The 'A' word

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Adaptation used to be a dirty word in climate change circles: the ‘A’ word, but things are changing. National Geographic’s Andrew Revkin has published an article charting Adaptation’s journey from taboo subject to Bill Gates level acceptance. It is a very helpful piece, one to bookmark.

What is striking is that the article is largely US-centric. The majority of case studies highlight the costs and benefits of employing adaptation strategies in hurricane, flood and forest-fire prone communities across the USA. There are mentions for adaptation efforts in other countries, but the article was written in America, by an American, about America.

This is not a criticism, it is a very useful article and we need more like it; they build the case for adaptation, but it is telling.

It has to be noted that Adaptation is losing its forbidden status in the corridors of the UNFCCC at the exact same time as the most powerful country in the world is facing climate change driven catastrophe after catastrophe. That is not a coincidence.

Revkin’s article does not acknowledge this, perhaps it should have because it has great significance in understanding what happens next.

Joel Wainwright and Geoff Mann, whose 2018 book ‘Climate Leviathan’ we reviewed last May, drew on Mike Davis to advance a warning:

The possibility of rapid, global carbon mitigation as a climate change abatement strategy has passed. The world’s elites, at least, appear to have abandoned it – if they ever took it seriously. In 2010, Mike Davis imagined a ‘not improbable scenario’ in which mitigation ‘would be tacitly abandoned …. in favour of accelerated investment in selective adaptation for Earth’s first-class passengers.’ His predication may prove prescient.

(Wainwright and Mann, 2018, p. 28)

In the coming decades, possibly years, the pendulum may swing dramatically from mitigation to adaptation in the climate change negotiations. The question is, will the first-class passengers, who have just been hit by the reality of climate change, be the chief beneficiaries? Or, will those who have been calling for adaptation support for decades be prioritised? Of course, it should never be an either/or, all human lives are valuable and the suffering is real wherever you are, but global geopolitics inevitably produce winners and losers.

Our advice is to observe very very carefully how the gradually growing pot of adaptation funding is allocated in the coming years. Watch too whether nation states hoard their funds to enable adaptation at home (‘America First’ style) while gradually reducing their contributions to global efforts on climate change.

Reasons to be Vegans

Greggs Vegan Sausage roll. Picture: Greggs

Greggs Vegan Sausage roll. Picture: Greggs

Reasons to be Vegans

Well, number one is to annoy Piers Morgan obviously, but there are better ones.

Prof. Jem Bendell has offered up another this week, it is a little bit nuanced. I’m going to try and explain it in as few words as possible.

Jem is the man behind the influential Deep Adaptation paper that has now been downloaded over 100,000 times. If you’re not yet in that number, I urge you to delve in.

In his latest blog post Hope and Vision in the Face of Collapse – The 4th R of Deep Adaptation, Jem sets out some ‘provisional answers to existential questions’ (wouldn’t that be a great album title by the way?!)

Jem, like a growing number of us, is searching for a way to deal with the realisation that climate chaos is going to lead to social collapse.

As laid out in the Deep Adaptation paper, things aren’t looking too promising for Homo sapiens. It looks like runaway climate change will arrive sooner than we thought; and it might take us with it.

Actually, as Jem points out, there is a distinction to be made here. Human life may not be on the brink of total extinction, it is not a completely hopeless scenario… ‘but [he has] concluded that our way of life has a terminal diagnosis.’

So, human life itself might not go extinct, but our way of life will; and in fundamental ways.

Why?

Because rain-fed agriculture will continue to breakdown over the next decade. Unless we immediately build massive irrigated greenhouses, and plan for compulsory plant-heavy diets and food rationing, we will see malnutrition in the West and resultant civil unrest, lawlessness and a breakdown in normal life.

The UK, like many countries is overly dependent on rain-fed agriculture. As climate change intensifies we are going to get more summers with long droughts - like the one we experienced in 2018. The likelihood is that 2018 was not a ‘1976’ type anomaly, it was most probably a sign of a new normal. Expect more hot, dry, baking summers.

Here comes the sort of nuance that would flummox dear old Piers:

Plant-based diets are usually spoken about as ways of ‘preventing’ climate catastrophe. What Jem challenges us to accept is that they are no longer a preventative course of action. A rapid uptake of ‘plant-heavy diets’ will merely help us to ‘postpone’ climate catastrophe. In accepting this, you are re-framing your understanding of climate change. It is no longer something that can be stopped, or reversed, it is something that will re-shape life on earth permanently.

Postponement of climate catastrophe is reason enough to eat a vegan sausage roll, but a deeper reason is exposed by the last line of the quote I’ve highlighted above.

