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Water, Climate, Conflict, and Migration: Coping with One Billion People on the Move by 2050

Water, Climate, Conflict, and Migration: Coping with One Billion People on the Move by 2050

By Nidhi Nagabhatla

Do migrants willingly choose to flee their homes, or is migration the only option available?

There is no clear, one-size-fits-all explanation for a decision to migrate — a choice that will be made today by many people worldwide, and by an ever-rising number in years to come due to a lack of access to water, climate disasters, a health crisis, and other problems.

Data is scarce on the multiple causes, or “push factors”, limiting our understanding of migration. What we can say, though, is that context is everything.

United Nations University researchers and others far beyond have been looking for direct and indirect links between migration and the water crisis, which has different faces — unsafe water in many places, and chronic flooding or drought in other places.

The challenge is separating those push factors from the social, economic, and political conditions that contribute to the multi-dimensional realities of vulnerable migrant populations — all of them simply striving for dignity, safety, stability, and sustainably in their lives.

A new report, Water and Migration: A Global Overview, from the UNU Institute for Water, Environment, and Health, offers insights into water and migration interlinkages, and suggests how to tackle existing gaps and needs.

The report’s information can be understood easily by stakeholders and proposes ideas for better informed migration-related policymaking. This includes a three-dimensional framework applicable by scholars and planners at multiple scales and in various settings.

The report also describes some discomforting patterns and trends, among them:

  • By 2050, a combination of water and climate-driven problems and conflicts will force 1 billion people to migrate, not by choice, but as their only option.
  • Links to the climate change and water crises are becoming more evident in a dominant trend — rural-urban migration.
  • There is a severe lack of quantitative information and understanding regarding direct, and indirect, water and climate-related drivers of migration, limiting effective management options at local, national, regional, and global scales.
  • Global agreements, institutions, and policies on migration are concerned mostly with response mechanisms; a balanced approach that addresses water, climate, and other environmental drivers of migration is needed.
  • Unregulated migration can lead to rapid, unplanned, and unsustainable settlements and urbanisation, causing pressure on water demand and increasing the health risks and burdens for migrants, as well as hosting states and communities.
  • Migration should be formally recognised as an adaptation strategy for water and climate crises; while it is viewed as a “problem”, in fact it forms part of a “solution”.
  • Migration reflects the systemic inequalities and social justice issues pertaining to water rights and climate change adaptation; lack of access to water, bad water quality, and a lack of support for those impacted by extreme water-related situations constitute barriers to a sustainable future for humankind.

Case studies in the report provide concrete examples of the migration consequences in water- and climate-troubled situations, including:

  • the shrinking of Lake Chad in Africa, and the Aral Sea in Central Asia;
  • the saga of Honduran refugees;
  • the rapid urbanisation of the Nile Delta; and
  • the plight of island nations facing both rising seas and more frequent, more intense extreme weather events; in addition, the added health burdens imposed on people and communities by water pollution and contamination create vicious cycles of poverty, inequality, and forced mobility

While the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) do not include an explicit migration target, mitigation of migration should be considered in the context of SDGs that aim to strengthen capacities related to water, gender, climate, and institutions. These issues resonate even as the world deals with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Recent news stories have chronicled the plight of desperate migrant workers trapped in the COVID-19 crisis in India, and of displaced people in refugee camps where social distancing is unachievable, as is access to soap and water, the most basic preventive measure against the disease.

Add to that the stigma, discrimination, and xenophobia endured by migrants that continue to rise during the pandemic.

Even at this moment, with the world fixated on the pandemic, we cannot afford to put migration’s long-term causes on the back burner.

While the cost of responses may cause concerns, the cost of no decisions will certainly surpass that. There may be no clear, simple solution but having up-to-date evidence and data will surely help.

On World Environment Day (5 June), we were all encouraged to consider human interdependencies with nature.

