Select Committee on International Development Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60 - 75)




  60.  Good morning. Perhaps you could start by telling us a little bit about the Tyndall Centre: what is the Tyndall Centre, who are you and what do you do, just to put it into context.

  (Dr Adger) I am Neil Adger from the University of East Anglia. The headquarters of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research is at the University of East Anglia. The Tyndall Centre is a consortium of nine UK institutions, universities and research institutes, and we have been funded by the Research Councils through the OST for five years initially with an aim to explore sustainable solutions for the climate change problem. We have a research programme on adaptation to climate change, on de-carbonisation—how we tackle the causes of climate change—and other programmes on coastal zones and integrated assessment issues. Both myself and Dr Brown are from the University of East Anglia but we call on a wide consortium of UK scientists and UK expertise.

  61.  To what extent is adaptation a risk management strategy?
  (Dr Adger) It is ultimately a risk management strategy but perhaps it is worth trying to draw a distinction between how perhaps we as individuals manage the risks associated with climate change and what the role of other agencies is. I am sure this is what your Committee is particularly interested in, the role of governments in promoting adaption. People adapt to change in climate all the time. Climate is changing now, but has changed over the millennia, so we are always undertaking spontaneous or autonomous adaptation to climate change. You could say that the whole of the history of agriculture is just adaption to the environment in which it finds itself. Individuals have always adapted to climate change. On the other hand, therefore role of government is to look at planned adaptation, to anticipate what climate change is going to do and to plan for it in the future. A simple example would be, if your house is at risk from being flooded then you take out insurance and that is your autonomousadaptation to climate change. What can the Government do about it? It can change building codes and make sure that we do not build houses in the flood plain. That action is what we would call planned adaptation. Equally the Government can intervene in insurance markets and make sure that people who are vulnerable can get access to insurance. Ultimately everything about adaptation is risk management. The distinction really is between short term and reactive adaptation that we may undertake ourselves or that farmers in Africa may undertake, such as planting new crops every year, compared to long term adaptation which is, as we heard from the previous evidence, taking this longer term view. These two aspects of adaption are something slightly different.

  62.  Perhaps we can just go to Tony Worthington's question to the earlier witnesses. On the work that you have done, and I am thinking particularly of the work in Vietnam, what policy changes do you think there might need to be either in DFID or in UK Government policies or in policies in developing countries?
  (Dr Adger) The first thing that DFID need to do is to make sure that their policies and their investments overseas do not actually undermine the capacity to adapt. As I have said, people adapt spontaneously to climate change and to climate variability all the time. But there is always the risk that investments in transport, investments in coastal infrastructure, or investments in urbanisation and in industrialisation might undermine people's ability to adapt. The first thing we have to do is to make sure that what DFID invest in does not undermine people's ability to adapt and obviously does not increase the whole climate change problem by increasing emissions to the atmosphere contributing to causing climate change in the first place. Investments and interventions need to have—and obviously these are DFID's stated objectives—significant links with what we would call sustainable development.
  (Dr Brown) There are many things that aid agencies such as DFID can do, at many different scales or levels of intervention. Obviously there is the international scale where DFID has an important role in advising and supporting things like the international research initiatives under, for example, the CGIAR system and putting pressure on institutions such as the Global Environment Facility to make sure that climate change is mainstreamed as a development issue, and to support those kinds of processes. There is also national level intervention in supporting some of the strategies and again in supporting governments in developing countries to mainstream climate change, and also in supporting the kind of integration that happens at national level through some of these adaptation plans and other national level strategies. Obviously the local level and direct development interventions are key as well which very often focus at project level. As Dr Adger has said, primarily of importance is making sure that those interventions are not exacerbating the problems, are not enhancing local level vulnerability, are not undermining people's ability to cope with the kinds of changes that might be induced by climate change. We have been working on DFID-funded research in the Caribbean which is looking at how we can increase participation by local people in coastal zone management, for example. This work has both direct and indirect benefits in terms of responding to climate change. It helps people to manage their natural resource base in a more sustainable way, so it has a direct benefit, but also it indirectly supports local institutions and social capital at a local level which is one of the things that really enhances social resilience in the long term. There are many different scales of intervention therefore but what I do think is important is the poverty elimination focus. I think that vulnerability is not the same as poverty and we cannot necessarily say that it is always the poorest who are the most vulnerable. There is a very strong relationship there and a lot of the research, for example on social vulnerability in Vietnam, shows that, but it also demonstrates that there are different sorts of social institutions and different kinds of mechanisms which operate and which are not just about the poorest people being the most vulnerable. There are people who have particular types of livelihoods which make them more vulnerable to some of the impacts of climate change. There are people for example in urban situations who might not be the poorest of the poor but might be particularly vulnerable to things like heat stress. People on small islands might not be the poorest but are especially vulnerable. There is a special need for us to consider that and for DFID to remember that poverty does not necessarily equal vulnerability and so it has to think carefully and perhaps target interventions for climate change.