If rain-fed agriculture fails, there will not be enough food to eat. We will have wasted too much water growing animal fodder and not enough growing delicious plants for ourselves.

In summary then, here are some reasons to be vegans:

  1. Annoy Piers Morgan;

  2. Postpone climate collapse;

  3. Prevent ‘civil unrest, lawlessness and a breakdown in normal life’.*

*Just as a point of clarification, TGT is not a strictly vegan or vegetarian organisation. The issue of how we feed ourselves is simply too complex to take that stance.

In some environments livestock rearing makes social, ecological and economic sense. Without further study it would be irresponsible to say that a purely plant based diet is the right thing to promote in the villages of Nepal’s mountains.

We are keen to research this issue further and would love to hear from anyone with expertise in this subject.

We are clear, however, in our conviction that globally as well as nationally in the UK, livestock rearing needs to be scaled back.

Adapting to climate change: the need for acceptance

Our first blog of 2019 is a guest post by Dr. Lisa Schipper. It was originally posted on globaldev.blog.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recently released a special report on global warming of 1.5ºC, which underscores that actions to limit greenhouse gas emissions have been too little and too late. Yet many projects of adaptation still take the view that with just a few small tweaks, existing livelihoods and lifestyles can be adjusted to meet the challenges of climate change. This column makes the case for true acceptance of what is happening. Life will change dramatically for many – and that has powerful implications for the path of development and human wellbeing.

When I lived in Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam, and complained how warm I felt, a European acquaintance who had already been there for years suggested that ‘one adapts’ to the hot and humid climate. She then went on to be shocked when I mentioned that I didn’t have air conditioning inside my house. ‘It’s the first thing I turn on when I enter a room’, she said. So how did that make her adapted to the sticky climate?

Air conditioners are the type of quick fix that people seem to want in order to adapt to a changing climate. They offer a chance to continue in familiar lifestyles, which for most northern Europeans includes cooler and dryer weather. But air conditioners do not actually make people adapt. In fact, they might even make it more difficult to face the real climate outside because of the contrast between dry, air-conditioned air and warm, humid air.

This exchange prompted me to reflect on what actually constitutes human adaptation and what is just an action that people take to avoid adapting? It struck me that there is a missing dimension to current discussions of adaptation in science, policy and particularly practice – namely, ‘acceptance’.

Acceptance has to play a much more important role in lifestyles over the next few years. Like it or not, the climate is going to change in ways that will challenge many things that people around the world enjoy for their entertainment, in addition to things that are necessary for survival.

Acceptance is described in the book The Environment as Hazard, first published in 1978. In the approach of authors Ian Burton, Robert Kates and Gilbert White, acceptance is considered to be one of the four modes of coping with natural hazards, alongside absorption, reduction and change.

Acceptance is important because it means that people have to face up to what is happening. In the context of migration being touted as an adaptation strategy, there seems to be an assumption that people can embrace living in a new location, rather than preferring to live their lives as before.

I am not trying to suggest that a dramatic change such as migration is not a must for some people and a very useful strategy for many others. But how many people are really willing to leave their homes, their countries and their networks behind as a first choice?

On another level, how many people can willingly accept the possibility that there may be fewer employment options in the future because climate change has made certain jobs impossible or non-existent?

A 2010 study tackles adaptation from the perspective of integral theory, which underscores the importance of ‘interior’ changes – in this case personal and cultural changes that are necessary in the face of climate change.

But acceptance goes beyond individual consciousness about climate change. It also has implications for investment approaches. Should people accept climate change and move into different livelihood strategies that are less sensitive to the climate? Or should they invest in activities that are threatened by climate change and try to make them less sensitive?

Agriculture is the most pertinent example, especially for smallholders whose productivity could potentially increase with minor investment in irrigation technology or machinery. What role does acceptance play in people’s choice of strategy? Does it matter more in some cases than others? These are the types of questions that should be asked when designing adaptation strategies.

Policies and projects on adaptation need to encourage acceptance of the fact that life will change dramatically for many. This needs to be accompanied by overt recognition that for those who have yet to attain a decent level of wellbeing, their path there may now be longer, even non-existent.

This is an issue of justice and equity, which is already a central concept in climate change policy and practice. Where does acceptance as an aspect of adaptation feature in the three ideas of resilience, transformation and mainstreaming? Rarely is the word mentioned in definitions:

  • Resilience, in its least flattering conceptualization, suggests maintaining the status quo. That can be seen to contradict the need for acceptance of change.

  • Mainstreaming the idea of integrating climate change into policy implies that business-as-usual can just continue as long as climate change is taken into account, which may or may not force people to accept that some change will be extremely dramatic, and that there are limits to how effective mainstreaming can be.

