Loss and damage | Blogs

  • Book launch: Technology and Loss and Damage


    September 29th, 2018

    Practical Action was present at the launch of the book Climate risks beyond adaptation? Loss & Damage from climate change, concepts, methods and policy options held at the Grantham Research Institute of the London School of Economics on Friday 28th September. Why were we there? Practical Action is a development organisation with a keen interest in technology but we recognise that climate change presents a unique technology challenge as we struggle to understand a cope with the consequences.

    The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), entered into force in 1994. This was a seminal moment when technology was recognised alongside finance and capacity, as the means to deliver climate action. Technology shapes our world and has nurtured human development, but at the same time technology has allowed utilisation of resources at increasing rates with unintended consequences for current and future generations. This year with numerous climate disasters the challenge has become more urgent. Hence the role that technology plays in tackling climate change is starting to become more apparent.

    Technology underpins mitigation efforts through supporting energy efficiency, or switching to renewable sources. Technology is vital for adaptation to allow lives and livelihoods to adapt to new climate norms, for example by providing solar water pumps in areas suffering longer and more intense droughts. But for many people these actions are too little and too late. Many of the people we work with are already suffering the irreversible impacts of climate change, for them climate losses and damages are real. For example in Nepal already destructive monsoon floods have been turned into unpredictable and destructive events. In communities in the Karnali and Koshi river basins, the absence of appropriate early warning technology, have led to severe loss of life and assets. The communities and local records recognise that these floods are occurring more frequently, and are more intense, with a clear climate signal present in these changes.

    These impacts are not restricted to a few isolated communities but are happening at increasing rates around the world, with the poorest and marginalised bearing the brunt. But appropriate technology could respond and reduce these losses. The role of technology is crucial in this context, as it shapes risks and the possible limits to adaptation and risk management. Yet, access in developing countries is constrained. For example, National hydrological and meteorological services, are limited in their optionsto improve the spatial and temporal resolution of flood forecasts. This is because these countries lack the funding and capacity necessary to use state-of-the-art technology (i.e., computing power, advanced hydrological and meteorological models) and acquire or collect more granular data, such as digital-elevation-model data and local impact studies such as those undertaken by communities. In addition, the poor and the vulnerable can often not benefit from early warning/early action information due to the digital divide.

    Global leadership under the UNFCCC is needed to change the status quo. Support for progressive levels of innovation and technology already mandated in the Paris Agreement is needed to lead from incremental to transformative change. The UNFCCC’s Technology Mechanism can play a prominent role in this change. While the executive committee of the Warsaw International Mechanism should lead on an assessment of technologies from a climate justice perspective. For both mechanisms to operate effectively they need to rethink access, use, innovation, finance, and push for bottom-up governance mechanisms from the perspective of the poor and most vulnerable. We still have a lot of work to do.

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  • Climate Change is back in the News


    , | September 6th, 2018

    The last few years have started to place climate change back on the political map, not in respect to astounding stories of climate denial but because the foresight of scientists such as James Hansen[1] finally seems to be coming to fruition.  Last autumn witnessed the most devastating North Atlantic Hurricane season on record. A season that the poorer Caribbean counties are only just started to recover from, some may say just in time for the next one. Europe has experienced exceptional heat waves, globally the planet has exceeded numerous temperature maximums and worryingly some planetary system appear to be showing signs of failure. Perhaps most worrying for anyone living next to the sea, is the collapse of the arctic ice sheets. It’s starting to be pretty obvious to everyone except the incumbent of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue that we are entering a new normal, one of increased and less predictable weather.

    Currently the parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, (UNFCCC), signed into force back in 1994, are meeting in Bangkok to progress negotiations on the rule book for the Paris Agreement. The negotiations have so far been convened in a spirit of cooperation and collaboration but based on the first three days there still remains a lot of work to do. So what are the key areas where further work is required?

    The scientific community is nearing the completion of a special report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on keeping within 1.5oC[2]. It’s clear from the full report that this is extremely unlikely and we are falling behind efforts to meet the Paris Agreement. Current commitments as document in Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) landing us well above 3oC warming. This will have catastrophic global impacts but mostly on the poorest, those least responsible for the problem in the first place.

