Last month’s UN climate conference in Durban (the COP-17) achieved very little progress in tackling climate change. What came out of the meeting was the pretty hollow "Durban Platform for Enhanced Action" - a roadmap that commits parties to reach a binding legal framework for reducing greenhouse emissions by 2015. Pushing the problem a few years ahead in time, in essence.
With regards to one of the greatest causes of environmental and climate change - agriculture - the "Enhanced Action" document only agreed to "exchange views on it (agriculture"). A first burning question then is why is agriculture ignored in these climate conferences? A second question is how do we combine the discourses, and attain future security in the face of climate change.
In an article published last Friday in Science, top agricultural scientists have outlined how the research world can develop the knowledge needed to support inclusion of agriculture and food security in climate change policies, and get agriculture at the top of the climate agenda. The analysis, What Next for Agriculture After Durban?, was co-authored by a group that includes members of the Commission on Sustainable Agriculture and Climate Change, chaired by Sir John Beddington; many of the recommendations are informed by the Commission’s seven key actions for Achieving Food Security in the Face of Climate Change released in November.
Hope all readers have had a good Christmas vacation. Sorry for the long(-ish) break, but its been nice to plug out for awhile. As a nice, easy first post of 2012, we have some really interesting stuff on Ecosystem Services over at the Solutions Journal. First there is a nice article by Jennifer Allan and colleagues (including Nobel laureate Elinor Ostrom) on institutions to manage ecosystem services. Another article by Rudolf de Groot, Robert Constanza and colleagues focuses on the Ecosystem Service Partnership and its work in the Baviaanskloof Mega Reserve in South Africa:
"The Mega Reserve is a World Heritage site and nature reserve and includes private and community land. Over several decades, areas across the reserve have been subjected to severe ecological degradation, largely a result of regional overgrazing by domestic livestock, large-scale crop irrigation, and invasive species. The impacts include riverbank erosion, a lowering of the groundwater table, and a decline of water supply to the downstream nature reserve. This loss of natural capital and decline of derived ecosystem services is causing great socioeconomic strain on the area and its people."
Finally, there is a very interesting interview with Walter Reid, the director of the Conservation and Science Program at the David and Lucile Packard Foundation. He directed the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. Unsurprisingly, he is disappointed with the progress made since the release of the MA:
"We haven’t made much progress. There have been individual successes: carbon farming in Australia, Brazil’s progress in reducing deforestation over the last decade, logging bans in Thailand and China, and the rebuilding of fisheries in a number of countries. But, in the aggregate, I don’t believe that the trend of degradation has been reversed for any of the individual ecosystem services that were being degraded in 2000."
He makes the point that more work on Ecosystem Service is needed on relevant scales for decisions makers, i.e national or sub-national levels:
"The biggest lesson was, not surprisingly, that ecosystem services are most relevant to decision makers at a landscape scale. Even though the global risks and threats are most compelling at the global scale and in the aggregate, it is not at the global scale that we can do much about the problem. In the Millennium Assessment, we sought to address this by carrying out a multiscale assessment with some global elements and some subglobal assessments, but this still didn’t provide decision makers at the scale of a state or county with the sort of actionable information that they needed. What’s really needed in the long run is for much more work to be done to provide ecosystem service information at these more local scales and then to periodically roll it up so we understand the global consequences and trends."
The term “indicator” is derived from the Latin “indicare”, which means to announce, point out or indicate. A more complete definition could be formulated as a parameter, or a value derived from parameters, which points to/provides information about/describes the state of a phenomenon/ environment/area with a significance extending beyond that directly associated with a parameter value. So, in essence, indicators are useful because they give useful information about the state of more complex phenomena. More importantly, indicators give data added value by converting them into information that is of direct use to the decision-maker, helping to shed light on a problem. They have become well-established and are widely used in many fields, from economics to ecology to health, and can be used at the global, regional, national, local or neighbourhood levels, as well as at the sectoral level.
Indicators of ecosystem services
There is a growing interest, and a need, to develop better indicators of ecosystem services, especially in light of the advent of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). People everywhere depend on ecosystems for their wellbeing (as shown by the findings of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA) and many other studies). Given the obvious importance of ecosystem services to human wellbeing, the ability to report trends in the quantity and quality of ecosystem services is essential to knowing whether or not these services are being used in a sustainable manner. However, most ecosystem services have few, if any, suitable indicators to monitor the actual delivery of services.
A huge National Park, covering 71,000 hectares, was established last week in Sierra Leone. Sierra Leone is one of Africa's poorest countries and still recovering from a civil war that between 1991-2002 devastated the country.
The park, in southeastern Sierra Leone near the border with Liberia, is an area of forest home to chimpanzees, a key population of pygmy hippo, and hundreds of bird species. However, the key process underlying the creation of the National Park seems to be the hopes on capitalizing on the economic value of carbon storages that can be gained under the REDD mechanism. As mongabay reports:
"Tim Stowe, RSPB's (Royal Society of the Protection of Birds) International Director, called the move a "bold and progressive" contribution.
"In a far-sighted act, this developing West African country – which is on the front line of climate change – has decided to help the world by locking up a vast carbon store as well as protecting its unique and globally-important wildlife," he said in a statement. "We hope that other nations value this contribution and build upon it."