  • Transformation, which demands the greatest change of the three ideas, could possibly involve acceptance. After all, people have to accept a new pathway implied in the idea of transformation.

When the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change was written in the early 1990s, it focused on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The science of the time considered that the problem could be contained before it got so big that the changes would actually be experienced.

Now, nearly 30 years later, there is widespread acknowledgement that actions have been too little, too late, and that the planet is locked into a certain amount of change, as noted in the recent IPCC special report, Global Warming of 1.5ºC. This suggests, to some degree, that change has been accepted.

Yet many of the adaptation projects that are being funded still nourish the attitude that with just some small tweaks, existing livelihoods and lifestyles can be adjusted to meet the challenges of climate change. It is almost as if people are trying to avoid negative thinking, by blindly pursuing actions that provide a sense of hope that the transition of wellbeing into a changing climate can be made, without direct or indirect damage.

This does not suggest true acceptances


Dr Lisa Schipper is an Environmental Social Science Research Fellow at the Environmental Change Institute at the University of Oxford. Her work focuses on the drivers of social vulnerability to climate change and natural hazards in developing countries, and the role that adaptation can play in reducing that vulnerability.

World bank gives adaptation equal emphasis

Yesterday, to kick off the COP24 climate change summit in Poland, the World Bank announced plans to increase climate finance. Notably, they spoke explicitly about the need to fund climate change adaptation, resilience and disaster risk reduction. For the first time they are giving adaptation and mitigation ‘equal emphasis’. It is welcome news and we explain why below.

First though, save this tweet; it could go down as an historical moment in climate change adaptation:

Since the Paris Agreement in 2015, we’ve seen climate finance from both the public and private sector, fluctuate around $380bn per year*. In 2016, climate finance totaled $383bn globally ($282bn from private actors; $141bn public actors)**.

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Private actors pretty much only finance climate change mitigation programmes. They make investments (with varying degrees of risk and certainty) in things like renewable energy to help slow climate change down while also making a financial return.

Almost 100% of the finance made available for climate change adaptation, disaster risk reduction and climate resilience comes from public actors (Governments, The World Bank, The UN, NGOs etc. etc.)***

COP 21 in Paris was noteworthy in that adaptation and mitigation were given equal prominence (in principle at least) as part of the pledge made by developed nation states to create $100bn per year of climate finance by 2020.

On current trends, it is difficult to say whether $50bn per year will go to adaptation; the signs have not been hugely promising to date. Historically public actors, like private actors, have also favored mitigation over adaptation as the chart below shows:

AdaptVMitigationPublicActors.png

There are all sorts of political reasons for this balance, relating to global power structures between developed and developing nations. Up to point (in time) this balance does make some sense - if we had successfully mitigated climate change, we wouldn’t need to adapt to it. However, as climate change begins to impact more and more the logic breaks down. It will cost more to repair the damage caused by climate change than it will to adapt to it and limit the extent of that damage.

At COP 24, developing nations, like Nepal, will be calling for a re-balancing of the climate finance directed at adaptation and mitigation.

Currently then, only around $25bn (less than 20%) of public finance for climate action is going to climate change adaptation each year. If we look at climate finance as a whole (around $380bn / year), the percentage of climate finance available for adaptation is approximately 6.5%.

Only 6.5%! $25bn is a paltry amount (less than $4 per person per year), that is probably not even enough for Nepal’s adaptation needs, let alone the entire globe. For some context, $558bn was spent on advertising in 2018 ($76/person).

Here is why the World Bank’s statement is important:

When it comes to climate finance, the World Bank is one of the globe’s most important ‘public actors’; probably the most important, where it leads others follow.

The commitment it is making to increase climate finance is good, but the statement they are making in proportionately increasing the amount going to adaptation is even better.

The World Bank has sent a signal. As their hashtag puts it #AdaptationMatters. We hope other public actors (and maybe even some private actors) will take notice and up their commitments too.


Notes

You can read more about the World Bank’s statement in their press release, their Adaptation and Resilience Action Plan or in The Guardian.

The World Bank financed $7.7bn worth of climate change adaptation work in 2017. In 2021-25 they will up this to $10bn per year.

* Figures and graphs quoted and reproduced here are taken from: Buchner, B., P. Oliver, X. Wang, C. Carswell, C. Meattle, and F. Mazza. 2017. Global Landscape of Climate Finance 2017. Climate Policy Initiative. Available online at: https://climatepolicyinitiative.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/2017-Global-Landscape-of-Climate-Finance.pdf

** It is not enough. Over $1 trillion per year is needed avert catastrophic climate change and social collapse, but we won’t get into that here.