    One of the sticking points in the negotiations and obvious here in Bangkok is finance, or the lack of it. The developed world made a pledge in Copenhagen to provide support to the developing world to respond to the losses caused by climate change. The promise was for $100Bn in addition to existing development budgets to finance climate action. The global community rapidly mobilised the Green Climate Fund as the conduit for this funding, but sadly the promised level of funding is not being met and the majority of the funding is going on Business as Usual mitigation projects with little going to adaptation, and no mechanism in place to cover Loss and Damage caused by irreversible climate change. As we are seeing for some people and communities climate action is already too little and too late, they are living with the consequences of a changed climate.

    But who should pay for the irreversible consequences of climate change, should the polluters pay? One simple way to do this would be the introduction of a climate damages tax[3]. A fossil fuel extraction charge levied on producers of oil, gas and coal to pay for the damage and costs caused by climate change. The use of the substantial revenues raised would be allocated, for the alleviation and avoidance of the suffering caused by severe impacts of climate change in developing countries, including those communities already forced from their homes.

    Finally on technology, something close to the hearts of myself and my colleagues at Practical Action. Technology is critical to limit warming to less than 1.5°C. The Paris Agreement proposes a technology framework, meant to provide guidance on technology as a means along with finance and capacity. The Technology Mechanism that came out of COP 16 in Cancun, is great but has had limited achievements. It has been stymied by lack of funding and struggled to get past the first stage of top down, gender blind technology needs assessments. The framework was meant to enhance the process to deliver technology to support transformational climate action, by bringing more actors on board and by empowering the voice of local communities and national governments. The sort of participatory action necessary to deliver in the spirit of the Paris Agreement. Parties seem to have lost their ability to dream big and develop the technology framework that the world needs, unfortunately it feels like we are stuck at square one[4].

    [1] https://www.theguardian.com/environment/climate-consensus-97-per-cent/2018/jun/25/30-years-later-deniers-are-still-lying-about-hansens-amazing-global-warming-prediction

    [2] http://www.ipcc.ch/report/sr15/

    [3] https://practicalaction.org/blog/programmes/climate_change/the-climate-damages-tax-an-idea-whose-time-has-come/

    [4] https://practicalaction.org/blog/programmes/climate_change/skeletons-castles-and-closets-a-reflection-on-technology-negotiations-at-sb46/

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  • Technology for Development


    June 28th, 2018

    Why is technology justice central to international development?

    As history demonstrates, technology provides a catalyst for change. Practical Action has been working on flood Early Warning Systems (EWS) for over ten years and we have seen not only technology adoption taking place but also social change occurring.

    At the Technology for Development conference the focus is very much on the former, but in my active participation and interaction with the conference delegates I am interested to explore the latter.

    Looking beyond the hardware

    Practical Action’s experience of developing EWS, demonstrates the benefit that new technologies can have on development. However, although technology may provide a jump in capability, understanding the nature of the change is vital if these developments are to be maintained. We need to understand the causal factors in adoption and what are the threats to this progress being maintained?

    EWS appear to have a transformational impact on the communities that they reach, although this transformation doesn’t take place immediately in synchrony with the delivery of the technology, there is a time lag between the rollout of the technology and the social change needed to embed the EWS into people’s lives.

    For EWSs the following greatly simplified process takes place:

    • Phase one – No EWS, the community lives at high risk, they may implement a basic observation based systems and flee at the onset of each flood event, but losses accumulate as population density and climate change impacts progress;
    • Phase two – EWS arrives but trust is not yet built so impact on behaviours is limited. Critical is the provision of reliable warning combined with the delivery of actionable warning that people can understand and follow;
    • Phase three – community members begin to trust the EWS system, they begin to rely on it as rainfall events, this starts to adjust behaviours, rather than fleeing when the warning is announced they prepare for the evacuation, and in the process they start to learn about what preparedness actions are the most beneficial;
    • Phase four – communities begin learning about hazard profiles, and that no floods are the same, they start to recognise critical impacts and trends in the hazard event, this learning leads to adaptations in their lives and livelihoods to limit loss and damage.

     

    At the Technology for Development conference we are hearing a lot about the success of the technology systems, but less about the impacts these systems have on people’s lives. People almost seem to be passive beneficiaries rather than components in the system. As we have learned, the EWS must become integrated into people’s lives. This will enable people living in flood prone areas to be empowered and informed to live with the risks they face.

