Climate imperils Peru’s poverty drive

Climate imperils Peru's poverty drive

Peru’s efforts to reduce poverty are at risk from the effects of climate change, one example of the problems facing the wider Amazonia region in a warming world.

LONDON, 26 December – Peru is the country chosen to host the 2014 UN climate conference, a key meeting for trying to advance an ambitious plan to rein in greenhouse emissions which is planned for agreement in 2015.

But the country has recently earned a rather more dubious distinction. In 2012, for the first time, the Peruvian Amazon became a net emitter of carbon dioxide rather than oxygen, according to the latest human development country report of the UN Development Programme (UNDP).

The Amazon rainforest usually acts as a carbon sink, absorbing atmospheric CO2 rather than releasing it. Scientists think this reversal of its normal behaviour results from the droughts in the western Amazon in 2005 and 2010 and say it shows Peru’s vulnerability to climate change.

Peru has more than halved its poverty rate in the last decade, from 48.5% in 2004 to 25.8% in 2012. But the 2013 UNDP report said its vulnerability to a warming climate could cancel the progress it has made in directing economic growth into sustained poverty reduction.

Glaciers going

One of the UNDP report’s authors, Maria Eugenia Mujica, said: “If we disregard [environmental] sustainability, whatever progress we have made in poverty reduction or improvement of human development will just be erased due to climate change”.

With a temperature rise in the Andes of 0.7°C between 1939 and 2006, Peru has already lost 39% of its tropical glaciers. Temperature rises of up to 6°C are expected in many parts of the Andes by the end of this century.

Peru’s economic success is in some cases directly linked to activities which contribute to climate change, for example illegal gold mining and logging, and the cocaine trade – all of them environmentally destructive, but lucrative.

“The growth does not come from education or health, but from predatory activities, like [resource] extraction and mining”, said Francisco Santa Cruz, another of the report’s authors.

Peru is trying to protect itself against the ravages of a warmer world, but the odds are against it. It recently announced plans to invest US $6 bn in renewable energy projects: around the same time came predictions that climate change could cost between 8% and 34% of its GDP. A report by the Inter-American Development Bank has said the entire Latin American and Caribbean region will face annual damages from global warming of about $100 bn by 2050.

Taken for granted

The Global Canopy Programme and the International Center for Tropical Agriculture, describing climate change as “a threat multiplier”, called in a report this month for a new security agenda for Amazonia and the countries of the region.

Manuel Pulgar, Peru’s environment minister, said at the report’s launch: “Climate change is a global problem, but one that will multiply local and regional problems in unforeseeable ways.

“In Latin America, we have taken Amazonia and its seemingly limitless water and forests as a given. But recent unprecedented droughts have shown us just what happens when that water security falters.

“it impacts food and energy production, it affects the wellbeing of entire populations, and it leaves governments and businesses with a big bill to pay. The science is clear, so we cannot afford to miss the opportunity for positive action now.”  – Climate News Network


This report is based on a post on the London Guardian’s Poverty Matters Blog by Dan Collyns on 13 December 2013.

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Climate chaos ‘needn’t happen – IF…’

Climate chaos 'needn't happen - IF...'

EMBARGOED until 0001 GMT on Thursday 11 July
Two reports suggest that it may be possible to avoid serious climate change, or even to reverse it. But both come with key qualifications – conditions that will have to be met if the predictions are to prove correct.

LONDON, 11 July – Two separate groups of researchers say there are grounds for hope that the world can escape the prospect of a possibly uncontrollable and very damaging level of climate change. But they agree that world governments will have to meet rigorous conditions to make this happen.

The first study, published in the journal Environmental Research Lettsrs, is by a team from Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden. It makes the bold claim that ambitious temperature targets “can be exceeded then reclaimed” by around mid-century.

The way to achieve this, the study says, is by combining bio-energy with carbon capture and storage – a marriage of technologies it calls BECCS. This, it says, “can reverse the global warming trend and push temperatures back below the global target of 2°C above pre-industrial levels, even if current policies fail and we initially overshoot this target”.

If BECCS is used on a sufficiently large scale, the team says, along with other renewable energy sources, then “temperature increases can be as low as 1.5°C by 2150″.