Mr Battle

  63.  Could you just amplify, so that I have a clearer picture in my mind of practical examples of effort, projects that could make things worse? I should not say it but even in this country we are still building on flood plains and then mopping out the basement months if not years later. We do not always get it right, but what kinds of projects or approaches could exacerbate the problem, as you put it? If you could give us a few examples it would be clearer to know what to avoid.
  (Dr Adger) I will not talk about a direct example of development intervention, but rather elaborate, as the Chairman asked, specifically about the example of Vietnam and policies that can make things worse. The situation there, as I observed it in the mid to late 1990s, was in a way a rolling back of the state and a move towards a market oriented state away from central planning. There were lots of benefits to that liberalisation. Many of the people in the coastal areas where I was studying, were becoming richer, they had more opportunities to be involved in agriculture and other livelihood strategies. In one sense they were becoming more resilient, they had more resources to help them to cope with the typhoons which hit the coast of Vietnam all the time but which are likely to increase, certainly in intensity, in the future because of climate change. They were enhancing their social resilience and thus their capacity to adapt to climate change. At the same time, however, the Government, in de-centralising, threw away much of its system of monitoring for storms, its whole centralised system that it had built up over 20 or 30 years of planning. This system was very labour intensive, not relying on sophisticated technology, but which gave people early warning of typhoons and also maintained and built up the coastal defences each year. In de-centralising, and in rolling back government, they exacerbated the vulnerability of those people living on the coast. On the one hand, then local people were becoming richer individually and were perhaps able to cope better. But on the other hand policies that were being implemented at a national level were exacerbating the risks for people living on the coast. There are also examples of all sorts of resettlement projects, moving people to hazardous areas, that potentially exacerbate their vulnerability to climate change in many situations around the world.

  64.  Deliberately moving people to hazardous areas?
  (Dr Adger) No, inadvertently moving people into the path of hazards. Certainly in Vietnam and in a number of other countries in South East Asia government sponsored resettlement projects, for example to reclaim land on the coast, or to move people into upland frontier regions where there are malaria risks and so on, do not take account of these particular impacts and particular vulnerabilities that are built into natural systems. So they can be maladaptive and exacerbate people's vulnerability to climate change.

