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Monday, 25 March 2013

The sinking Pacific – climate change and international aid in Tuvalu



Sarah Hemstock (University of the South Pacific) came to visit the Cabot Institute on 20 March 2013 and presented the case study “Impacts of international aid on climate change adaptation in Tuvalu”.  Here I sum up the main points raised by Sarah during her lecture.  Please note all figures mentioned below are from Sarah's talk.
Tuvalu

Climate change
Tuvalu is a microcosm for what is going on with climate change globally.  There are issues with waste management, sea level rise, politics, energy, food production and others.

Tuvalu grows taro, a staple carbohydrate which is sensitive to saltwater.  Due to rising sea levels, Tuvalu is affected by high tides called king tides.  These tides can contaminate agricultural land with saltwater and thus the staple crop will not grow.

Flood defences have been built by aid agencies to try to stop sea level rise.  Unfortunately they do not work as seawater bubbles up through the island at king tide, flooding the airport and villages.  There is now no fresh water and villages are completely dependent on collecting rainwater. 

International aid and the economy
Sarah began to explain why Tuvalu needs to move away from aid to become more self empowering.   She started to list the facts.  Globally, $140bn has been given to international aid between 1970 and 2010, it certainly is a lucrative business.  There are four agencies who accept international aid in the Pacific.  Three of these agencies have mandates for climate change, fisheries, GIS and mapping etc which prevents any market driven approach to getting aid.  Another problem with these agencies is their size.  For example, Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC)  has grown from 300 employees at its inception to 3000 today.  Large numbers of employees can see international aid going towards feeding these agencies rather than having a smaller administrative group and diverting the main bulk of funds to helping save the islands of the Pacific.  It could be argued that these large companies provide jobs for people in the Pacific, but in reality, these jobs are not very likely to go to people from the small island states such as Tuvalu (for which the aid is supposed to be for), which are isolated and poor.

Tuvalu has a weak economy. There is a lack of exports but a lot of imports to people who are not native to the island and want a little something from home.  83 % of Tuvalu’s energy comes from oil and a shocking 50% of Tuvalu’s annual GDP comes from aid.  People in Tuvalu are subsisting on less than $2 a day.  However, because Tuvalu receives a substantial amount of ‘aid’ they are recognised as a middle income country, but this aid does not filter down to the people and in fact Tuvalu should be considered as a low income country.

Tuvalu spends $6m on policy development, although these policies rarely do anything and could be considered a waste of money which could be better used in the community.  The amount of diesel used for electricity consumption has increased.  However, petrol usage has decreased, mainly due to people going back to using traditional canoes as they are cheaper to run. 

A desperate situation – a sinking community
Between 2004 and 2007, fossil fuel use increased by 21%.  Sarah felt that this was because funders ignore policy.  For example, a Japanese company gave Tuvalu three diesel energy generators.  Tuvalu asked for generators that could run on coconut oil in line with environmental policy but due to cost, the donators could not provide these.  Tuvalu couldn't afford to run the diesel generators so Japan donates $2m of oil every year to run them making Tuvalu totally dependent on donations for its energy supply.

There is no market, no money and no tourist industry in Tuvalu so there is no way of generating money.  It is an isolated island and boats to Fiji run every 5-6 weeks.  When weather is bad, food, oil and supplies are not delivered.

Sarah explained how there is no joined up thinking with international aid and no long term plans after the aid has disappeared.  An example of this is where water tanks were given to each home in Tuvalu and they were also made in Tuvalu.  The problem with the design was that it has a sealed top which meant it could not be stacked.  This meant it would have taken 25 years to get everyone a tank, as only six tanks would fit on each ship.  The good news was that they managed to get a barge to ship them out, but it is this lack of foresight which hampers the success of aid activities.

Sarah also mentioned how 35% of aid goes straight back to the company who gave the money to pay for ‘technical assistance’ and admin fees.  There are other fees which come out of international aid. In fact if aid was taken away from Tuvalu, it wouldn't affect the people much as the aid hardly reaches them anyway. 

Interestingly, the people of Tuvalu are extremely mentally resilient to the threat of climate change.  When asked if they would move off the island if climate change flooded their islands, they were determined to stay on the island no matter what.  When the question was framed in an economic sense, for example would they move off the island for work, they were more open to the idea of moving off the island.  This is a difficult ethical argument.  What right do we have to move the islanders to safety, to move them to a different country, culture and language when they do not want to go?

Climate change may be physically sinking the small low-lying islands of the Pacific, but it is the international aid agencies which are arguably sinking them beyond recovery.  A drastic change is needed in the management and distribution of international aid in order to save these dying islands from the rest of the world’s actions.