The study says stringent temperature targets can be met at significantly lower costs if BECCS is implemented 30 to 50 years hence, though this may mean a temporary overshoot of the 2°C target.

One of the study’s co-authors, Professor Christian Azar, said reversing the warming trend “requires both large-scale use of BECCS and reducing other emissions to near-zero levels using other renewables – mainly solar energy or nuclear power”.

But the authors say their study is not an argument for delay. Professor Azar says: “BECCS can only reverse global warming if we have net negative emissions from the entire global energy system. This means that all other CO2 emissions need to be reduced to nearly zero.

“Also, temperatures can only be reduced by about 0.6°C per century, which is too slow to act as an ‘emergency brake’ if climate damages turn out to be too high.”

However many and serious the provisos and qualifications the study makes, it does strike a hopeful note, one which is echoed by the second study, from the publishers of the original Hartwell paper, co-ordinated at the London School of Economics (LSE) and published in 2010.

“It is simply not acceptable to pursue policies that will leave the bottom billion of humanity without the energy services they require for wellbeing and dignity”

This new Hartwell paper is entitled The Vital Spark: innovating clean and affordable energy for all, and its tone is set by a question posed by the Hartwell group convenor, LSE emeritus research Professor Gwythian Prins, one of the authors of The Vital Spark,

He writes in the study: “Only general prosperity can produce widespread consent for emissions reductions, and only affordable energy for all can deliver prosperity.” So how can the world square that circle?

The study’s international team of 20 authors proposes 11 building blocks which it says are the necessary conditions for success in the energy transition that humanity needs. “Some may be tough for today’s policy-makers to accept”, the authors say, arguing that all are essential.

They argue that only a high-energy planet is morally defensible or politically viable. But at present, they say, only carbon-intensive sources of energy offer a realistic prospect of this, with obvious hazards to the climate.

Asked by the Climate News Network whether he thought the obstacles to providing affordable energy for all were technical or human, Professor Prins replied: “Asymetrically the latter.

“The lessons of the last 15-20 years have seen the failure of attempts at driven transitions, when you try to cause a change in an energy regime by policy, a fragile and unpredictable tool. We need humility and pragmatism.

“For example, shale gas has tremendously positive environmental implications, so long as you regard it as a bridge, not a destination.”

Professor Prins says: “It is simply not acceptable to pursue policies that will leave the bottom billion of humanity without the energy services they require for wellbeing and dignity.

“This paper attempts to form a common foundation which will enable us to provide large quantities of energy at low cost, and with low environmental impact.” – Climate News Network

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Warmer climate ‘threatens cassava crop’

Warmer climate 'threatens cassava crop'

Serious food shortages will affect millions of people across Africa unless scientists can neutralise the threat posed to the highly resilient cassava crop by insects which thrive in rising temperatures.

LONDON, 7 May – A plant which is a staple food crop for millions of people across Africa is at risk from disease as regional temperatures rise, scientists say.

The plant, cassava, is a significant source of food and income, and is an important industrial crop, and there is concern that serious food shortages may result and poverty worsen.

Experts say the spread of the disease could halve cassava production and threaten the diets of 300 million people.

The disease responsible, Cassava Brown Streak Disease (CBSD) is transmitted by insects whose numbers are surging, with rising temperatures thought to be one of the factors causing the increase.

CBSD was first identified in East Africa in the 1930s. It is deceptive, because an infected plant’s leaves may continue to look healthy while the roots beneath are being destroyed.

It is only when the roots are dug up and found to be streaked with brown that farmers know their crop is infected. The roots are rich in carbohydrates and are used both for food and to make starch, flour, biofuel and beer.

New outbreaks of CBSD have been reported recently in the Democratic Republic of Congo – the world’s third largest cassava producer – and Angola.

Rambo crop


If it spreads to West Africa that will be especially serious. Nigeria alone now produces 50 million tons of cassava annually and plans to use the crop widely in its agricultural and industrial development.

“Cassava is already incredibly important for Africa and is poised to play an even bigger role in the future, which is why we need to move quickly to contain and eliminate this plague”, says Claude Fauquet, a scientist at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture who heads the Global Cassava Partnership for the 21st Century (GCP21).

