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!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Catastrophic risk insurance: Willingness and ability to pay

Catastrophic risk insurance assumes specific importance when we talk about disaster risk reduction or climate change adaptation or sustainable development since  risk insurance has been advocated and effectively used in small scale to achieve these broad goals in most instances. However, the spread or uptake of risk insurance in the Asia-Pacific region and  elsewhere remained negligible (compared to sales of Coke or cell phones?) due to several bottlenecks arising from policy and information imperfections. While part of the problem can be attributed to policy level imperfections, it is surprising to see that a subject that can greatly benefit corporate sector (really?) also seems to suffer same limitations that many other public policies face and the so called efficient and effective private sector seems to be oblivious to this fact that they are not able to reach out to a section of society that needs them most. The intriguing question here is, how come the same corporate sector that is extremely successful in selling a sugared drink (such as Coke or Pepsi) which in most opinion is useless and probably has least intrinsic value of whatsoever is failing to sell a very useful product such as risk insurance to the very same masses!

"If I could convince my son to ride bicycle without fear by wearing a helmet, I am sure our marketing agents are more than intelligent and can very well communicate the risk to adult population they are targeting!!!"

I am sure several people have already talked and written on this subject very extensively but I feel that there is definitely more than that meets the eye. In a quest to get even with this, I have been brainstorming (and writing) on this issue for quite some time and this is what I could come up with to summarize what may be limiting the spread of risk insurance in most cases:

1) Affordability: The issue of affordability could be put at the top of all the bottlenecks limiting the spread of risk insurance in the developing Asia-Pacific. Though insurance premiums in most of the developing Asia-Pacific region are lower than that of those in the developed countries, the annual insurance premium costs are still not affordable for most of the income groups in the developing countries. Part of the high insurance premium costs emerge from the high residual risks and low spread in terms of number of insured (i.e. poor development of the insurance portfolio). 

But, mind you, the cost of premium cannot be brought down beyond a point since the premium should meet lot of other expenses of the insurance company as well. Can we think about subsidizing the premium? Though this option appears to be most lucrative proposition for most policy makers, as they tend to go towards populistic measures, there are several others that go against this option. The argument here is sending proper price signal is important to make the insured feel the importance of [not]indulging in reckless risk taking behavior! Then the question is how do we bring down the price to an affordable level?

The price issue has two components, one is ability to pay and the second is willingness to pay. I think there is not much research on these points, if the success in uptake is achieved by targeting more on willingness to pay than on ability to pay.  I would be very happy to see an approach that targets both these components of price rather than getting lost in some kind of obscurity. 

2) Residual risks: High residual risks are one of the major causes for the poor risk insurance coverage in the region. The high residual risks are due to poor disaster risk mitigation mechanisms, lack of or poor enforcement of laws and codes such as building bylaws, structural codes, and laws pertaining to land use planning.

3) Presence of insurers and reinsurers: One of the reasons behind poor penetration of insurance and insurance prices above affordability is limited presence of private insurers and reinsurers. Reinsurers play an important role of providing shock absorbing capacity to the insurers. To date, very few national (e.g. General Insurance Corporation in India, China Reinsurance Company in China, Zenkyoren or Zenkoku Kyousai Seikatsukyoudoukumiai Rengou Kai in Japan) and international (e.g. Munich Re, Swiss Re, Toa Re, Axis Re) reinsurers operate in the region. Hence, there is a very high potential for the expansion of the reinsurance sector. Insurers and reinsurers cannot afford to operate in the region unless there is sufficient enabling environment including efforts to reduce the residual risks.

4) High premium costs: The high residual risks, lack of optimum number of insurers, low competition, and low number of insured population all lead to the higher premium costs than what they could be in the Asia-Pacific region.

5) Policy environment: Though risk insurance is a ‘market instrument’, its dynamics are determined or governed by the principles of an open market, government policies and regulatory guidelines act as precursors for flourishing of the sector and ensures the effectiveness of the instrument. Hence, the role of government in promoting the culture of risk mitigation by promoting awareness generation, and designing and implementing structural and non-structural disaster risk mitigation codes and laws including institutional mechanisms and regulations for promoting risk insurance is paramount.

