Select Committee on International Development Minutes of Evidence

Supplementary memorandum submitted by the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research

  1.  One of the Committee members (Chris McCafferty) suggested that addressing adaptation before we have a better understanding of climate change impacts is "putting the cart before the horse".

  Many communities are highly vulnerable to current climate variability. Adaptive measures designed to decrease vulnerability to events such as droughts, floods and storms will help reduce the societal impacts of future change. Given the large uncertainties associated with climate prediction, building people's capacity to cope with change in a flexible manner is a more realistic strategy than attempting to prepare for specific predicted impacts. Future climate change depends not only on the physical characteristics of the climate system, but also on our own choices concerning development and energy use, neither of which can be predicted with anything approaching certainty. A "bottom up" capacity building approach is therefore much more appropriate than a "top down" impacts-led approach in addressing vulnerability.

  It is relatively straightforward to assess current vulnerability to climate extremes at the national level, using data concerning natural disasters and their impacts. Such an assessment is currently underway at the Tyndall Centre. More detailed assessments at the sub-national level are planned, and these will help to target adaptation and development funds at the most vulnerable groups.

  2.  One issue that was highlighted by the discussions was that global food production is likely to decrease over the course of the twenty first century. It is tempting to draw the conclusion that the way to tackle this issue is via novel agricultural practices and "new crops".

  Agriculture can be adapted without the development of new crops, and without large-scale government-led schemes to increase productivity at the national level. In parts of African people have managed to maintain agricultural productivity in the face of decreasing rainfall and large increases in population. This has been achieved through more integrated systems of crop and livestock management, a shift away from cash crops for export to food crops for local consumption, soil conservation and tree planting activities, and a shift from artificial fertilisers to animal manure. Income diversification, seasonal migration and the exploitation of local markets have all also played an important role in increasing food security. These factors have enabled people to adapt to climate change that has already occurred, over the last few decades, and have contributed to sustainable land management and food production. People should be assisted in these kinds of activities—education based on indigenous experience, and funding through micro-credit schemes, can give people the freedom they need to adapt, and enable them to create sustainable systems that can cope with climatic deterioration.

  3.  The question was raised as to how DFID should change its existing policies, given that its main aim is poverty reduction.

  As far as climate change and sustainable development are concerned, DFID should pursue the following two strategies, both of which will reduce poverty.

    i.  Existing and planned projects should be examined in order to assess how their objectives might be affected by climate change. Will the projects be viable if the areas concerned experience the kinds of multi-year climatic variations they have experienced in the past? How will a change in the frequency of extreme events affect the project outcomes? Do modelling studies suggest that climate in these areas is particularly sensitive to global change? What climatic assumptions have been made at the planning stage?

    ii.  Climate change will exacerbate poverty in some areas, and may create poverty where it has not existed before (see original written evidence from the Tyndall Centre). Assessments of vulnerability that identify particularly vulnerable "hot-spots" will enable action to be taken that can pre-empt the effects of climate change, through capacity building programmes that increase people's economic and food security options in these areas.

  4.  Population was raised by the committee members as a major issue

  While access to family planning is a key issue in tackling poverty, it is not seen as key to tackling climate change. While some vulnerable areas, notably coastal regions, are highly populated, many highly vulnerable groups exist in areas of low population density (eg much of Africa, which is sparsely populated for the most part). High population densities are often the result of migration to cities due to rural poverty. Supporting small-scale rural sustainable agriculture based on food crops rather than export crops will help mitigate this problem. Furthermore, the population that can be supported by a region is a function of how that region is managed—there is no absolute carrying capacity. The committee were concerned that population growth would exacerbate climate change. At present the vast majority of greenhouse gases are emitted by the richest nations. Technology transfer via the Clean Development Mechanism, to help developing nations move to cleaner energy sources, will go a long way towards addressing concerns that industrialisation in the developing world will undermine mitigation effors; this will do much more to minimise future climate change than will a concentration purely on population control.

Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research

February 2002

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