the most vulnerable people, and another on gender perspectives of climate. Both were really well attended, and people showed a lot of interest in the work Practical Action has been doing.

Meanwhile, the negotiations were suspended when the Africa group walked out until the issue of keeping alive the Kyoto Protocol is resolved. The Africa group have very valid concerns – but the huge challenge is that we are short of time here in Copenhagen, the world is short of time before we have to cut emissions – a collapse of these talks could be a high risk strategy for securing a decent deal.

Talking about the future

Sunday, December 13th, 2009 by

It is now likely that some funding to help those countries vulnerable to climate change will be made available in Copenhagen. The current figures proposed are not enough and whether they will increase is an issue to be decided in the coming week of negotiations, along with how these funds will be raised and how they will be dispersed.

Today, at the annual Development and Climate Days hosted by IIED, a different question was asked: what needs to be done to ensure this money reaches the people whose situation has changed so much that they have to adapt? Poised to ruminate on this were the heavy weights of development; the World Bank, UNDP, UNEP and a Bangladeshi research institute that has led the way in adaptation thinking.

It was a frank debate, and the more fruitful for it. The group acknowledged that, even if Copenhagen delivered at the end of the week all the money required for adaptation, there are still gaps to be addressed in providing support. How would we ensure that all adaptation projects promote development and not obstacles? What is best way to learn from the adaptation actions that communities are already doing? How exactly will climate change affect urban areas?

One comment proved particularly popular with the audience – we already know the answers to most of these questions; the years of experience from Bangladesh in particular are sufficient to ensure adaptation support can become more widely implemented. What is needed is for the UN bodies to create the architecture for bringing this learning together.

The speaker from the World Bank believed that good development naturally increases the ability to adapt, and we should focus on this whilst some of these questions remained open. This interesting point, but it jarred with an earlier issue he raised; that many people in his country – the US – and wider do not recognise the implications of climate change for developing countries.

Whilst those in vulnerable situations can’t wait for everyone in the industrialised nations to realise the implications of high emissions, I think the chances of getting a deal that provides the amounts of money needed would be improved if leaders listened to the closing comment from the UNDP representative: ‘the climate deal must be a development deal’ – a chance to recompense those suffering from by-products of our own development.

Rounding up the first week in Copenhagen…

Saturday, December 12th, 2009 by

the world's largest climate change demonstrationThe Copenhagen negotiations have now reached the mid point, marked by the world’s largest public demonstration on climate change marching from the city to the conference. It’s time to spin round and assess the view. In the last six days we’ve had texts, non-texts, Danish texts, boos, cheers and a sweating polar bear posing for pictures.

The ministers arrive next, so what awaits them? The world expects a climate deal in six days time, so what are the chances?

Practical Action’s team in Copenhagen give their views on how things stand and which way is forward


Well, after a slow start and really gloomy outlook, negotiators are working flat out to try to get reasonable drafts of text before ministers arrive (Ed Miliband, the UK’s representative is already here), wanting to know what political elements they need to make decisions on.

Today, the draft protocol released by the Association of Small Island State looks pretty good on its proposals on adaptation. One or two other text also are reasonable in many respects.

The EU has now put short-term money on the table for adaptation and mitigation – not enough, but a start, yet they have offered NOTHING on long term finance.

The big problem is the ‘Giga tonne gap’ – the fact that the emissions reductions on the table just do not add up to -40% reductions, and the view is that there is little scope for moving the key countries to reach this level.

A huge amount of lobbying needs to be done, and a lot of work has been left for the Heads of State on Friday!


During the week, Sri Lankan civil society representatives met regularly providing a boost to their delegation. The Sri Lankan group also met and discussed the pressing issues with their Environment Minister. Overall, nineteen Sri Lankans participated in the talks.

Progress in Copenhagen is very slow, but there are some glimmers of hope after the first week. Sri Lanka is very vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and has pressing adaptation needs but faces the problem that it might not fall under the current definition of most vulnerable countries. However, Sri Lanka will now hopefully not miss out on much needed adaptation funds as the latest proposals for adaptation finance do not specify any particular groups of countries


My feeling is that most countries want a legally binding agreement – the problem is in their interpretation of what an agreement will contain. Developing countries want the historic emitters to reduce their emissions and fulfil their moral obligation to support the countries vulnerable to climate. The industrialised nations expect the rapidly developing countries to also take on binding targets.

Because Nepal has negligible emissions, the developed countries are not demanding that we take cuts, but we are still suffering from the emissions they have created historically.

The best outcome for Nepal would be that in the next week developed countries commit to support for adaptation and also propose sufficient legally binding targets so adaptation remains an option.


Negotiators have left many important decisions to the last moment and have woken up to discover that time is running out. It is looking increasing unlikely that developed countries will deliver on the promises they made in Bali two years ago, but there is still cause for determined optimism.

Civil society groups, including Practical Action, continue to send a strong message to the delegates that they will be unable to sell political hot air as a successful outcome of these negotiations. Any deal must lead to concrete commitments on emission reduction and finance.

The message was heard loud and clear on the streets of Copenhagen throughout the day as nearly 100 000 people marched to the conference venue demanding climate justice.


Whilst public support flowed in the street, within the conference centre the talks received an injection of reality when Tuvalu’s delegate began an emotional appeal to the plenary chair. Tuvalu’s representative could not hold back tears as he described the situation in his country, which is just four metres above sea level.

Tuvalu’s plea was not merely borne out of a frustrating week (or even year) of climate talks, but the regular flooding that threatens their existence. Hopefully, this will be a wake up call for the countries causing problems. They now have one week to realise the human implications of climate and agree a deal to stop it.

Indigenous peoples’ rights

Friday, December 11th, 2009 by

There is a fear that the voices of indigenous groups are not being heard. The seemingly never ending chain is a protest to highlight that groups such as the Amazonian peoples have no rights within the negotiations and that their perspectives are not being listened to by industrialised nations: