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Conference Report “Climate-Smart Development in the South” (5 Nov 2010)

How to align ‘climate proofing’ and growing land pressures with poverty reduction strategies?
On November 5, 2010, International Development Studies (IDS) of Utrecht University organised its 7th annual “knowledge for development conference” for experts and students in development policy, practice and research. This year’s topic was ‘climate smart development’. The seminar aimed to give an overview of climate change policies that are currently implemented by developing countries, and to discuss the implications of these policies for equitable and sustainable development.  This document gives a summary of some of the presentations and discussions during the day.

Opening the day, Professor Annelies Zoomers from Utrecht University provides a brief overview of the background and objectives of the seminar. She explains that in recent years the emphasis in the development debate has shifted from poverty alleviation and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) towards land grabbing, agriculture and food security. This shift can not be seen outside of the context of climate change policies. On the one hand, the renewed attention for agriculture can be applauded, as the agricultural sector had been neglected for about 20 years. On the other hand, however, there are risks associated with this new emphasis. The pressure on land, worldwide, is on the increase. Today, new lands are not only claimed for food production, but also for carbon projects, biofuel production, hydro-energy projects, reforestation and resettlement. We do not know whether and how vulnerable and poor groups can compete with others in these new developments. New opportunities, for example related to the carbon market, often involve complex procedures or technologies, and it is highly questionable whether poor people will be able to benefit. This seminar therefore focuses on climate change policies in developing countries, and their consequences for poverty alleviation and sustainable development.

Key note address: Climate change adaptation – looking back at lessons from an ‘early research’
In his key note speech, Professor Ton Dietz from the African Studies Centrepresents some of the results of a major study on climate change adaptation in Africa which he and colleagues conducted between 1998 and 2004. When they started with the preparations in the mid 1990s, research on climate change was mostly done by natural scientists. Back then, there was no attention for adaptation, as it was seen as undermining the urgency of mitigation. And there were taboos. It was, for example, not allowed to question scientific evidence for climate change, and it was definitely ‘not done’ to ask out loud whether climate change could also have positive effects.

The research project focused on the impact of climate change in African dry lands. They started with a geographical approach, combining available climate data (e.g., temperature and rainfall) and other basic information (e.g., population densities) for the whole of Africa, and presenting this information in maps. This showed an enormous variation between different regions in Africa. The research then zoomed in on West Africa, where a range of research areas of 100 by 100 km were selected. In these areas, researchers started gathering weather data at local weather stations. The gathered data suggested an upward trend in temperature, but it remained uncertain to what extent this could be attributed to the growth of cities (‘urban heat islands’), as most weather stations are near towns. The available data on rainfall showed enormous variability over the decades – without any clear trend lines. In some research areas (like north east Ghana) researchers even found that rainfall went up since the mid 1980s.

At a later stage in the research, climate data from 1930-1960 were compared with data from 1960-1990. This analysis made clear that it is not possible to make sweeping statements for Africa as a whole. While the Sahel area and Southern Africa clearly showed decreasing rainfall between 1930 and 1990, this was not the case in parts of the Horn of Africa and Eastern Africa. Also, a comparison was made of various climate predictions for Africa up to 2050. The results of this comparison were striking, as they showed enormous differences, depending on the prediction model used. If one thing became clear, it was the major uncertainty surrounding climate predictions.

As the gathered climate data suggested that the Sahel zone had experienced deteriorating conditions in the second half of the 20th century, researchers in the field studied how people experienced and dealt with changes between the 1960s and 1990s. What they found was a high level of resilience. It appeared that people were used to seasonal variability and had developed general coping mechanism. In reaction to the more structurally changing weather conditions, they were able to expand their innovative capability. In general there seemed an increased willingness to devote more time and energy to improve environmental management, including on-farm tree planting, higher labour input, etcetera. In northern Ghana, for example – where researchers found a lot of evidence for changing environmental conditions – farmers had been investing in small-scale irrigation systems. In addition to changing agricultural practices, researchers found higher dependence on remittances, more migration, and increased importance of social security arrangements. They also found that it is not necessarily the poorest people who are most at risk from climate change. The adjustment capability of the poor tends to be high, as they are often used to diversifying their livelihood options. The middle class, however, appeared particularly vulnerable, as they have often specialised in one activity or niche, and may depend on only one market, but lack the buffer to cope with shocks.