    Looking at the roll out of EWSs, and how this is being reported in the key global agreement, we find a similar disconnect. Reporting for global agreements is too focussed on the technology roll out and not on the impact the technology has on avoided losses. Most systems are focussed too heavily on the monitoring and warning components and most systems are failing to reach the poorest and most hazard prone.

    Recommendations

    Investment in technology is vital if we are to deliver on the SDG’s, to put the Sendai framework for DRR into practice and to meet the global obligations under the Paris Agreement and hence avoid the disaster of climate induced change. Central to delivery under the Paris Agreement is the need for a financing mechanism under the Loss and Damage mechanism to ensure investment to put in place to ensure avoidable losses are maximised.

    EWS are vital transformational mechanisms, not as simple silver bullets but as catalysts for behavioural change. It’s not just the hardware but the orgware and software that also requires investment, time and patience, and the system must be owned and for the communities to ensure these benefits are delivered.

    Find out more

     

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  • The Climate Damages Tax, an idea whose time has come!


    April 12th, 2018

    Pollution must be brought under control and mankind’s population and consumption of resources must be steered towards a permanent and sustainable equilibrium. E.F Schumacher, Small is Beautiful: Economics as if people mattered.

    According to the last global review[1] Natural Hazards resulted in 9,503 deaths, 96 million people being affected, and economic costs in excess of US$314 billion. Weather-related events were responsible for the majority of both human and economic losses. Almost 90% of the deaths in 2017 were due to climatological, hydrological or meteorological disasters. Nearly 60% of people affected by disasters were affected by floods, while 85% of economic losses were due to storms, mainly from the three hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria that struck the Caribbean.

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

    Climate change is fuelling many of these catastrophic weather events[2]. Unfortunately vulnerable countries, communities and ecosystems are on the frontline of this catastrophe. Poor people now face, due to lack of meaningful progress to reduce carbon emissions, changes in climate beyond the ability of people and local ecosystems to adapt to – a phenomenon described as ‘Loss and Damage’. However, Loss and Damage remains a political concept, mandated during the UNFCCC negotiations as a separate article in the Paris Agreement, but it is hamstrung with its roots mistakenly seen as in technical climate adaptation and disaster risk reduction.

    This confusion is not helping anyone. It generates a sense that no one cares about the poorest and the most vulnerable. So it was great to see some progress at the recent meeting of the Executive Committee for the Warsaw International Mechanism (WIM), held in Bonn two weeks ago. They recognised that a definition for Loss and Damage is necessary, if we are to start to do anything to respond to the threat. But a definition will not be enough, the Paris Agreement will also needs to mobilise money to pay for the consequences of climate change. For the WIM its core mission remains delivering finance for addressing Loss and Damage. The WIM must engage constructively to understand what finance and support vulnerable countries need, and identify sources and how it will be channelled.

    There are solutions such as deploying simple Early Warning Systems technologies such as these being piloted in Peru but they need financing

    But we all know the global aid budget is failing to keep pace with the growing global demands[3]. Climate change is exacerbating existing global problems, drought leading to failed harvests, flood removing homes and livelihoods and acidification of oceans depleting fish stocks to name but a few. These local catastrophes drive climate migration, populations are on the move and social and political tensions are rising. One way this could be defused would be to make some real progress on addressing Loss and Damage. It would make long term economic sense to reverse these trends but to do this we need money for action. Why not put the polluter’s pays principle into practice? We should ensure that the polluting companies pay for the damage they have caused. One way would be to equitably implement a “Climate Damages Tax” on fossil fuel extraction, which could raise billions of dollars a year, funded by the industry that is responsible for approximately 70% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions[4].

    So Practical Action are proud to be part of a movement proposing that the ‘polluter pays’ principle is put into action. It is now time for the industry most responsible to pay for the damages it has caused, and for vulnerable countries worst affected to receive the financial assistance they so urgently need. This requires the introduction of an equitable fossil fuel extraction charge – or Climate Damages Tax – levied on producers of oil, gas and coal to pay for the damage and costs caused by climate change when these products are burnt. The substantial revenues raised could be allocated through the UN Green Climate Fund or similar financial mechanism, for the alleviation and avoidance of the suffering caused by severe impacts of climate change in developing countries, including those communities forced from their homes. Finally, despite additional financial resources, it is recognised that we still need to push for the urgent replacement of fossil fuels, with renewable sources of energy assisted by the economic incentive of increasing the rate of the Climate Damages Tax over time.

