The challenge of global hazards for the future

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Vicious Cycle

Climate change has implications for economic growth, human security and social wellbeing, especially for the poorest and most marginalised people. This is the vicious cycle of problems generated by climate change:

1. Higher temperatures - More hazardous world. Great impact on water and food supplies, especially for the world's most vulnerable people.

2. Increased evaporation - More water vapour along with more ice sheet and glacier melt. Accelerating changes because of positive feedbacks.

3. Worsening greenhouse effect - Major issue of rising sea level leads to more impacts of global warming.

4. More uncertainty - More extreme weather, rising temperatures, unpredictable rainfall patterns, more incidence of drought + floods, growing incidence of severe storms.

5. More impacts - More food insecurity, water conflict, more vulnerable people going into poverty and environmental refugees.

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Water Shortages

- Populations are increasing and placing demands on water supplies for agriculture and industry. Estimates suggest that water demands could rise by 50%, especially in far eastern countries.

- The World Bank estimates that as much as 50% of the world's population, concentrated in Africa, the middle east and southern Asia, will face severe water shortages by 2025.

- Around 2.8 billion people currently experience water stress. However, 1.6 billion people experience economic water scarity because of poverty and poor governance.

- In the High Andes and Himalayas, the disappearance of glaciers means people can no longer rely on glacial meltwater as a water source.

- Rapid changes in weather patterns leave people little time to adapt.

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Nicaragua's Miskito Indians

- Climate change is having a devastating effect on the Miskito Indians who live in wooden huts in Nicarague's western territories. They subsist on crops planted on a few hectares of land and food hunted from the jungle and rivers.

- Ten years ago, Marciano Washington could harvest 60 bags of rice a hecture from his 3 hectares of land. But last year he only managed 7 bags.

- Environmental researchers are warning that the effect of climate change is likely to hit indigenous communities like the Miskito the hardest.

- Their livrlihoods depend on nature and on predicting the weather, making them vulnerable to increasingly unstable weather patterns.

- Temperatures across central America are expected to rise by 1-3oC and rainfall will decrease by 25% by 2070. Droughts, hurricanes and unseasonal flooding will increase.

- The Miskito are isolated from modern farming techniques and hampered by poverty from years of economic neglect and discrimination.

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Food Insecurity

- Food security means populations having access to enough food for an active, healthy life.

- The impact of global warming on food security is complex, as it depends on a combination of the following factors:

  • Higher temperatures stress crops and reduce yields, yet prolong growing seasons and allow a wider range of crops to be grown.
  • A higher concentration of carbon dioxide speeds plant growth and increases resilience to water stress. Up to a certain level, this could be favourable for the midwest USA and parts of southeast Asia.
  • Certain areas (e.g. equatorial and east Africa) will have more rainfall.
  • Higher temperatures can promote the growth of crop pests and diseases.

- In theory, agriculture is adaptable to global warming. There are many innovative techniques - some are very high tech, and others appropriate to subsistance farmers - which can overcome water stress.

- Studies have shown that crop yields could drop by 10% every 1 degree temperature rise in some areas on Asia.

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The Challenge

How countries cope with climate change will depend on wealth. Poverty leads to poor health, malnutrition and an inability to cope with extreme weather events. These interconnecting factors are:

  • Lack of work
  • Bad housing
  • Population growth
  • Little healthcare
  • Famine
  • Illiteracy
  • Low income
  • Lack of water
  • Debt
  • Climate change
  • Hazard events
  • Environmental degradation and context hazards
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Green Strategies

Tree planting - Trees take in carbon dioxide and 'fix' it in the form of hydrocarbons. However, In the first 10 years of a trees life, it releases more carbon dioxide than it absorbs, especially if the ground is cleared before hand for forest planting.

Renewable energy projects - Renewable energy projects are important, but again the costs and benefits of each must be weighed up. Large-scale renewable energy projects such as the Three Gorges dam in China have all kinds of environmental negatives as well as the obvious benefits of providing large quantities of 'green' electricity and controlling floods on the River Yangtze. Wind farms also have negatives as the take up large areas of countryside and have high costs.

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Renewable Energy Schemes

Community hydropower in Kenya - Two community hydroelectric schemes, Kathama and Thima, provide lighting, radio and telecommunications to over 200 households. It also saves 42 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions a year.

The solar islands - In 1996 the West Bengal Renewable Energy Development Association began on a medium-scale solar power development in Sagan Iisland. It now uses a stand-alone photovoltaic power plant that provides grid-quality electricity to homes, shops, businesses and rural cooperatives. Diesal powered generators have been replaced by this scheme.

Biomass cooking - More than 2.5 billion people burn biomass for cooking and heating. Biomass energy accounts for 80% of the current global renewable energy supply. Working with communities in countries like Sudan and Kenya, NGOs are providing cleaner fuals and more efficient stoves to provide quality of cooking and health.

Jepirachi Wind Power Project - The JWPP in northeastern Colombia aims to build 15 windmills on land belonging to the Wayun, one of Colombia's poorest peoples. The energy generated will be used to power a desalination plant providing water to homes, schools and health services.

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Community-Based Green Strategies

Community-based solutions work well because they are 'bottom up' - developed by local people for local people rather than being imposed by government.

Low Carbon Wolvercote, Oxfordshire - Wolvercote is a village with a strong community spirit, consisting of original villagers and newcomers. A group of local people and the founder of ClimateXchange Oxfordshire have acted as a catalyst in creating the following schemes to lower the village's carbon footprint:

  • Each road has waste champions who organise rubbish swaps of unwanted items and take the surplus to a recycling centre.
  • Information is circulated on the ten most effective ways to reduce carbon dioxide emissions (e.g. composting, insulation. solar panels and cutting food miles).
  • Green transport strategies have been introduced, including car shares for work and supermarket shopping, safe cycling and promotion of the local bus service.
  • Older residents have been asked for advice on how to live simply (e.g. growing your own vegatables).
  • Cloth bags are available to cut down the use of plastic bags.
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Community-Based Green Strategies

Machakos and Makueni, Kenya - In these two districts in Kenya, Christian Aid is working with the local NGO partner, the Benevolent Institute of Development Initiatives, on a capacity-building scheme to help local farmers who are suffering from water shortages due to the melting of Kilimanjaro's glaciers. The scheme aims to identify 'faithful, available and teachable' people and train them to mobilise volunteers in each community to assess needs to tackle key issues.

So far over 100 local smallholders are looking at initiatives such as:

  • Building fences to contain water and combar soil erosion.
  • Developing composting skills.
  • Constructing rain-fed irrigation systems via tanks and gullies.
  • Experimenting with new 'crops' such as gravillea trees which put nitrogen back into soil.
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Energy Efficiency

Energy efficiency not only reduces emissions, it also cuts costs and local pollution. It is therefore a popular solution. However, developing countries feel that the cost of developing energy-saving technology should be shared or borne entirely by the more economically developed countries.

Methods of increasing energy efficiency include:

  • Remodelled factories with cleaner industrial processes and optimum energy use.
  • Redesigned houses with modern boiler systems and full insulation.
  • Green transport using new or greener fuels (hydrogen or hybrid technology).
  • Greener power stations with lower emissions.

Many companies, including General Electric and 3M, have found that growth based on green principles is profitable.

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