To have an idea about population developments in Africa, data about the population distribution in 1960 was combined with similar data of the mid 1990s. This analysis showed several areas in which population density decreased. It appeared that whole areas became depopulated, while the areas on the coastline of Africa experienced population growth, with exploding urban areas. These migration flows are triggered by a combination of environmental and social factors. In fact, the two can not be separated, as environmental problems may result in changes in social and trust networks.

In 2002, towards the end of the research project, a West African expert panel was asked what African governments would have to do in terms of climate change adaptation. They raised a range of points, including the need to develop more adaptive agricultural practices, more support for social security networks and for diversified livelihood profiles, more attention for migration and for the role of remittances, and more attention for entitlement changes (e.g. land, water and forest rights) and for conflict prevention between groups with different identities.

The research project finished in 2004. What has happened since? Dietz mentions several developments. Firstly, climate change agencies have increasingly become institutionalised. By now, virtually every African country has its own organisation dealing with climate change issues and participating in global negotiation meetings. You could, however, question the ownership of many climate change initiatives in African countries, as they are often pushed by external support from donors and NGOs. Secondly, attention for the health risks associated with climate change has grown, due to the increased frequency of extreme weather events such as storms, floods, droughts and cyclones. Such events can have devastating impacts on people’s health, particularly in densely settled populations with inadequate resources. Thirdly, Dietz notes that there has been growing attention for adequate water provision; an uphill task in many of the rapidly growing African cities, needing an increasing amount of water that has to be collected from ever further away.

Since 2007, there have been new ‘hypes’ in the climate change debate. Suddenly there was massive attention for biofuels as a way out of global energy scarcity, which sparked a debate that is full of controversies. This, together with the sudden increase of food prices, resulted in a new emphasis on agriculture and the call for an ‘African Green Revolution’. In line with the debates on biofuels and food security, attention for ‘land grabbing’ increased. However, during the financial crisis the situation changed again, as the prices for agricultural commodities went down, and many land acquisition plans were put on hold. The question remains: Is Africa prepared for a possible new round of resource grabbing?

Workshop sessions

Policy responses in Latin America
Fabio de Castro (CEDLA) introduces the workshop with a short overview of climate change challenges in Latin America. In several parts of the region, coastal cities are at risk from a rising sea level and more extreme weather events. Also, the rising sea water temperature leads to coral reef bleach, which affects both fisheries and tourism. In mountain areas, glacier retreat is affecting the water supply of both rural and urban settlements, and changing rainfall patterns in the subtropical Andes leads to land slides and floods. In the lowlands rainfall patterns change as well. In the Amazon basin, for example, 2009 had the largest flood since decades, while 2010 had the worst draught since the early 1900s. Fear exists that a tipping point will be reached, after which regeneration will no longer occur, leading to desertification. Currently a debate on the so-called ‘climate economy’ is emerging, with an increasing number of people who argue that Latin American countries should not wait for external support in terms of money or technology, but should instead move forward with national climate strategies aiming for low carbon economies.

During the workshop, the participants address this new approach mostly from a positive angle; as an opportunity. Examples are given from countries in Latin America – like Ecuador, Cuba and Brazil – which are making a start with the transition towards a low-carbon economy. But there are question marks too. For example: Who is framing the concept of climate change? And in whose interest? It is also argued that political struggles can paralyse climate change action. Lastly, participants in this workshop emphasise the key role of women in mitigation and adaptation initiatives, as they are often involved in subsistence activities, and have a detailed knowledge of their environment.

Policy responses in Africa
As an introduction to the workshop dealing with climate change policies in Africa, Ralph Lasage (IVM) presents an example from the ADAPTS project, aiming to increase the adaptive capacity in six developing countries, with a focus on water policies. The ADAPTS approach consists of several steps.
First they look for successful local adaptive actions. Then they assess whether these actions could also work under different climatic conditions. And, if they do, they will try to replicate these actions in other areas. During all these steps, the objective is to strengthen the knowledge and empowerment of local stakeholders and to link up with policymakers. The project wants to show policymakers that local action can effectively contribute to adaptation and mitigation.

During the workshop Robert Ochieng (Wageningen University) shares his view on the technical and financial opportunities related to climate change mitigation and adaptation in Africa, using the example of REDD in Ghana, and Ralph Lasage presents the example of Kenyan sand dams to show how the use of local knowledge can result in local ownership and empowerment. Participants also discuss the notion that a pro-active approach towards climate change adaptation and mitigation in Africa is constrained by African governments that are lacking the necessary political will and leadership. And what about the accountability of governments in relation to donor funding? Lastly there is also some discussion about framing: Is the debate on climate change ‘old wine in new bottles’?

