IPCC Discovers Infographics – Communicates Climate Change

Working Group II put out their state of the climate for AR5 this March and finally worked out how to communicate climate change.

WHO: The many, many world leading scientific authors of the IPCC – the list is here.

WHAT: Working Group II – the impacts, vulnerability and adaptation group from the IPCC

WHEN: 31 March 2014

WHERE: The IPCC website

TITLE: Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability (open access)

Remember in October 2013, when the first chunk of the IPCC 5th Assessment Report (AR5 for us nerds) was released and I was really snarky about how everyone at the UN speaks a really dense dialect of bureaucrat that almost no-one else can understand and will therefore not bother to read?

Well this time the IPCC got it right! The report from Working Group II who look at the impacts, vulnerability and adaptation humanity will have to do because of climate change discovered colours and infographics and language that normal people actually speak and then used it in their summary for policy makers. They even improved the website to make it more user friendly. Round of applause to the IPCC, the UN Foundation and all the communicators who probably spent many hours de-wonkifying the scientific and bureaucratic language.

The IPCC discovers colour and images (from paper)

The IPCC discovers colour and images (from paper)

This means my job this week was much easier as I don’t even need to translate the 44-page summary for you, but since it’s 44 pages long, I’ll give you the short version.

This time around, the IPCC deliberately went with a risk management frame for communicating climate impacts, and noted that doing something about climate change isn’t really related to the science, so much as it’s a value judgement on how much we’re willing to roll the dice. They do however helpfully point out that ‘climate change poses risks for human and natural systems’ and that it’s being felt in all countries, on all continents and in all the oceans as well. Sorry to burst your bubble if you thought climate change wasn’t going to get you too.

They even put a glossary up the front so you know what they’re talking about when they use words like ‘hazard’, ‘exposure’, ‘vulnerability’, ‘impacts’, ‘risk’, ‘adaptation’, ‘transformation’ and ‘resilience’. Communication high five, IPCC.

Siku the polar bear (image: Polar Bears International)

Siku the polar bear (image: Polar Bears International)

So what’s happening so far because of climate change then? Well, it’s a long list of nasty stuff; glaciers are melting, there’s drought, the permafrost is melting and releasing methane. Species are being forced out of their habitat faster than they can move and going extinct and the IPCC can report with a high level of confidence that we’re causing climate change extinctions at a much faster rate than has ever happened with previous natural cycles of climate change.

Plant and animal migration opportunities and how far they could get pushed with climate change (from paper)

Plant and animal migration opportunities and how far they could get pushed with climate change (from paper)

Crops are getting more negative impacts from climate extremes than the extra CO2 is helping them grow, and the ability to grow lettuce in Greenland will be a coin toss depending on how good the quality of the soil is at such high latitudes. Climate change is already affecting the yield of wheat, maize, rice and soybean crops.

Climate change is affecting (and will continue to affect) humans too – it’s harming our health through heatwave deaths and increased waterborne diseases. It’s a ‘threat multiplier’, which means it makes stressful situations more dire, like the drought in Syria which was a big factor in the current civil war there.

The authors also point out that vulnerabilities differ because of inequality, which is their nice way of saying that if you’re poor or you live in a poor country; climate change will hit you first. This makes sense from what we’re already seeing of climate impacts and clean up from extreme weather disasters – it’s much harder to plan for climate adaptation when you live in a warzone.

After all that depressing news, they follow up with some good news – what we’re doing to adapt to climate change. They point out that adaptation is becoming embedded into planning processes, so areas will be more resilient to changes. Adaptation knowledge is accumulating in both the private and public sectors and is being incorporated into risk management processes.

They do point out though that adaptation and mitigation choices that are made now will affect the severity of climate change for the rest of the century. No pressure or anything, but if we get this wrong all your grandchildren might hate you for it.

Future risks
Then they get into how bad it could get if we do nothing. Low-lying Pacific Islands go underwater (the first one was actually evacuated last weekend), coastal cities get flooded, people die in storms and heatwaves, food runs short in some places, farmers lose their land from drought and desertification and places we are really fond of like the Great Barrier Reef die too.

But even if you don’t care about the plants, animals or people in far away countries, the IPCC isn’t going to let you off the hook. They point out that human influence on the climate system is clear, and it’s the level of danger to humans that we have to manage.

Then they do get a little wonky and come up with a hilarious acronym: RFC which stands for ‘Reasons for Concern’ (bureaucrats have a deep love of acronyms). What are the RFCs and should they be keeping you up at night?