    If you want to learn more then please come along on Monday; https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/climate-damages-tax-campaign-launch-tickets-44114116510

    If you agree the Climate Damages Tax is an idea whose time has come, join us by signing the declaration here: https://www.stampoutpoverty.org/climate-damages-tax/climate-damages-tax-declaration/

    [1] http://cred.be/sites/default/files/CredCrunch50.pdf

    [2] https://practicalaction.org/blog/programmes/climate_change/climate-change-is-fuelling-extreme-weather-events/

    [3] http://devinit.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/GHA-Report-2017-Full-report.pdf

    [4] http://www.theactuary.com/news/2017/07/100-firms-responsible-for-majority-of-co2-emissions/

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  • Women as a force to build resilience


    March 8th, 2018

    Many risk drivers are created by development choices at global or national levels, but all are manifested at the local level, so local people must be central to risk reduction practice. But it is important to recognise that in these communities it is the disabled, elderly, women and girls who are the most at risk. For example, women accounted for 61% of fatalities caused by Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar in 2008, 70-80% in the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and 91% in the 1991 cyclone in Bangladesh[i]

    But women often have the weakest voice and the least opportunity or face restrictions of their voice being heard or listened to, but this shouldn’t be the case when they make up half of the adult population. Social norms around gender mean that women’s circumstances, for instance clothing and level of mobility, affect their ability to respond to sudden events. Exclusion means that women remain overlooked, resulting in preparedness and response measures that ignore their particular needs and in the worst cases actually exacerbate their risk. Unless gender equality is realised, planning will continue to add additional weight to women’s multiple burdens as care givers.

    The critical need to address gender differences in development is well established and has been acknowledged globally at the highest levels, although there is still a long way to go to achieve these lofty aspirations. This was best articulated by the women’s major group at Sendai, who commented that “…however, women are often included together with girls and marginalized groups, furthering the ‘victim’ paradigm; the term ‘gender equality’ does not appear in the text, nor is there a reference to women’s human rights[ii].

    There is nothing natural about disasters, disasters occur when development goes wrong. Disasters often highlight existing gender based imbalances and inequalities in societies; reflecting vulnerabilities as well as capacities embedded in the social systems and in the economic context of development. It is therefore paramount that responsible development is inclusive development, that women are central to development efforts, and challenge existing practices and norms so that we all #Pushforprogress.

    Practical Actions Disaster Risk Reduction programme acknowledges the central role of women in disaster risk reduction; that women and girls – like men and boys – possess skills and capacity to prepare for, respond to and recover from crisis, and to manage risk and build resilience over the longer term.

    In Bangladesh one of the biggest challenges during the annual flood season is access to clean water. One way to provide clean water in spite of flooding is the construction of raised plinth tube wells allowing families to stay at home, and saving them the inconvenience to relocate. In discussions with communities women report psychological benefits of not being compelled to relocate and the assurance that the water supply they are using is unlikely to cause sickness to their family.

     

    But local decisions are decided by the Community Based Organisation, and getting women onto these bodies is vital. It is important that the voice of half of the community is heard in the decision making process. The CBO will decide on the location of improved raised plinth wells, so women must have a voice to ensure that they are located where women feel comfortable accessing them. In our flood resilience project in Sirajganj we have focussed on capacity building of CBO’s and of 16 CBOs established so far women lead seven.

    Therefore, gender equality is not a choice but an imperative. At Practical Action to ensure that we are true to this principle, we recognise that disaster risk reduction must be inclusive. We need to continually strengthen the gender skills and gender diversity across our teams. We need to strengthen the quality of our M&E work, with gendered outcomes identified from the beginning and data disaggregated by gender from the outset. This will not only help us better understand what works in different contexts and respond to these in the future, but deliver comprehensive DRR that changes systems and sets in place preparation,  prevention and transformations that deliver resilience for all.