Policy responses in Asia
Paul Burgers presents some examples from the Agriculture Beyond Food (ABF) research program, as an introduction to the workshop dealing with climate change policies in Asia. He notes three potential negative consequences of climate change related policies. First, efforts to conserve forests, such as through the forest land allocation program in Vietnam, may lead to increased forest cover, but may also lead to more conflicts and illegal activities. Second, hydropower projects in the name of climate change mitigation may imply that land is set aside and farmers are being displaced. Third, the high demand for biofuels resulting from targets to reduce emissions from transport fuels, is leading to large-scale agricultural expansion. In Indonesia, these plantations displace people, who are subsequently forced to open up new fields in forested areas, leading to increased emissions.

During the workshop, the discussion focuses on the role of forests, both in terms of climate change and poverty alleviation. Protection of forests and reforestation are often seen as the easiest way to control carbon emissions, but there are several challenges involved. There is the issue of opportunity costs (i.e. compensation payments for people preserving forest should be equal to what they would earn if they would convert the forest to agricultural lands). Also, related to the knowledge of adaptation and mitigation strategies, local knowledge would need to feed into policies, while at the same time knowledge that exists at higher levels would need to be translated at local levels. In line with this, it is argued that climate change still is an abstract concept for many people – raising local awareness is therefore deemed crucial.

How should we evaluate climate projects?(Martin Prows)
Martin Prows (IOB, Antwerp) gives an introduction to the workshop on evaluating climate projects. According to the UNFCCC, climate change is primarily caused by developed countries, and they are therefore most responsible to cut emissions. The UNFCCC also states thatthe‘full incremental costs’ in developing countries need to be met by ‘additional’ finance and technology from developed countries. Current climate projects represent significant financial transfers from developed to developing countries (even though there is a huge gap between the estimations of the costs for mitigation and adaptation and the money that is being made available). This raises the question whether and how these projects should be evaluated. Impact evaluation is well-known for development projects. Within the development community techniques have been developed to overcome attribution and selection bias problems. Examples include the randomised experiments (RCTs), quasi-experimental approaches (PSM or pipeline approaches), and regression-based approaches. The question for this workshop is to what extent and why should climate interventions be evaluated using such impact evaluation techniques?

The discussion during the workshop focuses on the challenges for impact evaluation of climate change projects. First, there seems to be a lack of experience, as climate projects are a relatively new phenomenon. Second, climate projects often have a large spatial implementation (e.g. large spill-over effects) and a large time lag (the time between implementation and result) which complicates the evaluation of impacts. Lastly, similar to impact evaluation of development projects, there are issues related to the attribution and selection biases, unintended behavioural responses, and ethics (e.g., is it ethical to differentiate between a treatment and control group?).

After the workshops there is time for a plenary discussion, chaired by Frits van der Wal (Ministry of Foreign Affairs). Several people in the audience note that the perception of climate change as an opportunity is tricky; climate change may indeed present opportunities for some, but poses enormous risks for others. Large groups of people may not have the ability to benefit from new climate-related initiatives. Hence the question is: opportunities for whom? One participant claims that opportunities should not be framed in economic or profit terms. The opportunity, according to her, lies in minimising the risks for poor people to suffer as a result of climate change. Another participant raises the example of the Philippines, consisting of about 7,000 islands, where people are extremely vulnerable for climate change: “In 2009 half a million people in the Philippines lost their houses due to floods. In this context it is hard to see the benefits”.

Related to opportunities, Fabio de Castro argues that governance structures influence who can benefit from climate-related initiatives and who can not. In recent decades many countries have decentralised, putting more responsibility to manage natural resources at the level of municipalities. This has created opportunities for local people, but also problems related to elite capture. With some of the new climate change interventions, such as REDD mechanisms, decision-making power is returned to the central state, which presents different types of problems, not least related to the distribution of benefits.

Jos Vaessen (Maastricht University) addresses the question of opportunities from an institutional angle: Some institutions suddenly get a lot of money for climate change activities – these are often relatively new organisations, with limited capacity. A lot of things these new organisations are planning to do, however, are very similar to what the development community has been trying to do for years. The new organisations should therefore build on the experience of the development community, to make sure they do not fall in the same traps.  In other words, there is an urgent need for more cross learning, to make climate projects more efficient.

Robert Ochieng(Wageningen University) stresses that African climate policies would need to integrate the knowledge about local strategies to adapt to changing weather conditions (ranging from crop diversification to migration). He also emphasises that there are no ‘one size fits all’ solutions for climate change adaptation; specific policies may very well be needed at lower administrative levels, as there can be a huge variety within countries in terms of weather conditions, resources and cultures.

