Our Common Future Under Climate Change

International Scientific Conference 7-10 JULY 2015 Paris, France

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Wednesday 8 July - 14:30-16:00 UNESCO Fontenoy - ROOM XI

2234 - Building Resilience to Climate and Weather Extremes: Sustainable Solutions Grounded in Socio- Cultural Context

Parallel Session

Lead Convener(s): A. Nolin (Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR, United States of America)

Convener(s): E. Woods (The Royal Society, London, United Kingdom)

14:30

The Contribution and Centrality of Indigenous Knowledge Systems to Developing Sustainable Adaptation Strategies

K.A.S. Kassam (College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, United States of America)

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The Contribution and Centrality of Indigenous Knowledge Systems to Developing Sustainable Adaptation Strategies

KAS. Kassam (1)
(1) College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Cornell University, Natural Resources & American Indian Program, Ithaca, NY, United States of America

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All over the world, communities that contributed least to the increase in greenhouse gas concentrations are facing their harshest impacts. At the vanguard of climatic variation are indigenous communities at high altitudes and latitudes as well as coastal regions. Increasing climate variability means that these communities cannot simply adapt to a ‘new normal’; they must prepare for a broader range of possible conditions and patterns. In its Fifth Assessment Report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change identifies the urgent need to ‘downscale’ climate model projections in order to anticipate climate change impacts. The difference between predictive capacity and anticipatory capacity is that the former presumes knowledge of future outcomes whereas the later involves being prepared for the future under varied outcomes. Developing anticipatory capacity of communities drastically affected by climate change is not only an intellectual challenge but an ethical imperative.

 

Applied transdisciplinary research is best suited to meeting these challenges. This means active engagement of the biophysical and social sciences as well as the humanities with indigenous knowledge. Indigenous knowledge not only contributes valuable context-specific insights but also facilitates the mooring of adaptation strategies within the local sociocultural and ecological milieu. The cornerstone to resilience is socioculturally and ecologically grounded approaches to climate change adaptation. These approaches contribute to long-term sustainability and dynamism of collaboratively generated knowledge and solutions.

 

In this presentation, we will illustrate how ecological calendars represent such a collaborative transdisciplinary approach to anticipating climate change in the Pamir Mountains of Central Asia. Calendars are knowledge systems humans use to synchronize activities with seasonal changes in our habitat. Calendars are essential to food systems, because hunting, fishing, gathering, producing crops or rearing livestock all depend on the ability to anticipate patterns of temperature and precipitation and plan accordingly. Ecological calendars are based on phenological indicators, such as the last day of snow cover, the first flowering of a plant, the emergence of an insect, or the arrival of a migratory bird. By keeping track of time in relation to such events, communities are better able to align their livelihood activities with the weather. Ecological calendars could play a critical role in building anticipatory capacity for climate change, because they are able to account for new trends and variability. Furthermore, they are grounded in local ecological knowledge and embedded in cultural values.

14:50

Resilience to extreme weather: using science to inform policy

G. Mace (University College London, London, United Kingdom), E. Woods (The Royal Society, London, United Kingdom)

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Resilience to extreme weather: using science to inform policy

E. Woods (1)
(1) The Royal Society, Science Policy Centre, London, United Kingdom

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Extreme weather can have a devastating impact on people’s lives and livelihoods. It represents a major obstacle to development, often preventing people from escaping poverty or pulling them into it. Societies are not well adapted to the extreme weather being experienced today. Compounding this, future climatic and demographic changes will increase the exposure of people and their assets to this threat.

 

In this presentation, Professor Georgina Mace CBE FRS will outline the findings of the Royal Society's 'Resilience to extreme weather' report (see royalsociety.org/resilience). The culmination of 18 months' evidence gathering and analysis, this policy report examines not only the risks posed by extreme weather, both now and in the future, but also the range of ways in which people can adapt and become more resilient to these risks.

 

Resilience-building solutions range from specific physical defences (ecosystem-based approaches, engineered approaches, and hybrids of the two) to more general principles and processes for building resilience globally, nationally and locally.