“We are particularly concerned that the disease could spread to West Africa and particularly Nigeria – the world’s largest producer and consumer of cassava – because Nigeria would provide a gateway for an invasion of West Africa where about 150 million people depend on the crop.”

To counter another viral scourge, Cassava Mosaic Disease (CMD), scientists developed varieties of the plant which are resistant to it. Unfortunately, though, the CMD-resistant varieties are not proof against Brown Streak Disease.

Cassava has a reputation as a tough and resilient performer in conditions where many other crops cannot flourish, and so has been seen as a good way for farmers in sub-Saharan Africa to guard against the effects of climate change.

Research published in the journal Tropical Plant Biology found it could cope with the temperature rises of up to 2°C expected in West Africa by 2030, and would generally outperform six other crops – potato, maize, bean, banana, millet, and sorghum.

The report’s lead author, Andy Jarvis, said: “Cassava is a survivor; it’s like the Rambo of the food crops. It deals with almost anything the climate throws at it.



“It thrives in high temperatures, and if drought hits it simply shuts down until the rains come again. There’s no other staple out there with this level of toughness.

“The ideal situation is for farmers to have a diversity of crops, with cassava acting as a failsafe. This would enhance nutrition and reduce climate risk.”

But, in another twist of fate, it is rising temperatures which now threaten cassava because they appear to be one of several factors which are causing an explosion in whiteflies, the insects which carry the viruses that cause CMD and CBSD.

This, coupled with what scientists think are genetic changes leading to the emergence of “super” whiteflies, now means that large swathes of Africa face the prospect of intensified food insecurity.

“We used to see only three or four whiteflies per plant; now we’re seeing thousands”, said James Legg, a leading cassava expert at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture. “You have a situation where human beings are competing for food – with whiteflies.”

Claude Fauquet says: “It’s time for the world to recalibrate its scientific priorities. More than any other crop, cassava has the greatest potential to reduce hunger and poverty in Africa, but CBSD and other viruses are crippling yields.

“We need to treat CBSD and other destructive viruses like the smallpox of cassava – formidable diseases, but threats we can eradicate if everyone pulls together.” – Climate News Network

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‘World can end poverty and limit warming’

'World can end poverty and limit warming'

EMBARGOED until 1800 GMT on Sunday 24 February
A United Nations scheme intended to guarantee everyone access to clean energy could help to keep global temperature rise below 2°C, researchers say, although it would not achieve this without sharp cuts in emissions of all the main greenhouse gases.

LONDON, 24 February – Eradicating poverty by making modern energy supplies available to everyone is not only compatible with measures to slow climate change, a new study says. It is a necessary condition for it.

But the authors say the scheme to provide sustainable energy worldwide will not by itself be enough to keep the global  average temperature rise below the widely accepted international target level of 2°C. While the scheme can help measures to tackle climate change, it cannot achieve that by itself.

The scheme, the UN’s Sustainable Energy for All initiative (SE4All), if it proves successful, could make a significant contribution to cutting greenhouse gas emissions, according to the analysis from the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) and ETH Zurich.

The study, published in Nature Climate Change, shows that reaching the three energy-related goals of SE4All would cut GHG emissions and is achievable.

“Achievement of the three objectives would provide an important entry point into stringent climate protection”, says Joeri Rogelj, ETH Zurich researcher and IIASA-affiliated scientist, who led the study.

It found that the short-term goals, due to be reached by 2030, would help achieve long-term climate targets. But to ensure stringent climate objectives were reached, SE4ALL would need to be matched by other measures, the researchers say.

SE4All ‘necessary – but not sufficient’

SE4All’s objectives include providing universal access to modern energy, doubling the share of renewable energy globally, and doubling the rate of improvement in energy efficiency – all by 2030.

While the objectives do not explicitly address climate change, sustainable energy is accepted as vital for cutting GHG emissions: 80% of CO2 from human activities comes from the global energy system, including transport, buildings, industry, and electricity, heat, and fuel production.

“Doing energy right will promote the Millennium Development Goals and at the same time kick-start the transition to a lower-carbon economy”, says IIASA researcher David McCollum, who also worked on the study. “But the UN’s objectives must be complemented by a global agreement on controlling GHG emissions.”