Well it’s your call to lose sleep over it, but you should be worried about losing unique systems (any natural wonder of the world basically), extreme weather, uneven distribution of impacts (even if climate change doesn’t destroy your home city, where do you think all the migrants from the dustbowl will go?), global aggregate impacts (like ocean acidification killing all commercial fisheries), and abrupt irreversible impacts (hello melting Greenland ice sheet!).

Sensibly, they point out that increased warming puts us at a greater risk of ‘severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts’, and that the cost of adapting to all these scary disasters is much cheaper if we mitigate (you know, stop burning carbon).

Sectoral risks
Just in case you still thought that climate change is not going to affect you, your friends and family, your hometown and your favourite holiday location, the IPCC would like to let you know it’s also going to affect your livelihood and your access to food.

We’re going to have more drought and water shortages, could have abrupt change in the Arctic or Amazon rainforest causing all kinds of disruption to not only carbon storage, water quality and biodiversity but also economic activity.

Coastal populations will be threatened by flooding, fisheries could collapse and ocean acidification already caused the loss of $10million worth of scallops in Canada. We’ll probably get more famines thus wiping out all the great work charities have done to try and end world hunger, and if that wasn’t bad enough, the report says ‘all aspects of food security are potentially affected by climate change, including food access, utilisation and price stability’. Everything is going to get more expensive and harder to source.

Cities will have more heat stress, flash flooding, landslides, air pollution, drought and water scarcity (the difference being that drought is when you’re short on water for your garden, water scarcity is when you’re short on water for people). Rural areas will have more food and water insecurity and could lose their farms and livelihoods to drought.

And if that laundry list of destruction wasn’t enough for you, here’s what the IPCC says about their worst case scenario projection (which is what will happen with business as usual): ‘by 2100 for the high-emission scenario RCP 8.5 the combination of high temperatures and humidity in some areas for parts of the year is projected to compromise normal human activities including growing food or working outdoors’.

Yeah, business as usual will make it too hot to go outdoors in some places and you won’t be able to grow any food.

Too hot to go outside – business as usual in 2100 on right (from paper)

Too hot to go outside – business as usual in 2100 on right (from paper)

Building resilience
So now that the IPCC has told us with high levels of certainty that we’re in big trouble and that climate change is going to affect everyone, no matter how much money you have to still import bacon, coffee and avocados, what can we do about it?

Firstly – coordinate across different levels of government for things like flood proofing and building infrastructure. Use the range of available strategies and actions to make sure communities are reducing their vulnerability – each of the risk bars on the IPCC infographic have a shaded area, which is the amount of risk that can be reduced through adaptation. Make sure planning takes into account diverse interests, circumstances and sociocultural contexts.

Adaptation risk management opportunities for Australia (from paper)

Adaptation risk management opportunities for Australia (from paper)

Some of the really hard conversations around climate change in the future are going to be with communities who will need to relocate or will lose their way of life because of climate impacts. These discussions are both really important and really difficult – we should be planning for that.

The report gives a slight nod to fossil fuel subsides (and the need to remove them) by saying ‘improved resource pricing, charges and subsidies’ which is their way of saying ‘divest, people’.

Also, (and somewhat obviously, but these things need to be said) the success of any adaptation will depend on how much we mitigate. Unless we stop burning carbon, we won’t have anything left we can adapt to – remember, business as usual makes it too hot to go outside and grow food.

So there you have it – the IPCC have kicked a massive goal this time around managing to stop speaking bureaucrat and start communicating with people. Kudos where it is deserved. Working Group III have their report coming out next week, so we’ll see if they can keep up the great work.

In the mean time, let’s stop burning carbon.

Show me the Money: Adaptation Finance

Cities and poor people living in cities are often forgotten in climate adaptation planning. How can we fix that?

WHO: Barry Smith, International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) Climate Change and Human Settlements Group
Donald Brown, Independent Researcher
David Dodman, Senior Researcher, IIED Human Settlements and Climate Change Group; Team Leader, Cities and Climate Change

WHAT: A look at how adaptation finance can better serve poor communities, especially in cities

WHEN: January 2014

WHERE: IIED website

TITLE: Reconfiguring urban adaptation finance (open access working paper)

Climate change adaptation is expensive – more expensive than mitigation as the USA discovered last year when it broke a record for billion dollar disasters and spent more on disaster recovery than health and education combined. Unfortunately, the people who are most vulnerable to climate extremes are poor people who tend to live in areas that are less secure, have worse infrastructure, less access to finance and legal protection and less ability to move when a storm wipes out their neighbourhood.

