Friday, June 6, 2014

‘Tacloban Declaration': From where to where?

This is my response to the ‘Tacloban Declaration' (TD) initiative that the President of Philippines Mr. Benigno Aquino III has embarked upon to address disaster risk reduction based on the experience of Haiyan.

The President of Philippines Mr. Benigno Aquino III has embarked upon a timely but ambitious initiative of coming up with a ‘Tacloban Declaration' to address disaster risks as an outcome of Asia-Europe Meeting Manila Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction and Management which has just finished in Manila (4-6 June 2014).

Going by the face value, we should judge this initiative as a very good one, probably the first time ever a developing Asian country thought of coming up with a major declaration addressing disaster risks. Traditionally, it has always been Japan which has taken leadership among Asian countries when it comes to either environmental initiatives or disaster risk reduction or climate change. The president’s initiative is also very timely considering that the Hyogo Framework of Action (HFA) will expire in 2015. However, probably this is where the gala of praise ends.

The Conference Center in Kobe where the HFA took a shape in 2005

.       Who are the Players: The major question raises is the critical mass that is required to launch an initiative like this. At ASEM 2015, what we are looking at is a small fraction of the World DRR experts participating in this venture (around 150 government officials, academics and policy makers) compared to the broad representation based on which the Hyogo Framework of Action (HFA) was designed. Long preparation, credibility of the forum etc. made HFA distinctive and appealing. When HFA was drafted, the 2005 World Conference on Disaster Reduction was attended by hundreds of practitioners, government officials and academics engaged in DRR representing most countries. For example, the WCDR 2005 consisted of intergovernmental segment participated by nearly 160 governments, thematic segments and public forum and the discussions from all these segments were culminated into what is called HFA. So, to replace HFA, we need equally or more thorough process.

2.       History matters but it has more to it: HFA was built upon the Yokohama strategy (1994) which was more of guidelines for natural disaster preparedness, prevention and mitigation and focused on enhancing national and local capabilities to manage and reduce risk. The Yokohama Strategy taught us a lesson that such processes require greater involvement of local communities in all aspects of DRR, scarcity of resources from development budgets etc. As a consequence, what HFA did was to address all the lessons that YS has taught us. This takes me to my next observation.

3.       The devil is in the details: Now, I am saying this without much details on how ASEM will handle in terms of bringing in all the experiences we had since 2005, what would be the coverage of this declaration (or regional or global) and what preparations have gone into it including considering consultations that are already happening for feeding into designing the post-HFA process. The UNISDR has already started online consultations and has already come up with several thematic papers to inputs to design the post-HFA mechanism. It would be good to know if ASEM has already taken these inputs into consideration for coming up with the declaration.

4.       It is players again: Even if a well worded TD comes out of the ASEM 2015, what is the guarantee that it will be adopted by all the nation states and what would be its status under UN? What about the needed finances? Would TD be able to secure needed finances to push its agenda or it will remain as yet another declaration?

5.       Where we want to see the declaration going? As for me, I strongly believe that the Tacloban Declaration be supportive of the post-HFA process, contribute to it rather than duplicate it and help in pulling consensus for coming up with a strong and effective post-HFA process? Did the president had this in his mind when he supported the idea of coming up with Tacloban Declaration declaration is the question to be answered. 

Friday, December 6, 2013

Disaster Risk Reduction in a Shifting Climate

SVRK Prabhakar

1. What can you tell from recent typhoon in Philippine and Cyclone in India? Are there any commonalities and differences and why?

One of the ways of judging the efficacy of disaster risk reduction (DRR) systems of any country is to look at how the government and other stakeholders have responded to a disaster and the subsequent impacts in terms of lives lost and property destroyed. However, comparison of disasters in two countries would have to be made with more caution and require deeper analysis than what the numbers suggest on the surface since the efficacy of DRR measures could be vastly different within a country because the DRR is the primary responsibility of local governments which differ in their capacities, depending on the strength of the event in question and can vary at what time of the year and time of the day of landfall of the event etc. Table 1 provides a comparison of tropical cyclones Phailin that hit Odisha, India on 12 October 2013 and Haiyan that hit Eastern Visayas of Philippines on 8th November. The following observations explain the reasons behind severe damages from Haiyan: a) The typhoon Haiyan was unarguably the stronger typhoon and was at its peak strength when it made landfall, b) The short early warning period (the first early warning available for a stronger Haiyan was 5th November that forecasted a wind speed of 167 kmph while the IMD was able to track the cyclone Phailin 4-5 days before with a forecasted wind speed of 180 kmph), c) early landfall than expected, d) slower and insufficient evacuation measures before landfall of typhoon; also partly due to unwilling people to relocate, e) slow rescue and relief operations due to complete disruption of local government machinery depriving any support to the national government and non-governmental agencies, f) relatively poorer DRR measures due to insufficient financial investments arguably due to skewed political decision making.

Table: Comparison of cyclone Phailin and typhoon Haiyan
Cyclone Phailin
Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda)
Sustained maximum wind speed at landfall (kmph)
Saffir-Simpson Tropical Cyclone Scale[3]
Category 3-4
Category 4
Areas affected
Most of coastal Odisha and two Coastal districts of Andhra Pradesh
Central Philippines with maximum damage in Tacloban area
Last event of similar intensity
14 years
22 years
Time of landfall
22:30 hrs
4:40 hrs
Total deaths[4]
Total affected
12 million
15 million
Number evacuated
1.5 million
1 million
Estimated total damage (billion USD)
Associated secondary disaster
Heavy rainfall and floods
Heavy rainfall and flood
Advance prediction of landfall and intensity
4-5 days
2-3   days
*Information, other than cited, was compiled from various web sources that can be easily traced using Google.

