31 July 2012

An ambitious new objective for the international negotiations

Our conversations started in December at the Ministry of Environment of Colombia and they finished in mid of July at the Ministry of Environment of Finland! In Bogota, Helsinki, New Delhi or Nouméa in New Caledonia, the observation is the same : climate change is a reality.

Mitigation of the climate change is mandatory. In that matter the action of the citizens of this planet is not sufficient : political and social organization is crucial to trigger an effective mitigation of climate change. Anyway the climate protection is not one of the first preoccupations of the citizens. Due to the financial crisis of these last years for instance.

What is the status of the international negotiations concerning climate protection?

The United Nations meeting every year on climate change

We met Merja Turunen and Sirkka Haunia at the Ministry of Environment in Helsinki. Merja is the Director of the Climate Change group within the Ministry ; Sirkka is chief negociator for Finland.

Since 1995, and every year, the United Nations organizes a conference on Climate Change (called Conference of the Parties, COP) to progress on climate change negotiations. One of the most important COPs that was held so far took place in Kyoto in 1997, where the Kyoto Protocol was approved.
Merja Turunen, Sirkka Haunia and Frédéric - July the 9th
Scientists and environmental associations have complained about the lack of decisions in the last COPs. However some results have been obtained.

In Copenhagen, Denmark, in 2009, the result was a political agreement, the Copenhagen Accord. Many supported its adoption as a step towards a better future agreement. However, some countries opposed it. The COP “took note” of the Accord. For the first time, China and other major developing countries were leading discussions.

The logo of the United Nations
climate change conferences
In Cancun, Mexico, in 2010, the need to cut global emissions to limit global average temperature rise to 2°C was recognized. Governments agreed to boost action to curb emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries with technological and financial support (called REDD+ program). Financial achievements were reached such as the Green Climate Fund : a fast start finance of 30 billion USD from industrialised countries to support climate action in the developing world, up to 2012, and the intention to raise 100 billion USD in long-term funds by 2020. Also the Cancun Adaptation Framework was created to increase financial and technical support for adaptation projects in developing countries.

Durban and the new involvement of the developing countries

“Last year in Durban, South Africa, Parties decided to aim for the second commit period (which means that the Kyoto mechanisms would be continued) of the Kyoto Protocol”, Sirkka says.

A message at the entrance
of the Finnish Ministry.

“It was also decided to start negotiations for a new agreement (the Durban Plarform) in which all Parties have legal commitments to reduce emissions”. The participants agreed on a new way of acting: not only the developed countries will be concerned with cutting emissions. For the future agreements, the objectives will be based on every country’s potential to reduce emissions.

Sirkka explains : “The new agreement should be ready by 2015 and enter into force by 2020, when the second commitment period Kyoto Protocol is over, whereafter there would be only the new agreement. It is a big change, a big challenge!”

The next COP will take place in Doha, Qatar, at the end of the year. Many decisions need to be made, including the length of the  second commitment period. Also issues related to long term financing are urgent, because the fast start financing period ends 2012, Sirkka says. “The political commitment of major carbon emitting countries will also be closely followed. European Union is ready to commit on more ambitious objectives if other countries show positive signs.”


24 July 2012

The glacier maker

A stream in Nimaling valley, Ladakh.
They call him Ice Man. No, he is not a character of the latest Batman movie, but an Indian engineer whose idea, born in 1987, helps villages in the north of India to guarantee their water supply!

Water for the only harvest of the year

Ladakh is a region of the world located in the Jammu & Kashmir northern state of India. It comprises mainly high altitude desert mountains above 3 000 meters. It is a popular trekking destination for its stunning landscapes.

Almost 80% of the farmers in the region depend on snow and glacier melt water for irrigation and domestic use. The summer-season cultivation is short. It is during April and May that the farmers sow for the only harvest of the year. If it is not sown at this time, the crop cannot be fully maturated, resulting in low yielding crops.

Since winters are getting shorter and warmer, and glaciers are retreating rapidly, less and less water is available, and sometimes at the wrong period. The crops are not as good as in the past, less food is available. Already the entire population of some villages had to leave and migrate because of this change.

A successful try

An artificial glacier
(Picture : LNP)
Chewang Norphel was born in Leh, the capital of Ladakh. During 35 years he worked in the region as a civil engineer. In 1987, Chewang decided to help four villages in Shara valley. He says : “At that time the water supply was already a serious problem for four villages since there was only one stream in the valley.”

“I came out with an idea. What if water could be stored during winter so that it is available later during spring? Which practically means building… an artificial glacier! And it worked! We managed to force the creation of a glacier which provided few months after the water that the villages needed.”

A stone structure is built to 
retain the diverted water 
which will accumulate and 
create the artificial glacier.
(Picture : LNP)
Chewang explains how an artificial glacier works : “At the start of winter, water is diverted from a main stream to let it flow onto a sloping hill. Distribution channels are constructed with stones on the hill. Ice retaining walls are built at regular intervals to impede the flow of water and to make shallow pools. This is how a huge quantity of water is kept stored!”

