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)**.

ClimateFinance_PublicVPrivate.png

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. 

Coffee.JPG

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.' 

800 million people at risk

Source: The World Bank.  The World Bank defines a decline of more than 8 percent in household living standards as high or “severe”; four to eight percent as moderate; and zero to four percent as low. Living standards are measured by per capita consumption expenditures.  (New York Times, 2018)

Source: The World Bank.
The World Bank defines a decline of more than 8 percent in household living standards as high or “severe”; four to eight percent as moderate; and zero to four percent as low. Living standards are measured by per capita consumption expenditures. (New York Times, 2018)

The World Bank released a report last week into the impact that global warming will have on living standards in South Asia.

South Asia’s Hotspots, finds that average temperatures in the region have increased in the last sixty years and will continue rising. Eight hundred million South Asians are at risk to see their standards of living and incomes decline as rising temperatures and more erratic rainfalls will cut down crop yields, make water more scare, and push more people away from their homes to seek safer places. (World Bank, 2018)

This has huge implications for the communities we support in Nepal as we explain below. We urgently need donations to enable us to run climate change adaptation projects in some of Nepal's most remote and vulnerable communities. 

You can find out more about the World Bank report and what is happening to address this crisis at worldbank.org/southasiahotspots, via this excellent New York Times article, or by watching this short film. 

There a several implications for Nepal and the communities we work with:

  • Living conditions in the southern Terai region of Nepal are likely to get harder as temperatures rise. We need to enable citizens living there to adapt to the changing climate. We are currently doing this in Nawalparasi and desperately need to expand our reach. 
  • Extreme temperatures and intolerable heat in India and Bangladesh may force millions of people to migrate north to cooler environments at higher altitudes. The rural Himalayan communities we work face their own climate change challenges, but in the long run they may become net recipients of migrants. We are strengthening the social fabric and economic prospects of mountain communities, most notably in Solukhumbu
  • Climate change is already impacting weather patterns and growing conditions. Nepal and India trade heavily in agriculture, these patterns may become severely disrupted in the coming decades. Our focus on Agro Forestry means that communities are becoming economically and agriculturally self sufficient. With more funding we can help more people to lift themselves out of poverty through our projects.  

This is why our work in Nepal is so important, we are enabling people living in remote mountain communities to adapt now to climate change. Thanks to The Glacier Trust projects, that you fund, thousands of Nepalis are prepared for the impacts of climate change. But we urgently need more money to enable even more vulnerable people to adapt. 

Please make a donation if you can. 

The Singing Glacier

A few weeks ago, via a tweet by Maya Chowdhry, we learned about The Singing Glacier. Naturally we were interested and got in touch with one of the artists behind it, poet Dr. Helen Mort.

Here is a little bit about The Singing Glacier from Hercules Editions who have recently published the poetry Helen wrote for the project:  

In August 2016, poet Helen Mort, along with composer William Carslake, travelled to south-eastern Greenland to cross the remote glaciers and climb mountains near Sermiligaaq Fjord. They were later joined by filmmaker Richard Jones, and together their responses formed a unique performance with original music, poetry and film footage.

We caught up with Helen via email to find out more about the project: 

Morgan Phillips: I'm totally new to The Singing Glacier and your work. So, first things first, please can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your work?

Helen Mort: I'm a poet, fiction writer and teacher - I've been writing since I was a child and poetry is my first love. I teach Creative Writing at the Manchester Writing School, Manchester Metropolitan University and find coming into contact with new authors really rewarding. I'm also a keen fell runner, climber and walker who grew up on the edges of the Peak District, so my work has always been concerned with how we respond to landscapes. My second collection 'No Map Could Show Them' (Chatto & Windus, 2016) explored the history of women's mountaineering.

MP: The Singing Glacier is a collaborative project, there is an amazing film, a score and your wonderful poetry. How did it come all come together? Did you set foot on any glaciers yourself? 

HM: In 2016, I went climbing in East Greenland along with composer William Carslake and filmmaker Rich Jones. We spent three weeks living beside the calving face of the Knud Rasmussen glacier and would cross the crevasses most days. We were there with Matt and Helen from Pirhuk - a company which leads expeditions in Greenland. We wanted to explore the glacier and get to know its rhythms and we hoped to capture the awe we felt through an interdisciplinary artistic response. While we were there, we were all writing, trying to note down our (often contradictory) impressions of the complex landscape.

MP: How has the project been received so far? Have you had any interesting conversations about it? 

HM: We've performed the project live (an orchestral composition for a baroque orchestra along with a poetry reading) on many occasions in many different places and I've now published the poems I wrote as a collection too. I'm fascinated to talk to audience members about their responses. A highlight for me so far has been meeting poet Nancy Campbell who has written extensively about West Greenland.

MP: People seem drawn to glaciers, what do you think it is about a glacier makes it so magnetic? And, what drew you to this project? 

HM: I think we need to be faced with the contradictions glaciers present: we feel utterly dwarfed and pointless in the face of them, but we also have to accept that we've had a tremendous impact on their behaviour - that's the strange arrogance of the anthropocene, we're significant and insignificant at the same time.

MP: Glacier melt is inextricably linked to climate change, how do you feel about the changing climate and the impact it is having around the world? 

HM: I recently watched Chris Jordan's film 'Albatross' on Worlds Oceans Day and it highlighted the devastating effects human have on ecosystems for me more than any other experience (apart from my trip to Greenland itself). I'd like to get more involved in campaigning to reduce the use of plastic. Writer Horatio Clare is calling on children' magazines to stop featuring plastic toys on their covers and I think that's a really important initiative to support.

MP: Finally, how can people engage with The Singing Glacier? And, what's next for you? Do you have any exciting projects lined up?

HM: If people want to read the poems inspired by East Greenland on the page, they can find out more about my Hercules Editions pamphlet on the Hercules editions website

You can watch a version of The Singing Glacier below.
Enter the password: Kulusuk.
It is beautiful. 

Password: Kulusuk