    #IWD2018 #InclusionMatters #Pushforprogress

    Find out more

    Discover more ways to build community flood resilience on the Flood Resilience Portal by exploring the resources library or sending an inquiry . Or share your own experiences with the Flood Resilience Portal community.

    [i] UNDP, 2013: http://www.undp.org/content/dam/undp/library/gender/Gender%20and%20Environment/PB3-AP-Gender-and-disaster-risk-reduction.pdf

    [ii] http://wedo.org/where-are-womens-rights-in-the-sendai-framework-for-drr/

     

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  • Enhancing Flood Resilience through Livelihood adaptation


    February 7th, 2018

    “The 2014 flood was worse than the 2009 flood but the loss and damage was less because people had learned from the earlier event.” Dinanath Bhandari

    I am currently visiting the Practical Action Nepal flood resilience project in the western region, which has been supported by the Z Zurich foundation for the last five years. The project is working in 74 flood vulnerable communities adjacent to the Karnali River, located in the Terai plains, the flat lands that connect Nepal to India. The western Terai is one of the poorest regions of the country and has faced migration from the mid-hills by landless farmers looking for space to farm. When they arrived much of the unoccupied land was next to the river, the flood prone area which has fertile soil great for agriculture, as long as you can save yourself and your assets when the monsoon flash floods arrive. It is in this context that the flood project operates, and I’m fortunate enough to be exploring the lessons from phase one with my Nepali colleagues before we start a second phase.

    Mrs Mana Kumari Tharu and her elevated rice store

    The raised grain store

    In the Terai flooding is a matter of life and almost every year a flood event of varying severity occurs. For many of the poorest members of the community this can be a devastating loss as hurriedly harvested rice stored in traditional ground level storage jars are ruined by the flood waters. It only takes moisture reaching the jar for the rice to spoil. One simple measure to avoid this problem is to raise the storage bins off the ground. But the problem is the bins can be very heavy and wooden structures aren’t strong enough to support their weight. So the project has provided 40 of the poorest households with concrete platforms to elevate their rice storage bins. Mrs. Mana Kumari Tharu[1] told me that now when she gets the message to flee to the flood shelter she is less worried about her precious rice. She knows it has a much better chance of surviving. If she can preserve this staple food supply her family will have enough to eat and will not be forced to adopt erosive coping strategies such as selling equipment or livestock. This will also reduce their dependency on relief food aid, something that not all families will be fortunate to avoid, hence ensuring those supplies reach the remote families who need them the most.

    The off farm training

    Youth workshop trainees from Rajapur

    We joined a workshop in which 12 young people between 20 and 35 years old, came together to share their experiences of a series of off farm training courses in which they had enrolled. This gathering was organised 12 months after their training to learn about their experiences and whether they had been successful in their new careers. The 14 young people gathered had been trained in such diverse topics as carpentry, dressmaking, engineering, plumbing and construction. The course was validated by the district education office and each of the graduates received a certificate which greatly enhanced their employment opportunities. All of the participants reported success in finding work and the story of one young graduate Mr. Anil Tharu who went to Kathmandu was particularly interesting. After receiving his certificate he tried to find work locally but was unable, so he ended up paying a middle man to join a construction project in Kathmandu. Initially he had to pay back the travel loan and the finders fee for securing the work. But he quickly realised that there was more work in Kathmandu than there were skilled workers. So he was able to pay back his loan find work on his own and after three months, he has saved enough money to return to Rajapur. He is now employed with a local construction company building houses and earning 30,000 Nepali Rupees (£200) per month.