2. Can these recent extreme events be attributed to climate change? How can we make sense out of these?

The topic of attribution has its origin in perceptibly growing number of extreme events and related impacts. Attribution of any particular climatic event to climate change is the most difficult aspect of climate services and our understanding of climate system as a whole has not reached a point where the models employed can help us attribute certain climatic event to climate change with greater accuracy (Read Nature Editorial 19 December 2012). Irrespective of the purpose of attribution (e.g. climate negotiations), the emphasis on attribution may not yield as much value and usefulness compared to putting efforts on advanced early warning systems, strengthening dissemination and efficient application of early warning information for definitive actions on the ground. There is a sufficient agreement among climate researchers for high probability of extreme events in the future and there is a clear evidence for increasing number of extreme events historically. Despite this, there is certain difficulty in attributing the impacts on the ground to climate change for the reason that more and more people have been living in vulnerable areas putting them in the harm’s way than before. The rapid economic growth is only making this trend worse as more and more infrastructure is being constructed in vulnerable areas. Hence, understanding the dynamics of population growth and distribution and its interaction with the natural hazards assumes greater significance in understanding the observed impact trends and for achieving effective risk reduction.

Figure: While authorities were able to save thousands of lives, Phailin has left behind widespread devastation (Photo Courtesy: A. Shreekanth).

3) How government can prepare, nationally, internationally and locally, especially in the Asia Pacific Area?

Thanks to Hyogo Framework of Action (HFA) and subsequent efforts at national and international levels, more countries have some kind of disaster preparedness and response plans and strategies and hence the picture of DRR is far better today than a decade ago. Today, several countries in the region have national authorities, ministries and departments for focused action on DRR. As a result, national and local systems have become better in handling the disasters and cyclone Phailin provides an important evidence for it. The accurate early warning has triggered authorities to evacuate large number of people and hence were able to avert a major disaster. Even in the case of Philippines, despite the widespread criticism, the authorities did manage to evacuate nearly a million within the short period of time available to them. However, there is a lot to be achieved along the continuum of disaster management cycle in a rage of areas which includes strengthening early warning and educating the communities on the importance of heeding to early warning, establishing sufficient number of evacuation shelters, enforcing proper regulations (land use and urban plans) restricting spread of infrastructure in vulnerable areas and strengthening coordination and communication channels across ministries and stakeholders engaged in DRR. While post-disaster rescue and relief has been perfected over the years due to traditionally response oriented national systems, more can be done in better relief management and post-relief and reconstruction planning. DRR cannot be achieved without proper information to rely upon and disaster databases that assist in identifying vulnerable and channeling resources are to be strengthened. The loss and damage databases being established by UNDP are able to bridge this gap to a greater extent. Risk information coupled with strengthened disaster mitigation measures will pave the way for designing and implementing appropriate insurance programs that will reduce the burden on national exchequer and put the people in the driving seat of managing their risks. While these traditional measures are most needed, there is also need to embark upon prospective planning by taking into consideration the increasingly perfecting climate projections into planning processes. Taking up adaptive management practices will go a long way in adjusting the institutional and regulatory systems as our understanding on climate change improve. There is lot of synergy between DRR and climate change adaptation and the tools and strategies perfected by these communities could be mutually beneficial. Today there are more opportunities for these two communities to work together due to growing number of networks and epistemic groups operating in these areas. The discussions for post-2015 Hyogo Framework Action and the future climate regime under UNFCCC begin to provide impetus for this nexus to happen on the ground.

[1] 3 minutes sustained, Cyclone Warning Division, Indian Meteorological Department, 2013
[2] 10 minutes sustained, Severe Weather Bulletin No 6, Philippine Met Agency, PAGASA
[3] There are several tropical cyclone classifications. Following IMD classification, the Cyclone Phailin is classified as Very Severe Cyclone Storm and Typhoon Haiyan as Super Cyclonic Storm.
[4] IMD for Phailin and UN OCHA for Haiyan

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Hidden Vulnerabilities of Asian Cities and Climate Change: Shattering the Myths

SVRK Prabhakar, IGES, Japan

Having come from a rural background, I always had fascinating impression about cities: they are cool, trendy, fashionable, provide better quality of life, have better infrastructure and one can be what they want to be because of multitude of opportunities they provide. No doubt, cities are engines of economic growth for as much as I have seen with no exception. No wonder, they continue to attract the best of the skills available around and far from them. Well, they do have a down side as well. Because they were attracting all the talent, the rural areas are deprived of the skillful human resources and hence have not grown economically as much as their urban counterparts could grow. Part of the problem is to blame the growth center approach, where governments encouraged some areas, cities, to grow at the cost of other areas, villages. The idea is to concentrate the investments at few places and cross-subsidize other areas from the revenue generated. While we were successful in achieving rapid expansion of growth centers, we failed in distributive policies. As a result, rural areas have suffered the most. However, the topic of this blog post is not about how cities failed other areas but how they failed themselves! Time and again the vulnerability assessments have shown that most cities have high vulnerabilities in infrastructure, social and political aspects while few others have economic vulnerabilities. And this has very high relevance when climate change is to impact cities as much as the rural areas, including the ones on coasts. Mind you, most major cities are situated on the coasts, nearly 20% of global population lives on coasts in some of the most populated cities. With nearly 70% of the coastline worldwide are projected to be impacted by the sea level rise, these cities are put to enormous risks of flooding and related losses. Add this to the extreme rainfall events that cities may receive. From this context, there are at least three myths I think need to be busted that have relevance to our collective efforts for comprehensive risk reduction.