  
This blog was written by Amanda Woodman-Hardy (@Enviro_Mand), Cabot Institute
Amanda Woodman-Hardy, Cabot Institute


Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Chasing Ice with the All Party Parliamentary Climate Change Group


Watching the film of a self-confessed reformed climate skeptic with members of parliament and Lords isn’t how I usually spend my Tuesday morning, but it was what I found myself doing last Tuesday. The occasion for this unlikely meeting was a special screening of photographer James Balog’s film Chasing Ice for the All Party Parliamentary Climate Change Group (APPCCG), of which the Cabot Institute is a member. The film, which documents the work of the photographer’s Extreme Ice Survey, follows James and his team on a journey to record the retreat of 13 glaciers across the globe continuously over a two year period. 

I won’t spoil the film too much (and strongly encourage you to see it if you can) but suffice to say placing 28 cameras at locations across the globe in some of the most difficult terrains and extremes of temperature is a challenge for both the men and technology involved. The aim to take one photo every hour of daylight for two years solid was massively ambitious, but worth the effort and the pain, as the result is a spectacular demonstration of how our hydrocarbon based economy is changing the face of the planet.
 
“What the public need [...] is something spectacular that grabs people in the gut”
James Balog

James’s desire was to capture what is perhaps the most visually compelling effect of climate change. Retreating glaciers are a clear indication of the effects of rising global temperatures and one (despite the attempts by some to highlight the minority which are advancing) which is hard to ignore. Of course the glaciers highlighted in the film are only a small proportion of global land ice (which has the power to raise sea level) but can be seen as an important “canary in the coal mine” demonstrating the processes which are happening in the really large ice sheets too. Over the last twenty years, mass loss of ice sheets on Greenland and Antarctica are estimated to have contributed 0.59 ±0.20 mm yr -1 to global sea level rise (Shepard et al., 2012). While that may seem like a small number, the effects over the next century could be dramatic, especially as, if last year’s unprecedented Greenland melt are anything to go by (Tedesco et al., 2012), this rate could be accelerating.

“If you had an abscess in your tooth, would you go to dentist after dentist until one told you not to pull it out?”
James Balog
 
Before the screening there was an introduction to the film by Chris Shearlock, Sustainable Development Manager at The Co-operative Group who explained the Co-op’s involvement in the film, and their outlook on sustainable and ethical investment. The Co-op has invested £1billion in renewable energy, and he estimated that they have refused £300 million of investment opportunities in hydrocarbon extraction, and so when following the film, the questioning turned to exploitation of the soon-to-be summer sea ice free arctic the voice of the Co-operative was clear – that they will not be investing in hydrocarbon extraction. That question was dealt with very differently by Chris Barton, Head of International & Domestic Energy Security at the DECC who put forward the UK government’s current position that whilst we should reduce demand, in order to maintain cheap oil and gas for UK consumers “sensible” and regulated extraction in the arctic should be a priority for UK plc. What to do with the resulting CO2 emissions in order to hit the < 2 °C target? Well in Chris Barton’s mind carbon capture and storage will come to the rescue.

The debate moved to whether, as we are not an Arctic state, we can do anything about the regulation of commercial activity in a basin which is a combination of the territorial water of eight nation states, and open ocean controlled under the international law of the sea. The DECC view seemed to be that it is largely none of our business and out of our control, but interestingly Jane Rumble, Head of Polar Regions Unit at the FCO, had a different perspective. She suggested that we should be (and can be) working constructively through the Arctic Council, towards a similar regulatory framework to that which controls the other end of the Earth via the Antarctic Treaty, and by influencing Canada (one of the eight bordering nation states) through the commonwealth. Colin Manson, Director of Manson Oceanographic Consultancy and member of the IMO Polar Code working group spoke of the frustration of many in the shipping industry that talks on the Polar Code had stalled and encouraged UK intervention as a broker. He also pointed that one little talked about impacts of the opening up of the Northern Passage would be dramatic reductions in the time and fuel needed for bulk cargo shipping from the far east to Europe. With the representative routing of Shanghai – Rotterdam dropping to 5 weeks, vs the current 8 week route via the Indian Ocean. Colin, along I think with many in the audience, hoped thoughtful regulation and consideration of the impacts of this increased shipping through the arctic would come before it was too late.

Julia Slingo OBE, Chief Scientist at the Met Office closed proceedings with an impassioned plea to take care with the interpretation of our current generation of climate models following questions from the audience, and highlighted the importance of sustained development of what are our best hopes for accurate and precise predictions of future climate change.

All in all it was a fascinating day, and I was grateful to be exposed to a beautiful film, as well as an insight into the minds of those at the policy end of climate change science.

“We think we need new oil and gas production whether people like it or not”
Chris Barton, Head of International & Domestic Energy Security, DECC

This blog is by Dr Marcus Badger (Chemistry) at the University of Bristol. He writes about the APPCCG meeting held on 5 March 2013.
Marcus Badger