SE4All has global goals, but the researchers say action at regional and national levels will be essential to achieving them. IIASA’s energy programme leader Keywan Riahi, a co-author of the study, says: “The next step for this initiative is already under way, with a large number of national plans that underpin the global objectives.”

They analysed the likelihood of the world limiting global warming to target levels if each or all of the SE4All objectives were achieved. Using a broad range of scenarios, they found that if all the objectives are met, the likelihood of keeping temperature rise below 2°C will be more than 66%.

Many variables

If only the renewable energy goal is met, chances of staying below 2°C will range from 40 to 90%, they say, while achieving just the energy efficiency goal will improve the chances to between 60 and 90%.

But the researchers warn that this result depends strongly on what future economic growth is assumed. They say the  likelihood of reaching climate targets within the scenarios depend on a range of other factors, including energy demand growth, economic growth, and technological innovation.

The study also found that providing universal energy access by 2030 will not hinder long-term climate goals, thanks to the marked gains in energy efficiency that will result. “Sustainable development and poverty eradication can go hand in hand with mitigating climate risks,” says Rogelj.

He told the Climate News Network: “To ensure effective climate change mitigation, a global treaty on greenhouse gases should enforce a cap on global emissions which limits emissions from all sources.

“With such a cap SE4ALL can help to limit emissions from the energy sector, but other measures will have to tackle those from other sources like deforestation, or other gases, like methane from agriculture and waste, or facilitate an even quicker decarbonization of the energy sector, like carbon-capture and storage.”

The new work also quantified the potential costs of reaching the SE4All objectives, which would amount to increasing energy investment by between 0.1 and 0.7% of global GDP. The authors’ estimates account for the substantial savings in energy use and reduced fossil energy investment that would result from promoting more sustainable energy technologies and lifestyles. – Climate News Network

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‘Most fail’ to end poverty while cutting emissions

'Most fail' to end poverty while cutting emissions

EMBARGOED until 0001 GMT on Monday 21 January
The world’s attempts to achieve sustainable development – tackling poverty and simultaneously curbing greenhouse gases – seem condemned to widespread failure unless politicians change course, a study claims.

LONDON, 21 January – World leaders have so far failed to raise people out of poverty by economic development while at the same time avoiding the worst effects of climate change, Swedish researchers say.

A study of 134 countries published by TCO, a confederation of 15 Swedish trade unions (based on data from the TCO RioRank database), shows that sustainable development is not yet close to being achieved, despite it being the stated aim of many politicians.

Yet it remains the official policy of the United Nations, the aim of climate negotiations, Earth summits and many international economic forums.

The theory is that countries can develop and at the same time reduce carbon dioxide emissions by combining energy efficiency and the greater use of renewable sources of power.

About 40 countries have managed to do this, but the vast majority have not – and among those that have failed, the study says, are the fastest-growing economies and the most polluting: China, the US and India.

Efforts nullified

The starkest example is China, whose development has been monitored since the first Earth Summit in 1972 in Stockholm. There the economy and the environment were for the first time discussed together in a United Nations setting, giving rise to the idea of sustainable development.

In an extraordinary period of growth, in which it has lifted many millions out of poverty, China has also topped the league in energy efficiency measures. It became 77% more fuel-efficient per unit of GDP between 1972 and 2007, saving billions of tonnes of CO2 from entering the atmosphere.

At the same time the country’s economy has grown so dramatically, more than 10 times, that it has wiped out all these gains. That means that despite these efficiencies China also leads the world as the country that has increased CO2 emissions by the largest amount, to six times more than in 1972.

The world’s other large polluter, the US, has done the same. It has become more efficient, producing 27% more with the same amount of energy. But because the economy has grown, although much more slowly than in China, pollution levels have continued to rise – only 22% since 1972, but still adding to the overall atmospheric CO2 load.

One important point in the report, by the Swedish Confederation of Professional Employees, is that energy efficiency makes countries and companies more competitive. The report says it is very bad news for countries engaged in world trade if they are less energy-efficient than their competitors while the price of energy continues to rise.

This is especially bad news for India. Unlike China, with its 77% increase in energy efficiency, India has managed only 3%, while using 500% more energy. This makes it a major polluter saddled with inefficient industries that will not be able to compete in world markets.