    Mr. Sita Man Tharu and Mr. Prem Thapa discussing his Banana plantation

    The banana plantation

    Mr. Sita Ram Tharu is a traditional rice farmer who grew up in the Terai region. He was invited as a member of one of the target communities to attend a farmer field school at which a number of different cultivation methods were demonstrated. He said that most of the methods on show didn’t interest him, until they presented banana plantation. He and his wife, who suffers from high blood pressure, found that the annual chores of preparing the rice filed, growing the saplings, dibbing them out, caring for them during the rainy season and finally harvesting and winnowing his crop was getting too much. In addition the rice plants were vulnerable to flash flood events washing the young seedlings out of the ground. So Mr. Tharu replaced his seasonal rice plot with a banana plantation. He purchased the tissue culture produced saplings for 45 Nepali Rupees (30p) each and planted them in this plot. He admitted that the first year the labour was excessive, but now the 90 trees are established the job of wedding the plantation and harvesting the bananas is a lot less stressful than the challenge of producing a rice crop. And he knows that if a flood event does occur his banana trees have a much greater chance of withstanding the water providing him with continued income once the waters recede. The old rice plot used to generate a maximum of 30,000 Nepali Rupees (£200) per year, his banana plot now generates over 200,000 Nepali Rupees (£1,400) per year. When I asked him what he did with the extra money, he said he had put some in the bank in case his wife needed medical treatment for her blood pressure, and the rest he had used to send his son to Kathmandu to study for a master’s degree.

    All these stories demonstrate the transformative power of well targeted interventions and local choice in their uptake and adoption. This wasn’t mass development but locally targeted appropriate development, but I am still wondering if this will be enough to make the people and their communities flood resilient?

    Next steps…

    I am interested to explore with my Nepalese colleagues how these individual successful pieces of the puzzle, could fit together to tackle the underlying resilience challenges facing these people. Floods will undoubtedly continue, and will be supercharged by climate change making the monsoon rains more intense as we saw last year. But what can the individuals, the communities, the local government, private sector, national government and international community do to build the resilience of these people? These three examples are all successes in building resilience, however we still have a long way to go to roll this out across this one river basin let alone the other twenty plus river basins that criss-cross Nepal.

    More to follow….

    Find out more

    Discover more ways to build community flood resilience on the Flood Resilience Portal by exploring the resources library or sending an inquiry . Or share your own experiences with the Flood Resilience Portal community.

    [1] Tharu is indigenous to the Terai with over 70% of the population sharing this surname

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  • Financial capital and development, where’s the problem?


    February 2nd, 2018

    When Fritz Schumacher wrote “Small is Beautiful” he used the book to highlight two key challenges. The first that traditional development wasn’t working, he highlighted that it was failing to overcome pervasive and underlying challenges and second, that the economic assumptions guiding this development were flawed. He argued eloquently for a new approach to development, an economic development model in which finite resources were recognised and that the aim wasn’t capital accumulation but human wellbeing. Development in which people not money mattered.

    For the last five years, Practical Action have been working with Zurich insurance foundation on a global flood alliance programme. One of the aims of this programme has been an attempt to measure flood resilience. The degree to which flood resilience can be enhanced at the community level, through wise development choices, choices that enhance flood resilience, that reverse vulnerabilities and reduce risk. These efforts to measure community flood resilience are built upon the sustainable livelihoods framework, and outline an approach to resilience measurement that takes a holistic view across the five development capitals (Figure 1). The framework measures the contribution of components, or resilience sources from each of the five capitals and measures how they perform to either forewarn, mitigate or allow communities to live and thrive in spite of the flood event.

    Sustainable Livelihood Framework (DFID 2001)

    One of the questions we are hoping to answer is what is the role of financial capital? Or more importantly in the rush to generate wealth as the solution to poverty, how critical is capital formation to resilience building? In the context of the 5-capitals approach we are finding that, insurance schemes, microcredit and inadequately financed cash transfer programmes in general do not allow for financial capital formation – at best they enable consumption smoothing. So we want to explore sustainable capital formation, and explore this at multiple levels from the community up to national governments? If by using the tool we can identify measures to build flood resilience, this may allow enough people to be generating profits that allows a capital to accumulate. Is this capital accumulation sufficient to be used to pool risk? To create a proper capital buffer will be very hard, indeed methods currently being trailed in the development community use some form of micro-credit or similar process to enhance local capital accumulation. Preliminary results indicate that this may not be a good way of promoting capital formation.

    Converting the risk into an economic value and then paying this amount into a common pool thereby attempting to share the risk evenly among a large number of people.

    A recent and sobering study of Indian agricultural insurance schemes indicates they were ineffective from a financial perspective. It was found that regardless of their dubious impacts on the formation of the other capitals, they are not even useful for financial capital formation. The job of social insurance must be to smooth consumption shocks enough to allow capital formation, not to extract so much surplus that no new capital formation is possible. Perhaps the real problems are around distribution and redistribution?  Economics as if people mattered, this and other challenges await us as we try to explore the links between wealth creation and development. What we do know is that we need to be looking outside the box and exploring innovative options, not just rolling out business as usual, failed solutions.

