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November 29, 2010

That something was changing in the air (pardon-me the inevitable calembour) started to become apparent on Friday night when I had a look at the Economist editorial before going to bed. The opening article of the issue dedicated to the Cancun Climate Conference was saying that –as climate change is going to happen and no one really believes that we will succeed in keeping the temperature rise below 2 degrees- “we must live with the problem as best we can”.

Cheerful, don’t you think? I have to admit that the article scared me to death, portraying a world in which there will be “inevitable losses”:

“These changes will benefit some. As the melting ice allows access to the Arctic, Russia will become richer still in fossil fuels. For many, though, the prospects are grim. Drought and flood will put the livelihoods of hundreds of millions, mostly in developing countries, at risk. So the question is how to limit those risks. Those who can adapt will do so mostly through private decisions: by moving house, say, or planting different crops. But governments have a role too. The best protection against global warming is global prosperity. Wealthier, healthier people are better able to deal with higher food prices, or invest in new farming techniques, or move to another city or country, than poor ones are. Richer economies rely less on agriculture, which is vulnerable to climatic change, and more on industry and services, which by and large are not. Richer people tend to work in air-conditioned buildings. Poor ones tend not to.”

You are not scared? Then here is another one:

‘The best starting point for adaptation is to be rich. […]Poor countries will often lack the financial means, technical expertise or political institutions necessary for such endeavours. Yet they are often at increased risk, principally because they are usually more dependent on farming than rich countries, and no other human activity is so intimately bound up with the weather. Crops are sensitive to changes in patterns of rainfall and peak temperature, as well as to average temperature and precipitation; so are the pests and diseases that attack them.”

Then, in the past three days the media (and I believe consequently the governments) had buried the word mitigation (reducing carbon emissions) and have discovered ADAPTATION instead. They made it the new buzz word and used it to a great deal and extent.

I have to say that this shift is indeed welcome, as adaptation measures are something that we urgently need NOW and that for too long has been left out of government’s climate talks and confined to side events. It is indeed something that –if well funded and directed- can do a great deal in reducing the risks of famines, unpredictable spikes in food prices and possibly at the same time supporting the agricultural sector.

Here is a good podcast from the Guardian discussing what impact it is climate change already having in the developing world (and on agriculture, in particular). But if you prefer something slightly more scientific and evidence-based on the same topic, here is a very interesting study published by Bioversity International showing that adaptation measures by diversifing crops and rediscovering of local crops is already taking place in African farmers’s fields.

For the series: do not put all your eggs in one baskets. (which is also my humble message to negotiators in Cancun on the perils of forgetting about mitigation measures).

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