David Molden interview

You may have read this week about the impacts of climate change on the Himalaya Hindu Kush mountains. For a while on Monday it was the lead story on the Guardian website.

ICIMOD, who published the 627 page report, are based in Kathmandu. Their Director General, David Moldon, was interviewed this week by the Nepali Times.

Moldon makes some very interesting points. Relevant to us are his comments on the agricultural strategies mountain communities can adopt to adapt to climate change. He recommends growing high value cash crops, something we are enabling in Nawalparasi, Solukhumbu and now Kavre.

We need to talk about adaptation

PRESS RELEASE

New report finds that only 0.76% of articles written by the UK’s leading environmental organisations focus on climate change adaptation

Report title: We need to talk about adaptation
Authors: The Glacier Trust; Morgan Phillips (Co-Director); Asha Bridewell (Volunteer); Carys Richards (Volunteer)
Foreword by: Asher Minns, Executive Director, Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research

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Research by UK charity, The Glacier Trust, reveals the extent of climate change adaptation reporting by five of the UK’s leading environmental organisations. Included in the study are: Friends of the Earth UK; World Wildlife Fund UK (WWF UK); Greenpeace UK; Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB); The Green Party of England and Wales.

The Glacier Trust analysed news and blog posts over a period of 18 months in 2017/18. Of the 1,579 articles studied, the majority (1,051) covered environmental, social and political issues, but made no mention of climate change. A total 528 articles did cover climate change, of which 83 referenced or mentioned adaptation or loss and damages. Only 12 articles (0.76%) were specifically focused on climate change adaptation.

The pattern was similar across all five organisations studied. Climate change made up around a third of all articles studied, but within this category the vast majority of stories were focused on mitigation strategies, campaigns, or on accounts of the problem itself.

Morgan Phillips, The Glacier Trust’s UK Co-Director and lead author of the report said:

Adaptation is the poor cousin of mitigation in conversations about climate change. This lack of attention is translated into the huge disparity between the money made available to enable adaptation compared to mitigation around the world. Things are moving in the right direction, but we know that less than 7% of climate finance is currently going to adaptation projects (less than $30bn US / yr). Our report shows that environmental organisations can and do talk about adaptation, it is part of their remit, we hope they will talk about more in 2019.

 Writing in the foreword to the report, Asher Minns (Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research) said:

We Need to Talk about Adaptation detects a trend of overlooking adaptation… [A] strength of the adaptation narrative is that it has people at front and centre… Adaptation is the compelling story about people to be told to people so that they triumph over adversity. This narrative is even more relevant to environmental charities who rely on engaging and increasing members and donations.

 By telling the story of adaptation environmentalists can do two key things:

  1. Put adaptation on the agenda; doing this increases the chances that the adaptation needs of those suffering the impacts of climate change are heard.

  2. Raise awareness of good practice in adaptation, helping it to spread and reducing the risk of widespread maladaptation.

For more information, please contact Morgan Phillips:
Email: morgan.phillips@theglaciertrust.org
Phone: 0044 7967 828 063
Website: www.theglaciertrust.org
Twitter: @theglaciertrust

About The Glacier Trust:

The Glacier Trust is a UK charity (no. 1124955). Working with University and NGO partners, The Glacier Trust enables climate change adaptation in the remote mountain communities of Nepal. In the UK, the trust aims to increase awareness and support for climate change adaptation.

This is a political struggle

The search for the perfect way to talk about climate change might be a fruitless one because we’re not prepared to engage in what is really needed - a political struggle. In this article we explore the search for a silver bullet and analyse the growing phenomenon of Greta Thunberg.

Within the environmental movement there is a desperate desire to find the way to communicate on climate change. Much energy is spent trying to come up with a game-changing way of framing and discussing the issue; a way that will move politicians, businesses and individuals to adopt radical new policies, processes and behaviours.

This manifests itself in debates over:

  • Whether to call it climate breakdown or climate collapse, rather than the more tame climate change.

  • Or, in questions about whether to be positive or negative in opening the conversation.

  • Or, whether it is better to appeal to ration and science or emotion and instinct.

  • We argue too about which values to appeal to, and therefore activate and reinforce.

We even debate whether to talk about climate change at all:

Robert Russell Sassor and Beth Strachan from social change experts, Metropolitan Group argue that traditional climate change communications are having a limited effect:

The [environmental] movement typically relays that we are in crisis mode, and must act immediately to reduce carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions. But while all these arguments are true, they have largely failed to inspire individual action or widespread change in the United States.

They make the case for a putting a stronger emphasis on air pollution as opposed to climate change as a way to stimulate the desired policies and behaviours.

Their case rests on evidence that narratives relating to personal physical health resonate more strongly in the general population that those relating to the health of the planet or other people. Sassor and Strachan aren’t the first to suggest this approach, whether they are right remains to be seen. What is clear is that we don’t seem to be any closer to finding the silver bullet.

We are failing. Or are we?