Billion dollar disasters – they’re a growth industry right now (from Jeff Masters, Weather Underground)

Billion dollar disasters – they’re a growth industry right now (from Jeff Masters, Weather Underground)

This paper looks at adaptation in cities in developing countries that have large informal settlements like slums, but as Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy both showed, these issues are going to affect populations around the world, regardless of where you live.

However, in developing countries, the issue is on a larger scale. As the authors of this paper point out, slums are often built in hazard-prone areas, and because cities don’t want to admit they have problems with poverty and slums, they don’t get counted and often get ignored when climate adaptation is planned.

Issues with infrastructure and utilities – Kibera slum in Nairobi (Norvartis, flickr)

Issues with infrastructure and utilities – Kibera slum in Nairobi (Norvartis, flickr)

Currently, urban adaptation finance involves many international organisations (your top-down approach) as well as local organisations. The international ones are international NGOs, the World Bank and the UN through the UNFCCC (UN Framework Convention on Climate Change). One of the risks with this system is that instead of cities and countries getting new funding for adaptation, they could just get old funding ‘re-labelled’ as adaptation funding, which won’t work. The authors also point out that adaptation funding is required to be new and additional, which makes sense because climate impacts are also new and additional. Regular investments through international adaptation funding also need to be ‘climate proofed’ which could be called ‘because climate change will affect everything, it needs to be built into all decision-making processes’.

There is definitely an important role though, for NGOs to do this and ensure that including climate change in decision-making is mainstreamed, at which point it’s finally not just me being the weirdo at the party asking people how far above sea level their home is.

No seriously, how far above sea level is your house? (Nick Hewson, flickr)

No seriously, how far above sea level is your house? (Nick Hewson, flickr)

UNFCCC processes are (unsurprisingly) labyrinthine and difficult to get money out of. They have a special climate change fund (which gets shortened to SCCF because everything is an acronym at the UN), which has $239 million, but so far it’s been slow on the spending of that adaptation fund. This is because the fund has a governing council that represents the polluting countries (that’s us – the industrialised developed countries that are responsible for most climate change) more than the developing countries, giving the polluting countries an effective veto over the money.

The UNFCCC also has an Adaptation Fund, which is funded by a 2% levy on clean development mechanism projects. It’s more transparent, developing countries have more of a seat at the table and the process also includes NGOs, however the fund is comparatively smaller at $151million.

The World Bank has a Pilot Program for Climate Resilience (PPCR) which as a pot of $1billion for climate adaptation. The World Bank has only handed out $8million so far, so there’s some kind of disconnect happening there. The authors suggest that it’s because the planning processes for the projects are required to be between 3 – 18 months long. Which is fine for a project when everyone has agreed what you’re working towards, but when you’re doing climate change adaptation and you need to sit down with a community and explain to people why they might need to leave the place that their family has lived for generations because sea level rise will inundate them, that’s a longer, more difficult conversation.

National systems for funding climate adaptation are more successful at getting the money on the ground and working towards change. Some governments have been early leaders in climate adaptation funds, most notably Rwanda who started their National Climate and Environment Fund in 2005. Way to get ahead of the pack Rwanda! They were recently granted £22.5million from the British Department for International Development, which makes their fund the largest climate fund in Africa.

National adaptation funds give better access to funding for municipalities and local/regional governments. Which makes sense – it’s easier to apply for funding through an organisation you know that speaks the same language than to try and work out where you fit within the World Bank or the UN. However, the authors point out that strengthening the capacity of local organisations working on adaptation in cities could actually be the most effective spend of adaptation money. Why? Because cities are on the ground and have control over things that can make an impact like transit and sea walls and pipes and power lines and garbage collection and disposal. Things that are too local for an international organisation to deal with.

For example, microfinance has been a huge success as a ‘bottom up’ approach to funding adaptation and capacity in communities. Female-led savings groups in poor communities have linked together with groups like Urban Poor Fund International, Slum Dwellers International and the International Institute for Environment and Development (the organisation that commissioned this paper).

By their powers combined, these groups have coordinated pooled savings funds across 464 cities with successes across the globe including places like Malawi. The Malawi Homeless People’s Federation formed a Center for Community Organisation and Development where they coordinated and helped out local savings groups that generally comprised between 30-70 members of a neighbourhood. They also organised ‘exchange visits’ where people from an established savings group would go to a different neighbourhood to tell them about the program and help them set up their own savings group, creating stronger community links within the cities. They now have savings groups across 28 urban and rural centres in Malawi, with over $148,000 in savings, which is phenomenal.

The challenge is then, to connect these two processes – the local and sub-national projects that have connections within the community are the successful ones, and the international organisations are the ones with all the adaptation funding. How can we get them talking to each other so we can start working towards more resilient communities?