Though there has already been significant improvement in terms of policy support to insurance sector, as observed from the high growth rates of insurance sector in the region, the support is still not comprehensive enough. For example, currently, most developing countries in the Asia-Pacific region are at the nascent stages of formulating national disaster risk mitigation plans and policies and haven’t fully utilized the potential of risk insurance in promoting risk reduction. Traditionally, strong emphasis of most governments on disaster response over mitigation is known to hinder the public participation in risk insurance schemes. Limited financing is the major reason behind the poor emphasis on disaster risk mitigation in the region.

6) Cultural and perceptional issues: General lack of awareness and misplaced perceptions about dealing with the risk in general and about the risk insurance in particular among the common people and business sector also serves as a bottleneck. Sociological research has indicated the existence of behavioral situation that can be characterized as ‘lethal attitude’ which suggests that things will happen whatever is done and that things are beyond ones’ control, which limit the risk mitigation behavior of individuals.

7) Lack of data: Infrastructure for collecting and managing the systematic and comparable data on past risks, vulnerabilities, disasters, and the nature of disaster losses provides important information for designing risk insurance schemes which is either not fully developed nor readily available and accessible to the risk insurance industry and for the general public in most of the developing nations in the Asia-Pacific region.

Another important challenge, which didn’t receive much attention in the region, that could undermine the implementation of an affective insurance facility is the liability challenge that insurers will have to deal with due to not reporting their climate related risks to their shareholders, and probability for high insurance payouts due to high potential for yield losses in a changing climate scenario. As a result of these limitations, most of the initiatives couldn’t be scaled-up to cover larger, and sometimes important geographic areas and socio-economic groups that could benefit from insurance related instruments.

For more information, write to me and I will be happy to send a full paper that I have been working on this subject. 

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Decision making, public participation and fairness in CCA

Research carried out by IGES, its partners, and other research community elsewhere involving policy makers and other stakeholders in climate change adaptation has revealed that the adaptation decision making in most of the Asia-Pacific countries and elsewhere is at nascent stages due to various issues such as limited understanding on how adaptation decision making could (or should) be different from developmental decision making, lack of tools or limited application of available tools to prioritize adaptation actions and limitations with policy and institutional mechanisms. A large school of scholars have been proposing that sound adaptation decision making is possible by measuring the progress in adaptation, through adaptation metrics and by embedding the principles of adaptation metrics into the existing project and program monitoring and evaluation procedures. Several monitoring and evaluation frameworks have already been proposed for adaptation projects claiming that understanding these frameworks and applying them on the ground can be of great help to project developers and implementers at all scales. However, it is not clear if these tools can help address issues such as public participation and fairness in decision making though most decision support tools claim to employ participatory processes. It is difficult to test the veracity of these claims since most of these frameworks are yet to be tested and compared on the ground in the real world.

Since climate change adaptation is a question of public policy requiring collective action and cognitive decision making, fairness and public participation are integral requirements for successful adaptation. Ensuring public participation has long been and loudly claimed by the experts and practitioners of community based adaptation (CBA). While such CBA approaches may enable public participation, there is no evidence to prove that these approaches have promoted fairness in decision making. So, creating enabling conditions for ensuring fairness may be crucial even in CBA based approaches, a question to explore. Though public participation and fairness are issues that have been historically the point of focus in developmental interventions, it is not very much clear how these experiences can be learned and applied to adaptation decision making.

Keeping the above issues in view, the author, in association with the Asia Pacific Adaptation Network, has organized a session on decision making, public participation and fairness on 12-13 May 2012 at the 2nd Adaptation Forum in Bangkok, Thailand. This session has addressed the questions such as how different are public participation and fairness issues in adaptation decision making, to what extent the proposed frameworks address the issues of public participation and fairness in adaptation decision making, what are the current experiences in promoting public participation and fairness in adaptation decision making, what enabling factors are crucial to ensure public participation and fairness in decision making and how they can be promoted? 