Two things are worth asking here:

Firstly, why do we think we are going to succeed? What is it about climate campaigners that makes us think that we can make the breakthrough? Why do we think that a silver bullet does in fact exist? We’ll leave those questions open for now.

Secondly, what if the messages are actually working? Is it possible that there is an upper limit to what can be achieved through messaging alone? It is quite possible that there is and we may already be there.

We would argue that the narrative around climate change is having limited success not because we’re getting the message wrong, but because of the milieu into which it is being communicated.

The reason for this is that while we hear messages about climate change (or air pollution) and say we want things to be done, we also hear thousands more messages that make us want to buy or do other things. Our concern for the environment is therefore crowded out by our concern for other things; we want hospitals, armed forces, schools, police, social services, transport infrastructure, shopping centres, entertainment, etc, etc, on a societal level and no end of clothes, gadgets, foods, drinks, furniture, crockery, etc, etc, on a personal level. The wealthier we get, as individuals and as a society, the more we gain and the more defensive of the status quo we become.


For a long time it was assumed (or hoped) that dangerous climate change could be avoided without having to temper our desire for all the trappings of 21st century living in the developed world. There were, and still are, plenty of environmentalists who would spread this comforting message. Many I’m sure knew it was an illusion, but for one reason or another felt compelled to tell us that we can have our cake and eat it.

The truth is, we have economic and political systems that are dependent on the manufacturing and satisfaction of a desire for endless consumption. While this remains the case, we are going to obliterate more and more wildlife and pollute more and more air. It doesn’t matter how ‘green’ we make ‘green capitalism’ and how skillfully we construct our climate change messages, we’ll do no more than slightly delay the inevitable.

On BBC Newsnight this week, George Monbiot said this:

This is only going to change with a political struggle, it can’t change by just asking nicely, or asking better, or by framing it in a different way, we have to confront those powers that are destroying humanity.

In other words, climate change communications are only going to take us so far, we have to go further.

The ‘powers’ George is talking about are those on display in Davos this week. Above all else, the World Economic Forum focused on perpetuating the existing economic and political system. Why do they want it to perpetuate? If we’re being kind it is because they believe in it’s power to do good; if we’re feeling more skeptical, it is because they will remain powerful so long as there are no dramatic changes.

But, as inequality, climate change and other system failures become apparent, it is becoming harder to sustain the status quo and cling on to power. The Davos elite don’t want to be, but now are, deeply engaged in a political struggle. The great young climate activist Greta Thunberg spelled it out to them in Switzerland:

‘we have not come here to beg the world leaders to care for our future. They have ignored us in the past and they will ignore us again. We have come here to let them know that change is coming whether they like it or not.’

That is a rallying cry and we hope climate change communicators are interpreting it correctly, she is saying that it is not possible to prevent dangerous climate change from within the current economic and political system. This is why her quote is so powerful; it has an air of threat about it. It tells the powerful that they can no longer be trusted to deliver for humanity; Greta is not turning to them for help, she is turning away from them because they have let her down.

Greta is vulnerable in all this as are the prospects for the political struggle itself. World leaders will attempt to make Greta their darling; she will be enticed to be the figurehead for all sorts of questionable green growth ‘solutions’ and UN initiatives. They will want to allow her to have a voice, so long as that voice is not overly critical of our current economic paradigm. So many environmentalists and environmental NGOs have fallen into this trap over the years. I hope Greta is being well advised.

Another vulnerability will be pointed out to Greta and to those engaged in the struggle. It is a very real one, for it is not just environmental and social justice campaigners who are seeking to take power away from Neoliberal democracy; others are too. As power slips away from those currently at Davos it is unclear where it will come to rest. Populist leaders will seek any bedfellow to gain the power they crave; Greta et. al., must take great care. Neoliberal democracy may turn out to be a lesser evil.

But our fears must be overcome, we have to find a way to shift power away from the mega rich beneficiaries of Neoliberalism and away from the darkness of the populist right.

As comfortable as it might be in our privileged Western homes, we cannot continue to wallow in the comforts of a broken system that seems incapable of reform.


Footnote for NGOs….

In his book ‘Why we lie about aid’, Pablo Yanguas, explains how genuine change involves backing brave public servants involved in difficult political struggles. Actors in these struggles are navigating messy political systems and ultimately changing them. With enough determination and enough support, it is possible to create lasting systemic change. Corrupt systems can be cleaned up, reform of parliamentary proceedings can be achieved.

Development NGOs like The Glacier Trust have to choose whether to focus only on micro level interventions that enable change in one village at a time. Or, whether to work at macro levels too by supporting campaigners and public servants involved in political struggles. If they can do the latter as well as the former, they have the potential to unlock systemic change that is needed.

Yanguas’ book highlights how it is possible to get involved in the ‘messy politics of development’ while retaining political neutrality as a charity. We are studying it carefully here at TGT as we develop our strategy to enabling climate change adaptation in Nepal.

Watch this space.

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:

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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.