ODI research: Climate change mitigation is development

cover-zero-poverty-stripes-blueIn 2015 the international community will come together to discuss action that needs to be taken to address climate change and global development. The Overseas Development Institute has undertaken research on the impacts climate change will likely have on development efforts and the news is not good.

The progress the world has made in reducing poverty and hunger, improving access to water and health is at risk of being reversed. Between 1990 and 2010 the number of people in poverty declined by 700 million but many face the risk of falling back into poverty under conditions of climate change. As sea levels rise, temperatures increase and more frequent extreme events occur crops yields will decline and whole areas important for agriculture, many heavily populated, such as deltas in Bangladesh, will be lost. In Africa, crop yields are projected to be reduced by some 90% by 2080 and wheat production will disappear altogether. These changes to agricultural productivity are estimated to increase food prices, increase hunger (by an estimated 250 million people) and exacerbate poverty. Meeting the needs of a growing global population is an urgent challenge made significantly harder by these projected productivity declines. A 55% increase in global crop production would be required to meet increasing global population demand by 2030. By 2050 to 2100, an additional 165,000 to 250,000 children could die each year compared to a world without climate change.

Access to drinking water, which has been improved for some 2.1 billion people in the world in the last 20 years, will become more of a challenge. In Africa 350 million to 600 million people will be exposed to water stress by 2050. An extra 2.5 billion people will be at risk of dengue fever and an extra 40 to 60 million people in Africa alone will be at risk of malaria under climate change. Migration will also increase and by 2100, it’s estimated that climate change will cause annual economic of losses of between 5 and 20% of global GDP.


Much hope for the future rests on agreements met by the international community at the next Conference of the Parties in Peru of the United Nations Framework Convention of Climate Change, which celebrated its 20th anniversary last Friday, and in the Post-2015 development agenda. Mitigation is urgently needed if temperatures are kept below a 2C threshold, we are currently on a trajectory that will see far higher temperature increases, as too is adaptation, since we are committed to some degree of impacts of climate change.


A recent report explored options for how climate change could be included in the post-2015 agenda, in particular through mainstreaming climate change amongst all development goals or having a standalone climate change goal. How climate change will be addressed is important. That it will be addressed is vital, to the health, wealth, welfare and survival of people around the world.

A landscape approach to reconcile competing land uses

LandscapeA “landscape approach” to rural development is gaining in traction in international policy and now a new set of guidelines published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences sheds light on the practicalities of implementing resource management plans across whole landscapes.

The idea behind the landscape approach is that multiple benefits from and pressures on an area can be balanced. Resource extraction, agriculture, conservation, and activities contributing to local livelihoods are all considered in an integrated manner. For each landscape there are multiple users and uses, each of which impact on each other. For example, chemicals used on agricultural land may run off into waterways, impacting the habitats of aquatic species and fish catch. As Terry Sunderland, a principal scientist with the Center for International Forestry Research and co-author of the paper published in PNAS, states, “People do not live in sectors or in departments, they live holistically. It is important that we collectively visualize how a landscape will look, for whom it needs to work and how it needs to function”.

The approach is yet to be ingrained in development activities perhaps because of the various definitions of what a landscape is. Often considered in physical terms, the paper in PNAS authored by Sayer et al, defines a landscape as, “an arena in which entities, including humans, interact according to rules (physical, biological, and social) that determine their relationships”. People are at the heart of this definition and the idea of multi-functional landscapes has been embraced in environmental management. [Read more…]

Where are we on climate change?

ID-100103034 (2)Professor Sir Brian Hoskins, Director of the Grantham Institute for Climate Change and advisor to the UK government through the Committee on Climate Change, recently gave a talk at Imperial College London on the latest research and actions around climate change.

Global CO2 levels are currently at 397ppm (parts per million), a level not seen for 4.5 million years. We have increased CO2 levels in the atmosphere by 40% since the Industrial Revolution. While there has been a clear and significant increase in global temperatures since 1850, we have seen a hiatus on temperature rises in the last decade. While sceptics may use this as evidence to support their claims, a decade of cooler temperatures is not outside the range of predictions from climate models.

Global sea levels are rising 3mm per year. While the melting of the Western Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets is contributing around 1mm of this increase, it is unknown how likely this is to accelerate if we reach a threshold point of destabilisation. In the Arctic, recent pictures of the ice cap in mid-September (when it is at its minimum size) show it is half the average size it was in the last century. By 2050-2060 we would expect the arctic ice cap to have vanished come September.

We have seen some significant heat extremes in the past decade: the 2003 European heatwave, 2010 Russian heatwave and more recently the 2012 US drought. Work by NASA scientists Dr James Hansen and colleagues indicates a shift to more frequent and severe bouts of high temperatures. But it is not just heat extremes, as the climate changes we are also seeing cold extremes in certain locations despite remarkable warmth elsewhere. This indicates our ability to predict regional trends is much more limited than our ability to predict global averages and while we may, in the past have viewed climate change as a warming of the planet, now we are trying to understand it as a disruption of our climate systems, one that will have severe and varied results. [Read more…]

Progress from Doha on tackling climate change

A series of articles by Smita Nakhooda for the Overseas Development Initiative, Amy Goodman for The Guardian, and Aljazeera News lay out the progress made at the 18th Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC held from in Doha from the 26th November to the 8th December 2012. As Amy Goodman points out, “latest findings suggest that the goal of limiting global temperature rise to 2ºC may now be beyond reach, and that we may now be locked into a 4-6ºC temperature increase”. So what are global leaders doing to avoid ‘dangerous climate change’?

1)    The Kyoto Protocol will run for a second commitment period from 1st January 2013 to 31st December 2020. But only the EU and Australia are bound by commitments to reduce emissions, and emissions reductions, an average of 18% relative to 1990 levels by 2020, are ‘not particularly challenging’. Further to this, countries such as the US and Canada are unlikely to adopt these commitments anytime soon. [Read more…]

Incentives to Mitigate Climate Change

In a new policy brief published in August 2012, the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS)summarizes the outcomes from a FAO–CCAFS expert workshop on Smallholder Mitigation: Mitigation Options and Incentive Mechanisms held in Rome in July 2011. The brief deals not only with ways in which smallholders can reduce greenhouse gas emissions originating from their farms but also the incentives needed if they are to adopt such practices.

74% of agricultural greenhouse gas emissions originate in low and middle income countries where much of the workforce is comprised of smallholder farmers. Yet there are few systems in place in many of these countries in which farmers can receive a direct payment for their mitigation activities. For many smallholder farmers their priorities may be to feed their family and increase their income and security rather than mitigating climate change, which mean mitigation activities, must serve multiple goals without jeopardising the farmers own needs if they are to be adopted. [Read more…]