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  • Loss and Damage at COP23


    November 30th, 2017
    Taking the Loss and Damage debate beyond the contentious issue of compensation to identify the mechanisms needed to address the losses and damages occurring as a consequence of climate change, especially for the 
    poorest and most vulnerable.

    The 23rd Conference of the Parties (COP23) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was held under the presidency of Fiji. This is the first time a highly disaster-vulnerable country has been the president of a COP, and hence disaster and climate resilience featured heavily on the agenda. In particular the Loss and Damage debate on the limits to adaptation and measures to overcome these limitations received a lot of attention. Loss and Damage remains a political concept, developed during the UNFCCC negotiations, but with its technical roots in climate adaptation and disaster risk reduction. To explore the challenge and the limits to tackling Loss and Damage in poor and vulnerable communities Practical Action with our partner the International Institute for Applied Systems and Analysis (IIASA) presented at a number of events to highlight the challenge.

    Colin McQuistan presenting on the role of technology such as Early Warning Systems to reduce the impact of Losses and Damages

    At one event in the Fiji Pavilion, Practical Action’s discussed the role of technology to tackling intolerable risk that remains even after standard disaster risk reduction and mitigation measures have been adopted. In spite of resilience building efforts, losses and damages still occur signalling the ‘beyond adaptation’ challenge.

    Overview showing the three pillars of climate action and their relationship to the key global agreements and loss and damage.

    Practical Action presented findings from a case study, exploring the role of technology in climate risk management to the threat of flooding in the interconnected river systems of the South Asian region.  The study showed that only a limited set of the available technologies are accessed and used for flood early warning in the region. Insufficient capacity and funding leads to the implementation of the bare minimum, with early warning system implemented in a largely copycat way. However as climate change progresses, the demands on these early warning systems will increase, however if no action is taken, the technology available for these people remains the same. This means their adaptation deficit will increase. We have developed a policy framework (see above) for the Climate, Disaster and Sustainable Development discourse to inform rethinking Access, Use and Innovation from the perspective of the poor so that technology can be used to reduce loss and damage and contribute to rebalancing climate justice.

    This has been mirrored in a recent blog by IIASA calling for a process that involves the active participation of those in politics, public administration, civil society, private sector and research to find new solutions to tackle increasing levels of climate risk for those that need it most. Losses and damages as a result of climate change are not going away and without urgent action they are only going to get worse.

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  • Reflections on a week at COP23 – the 23rd annual meeting of the UN Conference of Parties on Climate Change


    November 17th, 2017

    Within a short time of arriving in Bonn early last week, one thing became very clear, it was not just the negotiators or minority groups of environmentalists who thought COP23 was important. A full spectrum of nationalities, government, private sector, civil society, academics, the media and citizens were involved! Whilst the negotiations were taking place in the World Conference Centre and UN Campus (the Bula Zone), ‘Climate Action Events’ were taking place across the city. These events were not confined to the temporary conference centre that had been erected in Rheinaue Park (the Bonn Zone). They were also taking place in the university, colleges, organisations, hotels and a range of other venues.

    So what was driving all this activity? What did people want to see happen? For me, it can be summarised as global action that  will enable us to mitigate, adapt and cope with the impacts of climate change. That is, full and successful implementation of the ‘Paris Agreement’. Most of those participating in Bonn last week knew that COP23, like other annual meetings, was an important step in achieving that.

    Of course, such a far reaching and important issue as climate change is complex and political. And it is no surprise therefore that the negotiations are equally complex, political and slow! Many people ask what difference can individuals, or a small team from a medium sized NGO, can make in such a big event or process. On reflection I think there are several invaluable contributions.

    The first, is contributing to the buzz and hubbub of ‘Climate Action Events’ – to inspire and motivate the negotiators. As the COP organisers know from experience, contrasting multi-stakeholder activity – debate, discussion, evidence, campaigning and advocacy – is an essential part of the process. It highlights what can, and must, be done! It tells negotiators that failure, in these negotiations and process, is not an option!

