Adapting To Climate Change : Policy Recommendations For The Developing World (Part 1)
THE VULNERABILITY OF DEVELOPING COUNTRIES
While economic growth and development are priorities in all countries, the needs in developing and least developed countries are on a different scale altogether than those in the developed world. Developing countries are constrained by their particular vulnerability to the impacts of climate variability. The poor in these countries are also at higher risks to both current and future climate change impacts, given their high dependence on agriculture, strong reliance on ecosystem services, rapid growth and concentration of human and livestock populations and relatively poor health services.
In fact, about 99% of the casualties due to the vagaries of climate take place in the developing world. As a result of global warming, the type, frequency and intensity of extreme events, such as tropical cyclones, floods, droughts and heavy precipitation events are expected to rise even with relatively small average temperature increases. New climate studies show that extreme heat waves are very likely to become common in the tropics and subtropics by century’s end. Add to this gloomy scenario insufficient capacity to adapt to future climate change impacts, inadequate infrastructure, meager household income and savings and the limited supporting public services and you have a veritable time bomb in the offing.
CLIMATE CHANGE GOES AGAINST THE GRAIN
Climate change is already inevitable, but in the absence of robust adaptation strategies will almost certainly exacerbate food insecurity. Millions of people in countries that already have food security problems will have to give up traditional crops and agricultural methods as they experience changes in the nature of the seasons, for which, over time, they have developed coping strategies that have enabled them to survive. Given the fact that two billion people already live in the driest parts of the globe, where climate change is projected to reduce yields even further, the challenge of putting enough food in nine billion mouths by 2050 is daunting!
And what does it imply for about 1.5 billion people, nearly 60% of developing nations’ workforce, who are engaged in agriculture? Since agriculture constitutes a much larger fraction of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in developing countries, even a small percentage of loss in agricultural productivity could snowball into a larger proportionate income loss in a developing country than in an industrial one.
Climate change also threatens poverty reduction efforts because poor people depend directly on already fragile ecosystems for their well-being. They also lack the resources to adequately defend themselves or to adapt rapidly to changing circumstances, and more importantly, their voices are not sufficiently heard in international discussions, particularly in climate change negotiations. Environmental effects such as desertification and rising sea levels triggered by climate change can lead to increased conflict for resources, which in turn can displace people. The World Bank estimates that sea level rising by a single meter would displace 56 million people in 84 developing countries!
Unhindered climate change has the potential to negatively impact developing countries’ prospects for sustainable development. As the rural poor across the developing world feel the pressure of climate change, high food prices and environmental and energy crises, it is now clear that new knowledge and technical and policy solutions have never been more critical.
Climate change being a threat multiplier, adaptation and mitigation strategies need to be urgently integrated into national and regional development programs. Developing countries need to participate in a globally integrated approach to this problem. Policies on adaptation include changes in land use and timing of farming operations, adaptive plant breeding and crop husbandry technologies, irrigation infrastructure, water storage and water management. Mitigation measures may include better forecasting tools and early warning systems, improved crop and livestock management practices including improved input use efficiencies (such as ICRISAT’s microdosing), crop systems diversification and improved water management.
More investments in agricultural research and infrastructure Considering the role of agriculture in the social and economic progress of developing countries, and the vulnerability of agricultural systems to the impacts of climate change, a renewed agenda for agricultural research, more aggressive investments in and better management of agricultural research and knowledge can make significant improvements in food security goals. A progressive policy environment should also include more investment in infrastructure and education and research that improves understanding and predictions of the interactions between climate change and agriculture.
Almost 95% of the developing countries’ water withdrawals are used to irrigate farmlands. Therefore water policy to make more efficient use of water for agriculture is crucial. This involves understanding water flows and water quality, improved rainwater harvesting and water storage and diversification of irrigation techniques. Such considerations will need to be framed in the context of rapidly expanding populations that are predicted to exacerbate inter-sectoral competition for abstracted water supplies. Robust irrigation infrastructure may be necessary to cope with climate change risks in the short to medium term. Maintenance of existing infrastructure, too, deserves early attention.
Land use practices
Land-use policies to encourage diversification and natural resource management, including protection of biodiversity, are critical. Erosion control and soil conservation measures, agroforestry and forestry techniques, forest fire management and better town planning are some steps that can be initiated to blunt the impacts of climate change. Reducing and sequestering terrestrial greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are possible by enriching soil carbon, farming with perennials, climate-friendly livestock production, protecting natural habitat and restoring degraded watersheds and rangelands.
Weather and climate services
The role of weather and climate services and products in developing adaptation solutions is crucial. Stock-taking of available climate information in developing countries to ascertain where the systematic observation needs are most pressing, collaboration between national and international providers of climate information and users in all sectors and generating awareness among different user communities of the usefulness of such information are essential. Climate change assessment tools are needed that are more geographically precise, that are more useful for agricultural policy and program review and scenario assessment, and that more explicitly incorporate the biophysical constraints that affect agricultural productivity. Packaging this data for its effective use and rescuing historical meteorological data are equally important. In this respect, the National Meteorological Services in the developing world must be encouraged and enabled to become fully integrated into research and development initiatives.
Engagement of the private sector
Policies that encourage holistic approaches including the engagement of the private sector should feature in any national and international approach to address climate change and facilitate the transition to a low-carbon economy. The private sector can invest in clean new technologies and develop innovative market mechanisms to combat climate change, particularly the dangers from GHG emissions.
Capacity-building and collective action
Policies that enhance the effectiveness of rural institutions at the local, national and international levels will be a central concern as they seek to speed up the pace of agricultural adaptation. Unless steps are taken to initiate and strengthen cooperation among academic and research institutions, regional and international organizations, and NGOs to provide opportunities for strengthening institutions. dealing with climate chance impacts may be cumbersome. Involving local communities, education on climate change and raising public awareness are keys to combating climate change.
By INTERNATIONAL CROPS RESEARCH INSTITUTE FOR THE SEMI-ARID TROPICS (ICRISAT)