On a regular basis, CliMates meet with experts working on climate change issues, in order to inform its own research. You'll find on this page a short summary of those meetings.
According to Martine Tabeaud, it is necessary to go back to the basics, i.e. what exactly are we measuring when assessing climate change, and what is the meaning of these measures? Indeed, there is an issue with the concentration of meteorological stations in the Northern hemisphere – with very few located for instance in the oceans. Even though new stations are being built, we still have a long way to go before they can provide long enough time series.
We asked Mrs. Tabeaud about the links (oppositions?) between adaptation and attenuation: she mentioned that International policies in the environmental field are inspired by “Western” countries and, as a result, have focused on climate change attenuation. In the 90s, adaptation wasn’t viewed by Westerners as a noble approach to climate change, contrarily to universal attenuation policies. According to Mrs. Tabeaud, the key issue is that all the money has been put on attenuation research, whereas we now need to also invest in adaptation programs. And there are many studies that don’t go in that direction, and that the IPCC isn’t showing.
Adaptation is not only an environmental issue but, in Mrs. Tabeaud’s opinion, it also shows the gaps in our modern society. Adaptation is the most appropriate approach for developing countries, as they pollute little, but face great challenges in terms of poverty and pollution eradication (other than those linked to climate change). We should not underestimate their adaptation ability. The idea that “because they are poor, they can’t adapt” is wrong. We, in France, need to think about mechanisms to provide them with technical help. But we can also learn from them in terms of governance and social structure. Adaptation can be a chance for development, because countries (such as China), understand there is a lot to do, are conquering key markets for the future and positioning themselves to make tons of money (e.g. photovoltaic).
Efficient adaptation cannot exist without a functioning democracy. A bottom-up strategy should be favored, because we can’t adapt if people, locally, do not want to do anything. Indeed, adaptation points out the lack of democracy in France. Mrs. Tabeaud also mentioned a functioning example: in the Netherlands, inhabitants went very fast on adaptation, going through public consultations, and territorial planning. Municipalities were asked what is vulnerable in the case of a temperature raise. Once the consultation process is completed, it is up to decision-makers to design a public policy based on models, debates and scenarios chosen by municipalities.
Attenuation is of course still potentially positive, as “when we do something, there are always unexpected (positive or negative) results”. So, we shouldn’t just do nothing and wait, yet, we must rethink everything. Radically privileging attenuation to a global scale was a mistake. More focus must now be given to adaptation.
Philippe Roudier is a researcher at CIRED. He wrote a thesis entitled: “Climate and agriculture in West Africa: quantification of climate change impacts on crop yields and evaluation of seasonal forecasts utility” and gave classes at University Paris-1 on links between NGOs and climate change. He also wrote a report on the impact of climate change in Mali. CliMates met with him to talk about his work.
Philippe Roudier says that climate is one of the vulnerability factors for African farmers, but not the only one. Price volatility (fertilizers, food...) and soil fertility depletion are indeed other very important issues for them. For instance, a study using surveys has recently shown that 30 to 50% of West African farmers consider that the main reason of decreasing yields are climatic factors, the rest corresponding to other factors (soil, pests...).
We then talked about uncertainties linked to climate change and about climate information. About this issue, it is very useful to better forecast the time frame of the monsoon in Western Africa. Indeed, knowing the onset date is primordial for farmers to avoid useless seeding (if farmers sow during a rain, which is followed by a drought, everything is lost and they have to sow again). In addition to the current information that allows to forecast the cumulated rainfall of the rainy season (c.f. for example the PRESAO program), it would be very valuable to plan (around 3 months in advance) the starting date, but it remains difficult.
West African farmers have a strong aversion to risk: this means that they tend to avoid strategies with a high year-to-year variability, which can lead to dramatic food crisis. The use of seasonal forecasts could limit the risk of very poor agricultural production, which can be very dangerous for farmers, as insurance mechanisms are rare in this region. However, a new kind of crop insurances based on climatic indicators has recently been tested in West Africa and in other areas of the world. Automatic compensations exist when if there is insufficient rainfall, which may lead to very poor yields.
Obviously, seasonal forecasts and crop insurances are only some possible options. Many others exist and are used every year by farmers: for example, farmers are mobile, and can move up to over 200km to look for new seeds in order to adapt their crop varieties to the expected rainy season. Even if agriculture is one of the major economic activities in WA, the dependence on imports is still very strong. For example, Senegal imports more than a half of its agricultural products consumption. Since the dramatic food crisis of the early 21st century, such countries try to be more self-sufficient in order to rely less on the international market.
P. Roudier then discussed jatropha, an agro fuel. If it can be used for plants, which are supposed to be cultivated on low fertility soils where food crop cannot be. If this statement is true, Jatropha only gives very low yields on such soils. That is why some studies have shown that in countries like Burkina Faso, it is cultivated on lands that could be used for other cereals. So, in this country Jatropha uses land where other food crops could be cultivated.
Could adaptation to climate change lower poverty? One has to focus first on the definition of "poverty". Adaptation measures (e.g. seasonal forecasts) may favor the richest farmers or at least the "average" farmers; they are less useful for the poorest of a country. It would be pertinent to reduce vulnerability of the poorest against the strong year-to-year variability of agricultural production.