Paul Burgers (Utrecht University) is critical and warns that certain actors are claiming climate money for the stuff that they were already doing. According to him, conservation agencies are simply using the climate agenda to establish more conservation areas to protect natural forests, while not taking into account the people who live there. “Many climate projects are useless for local people. For carbon payments to contribute to poverty alleviation they would have to increase at least tenfold.”  And Burgers has more examples: “Dutch construction companies are eager to distribute the available climate money among them and to start building dams to save Jakarta from a rising sea level, while scientists agree that the real problem in Jakarta is the sewage system which can not handle the water flow after heavy rainfall in the deforested mountains surrounding Jakarta.”

Ton Dietz asks: Suppose that climate change is as urgent as it seems, requiring major innovations for adaptation and mitigation; where will these innovations come from? Dietz hypothesises that the most important technical and institutional innovations will come from China, Brazil, South Africa, and possibly partially from California. China, according to him, is a particularly interesting case, as its government seems determined to actually enforce a transition, moving away from fossil resource dependence. China has already designated certain provinces as pilot areas, which need to become climate neutral within ten years. If these efforts are successful, other provinces will follow suit. We in Europe can learn from this hands-on approach. Moreover, we need to realise what it implies for the geo-political power structures of the world.

Final reflections
Reflecting on the seminar, Duncan Pruett(Oxfam Novib) mentions some of the crucial issues that he believes need extra attention.
–          Where is the money?Although the Netherlands initially promised to make sure that all climate money would be on top of the ODA budget, this promise was recently dropped. Moreover, ODA itself was lowered to 0.7 %. In other words, climate change money will not be additional, but will instead erode ODA.
–          False solutions.The controversy surrounding biofuels shows how dangerous it can be to jump to conclusions. Also, the whole debate around feeding the world triggers big companies to invest in agricultural expansion, with possibly dramatic consequences for smallholders.
–          Pro-poor climate adaptation.During the seminar there has been some attention for poor people’s agency, but there was no discussion about mitigation projects that can push adaptation of the table, which is a real concern.
–          Private sector involvement. The private sector may capture a large part of the climate finance. While this is usually presented as a part of the solution, it certainly is not without risk, as it implies rent seeking.
–          Governance.Often the discussion focuses on technocratic solutions. But governing climate change adaptation and mitigation is not just about the right policy, it is also about the ability of governments and other sectors in society. A government will need to be accountable to its population, and there needs to be plenty of space for civil society to hold the government accountable.
–          Ethics.There is a whole ethical debate surrounding climate change. After all, why should poor countries make an effort to limit emissions, while they did not cause the problem? What about an attitude change in western countries?
–          Land grabbing. In several countries, like Ghana and Ethiopia, massive investments in land are taking place (or planned), inspired by the increasing demand for biofuels. At first sight this is about coherence between climate policies, development policies and economic growth policies – but it is becoming increasingly clear that the latter policy is the driving one.
–          Evaluation.Rather than a narrow focus on the impact of individual projects, would it not be useful to monitor the macro effects, i.e., exceeding the project level?
–          Research.The debate on climate change policies and their effects is polarised – there is no consensus. Therefore there is an urgent need for evidence from research.

Professor Annelies Zoomers places the topic of this seminar in the context of two other ongoing debates. First, there is the debate on land grabbing, which focuses, amongst others, on the need to control the private sector. Second, there is the debate on the possibilities for agriculture to benefit from new climate-change related markets. “In these debates it is often forgotten that it is about people. Therefore there is an urgent need to connect the various debates, with sufficient attention for the effects on poverty alleviation and development.” In line with this, Zoomers again highlights the apparent shift in the dominant development paradigm, moving from a focus on poor people to a focus on the so-called global concerns, which implies certain risks, for example related to the erosion of ODA. Also, there is a trend to de-politicise the terminology, while in fact problems related to climate change and access to land are to a large extent related to power.

Winding up, Annelies Zoomers notes that this seminar has shown that there is nothing abstract about policies on climate change: “The policies are being made at this very moment. Researchers should be part of the process, so they can have an impact.”
[1]In collaboration with LANDac (the IS Academy on Land Governance for Equitable and Sustainable Development) and the Institute of Development Policy and Management (IOB) of the University of Antwerp (
[2]Report by Koen Kusters, WiW – Global Research and Reporting.