Various processes being taken up in adaptation decision making at the national level are already considering the issue of public participation in adaptation planning (Dr. Frank Griffin, Papua New Guinea). The issue of public participation has been addressed through two-tier consultation process wherein technical consultations were conducted at the national level and these findings were taken to the local level consultations to contextualize and identify specific adaptation practices.  The technical consultations have helped in ironing out the terminology that is being used by various stakeholders that led to proper communication among various stakeholders. In addition, the process has employed a robust process of climate change vulnerability assessment that has underlined the adaptation practices identified.

The case study of Tachin river basin highlighted the issue of multiplicity of plans, programs, institutions at the local level (Muanpong Juntopas, SEI). It showed that the evidence is crucial for successful decision making. Community based processes have helped in solving the issues such as poor vertical integration, integration across boundaries, sectors and basins.

On the contrary, the adaptation decision making process in Malaysia is centralized and top down driven (Gurmit Singh, Centre for Environment, Malaysia). The federal structure, lack of public consultation, and lack of transparency have posed several bottlenecks in adaptation decision making and communicating the message of adaptation in effective manner. It is apparent that in Malaysia, and elsewhere, adaptation should be considered as a rights issue (at par with the right to development).

Adaptation is also an issue of fairness issue (Atiq Rahman, BCAS). Fairness issue is very much limited to the international negotiations and it has been neglected at the national level. Fairness is a pre-requisite for promoting  good governance, and vise versa, at any level and it should not be limited to just the international negotiations. It is clear that, in most cases, the issue of fairness has been ignored even in the traditional developmental discourse. However,  the climate change has given new opportunity for us to discuss these issues and give greater emphasis in the decision making. Promoting local knowledge through processes such as community based adaptation and integrating/contextualizing the fairness discussion into food security, energy security, water security, health security and education securities that communities care about could be the way promote fairness.

Greater access to natural resources is a critical entry point for enabling greater participation in decision making since those with resources often happen to be the ones who makes decisions (Marcus  Moench,  ISET). Decentralization; access to information, shared learning and strengthening local governance can help promoting access to resources.

It is clear that public participation and fairness in decision making will not happen automatically but rather they need to be facilitated and promoted at all levels in a conscious manner. Issue of fairness can be very tricky when it comes to operationalizing since 'fair to whom' depends on 'who is defining fairness' and who is driving the discussion. It is often challenging to be fair to the entire section of community since there will always be losers and gainers in any given combination of resource allocation (this is just my opinion). Can we claim to have addressed the the fairness issue if 90% of vulnerable in the project location are benefited while other 10% are not since community rankings said it is OK to benefit top x number of people ranked as vulnerable? Probably not. While most project implementing agencies would like to benefit all vulnerable population in their project, often they would have to make decisions (or facilitate communities to take decisions in a participatory manner) such that project finances are 'efficiently' used rather than 'thinned out' (managers may think thinning out is a disaster for project reporting). This brings the discussion to the point that fairness is also closely linked with the 'project resources'. In the current socio-political and economic environment, it appears that bringing fairness to all is not 'just one of the challenges' that development practitioners and researchers would have to deal rather it is the crux of the problem in decision making. Fairness should be a 'chapter' in the Bible or Quran or Upnishad (or other sacred texts you can think) of every project, whether it deals with development or adaptation or disaster risk reduction.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Monitoring and evaluation of Community Based Adaptation: Where we are now?

Developmental practitioners have been monitoring and evaluating (M&E) developmental interventions using diverse set of participatory tools and concepts since time immemorial. Oftentimes it is done by comparing outputs and outcomes with the objectives and targets set by the project in a participatory manner which worked very well in a well understood field of development where boundaries are well defined and baselines stay static for all practical purposes. However, the concept of climate change adaptation is not at the same level of maturity as that of development, neither boundaries are clear, nor the diverse players engaged in climate change adaptation have come to the same terms as their engagement in development. This brings us to a set of well acknowledged challenges for M&E of climate change adaptation which include uncertainty in nature of impacts at time and geographical scales which makes difficult to pinpoint baselines which are not static as in a non-changing climate, long-term nature of climate change adaptation benefits accrued from adaptation projects while most projects are planned and implemented at relatively short periods, and different opinions, concepts, contexts and scales in which adaptation takes place. The overarching questions for M&E of CBA are how far can we use traditional/existing tools for M&Eing adaptation and what additional concepts/tools are needed for M&Eing adaptation? Specific questions are who decides what and how to be M&Ed, should different expectations of stakeholders from adaptation means different M&E frameworks/concepts/tools, and how to communicate and ensure M&E doesn’t become a burden on resources?

