Sunday, October 27, 2013

Building climate expertise in poor countries

Roger Williamson in A Nature study published this month shows, as SciDev.Net reported, that the tropics are likely to be the first region to face dramatic temperature rises. This is clearly terrible news. Many of the tropical African nations that will be hit by these increases are also among the world’s least developed countries (LDCs).

This news should focus our thinking. The problems the LDCs face in a climate-constrained world are complex and urgent.

In particular I am worried about one way of dealing with these problems: ‘participatory approaches’, which seek local people’s views about what development should look like. The problem is that, unless applied intelligently, such techniques could be a distraction from efforts to equip LDCs to deal with poverty and climate-related issues.

Take, for example, the participatory initiative A Million Voices, which sources views on sustainable development via the UN-created World We Want website. We do need a groundswell of support for new development goals beyond 2015, but the populism of such schemes is no substitute for scientific expertise.

No amount of conversation will decide which crops will produce food under which conditions. The stubborn reality is that, beyond a certain temperature and level of soil degradation, traditional crops simply will not grow. For advice on that, farmers don’t need A Million Voices — they only need a few. They need local experience and input from the crop specialist and the climate scientist.

But the LDCs are where climate science is the least robust. This is because, inevitably, meteorological data are weak in these countries. They have yet to devote considerable resources to collecting climate data, training (and retaining) staff and building expert national institutions, partly because they face many competing demands on limited budgets....

A peanut vendor in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, shot by Roman Bonnefoy (OldManonPhotoshop1850.jpg  Romanceor, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported, 2.5 Generic, 2.0 Generic and 1.0 Generic license

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