Picture: Right or left?

Myth buster I: Rural areas are best fit for food security and livelihood studies!
Not true (well, true if you look at the number of food security and livelihood studies coming from rural areas)! Despite my fascinating views about cities, cities have not vindicated much of my impression about them and that is because the urban governance structures have failed to identify and address vulnerabilities that are seeping below their carpet. Need any evidence? Just take the example of 2008 global food crisis. The research by WFP and others has proven that the urban poor were the most effected during the food crisis. As much as 50-70% of the urban poor representing casual and unskilled laborers experienced a net decline of food intake by 10-15% in most cities they have studied. In addition, the global food crisis has also impacted the livelihoods of petty traders, laborers and peri-urban agriculturists etc. Does this sound any logical? People talk about rural poor when issues like food security and livelihoods come up in the discussion, it never, well almost, occurred to most that it is the bottom strata of urban populace that is probably even more vulnerable than their rural brothers and sisters. It is no brainer that urban poor spend large part of their income on food compared to the rural poor due to relatively high cost of living in urban areas.

Myth buster II: Floods happen only in rural areas!
Well, at least this is what we visualize from most part of watching television: we imagine floods as vast stretch of farm lands inundated by water with folks on their rooftops (blame the media for creating this mental picture?). Not anymore! The 2005 Mumbai floods and 2011 Bangkok floods should completely change this mental picture. These events have clearly shown the problem with our current model of urban development: badly planned infrastructure, blocked natural drainage, and encroachments in the flood plains. We pretended to solve these problems by creating temporary engineering solutions rather than thinking larger and into the future. Whom to be blamed? the poorly staffed urban planning departments or the uncontrolled rural to urban migration or haphazard planning and communication systems of city governments? Studies have time and again indicated how poor the governments were in communicating risks to their city dwellers and how reluctant the insurance companies are to provide affordable flood and fire insurance. Probably the blood is on everybody’s hands. You will be wrong if you think the actual culprits are governments. As is evident from Bangkok floods, even corporations, whom we know as the most risk aware entities on the planet, have ignored the possible flood risks and have installed high-tech manufacturing facilities in flood prone areas and bore the brunt of floods and billion dollar losses.

Myth buster III: Levees are the best means of dealing with coastal floods!
Not true! This point has become very clear from repeated coastal disasters that levees often fail to live to the expectations. The research has clearly indicated how deceptive levees could be in making people believe that they are fully protected, creating a false sense of security. We know that the households living along dykes are the least to heed to any kind of early warning. Despite this, governments continue to argue for dykes and levees than putting strict land use regulations in place.

The big elephant(s) in the room!
We say it is often the big elephant this is ignored in the room and in urban room I see several elephants (after all cities are big!). We are still to come to terms with the dilemma of growing vertical vs horizontal, our current models of eco cities have failed to deliver the promise of reducing external resource dependence for food and water and cities continue to swell by uncontrolled migrants living under sub-par living conditions and dignity than rural areas offer.

If you ask me ‘is everything about urban areas so bad?’, then I would say no! Not at least from the point of view of our fight against global warming. Research has shown that urban areas can provide some of the best means of maximizing GHG mitigation with relatively large adaptation co-benefits. Among other things, this especially comes from managing water consumption and demand such that urban areas can make meaningful contribution to the food-water-energy nexus more than any other single solution (I am not exaggerating). Cities can offer more if we can answer these questions:

Q1. How to make cities closed loop systems (in terms of resource dependence). Cities today have grown so big that their presence is felt hundreds and thousands of miles away from them. Are we practical in seeking cities to be closed loop systems? Probably this question needs to be rephrased and re-emphasized differently.

Q2. How to uncover hidden vulnerabilities to make cities resilient? I will bet that we have more things to learn about cities than we think we need to learn and it is the hidden vulnerabilities that make cities an unknown in the equation of risk reduction. The sad part is we are learning about these hidden variables only after a devastating event. We certainly need more brainstorming than the storms we are going to face!

Q3. How and when cities will be forward looking? I expect most cities may have already started looking into the future since this question is more relevant to cities than any other places we live in and probably part of this question is linked to the dilemma of whether to go for vertical or horizontal. We know that city governments are lost in day-to-day matters and not even the strategic planning departments have time to think strategically. The city planning exercises outsourced  to consultants seldom touch the probable reality of the nearest possible future!

Let me end this ramble with a hope that cities will soon move away from incremental and short term engineering solutions to transformative social approaches which is where most solutions to our problems are hidden!

Don’t agree with me? Drop a line below! 

[Based on a talk delivered at Coastal Cities: Risks from Climate Change and Natural Hazards October 5, 2013; Room 510, Kyoto International Conference Center, Japan. The presentation is available at].

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Loss and damage associated with climate change: Not all is gloom and doom

The international community has progressively reached at a consensus that there will be residual impacts associated with climate change despite implementing adaptation and greenhouse gas mitigation and that there is a need to address these impacts in our research and development efforts. Recognizing the importance of sharing understanding on loss and damage, IGES, APAN and stakeholders have organized an international conference on loss and damage on 30-31st August in Bangkok, Thailand where scientific, policy and practice community have discussed the scientific aspects and way forward.
One photo and two days conference!

