Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Climate change related impacts posing real challenges

By Ochieng’ Ogodo

[NAIROBI] For Edward Nduli, life has been a struggle for decades in Kenya’s Eastern province, but things were never as bad as they are today.
“For a region where majority are small-holder farmers and people depend on crop production for their livelihoods, the advent of unpredictable seasonal variations has visited upon us serious challenges for survival,” he said.
The last good rains, he remembered, were in 1997, during an El Nino occurrence. But thereafter, he says, “We saw the decline of rains with extreme erratic seasons, and this has continued since. Rain was becoming scarce and poorly distributed, and intercropping yielded nothing,” said Nduli
These are some of the climate change related impacts being felt in various parts of the world.  Dr. Andrew Newsham, Research Fellow, Climate Change Team, Institute of Development Studies says climate change could be disastrous for the environment, and its life supporting services that poor people across the world rely upon.
“Some plant and animal species will be able to migrate in response to changes to temperature and rainfall patterns,” he said.  A lot of biodiversity will, therefore, survive the impacts of climate change, but will appear in different places–further north or south, at higher or lower elevations.
They will not have the same possibilities to migrate, and they may be amongst the biodiversity we most value. One such example is the polar bear.
Drying river in Kenya     Pic: Ochieng' Ogodo

The drying tendencies that parts of the world like Southern Africa are projected to experience over the coming decades is likely to lead to greater harvest failures, even if people use locally bred and well-adapted seed varieties.
 “We may see it making more sense for people across large parts of Africa to switch from cultivation to livestock as a result of rainfall reductions,” But a drying tendency may, in some places, lead to greater levels of bush encroachment and consequently less grazing availability.
Acidification of the oceans–an increase in the acidity of the oceans as a result of human-caused by carbon dioxide (CO2)–could have big implications for marine biodiversity. More CO2 in the oceans means higher levels of carbonic acid and lower levels of the carbonate ions that many marine organisms use to make their shells and skeletons. This could have negative effects on coral reefs that must calcify (rebuild) their skeletal structures faster than the rate at which they are eroded.
But Newsham said more funding for the protection of biodiversity which provides important functions and services for livelihoods is one of the remedies needed, but in a way that local people don’t bear the costs of such protection.
“It’s about getting good ways of using such biodiversity. But getting funding for environmental projects is not easy in an era of climate change, where funds might be more likely to go towards other issues like decarbonising the energy infrastructure,” said Newsham
Another important consideration would be getting the costs of environmental degradation into the way economy works. This could have short term benefits but must be a long-term goal. Paying governments to keep biodiversity, instead of extracting mineral resources might help.
In the Yasuní reserve in Ecuador, the government has promised to refrain from extracting the oil from underneath this biodiversity hotspot if it can raise from national and international sources 50 percent of the revenue it would forego.
The REDD initiative (Reducing Emissions through Avoided Deforestation and Degradation) which is about maintaining carbon sinks, biodiversity and habitat but also the ecosystem services which we need to make our economy function is another case in point. But it must be pro-poor.
Reducing carbon emissions is critical. It must be done to avoid the prospect of ‘runaway climate change’ with greater magnitude implications for ecological and social systems hard to predict. 
Political will key to GHG reductions
Newsham said the biggest one is generating the political will to implement a global regime of legally binding emissions targets, especially in terms of getting the biggest emitters and geo-political powers – among others the USA, China, Brazil – to sign up.
But a lot is happening at the national level in terms of responding to climate change like the very serious and well-funded response of the Bangladesh government.
Finding ways to decouple economic growth both from carbon intensity and environmental destruction is important.
 “We’re still at a point where growth wins over the environment all too frequently when it comes to national development priorities. There still is not enough political desire to confront the environmental consequences of economic activity that is held to contribute to economic growth,” he said.
“If there is an issue in the climate change agenda that I would flag as in need of receiving more attention,” said Newsham, “it is to ensure that efforts to reduce carbon and to reduce environmental degradation are done in ways that are pro-poor.”
Water scarcity in some parts of the world will deepen Pic: Ochieng' Ogodo
We are all going to feel the impacts of climate change. The higher the global average temperature rise, the more ‘dangerous’ the level of climate change we will let ourselves in for, and the more everyone will struggle.