    A second, is to be part of the body of civil society organisations that keenly follow, critique and support the negotiations. This can include meeting with the negotiating Parties, working in networks (such as the Climate Action Network) or responding when there are requests for information.

    A third, is to share specific examples of climate actions that work, or do not work. Practical Action has diverse experience in understanding how technology transforms the lives of women and men living in, or vulnerable to, poverty. Much of this is directly linked to coping with climate change.

    One such example, and pragmatic way to address the increasing incidence of drought and unreliable rainfall associated with climate change, is the use of solar powered irrigation in Zimbabwe. There are of course many ways to use and enable access to this technology. And many parallel economic and social issues to consider. Agriculture is a private sector. New technology and development initiatives must recognise and appreciate this, for example farmers and communities also need the capacity to engage with and respond to changing markets. Or, working with private sector actors to develop business models which enable them to go beyond the low hanging fruit – the easy to reach and work with. Agriculture is also intrinsically linked to culture and social structures, which means working with households and communities to plan their own development.

    I hope this short example shows that even where there is an obvious ‘win-win’ solution – such as solar powered irrigation to resurrect agriculture in drought prone areas – progress is not simple. As with the climate talks, it needs committed, multi-sector action. And, as with the climate talks, failure is not an option!

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  • Is the snail accelerating?


    November 13th, 2017

    With the first week of the conference done and dusted, where are we in negotiations?

    In September I wrote about the Government of Fiji’s ambition[1] for the 23rd session of the Conference of Parties (COP23) to the Paris Agreement to tackle climate change. The first week of the conference is now over and the high level segment is about to begin. So are we any closer to a comprehensive deal to tackle climate change? A deal that needs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions fast enough to avoid catastrophic social systems failure, that puts in place mechanisms to help people in developing countries adapt to the challenge of climate change and for those where climate action is already too late, put in place a mechanism that responds to their Losses and Damages. A mechanism that helps them pick up the pieces and find a new life despite climate change exacerbated floods washing away their homes, sea level rise making their homes unliveable and fields unproductive or the multitude other ways that climate change impacts are already exceeding the capacity of the poorest to adapt.

    The negotiations are complex from a technical as well as a political perspective. Countries ultimately want to see an equitable deal that delivers on keeping climate change to within 1.5oC. A deal that recognises the different needs and builds from the contributions that each country can make.

    Based on progress during the first week the following three areas must not be forgotten by political leaders as they travel to attend next week, tasked on behalf of all of us to finalise and approve what need to be ambitious conference outcomes.

    First, get serious on mitigation, keep coal in the ground and shift from oil and gas to renewable sources as rapidly as possible!

    Location of coal power plants in the EU in 2016, circle diameter indicates capacity, country colours depict coal use per capita (darker shading indicates higher coal use per capita)

    Second, mainstream climate change in all development, ensure mitigation action doesn’t undermine progress on adaptation and vice versa!

    We know that to end poverty, we must reverse climate change as quickly as possible.  Without doing so, we risk pushing more than 100 million people back into poverty by 2030 from the impacts of climate change alone[2].

    Thirdly, pre 2020 ambition, the two year period before the Paris Agreement comes into force should be a race to climate excellence, not to be climate laggards!

    Prior to the COP starting the U.N Environment Programme released a sobering report[3] detailing the gap between what countries pledged in their initial Paris Agreement commitments — their nationally determined contributions — and what they will need to do in order to keep global warming below the ideal of 1.5oC. Unfortunately for future generations current commitments cover only approximately one third of the emissions reductions needed to be on a pathway of staying well below 2°C. This isn’t a surprise to delegates at the COP, what is alarming is the lack of progress on ramping up this ambition, particularly leadership by the developed world, leading by example on mitigation, and providing the technical and financial support needed to deliver on Adaptation and Loss and Damage to ensure that we do stay on the track agreed in Paris.

    [1] https://practicalaction.org/blog/programmes/climate_change/fijis-vision-for-cop23/

    [2] http://www.worldbank.org/en/news/feature/2015/11/08/rapid-climate-informed-development-needed-to-keep-climate-change-from-pushing-more-than-100-million-people-into-poverty-by-2030

    [3] https://wedocs.unep.org/bitstream/handle/20.500.11822/22070/EGR_2017.pdf

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