The session discussions have revealed that the same participatory tools that have been engaged in developmental planning could be well used for M&E of climate change adaptation (Robin James and Mike Wiggins).  Tools that bring greater integration of different actors, time and three-dimensional space appear to have greater value in understanding vulnerability and resilience (Robin James) and without fail be able to capture the most significant change brought by the project (Mike Wiggins). However, there is a need for stronger conceptual framework within which these tools can work well and communicate the right message from the evaluation outcomes.

Participatory tools have become standard protocol of entry into local level interventions for many agencies, whether for research or development or for both.

The session has clearly brought out that the conceptual frameworks are better developed if they are developed bottom up i.e. by distilling experiences and messages from M&E of on-the-ground projects (i.e. inductive) rather than through deductive means. The Participatory Monitoring, Evaluation, Reflection and Learning (MERL) is one such framework that has evolved bottom up from the experience of Action Research for Community Adaptation in Bangladesh (ARCAB) and other experiences that the IIED-CARE team has considered while developing MERL (Jessica Ayers). MERL employs learning by doing approach where in communities and practitioners are able to track, respond to, and take advantage of changing contexts and surprising events and emphasizes ‘accountability downwards’. Since the framework is based on several on-the-ground experiences, it has been able to identify a common set of indicators that all partners have chosen to evaluate the effectiveness of their actions.

ARCAB is an innovative long-term community based adaptation project that aims to generate scientific evidence for community based adaptation with the involvement of several local, national and international partners (Sumana Tanchangya). Being an innovation in itself, ARCAB has encountered several challenges which include difficulty defining CBA and the wide range of action and research partners working in different communities with different approaches, indicators and frameworks. On the positive side, these differences and commonalities have provided a fertile ground for crystallising M&E framework that was eventually emerged as ARCAB M&E Framework.

One major limitation with the M&E frameworks and approaches appears to be approaching resilience and adaptation ex ante i.e. informing project planners what would work and wouldn’t work with reasonable confidence before the project is designed and implemented. However, the Climate change and Environmental Degradation Risk and adaptation Assessment (CEDRA) pilot program appears to have overcome this limitation to a certain extent by putting emphasis on participative processes leading to identification of adaptation actions (Mike Wiggins). This program also recognizes the fact that communities are not just facing climate change but many other issues and a means to address all these issues in the M&E framework.

The session has clarified that the communities has to be the ones who determines what need to be measured and evaluated as is evident from the work presented in the session. However, it was observed that most often community tend to focus about immediate responses and the participatory adaptation interventions should be able to help them to see that short-term responses won’t help much for climate change adaptation. Frameworks/tools developed only based on ‘common elements’ tends to miss important lesson that differences and reason behind the existence of these differences has to offer. Avoiding tipping points is absolute necessity and it can be done by taking climate risks out of risk category and tracking what people are doing, outcomes around adaptive capacity and vulnerability relative to climate risks. 

Prepared by SVRK Prabhakar (IGES) based on discussions at the session on Monitoring and Evaluation of CBA, 6th International Conference on Community Based Adaptation, Hanoi, Vietnam. 

Friday, April 20, 2012

Bringing Evidence to the Table: Reflections from the 6th International Conference on Community Based Adaptation, Hanoi, Vietnam

Attending 6th CBA in Hanoi, Vietnam I started realizing that people are getting more comfortable speaking about CBA. They don’t anymore talk about what is CBA and why CBA is needed but rather have moved to a next higher level of discourse i.e. sharing their experiences in a more articulated manner.