  65.  In a sense, if there is a hurricane and it is a few days of an event, put it that way, there is resilience built in if it is not that regular. People now live in volcanic areas and after a volcano erupts they still go back, whether it is in Japan or in Goma. What about moving away where the climate change could be a more long term factor, say, a drying out of an area, encouraging people to move entirely away from that area, or do they move themselves and realise that that is the way to adapt? What role does migration play?
  (Dr Brown) I believe that migration in the past, in the present and in the future will be one aspect of a critical adaptation strategy. It has been I think a spontaneous adaptation strategy, not only long term migration, but also short term migration, seasonal migration, is a feature, particularly of people who live in marginal and risky environments. Short term migration and the ability to utilise different agro-ecological zones, for example, are a survival strategy for pastoralists in many semi-arid areas. Migration is a really critical strategy. Of course, the more permanent and perhaps international migration is one of the most important issues in the long term in adapting to impacts of climate change. We undertook this study which looked at the possible impacts of climate change on the British overseas territories and in looking at the kinds of strategies that people employed on small islands, it is very much a feature of life on small islands, for example, in the Pacific, that people have moved around islands over time because of various environmental changes and other hazards. It is likely to become increasingly important, and of course for some small islands—we heard about the Maldives in the last session—they might not be able to move back. It might be a permanent state of affairs. What we have to do is to try and look at the positive aspects of migration rather than primarily seeing that in a very negative light. We need to look at how governments and different agencies can support those migration strategies. We have been involved in other work, for example, looking at migration strategies to the frontier in Brazil and Amazonia. That is the sort of situation where government has been encouraging migration into these areas, partly because it is the escape valve for pressures in other places, but then when migrants get there they are not offered any support, so they are seen as undertaking very environmentally degrading practices and as having very risky livelihoods because there are not the support mechanisms, although they can build them up quickly with a bit of help.

Ann Clwyd

  66.  I came to your very interesting centre some years ago. I can remember walking round a field holding some oxen, not very expertly; I think Ian was there at the time. I cannot remember what the project was now. Is the project still going on? If not, why not? Secondly, what sort of dialogue do you have with the Vietnamese Government? What sort of notice do they take of your findings, or do they just carry on regardless?
  (Dr Brown) The University of East Anglia had what we called a Rural Technology Unit which was an experimental farm which undertook quite a lot of work looking at low impact agriculture. It has changed quite a lot over the years. The oxen went and were replaced by donkeys and then by sheep over the years, and then it concentrated much more on work on irrigation and cropping. We still have an interest in all of those areas and are still actively engaged certainly with DFID's natural resources research programmes, but it has changed.


  67.  And the relationship to the Government of Vietnam?
  (Dr Adger) We have a direct memoranda of understanding between the University of East Anglia and institutes in Vietnam, and links at government level. We have published our work in Vietnamese which is important for disseminating widely. Typically this is the sort of work that DFID can fund and go the extra mile with. My own was not funded in this case but DFID, I know from experience, provide funds to translate work for policy-makers into local languages. The Vietnamese Government are faced with all sorts of pressures and with a plethora of information coming to them. Moving towards a market liberalisation strategy has all sorts of risks associated with it, all sorts of environmental risks and environmental change, and all sorts of other pressures, such as demographic change. You were talking earlier in the session about the role of DFID investing particularly in reproductive health. Some of our research in Vietnam and elsewhere shows that not only are reproductive health issues important to demographic transitions but there are other demographic changes, particularly migration, particularly ageing, which are equally important when it comes to climate change. As Dr. Brown pointed out earlier, when you have ageing urban populations, for example, those are the people who are likely to be affected by increased heat stress. When you have labour market liberalisation, as we had in Vietnam, you suddenly find people increasingly moving all over the country. The challenge is to make sure that when people move to the highlands of Vietnam they do not start to degrade the environment there. Or when they move into coastal areas that they do not cut down all coastal mangroves and move into shrimp agriculture because there is now a large market for shrimp to Korea and Japan and it is a globalised market. Because if such things occur suddenly the coast becomes much more vulnerable to the impact of coastal storms. The government of Vietnam needs to take account of this myriad of potential environment impacts of globalisation, migration and demographic change and the impacts of strategies that they have undertaken. Our research group is just one small player in that process. Those are significant sustainable development challenges, particularly in the light of climate change.