Sierra Leone hopes it may be able to capitalize on the value of carbon stored in its forests under the REDD (reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation) mechanism currently being discusses at climate talks in Durban. Sierra Leone President Ernest Bai Koroma in announcing the park expressed optimism that REDD could generate benefits for rural communities while protecting biodiversity and important ecosystem services.
"Carbon financing is a ‘win-win’ for the environment and for economic development," he said during his inauguration speech."
This whole process, in essence, should be taken as good news. However there is a tendency, in these kind of stories, to swallow all the positive impacts in a non-critical manner. Aligning the three targets of biodiversity protection, enhancement of ecosystem services and poverty alleviation is a very complex process, especially when beginning to pull at the social-ecological dynamics in place. For example, in this specific case, how can we ensure that the gazetted National Park will not disrupt local livelihoods? How can we be sure that targeting specific ecosystem services (carbon sequestration in the Sierra Leone case) will produce positive synergies with other ecosystem services?
A while ago, the Resilience Science blog had a very useful post summarizing the key challenges related to ecosystem service research, especially in the context of poverty alleviation. Its well worth a read, and really does a great job in highlighting why we should be wary of simplistic statements such as the ones made by the president of Sierra Leone above.
Todays post is the first, of what we hope will be several, from Stockholm Resilience Centre researcher Wijnand Boonstra. Wijnand's research focusses on how individual use of ecosystems aggregates to form so-called regimes of ecosystem use. Describing and explaining the complex set of social and ecological conditions and their interaction at micro and macro scales that cause these regimes to shift, is one of his key research objective. He co-hosted a very interesting seminar a few weeks ago on the subject of power and agency in resilience and sustainability science. We asked him to summarize his presentation, below:
Why bother about power?
Why should people concerned about the current and future state of our world worry about such a thing as power? There are three general reasons for why they should: a practical reason, a moral reason and an evaluative reason (Morriss 2002).
Very often concerns about our common future nurture a desire to change the ways in which our world currently develops. Changing things requires a very practical understanding not only of how far our own power reaches, but also how far power of others reaches. This is the practical reason.
We might also want to study power because we want to know which people can be hold responsible for outcomes that affect others. Which people are causing, or have caused, social and ecological problems such as labor conditions in sweatshops or overfishing. The aim here is to establish liability or blame. A person or group of persons is hold responsible if it can be shown that his or her actions are causally connected to the circumstances for which responsibility should be established (Young 2006, 116). This is the moral reason. It is important to point out here that it is necessary for a strong case of liability to have a) clear rules of evidence for demonstrating the causal connection between a given person (or persons) and harm done, but also for evaluating the motives, intentions, and consequences of the actions (Young 2006, 118). For example, can someone be held responsible if the consequences of her actions were not known to her? In many cases it is often not possible to demonstrate this causal connection, to trace which specific action of specific people cause which specific harm, especially when we are dealing with complex causal processes, such regime shifts. When this is the case another type of power analysis might be better suited, which brings me to the third reason.
What can we do when there is clearly something going awfully wrong with the world, but there is “nobody to shoot” (Steinbeck 1992, pp. 40–41 cited in Hayward and Lukes 2008: 17-18) simply because it is impossible to figure out precisely who did what, when, how, and for which reasons. Instead of holding particular people or groups responsible, one can of course criticize and judge complete social systems for wrongdoings. Studies of power can be used for example to evaluate to what extent a social, political, or economic system fails to divide the global benefits and burdens of economic growth equally.
Today I was reminded about a study that was published online in Nature Geoscience more than half a year ago. Now it was a Swedish magazine who picked it up and wrote about the "new" study. Notwithstanding, the results are so fundamentally important now during the current UN climate talks in Durban, South Africa, that I thought it was worthwhile reminding also the readers of this news blog.
The study in question was conducted by a research team from the U.S. Forest Service, University of Helsinki and the Center for International Forestry Research. Together they examined the carbon content of 25 mangrove forests across the Indo-Pacific region and found that per hectare, mangrove forests store up to four times more carbon than most other tropical forests around the world.
Climate change is going to have heavy impacts on the economic viability of current fisheries practices. This is the sobering message of the broadest review to date of the impact of climate change on fisheries and their profitability, led by Rashid Sumaila of the University of British Columbia. Its just been published in the journal Nature Climate Change.
The study draws on observations, experiments, and computer models to show that as climate change alters water temperature and chemical cycling in the oceans, the distribution and abundance of many marine species will be altered as well. While fisheries in a few regions, such as the far north (i.e. developed countries), may benefit from climate change, many other regions, particularly those in the tropics, can expect losses in revenues (see earlier sdupdate posts on this).
One good way to understand the economic consequences on a global scale is to look at regional examples. For example, the reduction in landings of pelagic fisheries in Peru as a result of changes in sea surface temperature during the 1997-1998 El Niño event caused more than US$26 million of revenue loss.
Biologically, maintaining more abundant populations can help increase fish's capacity to adapt to environmental change. Stopping overfishing is a key step to making marine systems more resilient for the changes that are already underway. Fish stocks will also be more robust to climate change if the combined stresses from overfishing, habitat degradation, pollution runoff, land-use transformation, competing aquatic resource uses and other anthropogenic factors are minimized.