On the positive side, considering that this conference is about and for practitioners of CBA and most representation of speakers are from on-going projects,most speakers have spent considerable time explaining about their project and what it aims to achieve. It is evident that more and more projects are putting efforts involving multiple actors into their projects, and surprisingly even government-driven programs talk about involving communities. Most of this change could have come both from self realization that adaptation is all about participation, ownership and empowerment; but partly must also have come from emphasis by NGOs, bi- and multi-lateral agencies such as GEF, World Bank and others.

On the down side [probably a better word would be ‘work in progress’], still very less evidence is being presented on how CBA project have benefited communities and other stakeholders and actually have led to adaptation or climate risk reduction. Probably this could be done by selectively inviting participation from projects that have finished implementation. It is tricky since very less or no resources would be available for project staff to travel and present in conferences after the project is finished.

A plenary from 6th CBA, Hanoi, Vietnam

Presenting empirical evidence would have made lot of difference to the conference gathering and to the CBA in general. Most work presented talks about what communities believe and think and stress on how to involve various stakeholders in CBA in ‘textual’ terms. While these are important operational aspects, we need more refined information being presented in a much more analytic manner. This preference could be just for me, since I recall people saying this is not the venue for presenting analytic work. Nevertheless, analysis results can always be tailor-presented to the audience. One area where CBA literature can improve is presenting reasons and framework/methodology behind identifying practices and policies that projects chose to implement. Why only X and why not Y, how much of the decision to chose X over Y was influenced by community preferences and those of outsiders? There are questions raised about right to adaptation, fairness in decision making, and even more importantly if inequality is being well addressed.

There is still a larger question that lingers in my mind. How much a project planner or even a researcher should weigh in on what communities think and believe [We don’t give second opinion on what a doctor prescribes as a medicine even for cold] and how to cross-check what communities think is good for them is really good for them. Probably this can be done by emphasizing and help converting unfelt needs and wants into felt needs and wants. Probably this is happening on the ground but nothing much has come into presentations and articulations. 

I think CBA has passed the stage of saleability; however this doesnt mean that we stop hiring sales men to sell it [I changed this sentence after hearing the speech of Richard Bossi]. We also need more people who have reached a stage of providing more emphatic, empirical, and analytical evidence (even if it is qualitative), and sharing experiences of CBA working on the ground; clarifying operational overlaps, as against conceptual ones, that exist between development, DRR and CCA; and measured benefits from mainstreaming CCA/CBA/DRR. M&E can help achieve lot of this. It would be interesting to see M&E staff from projects sharing their experiences of M&Eing adaptation and what they expect from M&E researchers or those who tailor M&E tools for adaptation.

More to come...

Friday, March 9, 2012

アジア農村地域の産業振興 成功例と課題

This article is also posted in English at my previous blog post.

Source: 月刊ビジネスアイエネコ(2012年3月号)日本工業新聞社

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Bringing businesses to rural Asia: What is working and what is not

SVRK Prabhakar, Senior Policy Researcher, Natural Resource Management Division, IGES, Japan
To be published in Business i. Eneco, March 2012

Asia is one of the fastest growing regions in the world, both in economic and population terms. In 2010, the economies in the region have grown at a rate of 8.2% while the rest of the world grew only at a rate of 5%. This story appears to be phenomenal by any standard. However, examining the role of rural Asia in contributing to the overall growth will reveal a different picture to us. The contribution of agriculture sector to the total GDP has been declining over the years in the region, standing at 10% in 2010. This means that nearly 58% of Asian population, of which 81% is dependent on agriculture for their livelihoods, that lives in rural areas contribute to only 10% of the total wealth produced in the region. This appears to be, by any standard, a gross mismanagement of valuable human resources in any corporate firm’s strategy book. As a result, rural Asia is characterized by highest unemployment rate, high poverty and resource-deprived.

The organized private sector employs 30-35% of the total work force in many ASEAN countries, which is second only to the unorganized agriculture sector putting government at third as an employer and similar trend could be expected in other Asian countries too. However, the penetration of organized private sector in rural Asia is almost negligent due to limited purchasing power in these areas and limited manpower that can cater to the services offered by the sector. Most governments in the region operate with limited financial resources and cannot offer gainful employment to rural population. This further leaves the rural areas out of mainstream economic activities and hence often don’t attract corporate attention for investments.