*** If you are a TGT donor you are contributing to this pot. Thank you.

Overshoot day

There have been a number of articles this week about Earth Overshoot Day - it was the earliest it has ever been this year; August 1st. There are tow chinks of light however. The first can be seen in the shape of this graph:

GLOBAL FOOTPRINT NETWORK NATIONAL FOOTPRINT ACCOUNTS 2018

GLOBAL FOOTPRINT NETWORK NATIONAL FOOTPRINT ACCOUNTS 2018

Overshoot day seems to be arriving at almost the same day every year now. Since 2011 it has been on, or around, July 31st. Hopefully we won't be stuck on this plateau for another seven years, it is not impossible for this graph to become a bell shaped one. Hopefully we'll start to descend quite rapidly.

We can do this, we can #MoveTheDate if we think systemically and identify the leverage points that can be tugged at to trigger the systemic change that will get us out of this mess. 

What seems to be missing from the conversation around Overshoot day is just how much inequality there is in resource use. We do get graphs like this: 

GLOBAL FOOTPRINT NETWORK NATIONAL FOOTPRINT ACCOUNTS 2018

GLOBAL FOOTPRINT NETWORK NATIONAL FOOTPRINT ACCOUNTS 2018

These are useful, to an extent, but they give a bit of a warped picture of who's to blame. Inequality of wealth and resource use exists between countries as the graph shows, but also within them, as it doesn't. We need to drill down and look at what is going on in each country.

The ecological footprints of US citizens, for example, are going to vary drastically. For many the footprint will be quite low, maybe 1.5 planets, whereas for a small minority the footprint will be gigantic - 10 planets or more. It is this small minority who are accelerating natural resources use, it is their behaviour that we need to leverage.  

This is the other chink of light, we don't need to change the consumption habits of the entirety of humanity. We actually only need to change the consumption habits of a comparatively small percentage of the population in each country. 

Overshoot day can be shifted if we tackle economic inequality more effectively. Make inequality a central part of the conversation next Overshoot day.

A special moment

By Morgan Phillips, TGT Co-Director

Earlier this week I presented a 250g bag of coffee beans at our Trustee's meeting. It was grown by farmers in Deusa, Solukhumbu and roasted in Kathmandu by Nuwa Coffee. It was quite a moment. 

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As I sat with our trustees delivering my usual update on our project work, I wasn't quite anticipating the emotional impact of what happened next.

Wrapping up my summary of progress in Solukhumbu, I took the 250g packet pictured above out of my rucksack and put it on the table. The delight on the faces of our trustees as they read the label and took in the scent of the freshly roasted coffee beans was so wonderful. It was one of those moments where everyone in the room stops and just appreciates.

It was appreciation, I think, for the skill, tenacity, commitment and team-working that goes into what is happening in Nepal. We have quite brilliant NGO partners in Nepal, led by an exceptional Executive Director, Narayan Dhakhal - it is privilege to work with them. We enable them to do what they do and they enable climate change adaptation and sustainable development in one of the poorest places on Earth. 

We should probably stand back and appreciate how brilliant they are more often. Thank you Eco Himal and deep congratulations, the coffee is amazing. 

Narayan Dhakhal, Exec. Director, Eco Himal Nepal leads a coffee growing workshop in Deusa.

Narayan Dhakhal, Exec. Director, Eco Himal Nepal leads a coffee growing workshop in Deusa.

We hope to be able to sell roasted Coffee beans from our projects in the run up to Christmas, please keep an eye out for an email with further information on how to pre-order.

Meanwhile, for a limited time only, you can buy a cup of TGT coffee from our partner restaurant The Great Nepalese. They are a family owned restaurant serving authentic Nepali curry. You can find them on Eversholt Street, near Euston station in London. Make sure you mention us when you order.

We continue to enable climate change adaptation in Solukhumbu and are supporting more farmers to grow, produce and sell coffee this year. 

Narayan Dhakal and the local Rural Municipality Government have asked us to increase our funding in 2019 to reach even more people in the district. We really want to help them do this and need to raise £5,000. Please get in touch if you can help. 

The 'aid effectiveness' craze

Last week in The Guardian, fifteen leading economists, including three Nobel prize winners, argued that the many billions of dollars currently being spent on aid are achieving very little. Why? Because they do not tackle the root causes of poverty and climate change. 

We agree with the analysis and are calling for help from experts in the field to help us do work that does tackle the roots of the problem. 

In this article, we highlight the key points covered by the Guardian and then ask:

What is an NGO to do? 