Tony Worthington

  68.  Apart from the last couple of responses the overwhelming imagery I have had from these sessions has been about the countryside and the coasts and agriculture, and yet one of the biggest changes of recent years, absolutely staggering changes, has been about the growth of mega cities. This was referred to earlier as an adaptation, that people went to the cities to escape the climate change and many other factors in the rural areas. That does not mean they do not continue to contribute to climate change. I was just wondering whether there had been any research done on the sustainable development of huge cities. That is a very vague way of putting it, but when you see these huge shanty towns growing up around already large cities you can see that some pretty intense thinking needs to go on here to make these manageable. Where is that done? Can you help us?
  (Dr Adger) You have identified a critical issue. We picked up on it slightly when we said that the demographic transition in many developing countries is going to lead to rapid urbanisation. A very significant number of the mega-cities of the world are in coastal regions. In fact, the work of Professor Nicholls whom you heard from earlier has identified specifically this issue, that, because of their footprint on their local environment, and because of climate change particularly associated with sea level rise, the populations within those cities are likely to be very vulnerable. In cities like Bangkok, for example, their use of groundwater is causing subsidence of the whole city relative to sea level, and a relatively small change in sea level is going to have very significant impacts in terms of flooding on Bangkok and its local environs. Climate change is not something you can escape by moving from rural to urban areas and there are key climate change impacts that are important for cities. As you say, of urbanisation also tends to go hand in hand with industrialisation and the contribution of greenhouse gases from these mega-cities is obviously very significant as it is where industry is concentrated. On the other hand, there are opportunities to build the infrastructure for sustainable transport and other sustainable strategies for cities, all the things we have difficulty with in this country.

Mr Khabra

  69.  Has the impact of climate change set a vulnerability pattern or does it change from year to year, area to area?
  (Dr Adger) There is an adage which is, The climate is what you expect but the weather is what you get. Climate itself in terms of those mean trends in temperature that you would expect at particular seasons is likely to change on a gradual basis over the coming century and has been changing over the past century and a half because of human intervention in the climate system. The rate of it will depend largely on the fact that we are committed to some change in the future but the absolute rate during the incoming century is dependent on the rate of greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere. Within overall trend there is variability year on year. That is what people have to cope with, particularly those people whose livelihoods are dependent on weather-related resources, people involved in fishing, and in agriculture in particular, or in those industries where water is a significant input. There has always been variability year on year. But what the science tells us is that globally we are going to trend upwards in terms of temperature and that within that trend we are likely to see greater variability. This greater variability in particular sectors and particular regions is really the key parameter we have to adapt to. It is, I believe, of course the phenomenon that we least understand.

  70.  Has any study been done to establish how much is caused by natural causes?
  (Dr Adger) This is an ongoing area of debate but the vast majority of scientists from every corner of the world agree that the trends in temperature that we have seen over the past hundred years the other changes in climate and our projections for the future are primarily associated with our own actions putting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. And historically those countries that industrialised first have to date made by far the greatest contribution so far to this problem.


  71.  National Action Plans for Adaptation—good news? Do they work? Are they being involved? Comments?
  (Dr Brown) We do not know yet because we have not seen many of them. One the one hand we have now these three pilot plans that have been developed and I am sure that Dr Huq will tell you a little bit more about that in the next session, but there are obviously potential benefits from national level planning and a national level consideration of adaptation and mainstreaming adaptation within government processes. Of course potentially they are costly in terms of human resources, in terms of time. They are an important first step in terms of mainstreaming and integrating across different government departments. One of the main considerations which we have discussed is really how these plans can be flexible, whether or not they are going to be rigid blueprints, how they can enhance flexibility and particularly whether or not they will consider the spontaneous adaptation strategies which we talked about earlier or will they just focus on the planned adaptation, on anticipatory measures? Is there then potential that these actions will undermine the kind of spontaneous adaptation strategies which we observe in many areas and particularly amongst marginal communities? One of the other considerations is the danger that they might lead to blanket generalisations of intent and large scale solutions to these problems. Obviously in terms of then trying to inform things like health planning, agricultural and crop research, strategies, transport strategies, they can only be a good thing.