The hill must be located on a shaded area, facing north side, where winter sun is blocked by a ridge or a mountain slope. This will ensure that the accumulated water stock will not melt during the winter. The process of ice formation takes place during the 3 to 4 winter months and as a result a big reserve of ice accumulates on the mountain slope.

(Picture : LNP)
Ice Man concludes : “The artificial glacier starts melting in spring, right in time for first irrigation. After the success of Shara glacier, we have built about 10 more glaciers.”

The brilliant idea of Chewang has changed the life of many. Adaptation to climate change is already a vital necessity in several areas in the world, let’s react all together before adaptation concerns all of us!

Chewang and Carolina at the office of Leh Nutrition Project
where Chewang currently works as Chief Project Officer.

During these last years, Chewang has received the following awards and honours:

Best Rural Engineer Award from the President of India ;
Rural Engineer Award by Center for Science and Environment, New Delhi ;
Asian Innovative Award of Hong Kong, Far Eastern Economic Review Magazine ;
CNN-IBN ‘Real Hero’ Award, 2008 (a video, here).


11 July 2012

Rains sinking the homes and the economy

Atchara and Carolina
At the end of last year, Thailand experienced the country’s heaviest flooding in 50 years. The flood claimed 800 lives and paralysed Thailand for long weeks.

Atchara Suriya works in a tourism agency in Bangkok. We had the chance to meet her at the end of May and, in the middle of a conversation, we started to talk about the floods of 2011. This is what she told us. 

Heavy monsoon rainfalls 

“I am originally from the town of Pathum Thani, north of the capital Bangkok. My region has been one of the most affected by the floods. These last months have been very special for us”. Atchara explains: “The floods resulted from strong rainfalls. Depending on the place, the water went up slowly or very suddenly. At one of my friend’s, it took less than 12 hours for the water to go up to 1 meter.”

“I got only 50 cm in my home. My family and I did not leave. My parents did not want to because of the belongings and because of… our two dogs! So, like lots of others, we decided to stay, and spent our time on the 2nd floor or on the roof of the house. I remember that preventing the water to come from the outside was useless since the toilets or the drainage would overflow. The old people would not stop saying : this never happened before, this never happened before!

   Pathum Thani is some kilometres 
far from Bangkok. The ancient capital Ayutthaya is a little bit further North.
 The whole region on this map particularly suffered from the floods. It is here that lots of automotive and electronics plants operate.

“Of course the life in the village changed. Everything stopped. Everything turned to be more expensive. During this exceptional situation we could see lots of positive behaviour. For instance those who had a car would share it with others. People who had never talked to each other would start to do it. The village got organized differently”. About the action from the authorities, Atchara says : “We could see that we had no experience of flood. There was such a lack of organization from both the people and the authorities.”

Crippled tourism and industry 

When we were in the ancient 
capital Ayutthaya, we could 
observe the marks 
left by the water…
“The whole region kind of stopped. Firstly the tourism was impacted. The ancient capital Ayutthaya is close to my town, a little bit north. The historical heritage there was at risk and much less tourists came during the flooding months.

Secondly, the region where I live is an industrial area, there are lots of factories around. The floods stopped the activity for most of them. Lots of small companies basically closed as the losses were too big. In some Japanese companies, the Thai people had to choose between moving to Japan and work there for a certain period… or losing their job. A cousin of mine stopped working for one month. She stayed at home, with no revenue, in 2 meters high waters.”

Atchara concludes : “I hope the authorities will learn from what happened, I hope we can be better organized to face floods. Nature is changing. But nature rules our life so we must pay attention to it. We are responsible for it!” 

An economy hit for a long time 

Climate change includes changes in precipitation around the world. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) declares the following: “Anthropogenic influences have contributed to intensification of extreme precipitation at the global scale. It is likely that the frequency of heavy precipitation or the proportion of total rainfall from heavy falls will increase in the 21st century over many areas of the globe. This is particularly the case in the high latitudes and tropical regions, and in winter in the northern mid-latitudes.”

The 2011 heavy rainfalls and the resulting flood had a huge impact on Thailand’s economy. The country’s growth in 2011 was only 0,1% ; much less compared to 2010 growth of 7,8%.
More than 10 000 factories were forced to close and to lay off more than 350 000 workers while production was suspended. Japan economy shrank 2,3% in the fourth quarter 2011 partly due to the flooding that disrupted production at leading manufacturers such as Sony and Honda. The worldwide supply chain of hard disk drives – used in computers – was disrupted and the prices rose up. The manufacturer Western Digital announced recently that the situation will not come back to normal before… 2013.

Honda cars under water - Ayutthaya region
Photo : Getty Images

In Asia and the Pacific, 42 million people were displaced by environmental disasters between beginning 2010 and beginning 2012 (Asian Development Bank)

U.S. insured losses from weather disasters have soared from an average of about $3 billion a year in the 1980s to about $20 billion a year in the last decade, even after adjusting for inflation (Swiss Re)