Concerning climate change, the best adaptation strategies are the “the least regret options” which are useful in all future climate scenarios: for example, minimizing leakages in irrigation networks is in all cases a relevant option. It is important to use such robust strategies as there are still some uncertainties concerning the future climate (e.g. temperature projections range from +2°C to +6°C in 2100 in West Africa, depending on the model and scenario)
Farmers can find solutions to face warming but they are more devoid about inter annual variability.
Conclusion: the raise in temperature is a strong signal, even if there are still some uncertainties; However, in West Africa, future rainfall evolution remains very uncertain: models forecasts range from -10% up to 15% rain for the next century.
P. Roudier thinks that the international development community and the research can play a major role in building mechanisms to avoid or at least minimize very bad years such as 1983/1984 in West Africa. He also underlines that one should not minimize the impacts of farmers innovative strategies to adapt to the changing climate.
On February 16th, CliMates met with deforestation expert Romain Pirard of the Institute of Sustainable Development and International Relations (IDDRI) to discuss the correlations between climate change and agriculture. M. Pirard emphasized that finding solutions for mitigation and adaptation in the agricultural sector required a global view of agricultural production, taking well into account its link with the transport sector for instance.
Pirard is currently working on a project to reduce deforestation and provide ecosystem services through economic and fiscal instruments. These tend to attribute economic values to the environment in various ways, which makes it a heterogeneous group of policy instruments. He insisted that the current economic system tends to favor attempts to have a price on environmental assets in order to protect them, which is not necessarily a good thing and does not always lead to appropriate decisions. While assessing a price for environmental assets is not the most equitable solution – as it prejudices those that can afford to pay for their environmental degradation – it does however lead to the ability to finance reforestation and the rebuilding of ecosystems in other areas. Implementing the precise and right combination of instruments for these Payments for Ecosystem Services (PES) is the challenge. With regards to forest policies, most difficult is improving the interface between scientific knowledge and decision making. In some cases, it has been more effective to first introduce a legal framework, for which scientific research then provides specific answers. In this sense, science responds to a precise demand, and is able to have a more acute influence on policy and decision making.
Romain Pirard earned a PhD in environmental economics at the French School of High Studies in Social Sciences (EHESS), before working on forest policies at both the International Center for Research in Environment and Development (CIRED) and the Center for Studies and Research on International Development (CERDI). Before joining IDDRI in 2008, Pirard also worked for the World Bank and the IUCN.
January 31st 2012, CliMates met with Thomas Legrand of Green Synergie, who is also a member of CliMates Scientific Committee. In discussing issues of avoided deforestation, Mr. Legrand emphasized the need to increase awareness of the importance of forests at the national and local levels and include them in the development of agreen economy. He underlined thatREDD+ may generate perverse incentives by focusing on the services rendered by forest at the global level. If countries see only carbon in their forests and protect them only because of payments from the international level, it is doubtful that this will achieve on the long term the conservation of tropical forests. Another potential source of perverse incentive in REDD+ is to pay only for additional avoided deforestation : rewarding only those countries who would have deforested a lot may encourage them to threaten to do so.
In discussing the upcoming CliMates Conference of Delegations 2012, Mr. Legrand brought up the issue of global governance and cooperation, whose effective design is particularly crucial to saving forests worldwide. He encouraged a philosophical approach to the predicament based on a strong sense of global justice and simplicity, rewarding virtuous practices, rather than market mechanisms based on utilitarian principles and the search for efficiency on the short run.
“REDD+ should help to build national political support for forest conservation rather than supporting the idea that forest has no value- except the carbon one - for tropical countries that should be compensated to keep it standing .”
Thomas Legrand is also a professor at the Institute of Political Sciences in Paris, and writing his PhD thesis in Economics on Payments for Environmental thesis in Costa Rica.
On February 21rst, CliMates met with expert Tancrède Voituriez of the Institute of Sustainable Development and International Relations (Iddri) to discuss climate change and agriculture, CliMates theme for research session one. Environmental economist and specialist on the relationship between trade and climate change, Mr. Voituriez pointed out that the issue of agriculture could enhance the division between northern and southern countries. However, an in depth analysis of the agricultural activity in different countries could in fact reveal that countries would and should not align themselves in the same way that they traditionally do for climate negotiations. Therefore, for CliMates’ research and the CliMates Conference of Delegations 2012, it would be interesting to break down the traditional alliances between countries, determine countries’ different interests and needs with regard to agriculture, and put forward some real concrete, innovative incentives for cooperation between countries.
Mr. Voituriez explained that there has been a focus on attempting to reproduce the same economic model in southern countries as in northern countries, including with regards to agriculture. Many economists are recognizing that this simply may not be possible, and the discussions leading up to Rio+20 reveal this trend to rethink the economic paradigm. The attempt to develop southern countries in the same way as northern countries has contributed to increased inequalities and ineffective address of climate change mitigation. For example, regional cooperation has put forth an inequitable system because of national subsidies on agricultural products, leading to inaccurate pricing on the international market. All together this has weakened the unified effort to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases as the World Trade Organization cannot intervene enough and effectively in favor of fair trade.
Mr. Voituriez is currently conducting a study on the development of green jobs in the European Union, paying close attention to the competitiveness of the EU in development of wind and solar energies.