Let us also acknowledge that water and climate-related disasters, ecological degradation, and other environmental burdens cause economic, health, and well-being disparities for migrants and populations living in vulnerable settings.


This article was first published by Inter Press Service News.
Cover photo by International Organization for Migration / Sibylle Desjardins
Life on land, life below water: Monitoring climate adaptation in Guatemala’s marine coastal zones – for the benefit of people and planet

Life on land, life below water: Monitoring climate adaptation in Guatemala’s marine coastal zones – for the benefit of people and planet

With around one-third of Guatemala cloaked in tropical rainforest, and dozens of volcanoes and UNESCO World Heritage sites, the “land of many trees,” is rightly famous for its life on land.

Yet this picture reveals only part of Guatemala’s riches. Below the ocean surface is a world of immense abundance and importance.

The oceans on either side of the country are national and international treasures. Home to thousands of species, they play a crucial role in regulating the Earth’s climate system, while also providing essential goods and services for sustaining human health and wellbeing: food, clean air and water, and livelihoods.

Guatemala is among 20 “megadiverse” countries listed under the Convention on Biological Diversity, which together cover around 10 percent of the Earth’s surface but hold about 70 percent of the planet’s biodiversity.

The impacts of climate change on Guatemala’s coasts

According to Germanwatch’s Global Climate Risk Index, Guatemala ranked 16th in the world for countries most affected by extreme weather events in the 20-year period 1999 to 2018.

Particularly vulnerable are the Pacific and Caribbean marine coastal zones, which straddle either side of the country (represented on the national flag by two blue stripes).

Here, the fingerprints of climate change are evident: rising sea levels, changing weather patterns, and other impacts are directly affecting communities, ecosystems, and the economy.

The implications are considerable. These zones – which include over 120,000 km2 of marine space, greater than the land area of Guatemala – directly and indirectly support the livelihoods of 25 percent of the country’s population.

They represent economic activities of great national significance – for example, tourism, fishing and aquaculture, subsistence and export crop farming, and ports. 

Recognizing climate risks has led Guatemala to emphasize climate adaptation, including marine coastal zones, in its National Development PlanNational Climate Change Action PlanNational Adaptation Plan, and its climate pledge (Nationally Determined Contribution, or NDC) under the global Paris Agreement.

Through the NDC Support Programme and Climate PromiseUNDP has been supporting Guatemala in its efforts.

Coastal systems are acutely sensitive to three key drivers related to climate change: sea level, ocean temperature, and ocean acidity.

Information key to decision-making

In 2019, the Guatemalan Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources established the National Climate Change Information System (SNICC) to support evidence-based decision-making around climate change.

It is a digital platform that contains data and strategic information to inform planning, investment, and public policy processes, to help Guatemala reduce its vulnerability and address greenhouse gas emissions.

In parallel, the country has been working on several fronts to improve its data and analyses on relevant sectors (for example, land-use and agriculture).

One area in which information has been lacking is marine coastal zones.

To address the gap, UNDP and the Rainforest Alliance have been working with the Guatemalan government over the past year to develop its first fully-fledged monitoring, evaluation, and reporting (MER) system in this area. 

Its completion is a significant milestone. And one achieved through partnership, between the government, NGOs, academia, and the private sector. 

How the system works

At the heart of the new MER system are 38 indicators, spanning climatic indicators – such as rainfall, sea level, water temperature, ocean acidification, and cyclones and storms – to indicators related to the economy and livelihoods – for example, water availability, floods, and crops – to indicators reflecting biodiversity and the health of ecosystems, and finally indicators around population and planning, including vector-borne diseases.

For each, the system lays out a precise description of what is being measured, the status of climate adaptation in these areas (‘baseline’), and a protocol by which responsible parties – including government agencies and private entities – will collect data to measure changes. 

The system is designed to ensure input is robust and transparent. Information is aligned not only with the National Climate Change Information System but also with the standards of Guatemala’s National Statistics Institute. Data generated by organizations outside the government will be validated to ensure the quality and transparency of sources and methodologies for collection. 