The authors suggest the biggest problem is how difficult the international programs are to navigate, with a mismatch between the fiduciary responsibilities and level of reporting at the international level and the ability for poor communities to have the capacity to complete that reporting. Because unless you speak bureaucrat, it can be almost impossible to fill out those forms. Also, international NGO and aid programs often work at a very high level and are often not directly accountable to the communities they work in.

So what should we do? The authors suggest re-tooling the international aid process a bit – focusing on smaller grants ($1,000-$3,000 goes a long way in small communities), focusing on cities and climate adaptation on the ground as key points of adaptation, and encouraging private investment options that include social impact bonds. It’s going to take work, but since we haven’t stopped burning carbon yet, we’re going to need to do it.

The Coffee Grower’s Paradox

Do climate change adaptation programs just shift climate vulnerability?

WHO: Aaron Atteridge and Elise Remling, Stockholm Environment Institute, Stockholm, Sweden

WHAT: Looking at the example of Colombian coffee growers to see if climate change adaptation projects shift vulnerability instead of fixing it.

WHEN: December 2013

WHERE: The Stockholm Environment Institute website

TITLE: The Indirect Effects of Adaptation: Pathways for Vulnerability Redistribution in the Colombian Coffee Sector (open access)

I love coffee and one of the things that really terrify me about climate change (other than the devastating droughts, diseases, storms, and lack of food) is that I might be forced to give up my daily caffeine habit. So naturally, I was interested to find out whether programs that were trying to promote adaptation in the coffee industry in Colombia (home of the worlds best quality Arabica beans) were hindering more than they were helping.

Coffee – we love it (photos: Amy Huva)

Coffee – we love it (photos: Amy Huva)

These researchers set out to look at the unintended consequences of adaptation – are we fixing the problem, or just making it someone else’s problem?

First, they needed to work out what could be vulnerable to change (not just climate change). The increasing globalisation of the world means that your coffee farm is no longer your own little island – it is affected by global prices, supply chains, and the connections between the people involved in all of those activities.

The researchers narrowed it down to five different categories:

  1. Natural capital (aka the ecosystem services you get from trees purifying your air, water feeding your soil etc.)
  2. Physical capital (how many coffee plants do you own? How many tractors does that require?)
  3. Social capital (strong family ties and community ties in the farming industry)
  4. Financial capital (how easy is it for the farmer to access capital to expand/improve their business?)
  5. Human capital (how educated is the farmer? How many local educated workers are nearby she can employ?)

From those categories, the researchers made a case study from interviews conducted with people in the coffee industry in Colombia in 2012. They interviewed farmers, buyers, representatives from the National Coffee Federation (Federación Nacional de Cafeteros), people at the national coffee research institute, federal and local government representatives as well as coffee pickers employed in the industry.

Aside from the fact that Colombia having a national institute dedicated to studying coffee being the most exciting thing I’ve heard all week (can I go visit? How do I donate to fund their research? Can I be a coffee scientist too?), the Colombian coffee industry is surprisingly large.

Coffee has been grown in Colombia for around 200 years and is still overwhelmingly run by small landholders, with 96% of farms being 1.6hectares or smaller. The National Coffee Federation not only represents over 500,000 farmers, but they have a national fund set up similar to Norway’s oil royalty future fund which uses profits from the coffee industry to benefit Colombians. Around 4million people in Colombia make a living from the coffee industry, and between 1964-2012 there were also 170 different international development projects hosted there.

I knew my coffee habit was a good thing!

Coffee science/tastings (photo: Amy Huva)

Coffee science/tastings (photo: Amy Huva)

From their interviews, the researchers worked out that the sources of vulnerability in the industry were pretty much the same as any other industry – price and price volatility, access to markets, access to finance, harvest and yield changes, production costs and knowledge of alternative/more efficient practices.

This means that many of the pressures Colombian coffee farmers are facing are exactly the same problems many other industries are facing like changes in market preference (organic coffee production possibly outstripping demand), or international development aid being used on things that are not a priority for the farmers. This led the researchers to conclude that unexpected flow-on effects are pretty much the norm, not the exception to the rule.

The difference for coffee growers in Colombia is the direct effect climate change will have on them as the prime coffee growing conditions move to higher latitudes where the soil is not as fertile.

The key risk for adaptation programs looking at climate change is that farmers in areas that are now marginal for growing coffee will get ignored or abandoned, when they’re the ones that really need the help to either diversify their crops or find new livelihoods as climate change really bites.

So the moral of the story seems to be that while climate change is going to affect the way we all do things, if we’re going to try and help with adaptation, we can’t forget the marginal growers.