However, the impacts of climate change will almost certainly be harder to deal with in countries with fewer financial resources, weaker governance and in which climate sensitive livelihoods such as farming are still very prevalent as opposed to where the government and the infrastructure can deal with an increase in extreme weather events.
According to Dr. James Kinyangi, a climate change expert at Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) and the East African Regional Program Leader, even a 2 degree Celsius rise in global mean temperatures by 2100, which is an optimistic scenario, will radically change the face of farming. 
Potential to transform productivity
“Climate change has the potential to transform the patterns and productivity of crops, livestock and fisheries, and to reconfigure trade, markets and access. For instance, in a study of the 50 most globally important crops, results illustrate a general trend where, as the world warms, suitable growing areas will shift towards cooler temperatures at higher latitudes, where most developed countries are located.,” Kinyangi said.
 Therefore, while developed countries may gain substantial production potential, many developing countries—particularly those in food-insecure subtropical and tropical regions—will likely lose out.  
By 2090, according to Kinyangi, agriculture in Sub-Saharan Africa would be heavily impacted, with almost all parts of Africa registering a decline in growing season length. “It is not only the future and the gradual change in conditions we have to worry about. It is the extremes in the coming seasons that may already hit farmers,” he said.
 Many climate scientists suggest that many strange weather events will be more frequent and more severe. In the developed countries, there is some indication of increased drought severity and duration in the western and southwestern United States and other areas in Europe.
Climate change can transform productivity  including  livestock  Pic: Ochieng' Ogodo
There is a trend toward reduced mountain snowpack and earlier spring snow melt runoff peaks across much of these nations. Kinyangi said this trend is very likely attributable at least in part to long-term warming, although some part may have been played by decadal-scale variability. These may have substantial impacts on the performance of reservoir systems.
Climate change will impact all aspects of farming. There will be reduced crop yields, loss in livestock productivity, increased pests and diseases, including those associated with post-harvest storage, changes in the availability of irrigation water, negatively impacted aquaculture. There will also be some new opportunities, but in general the negative impacts outweigh the positive ones.
Short and long term actions
But there are both long and short term actions that could be taken.  In the long term, he calls for reducing emissions and improving carbon storage. In the short term, he said, there is need for crop breeding for future climates, better agricultural practices transferred from one region to another, enabling policies in environmental management and food systems and seasonal forecasts for adaptive management.
Climate information services is also key as is agricultural intensification and technical compatibility in ways to reduce GHG emissions or sequester carbon. It is also important to improve knowledge on the economic feasibility of environmental mitigation and its links to investments in food security
He also said there is need for “a new research initiative that integrates and applies the best and most promising approaches, tools and technologies. The involvement of farmers, policy makers, researchers, the private sector and civil society in the research process is vital.”
Successful mitigation and adaptation, he added, will entail changes in individual behavior, technology, institutions, agricultural systems and socio-economic systems. These changes cannot be achieved without improving interactions among scientists and decision makers at all levels of society.
He also said there is need to consult more and negotiate globally so that expectations for international programs are grounded in reality, a consultation that will be facilitated and made more effective in taking steps in each country to address reductions in GHG emissions. “Also we need to adhere to the Kyoto Protocol, as it does provide for trans-boundary market based programs to encourage climate friendly development. That involves both science and economics,” said Kinyangi.
It is increasingly evident that regardless of the mitigation efforts today and in the future, temperatures will continue to rise, at least the next five decades because if earlier emissions of greenhouse gases. The magnitude and frequency of extreme events are also likely to increase while the magnitudes of future effects are still not well understood. Adaptation and mitigation are, therefore, urgent challenges in future changes are to be limited.
Ochieng’ Ogodo is a Nairobi based journalist whose works have been published in various parts of the world including Africa, the US and Europe. He is the English-speaking Africa and Middle East region winner for the 2008 Reuters-IUCN Media Awards for Excellence in Environmental Reporting. He is the chairman of the Kenya Environment and Science Journalists Association. He can be reached at ochiengogodo@yahoo.com or ochiengogodo@gmail.com

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