Reasons behind poor wealth creation in rural Asia

Several issues play a role in poor contribution of rural areas to the total wealth created in the region and most often these issues are interlinked with each other as in daisy chain. Some important issues include wide prevalence of manual- labor oriented agricultural production systems that engage only seasonal employment, poor infrastructure facilities such as energy and transportation, high poverty and most importantly the lack of educational and vocational training facilities that can produce the talent for the needy industrial production and service sectors. One important argument that explains the existence of these problems is the ‘growth-center approach’ adopted by many countries as a developmental model wherein developmental investments are often concentrated at a single or few locations in an administrative unit. Though this approach has helped in developing certain regions as industrial hubs and eventually urban growth centers, the rest of the areas were deprived of the talent with the talent available in rural areas migrating to these ‘growth-centers’ as internal migration and brain drain. Though the growth-center approach is expected to be undertaken at the initial phases of development and to be supported by income distribution policies, it is the later part that has failed in most Asian countries. As a result, much of the rural areas were deprived of the talent and other resources. This has continued over the years taking the rural Asia in a downward spiral depriving them of their fair share in the overall economic growth story of Asia.

Strategies for greater business penetration in rural areas

The situation in rural Asia is changing, though, as suggested by recent developments. Realizing the potential of rural markets for untapped markets (read consumers) and source of human resources, the private sector is devising new strategies to reach out to these areas. One example to be cited is the Grameenphone in Bangladesh. Grameenphone has achieved a 98% of coverage area in Bangladesh with 35 million subscriber base within few years of its establishment. For most people, Grameenphone is a telecommunication revolution while very few know that it created record revenue and employment from predominantly poor and rural subscriber base. Grameenphone has become a source of livelihood for more than 300,000 people (working as its dealers, retailers, scratch card outlets, vendors etc) in a country of 149 million while producing a revenue worth one billion dollars per year (a per capita income of 6.7 USD by Grameenphone itself). Such cases suggest several lessons for other corporate ventures that consider capturing potential rural markets in Asia. Technology ventures need to make products affordable for rural population, make them within the reach of technical and educational abilities of the rural consumers, design secondary services that provide local gainful employment, and stress the need for wider social benefits apart from the intended direct benefit of the product.

A multi-utility vehicle using water pump. Sustaining local innovations would be one of the greatest role that corporate sector can play in rural Asia.

The public-private partnerships are enabling the greater corporate penetration in rural Asia. In South Asia, self-help groups are being formed to utilize these emerging development opportunities. Micro-finance in Bangladesh and installation of bioenergy production plants in India can be taken as examples for this wherein financial institutions and energy technology firms work with local governments to support micro-finance schemes and installation of bioenergy based power plants. Here too, designing products and services simple and affordable has enabled rural consumers to accept them at a rapid rate. Combining capacity building programs along with product introduction is helping rural artisans to take up new income generation activities associated with the products being introduced. For example, as a part of the rural electrification program through solar power panels, technology firms and local NGOs are training rural artisans in assembling and repairing solar panels and servicing batteries. These approaches are creating an entirely new local economy that is supplementing the agriculture income in most rural areas. However, more could be done to further hasten the rural economic growth. Ideas such as ‘Pura’ (Provision of Urban Amenities in Rural Areas) put forward by Dr A.P.J Abdul Kalam, the President of India, have even greater potential to kick-start rural economies. Seen as an overarching concept, ‘Pura’ encourages greater public private partnerships between Gram Panchayats (lowest tier of self governance system in India) and private sector for developing urban amenities and advanced infrastructure such as warehouses, integrated business hubs, in rural areas while enhancing the rural income and skill base. There is even more potential for rural employment generation through schemes such as reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD), ecotourism and soil carbon sequestration wherein local communities can get benefit from related payments and from the employment generated through these activities while safeguarding the environment. 

To be published in Business i. Eneco, March 2012