It was clear that the concept of loss and damage is not new from the point that they have been dealt by disaster risk reduction community for decades. However, the current debate on loss and damage is also different from the point of view of long time scales (centuries and above) where GHG mitigation could start making perceivable differences in climate change impacts. In the short term, the efforts have to address the residual impacts due to inability to scale up adaptation to the extent needed and failure of adaptation actions due to social, scientific and institutional barriers. While doing so, necessity will arrive where in actors may have to reach an agreement on acceptable, tolerable and intolerable risks. Notwithstanding the ethical issues involved in making these decisions, as what is tolerable for some may not be tolerable to others, one has to make sure that the related interventions are made on rights ground and not on humanitarian grounds.
On the science front, the limited understanding on loss and damage originate from structural and parametric uncertainties we are facing with the scientific tools at our disposal. There has been very limited progress in projecting the extreme events with high certainty due to limitations with scale issues associated with global circulation models, limited understanding on physical processes and their interaction with social and biological systems and issues with the instrumental records. Experiences suggest that addressing loss and damage could be challenging even when ample data is available and it will be even more challenging in areas with little or no data to use. This entails that the interventions has the support of epistemic communities with required expertise and willingness to engage for designing and sharing relevant solutions.
The picture is not that depressing too. Several existing adaptation practices could help in minimizing the loss and damage if one takes the path of transformational adaptation as opposed to incremental adaptation. It requires identifying innovative practices and implementing them at a scale and place untouched by the current experiences. Recognizing synergies, there is a need for climate change adaption and disaster risk reduction community to work closely and implement solutions addressing mutual co-benefits. For this to happen, the conference has called upon the international community to strengthen networks leading to path-breaking research in the area of loss and damage.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Loss and damage from climate change: back to adaptation drawing board?

The term ‘Loss and damage’ refers to the residual losses and damages associated with climate change after all mitigation and adaptation activities are implemented. Though the issue of loss and damage received attention in the sixteenth session of the Conference of Parties that drafted Cancun Agreements in Cancun in 2010, scientists have far before warned the possibility for residual damages from climate change. The Fourth Assessment Report of the IPCC released in 2007 has clearly identified the reasons why climate change adaptation, as we know today, may fall short of expectations. Some of the reasons identified were the inability for some of the adaptation actions not implemented to the extent at place and time they are needed, limitations such as policy imperfections that may work counter to adaptation practices, limited understanding on the effectiveness of known options to date and failure of adaptation practices to prove effective for longer time periods. Over and above these imperfections, barriers such as limited capacity to implement adaptation projects, limited financing and limited available adaptation options further pose bottlenecks to achieving maximum adaptation globally. The failure of adaptation practices can happen in all developmental contexts. As evident from the literature reviewed by the IPCC 4th Assessment Report and reports emerging from elsewhere, adaptation practices could fail to prove effective both in developed and developing countries though such possibilities might be higher in developing countries due to underlying developmental and capacity factors. The residual losses associated with climate change has both historical and future angle to it. As discussed above, the evidence has started emerging on the extent to which adaptation practices have failed to perform. Though our understanding on the future climate impacts continue to emerge along with the improving climate predictions, scientists are certain that limits to adapt continue to be an issue for years to come. The greater recognition of residual losses raises several important questions for different stakeholders involved in climate change: how much more adaptation and mitigation is needed to reduce the residual damages, can hard-pushing the existing options will suffice or there is a need for greater innovation, to what extent overcoming the known barriers to climate agenda will help and what does it mean for communities and countries already at risk?

Farmers are one of the most impacted and least heard communities

Taking this entire paradigm into planning strategies is vital for sustaining and improving adaptation efforts at all levels. Recognizing this, the Cancun Adaptation Framework has clearly identified the requirement for international cooperation to understand and mitigate the loss and damage associated with climate change particularly to help the most vulnerable developing countries and has decided to establish a work program on loss and damage for enhancing the related work. Further to these efforts, the Conference of Parties that met at the Doha Climate Change Conference has decided to establish an international mechanism, in the form of a network or forum, to address the loss and damage and to prepare technical papers that identify gaps in our understanding on non-economic losses and gaps in institutional arrangements. The Conference of Parties have also decided to organize an expert meeting to understand and bridge gaps to address slow onset disasters such as droughts and sea level rise.

As is the case with other elements of climate change discussions, the issue of loss and damage has attracted divided response from developed and developing countries. Monitoring the submissions made to the Conference of Parties and related discussions on the sidelines of these events show clear division in terms of components to be included in the international debate on loss and damage (e.g. the issue of compensation to loss and damage emanating from residual climate change impacts after implementing adaptation actions) and necessary institutional arrangements. While developing countries have proposed to introduce international financial mechanisms such as insurance and compensation mechanism for the historical and future residual damages, developed countries have urged to focus on efforts to greater understanding of the issue and implement capacity building measures to address the issue. While this difference in opinion will continue to exist for a foreseeable future, it is incontestable fact that all countries need to work together to address the residual losses associated with climate change since the evidences suggest neither developed nor developing countries are immune to it. Loss and damage could just mean relentless innovation and relentless effective adaptation. People, get back to your drawing boards!