Across the world it is the European Union countries that do best overall, although for different reasons. The eastern European countries now in the EU, formerly part of the Soviet bloc, suffered economic collapse after 1991 and as a result emissions went down hugely.

They are now rising again as economies grow, but these countries have new fuel-efficient industries so emissions overall are still well below 1991 levels.

Conflicting pressures

Of the larger economies Germany, the United Kingdom and France have all managed to reduce their emissions over a 40-year period while their economies have continued to grow, albeit well below the pace of the tiger economies of Asia. Germany has reduced total emissions by 22%, France by 20% and the UK 18%.

One point the report underlines is that all 134 countries studied have different resources and politicians prone to making different decisions. Some produce most of their energy from renewable sources, like Iceland and Zambia.

China’s example is especially instructive. Thirty years ago it produced 40% of its electrical power from renewables: since then, to keep pace with development, it has invested heavily in fossil fuels. China’s renewable industry has grown dramatically, but it now accounts for only 14% of overall electricity supply.

The report shows how difficult sustainable development is to achieve, as governments are pulled in opposite directions, and also how agreement on a fair way to cut emissions becomes almost impossible. Because resources, growth rates and stages of development differ, so do priorities and policies.

And because politicians have already made strategic decisions on building power plants, it is very difficult to see how they can settle on another agreement to succeed the Kyoto Protocol that will involve the entire world and seem fair to everyone. – Climate News Network

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Assam’s Women feel Climate Impacts

Assam's Women feel Climate Impacts

EMBARGOED until 0001 GMT on Saturday 12 January
Climate change bears down in different ways on distinct groups in society, and some have more to cope with than others – like women in the Indian state of Assam.

LONDON, 12 January – People in Assam, northeast India, are used to coping with extremes in the weather. When the monsoon sweeps in there are floods. When temperatures soar in late summer, there is drought. The trouble is that in recent years, the timetable of such events has gone haywire.

Assam is home to more than 31 million people, 14% of them under six years old. Described by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) as part of the highly eco-sensitive and fragile eastern Himalayan region, the territory has been witnessing marked climatic changes over the past 60 years. According to official figures collated by local meteorologists, there has been a steady decline in annual rainfall in the state over the 1950-2010 period, with the trend particularly evident over the past decade. Meanwhile the mean annual temperature has risen by more than 1°C since 1950.

A new study by three organisations working in the northeast, including the Indian Network on Ethics and Climate Change,  investigates how these changes in climate are affecting the more marginalized groups in society, in particular women in rural areas.

The study, involving 900 households in six different locations around the state, found that climate change is having a serious impact on poor women in various ways: increased flooding in some areas has led to soil erosion which in turn has meant farmers have struggled to earn a living. As a result, women are forced to leave the home in search of work, often as cleaners or weavers. With no one in the home, girls have to leave school to look after younger children and do the chores.

Child marriages on the rise

Increased periods of drought in another area mean there is no fodder for cattle, and milk production, a vital income source, has declined. Farmers find it impossible to work in the intense heat that now often bakes the land. Again, women are forced to leave their homes and find wage-paying work. Such families struggle to get by; the study found the number of child marriages has increased in recent years as  “parents of impoverished families find it an easy way to provide a better future for their girl children.”

Assam is famous for its tea gardens. “The unusual rain pattern is playing havoc with the tea plantations”, says the study. Declines in tea production mean there are fewer jobs available and more people move to the towns and cities. As has happened in other parts of the world, once such a trend of urbanisation is under way, it’s hard to reverse. Some young girls from the tea gardens, says the study, are forced into the flesh trade.

Increased flooding and rising temperatures have led to a rise in disease, particularly malaria. In the tea-growing regions, more pesticides are being used to counteract crop diseases. The result is that garden workers – older ones are paid US$1.50 per day while girls earn half that amount – are noticing more skin infections.

While local authorities and the state government have taken action to limit soil erosion and tackle floods in some areas, there is an urgent need for more to be done, says the study. And with only 40% of the state’s irrigation systems functioning properly, that includes harvesting and sustaining precious water resources. A massive tree planing programme is also required. Far more attention has to be paid to poverty alleviation.

The study shows a people bewildered by what’s happening. “It rains excessively when unexpected and does not rain when it is expected”, one farmer says. – Climate News Network

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