 

The use of scientific evidence to inform which solutions are most appropriate in which circumstances is crucial. In the context of this year’s international agreements on disasters (March), sustainable development (September) and climate change (December), ensuring that efforts to build resilience are joined-up across different policy frameworks is also important.

15:10

Medium-term effects of early-life weather shocks on cognitive and health outcomes

M. Vicarelli (University of Massachusetts, Amherst, United States of America), A. Aguilar (ITAM, Mexico City, Mexico)

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Medium-term effects of early-life weather shocks on cognitive and health outcomes

M. Vicarelli (1) ; A. Aguilar (2)
(1) University of Massachusetts, Economics department, Amherst, United States of America; (2) ITAM, Economcis department, Mexico City, Mexico

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This paper investigates medium-term consequences of negative weather extremes experienced during early stages of life on children's physical and cognitive development. In rural, rain-fed agricultural settings, rainfall shocks are often cited as the most important risk factor faced by households (Progresa-Mexico 1998-99; Fafchamps et al. 1998; Gine, Townsend and Vickery 2008). Young children and pregnant women represent particularly sensitive populations to events of this nature.

    The idea that stimuli or stressful conditions during critical periods in early life can have lifetime consequences is well established in developmental biology (Barker 1998). Previous work in the economics literature has also shown how pervasive conditions (e.g. malnutrition, sickness, pollution, etc.) in-utero and during the first years of life have considerable long-term consequences. Some of these studies identify effects of early life conditions on outcomes at adulthood, such as income, health, educational attainment, and physical and mental disabilities (Alderman et. al. 2003; Almond 2006; Almond and Mazumder 2011; Maccini and Yang 2009). In this study we shed light on medium term impacts: test scores for language development, working and long-term memory, and visual-spatial thinking provide information about specific dimensions of cognitive development. This information, added to objective anthropometric measures (like height and weight) and gross motor skills, has been proven as a strong predictor of success later in adulthood (Case and Paxson 2006; Grantham-McGregor et al. 2007).

   El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO) is a recurrent climatic event that causes severe weather shocks. This paper employs ENSO-related floods at the end of the agricultural season to identify medium-term effects of negative conditions in early child development (in utero and up to two years of age). The socio-economic and health data used in this study comes from a rich longitudinal household dataset gathered as part of Mexico's PROGRESA randomized poverty alleviation program. This database is exceptional for size and data quality and data includes valuable information for children aged 2 to 6, namely, specific indicators of cognitive development, motor skills, as well as objective anthropometric and health indicators.

    Our analysis shows that, four to five years after the shock, children exposed to floods in early life have test scores in language development, working-memory, and visual-spatial thinking abilities that are 11 to 21 percent lower than same aged children not exposed to the shock. Negative effects are also found on anthropometric characteristics: children exposed in early life exhibit lower height (1.07 to 1.803 cm), higher likelihood of stunting (11 to 14 percentage points), and lower weight (0.381 kg) than same aged children not exposed to the shock. Negative effects of weather shocks on income, food consumption, and diet composition during early childhood appear to be key mechanisms behind the impacts on children's outcomes. Finally, no mitigation effects were found from the provision of the Mexican conditional cash transfer program Progresa on poor rural households with children exposed to ENSO-related shocks. This might suggest that children were not prioritized in distributing resources within the household or that the cash transfer was not sufficient to buffer the liquidity constraint faced by the household and generated by the weather extreme.

   Climatologists indicate that ENSO cycles will continue to affect global climate, and events might become more frequent and intense with global warming (Vecchi and Wittemberg 2009). ENSO-related studies are therefore relevant from an economic, climatic, and public policy perspective. To the authors' knowledge this is the first study to investigate the impact of ENSO-related weather shocks on human capital formation. More broadly, this study represents an important test bed to further understand the possible impacts of weather extremes associated to climate change on human capital formation (i.e. child cognitive and physical develpment). These types of impacts are still vastly underestimated in the economics literature.

15:30

Panel discussion

A. Nolin (Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR, United States of America), K.-A.S. Kassam (College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, United States of America), G. Mace (University College London, London, United Kingdom), E. Woods (The Royal Society, London, United Kingdom)

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Panel discussion
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