Friday, July 27, 2012

Climate Change and IPCC: Interviewing Dr Rajendra K. Pachauri, Chair, IPCC at ISAP2012

Here is the transcript of an interview we did with Dr Rajendra K. Pachauri, DG of TERI & Chair of IPCC, during ISAP2012. Enjoy reading and let me know what you think about the choice of questions and what you would ask if you were to interview. This interview will soon appear on IGES website

[Note: This transcript is made by me based on the audio recording (available at the end of this blog post). The transcript is not thoroughly checked for errors and hence the reader is cautioned against attributing anything from this text. The original audio file is posted at the end of this blog and listening that would be much better].

Audio is placed at the bottom of this blog post

Photo credits: IGES


Madoka: We know Dr. Pachauri as a professional, as eloquently introduced by the Chair. Can you please tell us about Dr Pachauri as a person, his likes and what he stands for?

Pachauri: Well I don’t know if I am qualified to answer that question, probably my colleague Mr. Hiraishi can tell better about me. But since you asked the question, I am an individual who basically likes human beings. I have lot of friends all over the world and frankly that is a huge asset. I have excellent friends with several of them in Japan. Once we make friends in Japan they are there for life, they are all-weather friends. As Mr Hiraishi mentioned, I keep myself busy and that is what makes me going. These are exciting times and we should make use of every minute we have otherwise we miss out so many things that are exciting. I always tell my colleagues that whatever they do they should do it with sense of joy. Though I may not be able to interact with most staff at TERI, I tell them this whenever I have opportunity to interact with them.

Prabhakar: You have been successfully leading the IPCC and the team has got rewarded for the efforts. What leadership elements were you able to bring to IPCC with the vast experience you have in the field of environmental sciences?

Pachauri: Well I don’t know what I brought to IPCC but I can tell you something that I am sure that Taka san will stand by. I try to treat everyone equally. This is something that is part of my nature. When there is a plenary session and somebody wants to talk about something and they wanted to give a point of view, I try my best to give everybody an equal chance and I also try to be fair. I may not always succeed; after all I am a human. But I believe the strength of IPCC is of course its scientific community, but it is also an organization which is run by all governments of the world and therefore every government has a right to be heard and for its views to be taken into account. And I try to maintain a level of fairness that doesn’t discriminate between different countries and I hope I do that even in my personal relationships. I try to be friendly with everyone and listen to everyone and you gain a lot from that because you know if you shut yourself off from a section of society you are denying yourself, something which I think is a rich treasure. Every person has something to offer and I think if your eyes are open and mind is receptive then you certainly gain by interacting with everybody. So, I think this is all I have been able to bring to IPCC. One thing I will say, I don’t hesitate to take decisions. If a decision has to be taken I will go ahead and take the rough with the spoon but I think when you are chairing a body like IPCC you have to be decisive after listening to everybody after you hear everyone’s point of view. At the end of the day you have to take a stance, you take a decision and I try to do that.

Photo credits: IGES

Madoka: Thanks, I would also like to keep my eyes open. Since you have been leading IPCC, where do you see IPCC will be in 2020, 2030, and 2050? What role can science play in the fight against climate change?

Pachauri: Very difficult to look that far ahead but if you look 2020 that is the time when we bring our 6th assessment report and I am sure it will advance our knowledge on every aspect of climate change substantially. If we look at 2030, my feeling is that lot of gaps in our knowledge will have got filled up and IPCC may then have far more important role in communicating the science. This is something that to be quite honestly not done very well. We are not very good communicators and it is not because people don’t want to do it but it is also because we don’t have infrastructure. Some of you may not know for first 17 years of IPCC existence the size of IPCC secretariat was guess how many people? 5 people, we had secretary, deputy secretary, we had one administrative assistant, one secretarial asst, and who else and one more person. So for 17 years that is the size of the IPCC. Now with great difficulty we have reached a level of about 12 people and we have two people who are responsible for communication and to my mind that is totally inadequate and I think each one of us who is in IPCC has to be a good communicator because we are living in a period when science is going to be under intense scrutiny and we have to therefore be proactive. Whatever science we bring out, that has to be highly credible and robust science, must be communicated to public because we are dealing with the subject that is directly at the core at the center of the public policy. So I expect this is what 2030 would be like. And 2050, well, I think at that stage we would be focusing on an assessment of different forms of energy supply, different types of mitigation strategies, because in 2050 let’s assume the world will be very very different. I don’t know what human beings would be doing, perhaps we won’t be punching into computers and whatever we want to do would be read directly through neural activity that takes place in the brain. If we ask somebody to write a letter, in his or her handwriting, I think that will be impossible in 2050; nobody will be writing by hand so I don’t know what kind of report IPCC will bring out in 2050 in what form but I expect it would be something that would deal with the kind of transition we have to bring about, and what transition we have succeeded in bringing about and looking that far into the future your mind goes completely blank because the world is moving at such a rapid pace I don’t know what human society would be like in 2050.

Prabhakar: The climate change science has progressed at a rapid rate since the advent of IPCC. Can you please tell us where the climate science still needs to break grounds? Do you think the lack of progress in any area is feeding the climate sceptics?