  72.  Finally, what kinds of institutions are needed to facilitate adaptation? How will they work at national and local levels and how might they link to international institutions and policies?
  (Dr Adger) These national adaptation plans that you have just referred to are being promoted under the Adaptation Fund set up under the Climate Change Convention agreed at Marrakech just a few months ago. The major responsibility for these has been given to the Global Environment Facility who have been involved in this area for a decade. Internationally much of the co-ordination is going on through the Global Environment Facility. DFID have some influence over the Global Environment Facility and we would certainly urge DFID to exercise themselves to take an active role in this whole planning process I think that if we have business as usual and ongoing, GEF replenishment climate change will simply get wrapped up with all the other development assistance that the GEF get involved in, and with all those of the World Bank as the GEF's host institution. There are some specific adaption needs that we have highlighted: the need for understanding adaptation processes, the need to consider migration, for example, as a potentially sustainable adaptation strategy locally and even internationally. Perhaps these proposed national plans would not consider these issues. Hence international co-ordination and international thinking needs to continue on these large-scale issues. The GEF has the primary responsibility internationally. Bilateral donor agencies and national governments are the primary players in terms of planning adaptation for the future.

Chris McCafferty

  73.  That sounds fantastic but is it not putting the cart before the horse? Earlier we heard that there is a great need for impact studies and that they are not being funded and are not taking place. Would it not be better to put the money into the impact studies first and then look at National Action Plans following that information being generated, or can the two things run concurrently?
  (Dr Brown) I think we have to have both. They do need to run concurrently because they will inform each other. We need more sensitive information on specific vulnerable hot-spots. We need to know about what the likely impacts on those places are and we need to know about the nature of vulnerability there, and we need to know about what coping strategies exist already and how they can be enhanced through interventions on these different scales. I want to add that in a way what we are seeing now, especially post-Marrakech, is a whole range of different mechanisms and institutions being set up, most of which are not going to come on stream until 2005.  Even then National Action Plans are likely to be prerequisites for even the least developed countries getting access to those special funds. The problems are already with us, however, and we have to find ways of understanding what institutions already exist within countries that support and enhance the kind of adaptation strategies which we can observe by looking at responses to past climatic and other extreme events. That will help our understanding for the present and for the near term future as well as for the long term future.

  74.  So you would agree it is really important for impact studies to be funded in order for the rest of the work to take off and be beneficial?
  (Dr Brown) But concurrently with adaption.

  75.  Yes, but the previous evidence was that impact studies are not being done.
  (Dr Adger) Certainly, but I do not think these impact studies are necessarily a prerequisite for looking at adaptation. Just to reiterate what Dr Brown has said, people are adapting to climate change now. The climate has been changing over the past hundred years. If we look at rainfall records in the Sahel, for example, there have been significant changes over the past 30 or 40 years. Understanding how people are coping with that climatic change now, in some cases very successfully coping with that climatic change, will give us great insight into all those other potential problems that we face in semi-arid areas around the world. Understanding how people are coping in the Pacific with the expectation of climate change is going to be very important. We had a question earlier on about the role of expectations. There are countries in the Pacific that are already planning for moving all their population to other countries. But once they plan for it and once that becomes the expectation then there is obviously no incentive to invest in those countries. International funds are not going to go towards them, so people will leave all the quicker. Adaptation is happening now and I believe there is an urgent need for DFID to facilitate and plan for it as well as facilitating some understanding of it.

  Chairman: Thank you very much for the evidence you have given us. It has been very helpful. Thank you also for introducing us to the knowledge that there is a Rural Technology Centre at your university. I am not quite sure what happened to Ms Clwyd's oxen but I think this is a centre that some of us might like to visit on some future occasion. It sounds like some very interesting work is being done.

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