We're not solving poverty

Development NGOs have locked themselves into a pattern of projects that stimulate a lot of activity, achieve great results on a micro level, but create very little systemic change. This is a huge failing, we were meant to 'make poverty history' as far back as 2005. We haven't and individuals donors (even ours) should be asking why.  

A paradigm shift is needed, NGOs can't go on delivering projects that leave the root of the problem unmoved. At TGT we would like to start a programme of work under the title 'Striking at the root'; this is what we need your help with


The Guardian article, feels like a challenge to the Development NGO sector and we encourage you to read it in full. We have drawn out a few quotes from the piece to highlight the key arguments. We offer up a few perspectives (not a defence) from a small UK Development NGO that enables climate change adaptation in Nepal's mountain villages.

Global poverty remains intractable: more than 4 billion people live on less than the equivalent of $5 (£3.80) a day, and the number of people going hungry has been rising. Important gains have been made in some areas, but many of the objectives set by the millennium development goals – to be reached by 2015 – remain unfulfilled. And this despite hundreds of billions of dollars of aid.

This is an uncomfortable truth, not just for the Development NGOs who have been running projects in the developing world for several decades, but also for their supporters and donors. It begs the question: Why, if we have been giving billions of dollars in aid for over 40 years, are more than half of the world's population still living on less than £3.80 a day? 

Aid projects might yield satisfying micro-results, but they generally do little to change the systems that produce the problems in the first place. What we need instead is to tackle the real root causes of poverty, inequality and climate change.

A critique of TGT funded projects, which are by no means unusual in the NGO world, would likely point to this weakness. We have produced numerous very satisfying 'micro-results' especially for those communities we directly engage with. These are very valuable to those who benefit, life changing in some cases, but not not enough. We are doing very little to tackle the root causes.    

Donors increasingly want to see more impact for their money, practitioners are searching for ways to make their projects more effective, and politicians want more financial accountability behind aid budgets. One popular option has been to audit projects for results. The argument is that assessing “aid effectiveness” – a buzzword now ubiquitous in the UK’s Department for International Development – will help decide what to focus on.

Aid effectiveness is something we are very aware of. Many TGT projects are education focussed, either through our Higher Education Programmes, or through interventions like Farmer Field Schools and Climate Change awareness. And we of course want to be effective. The success of these sorts of programmes can be measured by metrics such as the number of new crops farmers can grow and sell; our partners report on these regularly. But, aid effectiveness for education programmes can be a little bit intangible, the results are hard to measure and quantify, especially in the short term. 

More tangible in the minds as donors are projects that involve installation of physical infrastructure. This is why so many NGOs use fundraising calls such as '£30 a month buys a coffee pulping machine' or '£10 a month provides a rainwater harvesting pond.' 

But the real problem with the “aid effectiveness” craze is that it narrows our focus down to micro-interventions at a local level that yield results that can be observed in the short term. At first glance this approach might seem reasonable and even beguiling. But it tends to ignore the broader macroeconomic, political and institutional drivers of impoverishment and underdevelopment. Aid projects might yield satisfying micro-results, but they generally do little to change the systems that produce the problems in the first place. What we need instead is to tackle the real root causes of poverty, inequality and climate change.

It seems impossibly difficult for a small charity like TGT to strike at the root causes of poverty, inequality and climate change, but there are ways to respond as we have previously discussed. We need to work out a way to do it and then bring others along with us in common cause. 


What is an NGO to do?  

The Glacier Trust will continue to invest in 'micro-interventions'. The race to adapt to climate change is very much upon us, we know that our project work is effective and doing nothing is not an option. 

However, we want to go further and need expert help to do this. The Guardian points to the macro-scale structural factors that shape economies and hold people in poverty. The usual narrative we hear to explain this, especially in the global North, is that there are 'corrupt national government officials' who siphon off aid for their own ends or lose it in a maze of bureaucracy. Things are obviously far from squeaky clean in Nepal (or in just about any other nation - rich or poor) when it comes to national governments, but the most damaging, structural, problems are harder to explain and uncover. Numerous vested interests are happy for it to remain that way.

Over decades, as the IMF, WTO and World Bank work with rich nations and multinational companies, trade and aid has been set up to favour the wealthy at the expense of the poor. Indeed, it can be argued that 'poor nations are developing rich ones'. 

To date, we have found only found one paper (published in 2010) that outlines Nepal's trade relationships and how structural adjustment programmes have shaped the national economy. Things have moved on and we desperately want to learn more. Please write to us if you can help us develop our understanding further.

We want to design ways to lobby for the sort of structural changes that are needed to systemically challenge the root causes of poverty and inequality in Nepal. 

Please share this article and please write to us to get involved with our efforts to 'strike at the root.'