Pachauri: I don’t know if you saw the cartoon that I projected this morning, which showed a person saying that 2500 scientists tell us that human beings are responsible for climate change and the other guy says I need a second opinion. So, you see the point is, there is nothing fundamentally wrong with the science. But if you look at human history, at every stage when new knowledge has come out, there are people who question it, which is healthy. I think science only thrives by questioning, and there are some people who opposed it violently. I am using the word ‘violent’ deliberately because you know it was just about 500 years ago that people were burnt at the stake. People had to give up their lives simply because they articulated new form of knowledge and there were lots of people who didn’t want to accept that knowledge. In the 4th assessment of the IPCC, there is an expression clearly mention about changes in the mitigation actions in the energy supply industry and it says that listing all the barriers that might come in the way of mitigation, it says that vested interests could stand in the way of bringing about changes in the energy supply industry. I don’t want to point a finger at anyone but all I want to say is whenever a new knowledge comes out this science of climate change has some fundamental implications for number of human activities and therefore I would say that it would be naive to believe that everyone would accept it. We don’t expect everyone to accept it. But there are some who will question it for valid scientific reasons and we welcome that and some who will question it for other reasons. Therefore, we have to bring out best science we can and you know it is for the society to decide. If society trusts scientists, and thank god they still do, and I think in the end the science and knowledge will prevail. I realized that it is not going to be an easy journey. I have personally realized it because I have been subject of personal attacks, I have been the subject of all kinds of slander and insult but I suppose that is part of the responsibility that I carry and I don’t have a choice and I don’t intend running away from it. I am talking candidly to all of you, who said that I should step down as a chairman of IPCC, I said NO, I mean I am standing on firm grounds. Why should I step down? I have not done anything wrong. I could easily have said that the error that took place about the Himalayan glaciers was not an error by me, there is a process, there are co-chairs of working groups who are responsible for that product, I am not responsible for that product. NO, as a Chairman of IPCC, the buck stops here and I take the responsibility for everything that happens and therefore not once did I raised a finger to say somebody else is responsible and I am innocent. So, you know, there was that error. There were 3000 pages of printed material in the IPCC 4th assessment report. There are thousands of findings that are solid, that are backed by best scientists in the world, backed by all the published literature that has been reviewed. We made one stupid error and I am certainly not going to step down for that reason. Why should I? So, this is where I think science has to take some of these nocks that will come from all kinds of quarters. I think it was the President Truman who said “if you can’t take the heat get out of the kitchen.” If you are holding this position then you take brickbats you take bokeh whatever comes your way.

Prabhakar: Even with increased scientific understanding of climate change, reflecting science to policy and then to action is not happening at a rate it should happen. What is your opinion?  Lack of urgency is often voiced and one of the reasons put forward was that the climate change has not been portrayed as an imminent threat. Do you think the tone of climate change message need to be a bit more aggressive? Do we need to sound like an alarmist?

Pachauri: Well, we should be truthful in our message. Now, if that is an alarming message, so be it. If it is not an alarming message, fine. But the fact is we brought out in Nov last year a special report on extreme events and disasters and we have not said that this is the problem that will takes place only in the future, we have given clear evidence that some extreme events and disasters are taking place today and have been taking place since 1970-s and 1980s. We have also said that if the world doesn’t mitigate the emissions of greenhouse gases, then for instance heat weaves that are currently taking place once in 20 years will take place once in 2 years by end of the century and the extreme precipitation are on increase in frequency and intensity almost all over the world. We are providing messages based on science which can be backed up which has enough substance behind it. I don’t think we need to give an alarming message. But one point I would like to emphasize which unfortunately doesn’t get enough attention. Climate change will not have uniform impacts on everyone. There are some people who are obviously going to be far more vulnerable than others. I think we need to highlight the problems on the basis of equity and we must as you know all members of human society on this plane must clearly identify who is going to be the most vulnerable and why. And I think if that raises alarm, fine. As long as you are saying that is scientifically truthful, I don’t think we should hesitate to provide people with bad news. But at the same time, we also have to provide what can be done. This is where we have also brought out a special report on renewable energy sources and climate change mitigation which gives you a much more optimistic picture of what RE can do and is doing than has been known in the past. So I think people have to realize that we are not helpless, human society has enormous strength, has enormous capability and it has a great opportunity and therefore while of course if we don’t do anything then there would be possibly some cause for alarm but there is lot that we can do which is actually attractive and we have brought that out very clearly. So I think what we need to provide is balanced scientifically robust message. We shouldn’t label it as alarmist or frightening, we just have to bring out science for what it is. Knowledge has to be truthful, if it is not truthful then it is not science, then it is friction; right?

Madoka: Economic recession is predicted to continue for another couple of years. Developed countries are facing financial crisis.  Do you think developing countries should do more to fight against climate change?

Pachauri: Even in the UNFCCC, it clearly talks about CBDR. There are two words are here which are important, ‘common’ and the other one is ‘differentiated’. If it is common, every country of the world has to be part of shouldering that responsibility. Therefore, I would not exclude any country in the world. Since this is a global problem we have to come up with global solutions. But the point I would like to make is that you know we really have to create a level of ambition which to my mind is missing at this point of time and this is where knowledge has to be the driver of that ambition. I am afraid and I have said publicly, each of COP that takes place spends two weeks, what are they talking about? They are talking about narrow short term political issues. I would wish that they would spend 3 days just talking about scientific facts. If they were to do that, I am reasonably sure that people would come up with far better solutions than what we have today. So, I think that is the real challenge before us. We have to somehow make sure that people understand what is at stake. To my mind financial crisis and economic recession actually gives you opportunities. Because you want to create jobs and you want to take some initiatives. Go back to the time of the recession in 1930s. The US was able to pull out of that recession because it could take certain bold measures and implemented number of activities which were clearly not even on the ground at that point of time. Even today, there are some countries that are doing better than others despite the recession and I don’t think they have slowed down their efforts to move in a direction they think will be more sustainable over a period of time. So I am prepared to have a detailed economic debate on this, nothing to do with climate change, what is required to revive the economy of the world. It seems to me that the financial crisis shouldn’t come in the way of bringing about desired change. I think we are clever enough, and we have resources enough to bring about shift in the direction we have set ourselves if we set ourselves in that direction.

