Thursday, 24 February 2011

How developing countries are adapting to the impacts of global climate change


Ironically, the worst culprits of global climate change are the larger countries, while the worst affected are the smallest ones who hardly have a say in determining their own fate!

While the world fights and fumes over the question of sharing responsibility and cost, and while the politicians display their usual grit in creating noise and blocking action, there are several initiatives being taken by the people, within and outside the governments in developing countries that try to improve things. 

Ongoing Efforts by Large Developing Countries to Prevent Emissions

The larger countries contribute the maximum to the climate change, but they also have the best opportunities to prevent it. Many of them have taken initiatives to slow down green house gas emissions. Brazil has successfully developed a bio-fuel economy that has replaced gas with ethanol to a large extent. China, the greatest offender in terms of emission has been the first to introduce the concept of 'green GDP.'

While the GDP of China grew by around four times during the last two decades, its energy consumption has only doubled, thanks mainly to increasing energy efficiency. The concept of 'Green GDP' prevents its overzealous regional governments from sacrificing environment for the sake of economy. In India, some of the best results have come as a result of pro-active judiciary, which, with an iron hand, has enforced energy efficiency standards for vehicles in large cities and single-handedly enforced better technology that prevents carbon emissions. India has also made great strides in developing wind as a major source of renewable energy. Mexico, the first oil producing country to accept Kyoto Protocol, has shifted to natural gas as a cleaner energy. All these initiatives are helping but a lot more needs to be done.

Preparations by Small Countries to Deal with Impending Impact of Climate Change

It is the smaller countries, typically with large coastal territories, and islands, that face the brunt of climate change, in the form of more frequent cyclones, heavy rainfalls and floods, submergence of their territories in rising sea water levels, and destruction of crops leading to famines and food shortages.

Even though we are far from prepared as yet, but thankfully, several beginnings have been made to make people and communities prepared for situations they are likely to face sooner or later. The major initiatives include soil conservation, crop rotation and diversification with introduction of new saline tolerant crops, overall better water management including water harvesting, agro-forestry and coastal zone management including coral monitoring and restoration and vegetation buffers.

The most important step in improving the preparedness of people in these countries consists of improved forecasting about extreme events, and improved communication systems to spread warning about impending events along with suggested remedial actions among the communities to mitigate loss of life during major natural disasters.

Examples of Preparations Made by Small Countries

Kiribati, spread over 33 low lying atolls in the Pacific Ocean, is perhaps the most vulnerable country from impacts of climate change. However, it is also the place where a lot of planning and preparedness has been made, including protection and management of mangroves and coral reefs, improving capacity building of people and integrating climate change impact into economic planning.

In Jamaica, concrete blocks are now placed over zinc roofs to prevent them from blowing during hurricanes, while in Philippines, emphasis is placed on building typhoon resistant housing that can withstand strong winds. In Peru, the ancient irrigation and drainage practice of "waru-waru" or raised field irrigation has been re-adopted, while in Bolivia, small dams or "qhutanas" are constructed to store rainwater and manage water-cycle.

Some of the initiatives are both innovative and very interesting. The "Zai technique" adopted by farmers in Burkina Faso is one such example, in which the farmers dig pits in the soil and fill it with organic material and add some animal matter in the rainy season, which attracts termites, and result in termite tunnels that can store substantial amount of water during the rains.

The Larger Questions

The human community continues to try and avert the worst ever environmental disaster it is faced with today. The adaptation and prevention will need to intensify and grow, but there are some questions which we must ask ourselves, preferably right now.

Is the luxury of modern lifestyle, with all its energy guzzling and emission spreading gadgets and facilities, worth placing the fruits of thousands of years of civilization in danger of extinction?

Are we not contributing to our own death along with the death of all unborn generations, by failing to understand the gravity of the situation and not being able to act in time ?

Or, is this whole prophecy just a blown up hype ?

If it is not just a hype, then people like you and me, sitting right now in our air-conditioned homes, and consuming loads of energy to make our life just fractionally more comfortable, need to do some serious introspection .... before it is too late!
References:

1. Chandler, W et al; Climate change mitigation in developing countries; Pew Center on global climate change, 2002.

2. United Nation Framework Convention on Climate Change; Climate change: Impacts, vulnerabilities and adaptation in developing countries; 2007
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