Audio of interview with Dr RK Pachauri, Chair, IPCC. 24 July 2012, ISAP, Yokohama, Japan

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Community based Approaches: Their Importance and Relevance for a Comprehensive Development in Today’s Vulnerable World. Interview with Dr Atiq Rahman, Executive Director, BCAS, Bangladesh

The original version of this interview can be found at:

We had an opportunity to interview Dr Atiq Rahman, Executive Director, BCAS and Friend of the Earth awarded during ISAP2011. Here is the transcript of the same. Read it and let me know your views on the choice of questions and what you think you would ask if you had a chance.

Photo Credits: IGES, Japan


Prabhakar: At the outset, can you please introduce our audience to the institute you are currently leading and basic values and approaches you are trying to promote through your work?

Dr Rahman: I am the technical head of Bangladesh Center for Advanced Studies. BCAS works at different levels, with the communities, local level planning, international agencies, and global systems. The publications from BCAS show the work we do. I sit in various government committees while working with an independent institute like BCAS so what I say here comes from both the perspectives. 25 years ago, while teaching at Oxford University, I said that Bangladesh will go under water. I was at the peak of academia when I moved to Bangladesh to work with BCAS. I made that decision since I believed that there is much to do in my own country to improve the policy processes by linking to the science. We developed a model where the policy, science and people are linked. We do implementation of ideas up to the pilot phase, to the level at which we establish science beyond reasonable doubt, and let others multiply them. In most industrialized countries, the science and policy talk to each other as most environmental problems have scientific basis. The same is required in climate change too. However, some policy makers are influenced by the oil lobbyists and other industry agents and are taking the policy in a wrong direction. We realized that in non-functioning democracies, represented by huge number of countries, people are not included in the debate and the policy is hijacked by the industry. Over the years with dedicated work, we have challenged the science-policy model and changed it into science-policy-people model. Environment and development are very much linked. In climate change, most of the professionals are from environmental background and hence it became ‘environment only’ problem. Soon we realized that we have various sectors involved in it such as infrastructure, food, rural areas etc. So, now, we are talking about developmental implications of climate change. This understanding brings poor people into the domain of decision making. Environment and development, poverty alleviation, good governance and economic growth are the elements that make our concept of sustainable development where other crosscutting elements interact.

Okubo: Now, it is clear from your discussion that your institute in particular and Bangladesh in general has been promoting community based development to an extent that people look at Bangladesh as a land of community based approaches (whether it is for disaster risk reduction or climate change adaptation or other areas). Can you educate us on what made this possible and what lessons other countries can learn from this great success story?

Dr Rahman: I am both a geo-engineering scientist and a policy expert in community based adaptation. Bangladesh has a tradition of local level management partly due to the culture and partly due to the failure of the government. ‘Democracy is democracy of the elected’ and ‘richness is the richness of elected’. So, the question is how to reach the people? Bangladesh is one of the highly disaster prone countries in the world. We thought that the best way is communities leading their own life and not to wait for scientists to tell them to adapt. Communities are already raising their land in the coastal areas and nobody told them to do so. You will find several such practices prevalent among communities. Using community approaches, we are able to solve problems that are long-term in nature. For example, the saline front has already moved deep into the land where we planted the varieties developed for future and these varieties could able to give good yields. This understanding may not come without understanding of the local issues and indigenous knowledge. Development community tries to do development but with limited results since the baseline is shifting based on which decisions are to be made by these communities. Once these development communities talk with climate change communities, they understand the issue clearly and are able to achieve good success as in the case of Action Research for Community Based Adaptation (ARCAB). Several local NGOs are coming together to make development climate friendly. International NGOs came together and have decided to work with BCAS where this ARCAB was designed. These lessons would be taken to other countries like Africa, Latin America etc spanning for 30 years. It is a long-term social learning where baseline will not be the same. We have developed a methodology called participatory monitoring and evaluation where people are involved using the indicators identified by participatory approaches. The SEI, Oxford University, Harvard University etc are helping us with the science part of the process. We hold world conference on community based adaptation every year that is gaining attention by the world community. We would soon be publishing a book from this exercise by the contribution of the conference participants.

Photo Credits: IGES, Japan

Prabhakar: One of the understandings from your discussion is that community based approaches are good in developing countries where governance problems are the reason behind many problems. Do you think these approaches are applicable in developed countries and if so how they can be fit into the context?

Dr Rahman: Communities are communities wherever they are, whether in developed or developing; I have worked with communities in both countries. The story I told about developing countries is slightly better in developed countries. When I was visiting Japan years ago, everybody used to wear formal dress and there used to be only one NGO and NGOs used to be perceived as anti-government. That Japan has changed now, correct me if I am wrong, my last three days of experience tell me that the recent earthquake has shaken the psyche of Japan and you have realized that the infrastructure cannot solve the problem but you need some community involvement. Now, you are talking about dignity of the people, inclusion of the people (can we include everybody from all ages and socio-economic groups etc) etc. We have been working with communities in Bangladesh for years where communities have said that they need some ‘fall back mechanism’ such as animals etc which they can use after they return from a cyclone shelter after the cyclone. So, the systems need to consider things like if old people can be evacuated or not. These approaches would have to be ‘molded’ to Japanese conditions. One should also know the limits, what one can do and what one cannot do. For example, one cannot remove the nuclear radiation for several years down the line. Appropriate support such as shelter, water, food, employment should be provided. One should rejuvenate the local industry. One should also remember that a 1000-year event need not necessarily repeat only after 1000 years but it may come even in the next year but the probability may be low. So, policy makers need to keep this probability aspect while planning for disasters.

Photo Courtesy: IGES, Japan

4.       Questions from the audience:

a. Can you tell us how effective it would be to take the climate change debate to the UN Security Council for its intervention?

Dr Rahman: Security Council may not be able to make much difference to the climate change problem. It has not been able to do anything of this sort other than stopping big wars. The problem is not with the Security Council but with the failure of the UNFCCC system. My long association with the UNFCCC indicated that it has its own limitations. When Kyoto Protocol was agreed with targets, people said that it is the best protocol one could achieve. It indicated that we could work out a lowest common denominator and our governments couldn’t even achieve it. Most population in some developing countries is still undernourished and they are not able to feed themselves but still they are talking about mitigation. So, it is a failure of the governments. Security Council may be able to stop a war or bring additional money but climate change has enough money built into the system so it may not make much difference. You may not agree with my opinion and I would be happy to listen.

b. You said most of the professionals in climate change are from environmental field and though over the years there has been infusion of social and policy professionals into the process, do you think governments are still approaching the problem in a single discipline or multi-discipline?

Dr Rahman: Reality is that it is neither single nor multi-disciplinary but it is the dollar that is dictating the decisions being made. No decisions are made in the UNFCCC negotiations, all decisions are made back in the country, in the ministry of environment. However, no MOE personnel are trained on negotiations, negotiations are about legal issues, foreign affairs, and it is about protecting the best interest of the country and environment is about protecting the common interest. Everybody’s individual interest must fit into common interest. Other problem is every policy maker has 5 year tenure while the climate change is a long-term problem which needs new ways of governance. All the available funding is neither additional nor adequate. NAPAs are being poorly supported, not even equivalent to the money spent by UN agencies on their sanitation consumables. If we want to go fast, single disciplinary approach is the way; however, if we want to go far, multi-disciplinary approach is the way. We need to change the attitude of finance ministries regarding the climate change funding. It is the least priority for them, indicated through the junior most officers they send to any climate change meeting at national or international levels. No single ministry talks to other ministries in our countries.

c. Citizen from Japan: I liked your comment about the ARCAB. I know that there are similar projects going on everywhere but the problem I see is that they are isolated and not connected to other processes.

Dr Rahman: We call this a garland theory where no bead is connected to another bead. NGOs have limited time line where they have to spend the money, so end up pushing the money and spending on bad projects. I think one need to give responsibility and respect to the recipient of the fund, make it participatory, and give time to them to implement while making them accountable. Evaluation has to be continuous but not at the end. So, most of the time, these projects can be termed as ‘the world of mutual cheating.’ Research has become so predictive that even communities know how to respond to any survey, they will start answering questions even before they are asked. We need to learn from bad practices as well. Plagiarism has become so rampant too in this information age. No new ideas are being developed without deep thinking. I think the day we develop that deep thinking, we are able to identify solutions to the problems we are facing today. This is resultant of several problems such as pedagogic, allocation, gender etc.

c. Prabhakar: How do we link the Rio+20 with the community based development model?

Dr Rahman: I was very much involved with the Rio process in 1992 as a part of the Global Forum on Environment and Poverty. A group which was few in number has grown to 10,000. I said at that time that the climate convention is not going to solve the problem. Biodiversity convention is a problem of people, who destroyed their biodiversity and wants others to protect it; climate change is a problem created by developed nations and faced by the poor people; and desertification convention has no teeth in it, it is meant to satisfy African countries. Instead, we proposed a poverty convention. New York has destroyed its wetlands and created the city that is today and the very same country say that we need to protect our wetlands. It is for these countries to solve the issues they created and then talk with the poor. However, we need to move forward. So, we had Rio+10 where MDG was an outcome. Rio+20 is about green economy and institutional structure. We haven’t achieved much on the green economy. Green economy will be possible only if there is enough happening in terms of alternative energy, food systems etc. We didn’t do any of this and want policies, this may not work well. One of the tragedies is that where are the young people shouting and fighting for green economy? The global job market has changed, and the smarter people from developing countries are going for global market, like Google jobs. We need to bring them back to the land that needs them. We need to bring back the idealism. When there is no idealism, we get what happened in Norway. With idealism, we should be able to say that there will not be a single person on the planet who will go to bed with hunger. This is what Security Council should have achieved but it didn’t. I may have given some pessimistic view of UN system but that is a perceived reality. The point I am making is that we have to have a vision for the planet, so that the population growth is controlled, so that we have less people and less carbon. Climate convention was supposed to reduce GHGs as per the Kyoto Protocol, but we increased the emissions instead. It is just about carbon. We have ocean acidification, nitrogen and phosphorous cycles that are going to be a huge challenge. We need young people to fight for these causes so that we are able to feed everybody on the planet. This is just about basic needs such as food and water, not even about flying and driving. There is more food on the planet than we need, more medicines than we need, and more water than we need; why that one third of the world is starving, something isn’t right!