The results will be very valuable. As well as being used to inform government decisions and policies related to climate action, the system will contribute to the country’s reporting processes, such as the country’s upcoming Third National Communication on Climate Change to the UNFCCC. And be used as a model by other sectors.

Everyday citizens will also be able to view the data and analyses through the National Climate Change Information System.

The system will be central to promoting and tracking improvements in the management of marine coastal zones through the inclusion of climate change adaptation in municipal development, land use, and protected-area planning.

It will also facilitate innovations such as adaptive agriculture that respond to climate variations, systems to mitigate flood impacts, and marine spatial planning.

monitoring, evaluation and reporting system for adaptation of the agricultural sectors, supported by UNDP and FAO, will complement the system and ensure a more holistic picture for Guatemala’s decision-makers.

Driving adaptation and ambition

Monitoring is essential for informing the adaptation actions of different sectors and institutions – and to driving progress toward national climate commitments.  

The new MER system will serve as the basis for this, tracking marine coastal zone adaptation targets, intimately linked to national development priorities. 

Importantly, however, the system will also help inform the ambition of next-generation adaptation goals.

With Guatemala now updating its climate commitments under the Paris Agreement, the new MER system is incredibly timely – helping the country to define clearer targets and propel action for resilience.


This article was originally posted on the UNDP website.
Cover photo by Caroline Trutmann/PNUD Guatemala
Climate change is making autumn leaves change colour earlier – here’s why

Climate change is making autumn leaves change colour earlier – here’s why

By Philip James

As the days shorten and temperatures drop in the northern hemisphere, leaves begin to turn. We can enjoy glorious autumnal colours while the leaves are still on the trees and, later, kicking through a red, brown and gold carpet when out walking.

When temperatures rise again in spring, the growing season for trees resumes. Throughout the warmer months, trees take carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it in complex molecules, releasing oxygen as a byproduct. This, in a nutshell, is the process of photosynthesis. The more photosynthesis, the more carbon is locked away.

We know that carbon dioxide is a major driver of climate change, so the more that can be taken out of the atmosphere by plants, the better. With the warmer climate leading to a longer growing season, some researchers have suggested that more carbon dioxide would be absorbed by trees and other plants than in previous times. But a new study has turned this theory on its head and could have profound effects on how we adapt to climate change.

Reaching the limit

The researchers, led by Deborah Zani at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, studied the degree to which the timing of colour changes in autumn tree leaves was determined by the growth of the plant in the preceding spring and summer.

Temperature and day length were traditionally accepted as the main determinants of when leaves changed colour and fell, leading some scientists to assume that warming temperatures would delay this process until later in the season. Studying deciduous European tree species, including horse chestnut, silver birch and English oak, the authors of the new study recorded how much carbon each tree absorbed per season and how that ultimately affected when the leaves fell.

Using data from the Pan European Phenology Project, which has tracked some trees for as long as 65 years, the researchers found in their long-term observational study that as the rate of photosynthesis increased, leaves changed colour and fell earlier in the year. For every 10% increase in photosynthetic activity over the spring and summer growing season, trees shed their leaves, on average, eight days earlier.

Climate-controlled experiments on five-year-old European beech and Japanese meadowsweet trees suggest what could be behind this unexpected result. In these trials, the trees were exposed to full sun, half shade or full shade. The results show that there is a limit to the amount of photosynthesis that a tree can carry out over a growing season. Think of it like filling a bucket with water. It can be done slowly or quickly, but once the bucket is full, there is nowhere for any more water to go.

A misty forest with trees displaying autumn colours.
Deciduous trees, which shed leaves in autumn, have a fixed amount of carbon they can absorb per season. Alex Stemmer/Shutterstock

This research shows that deciduous trees can only absorb a set amount of carbon each year and once that limit is reached, no more can be absorbed. At that point, leaves begin to change colour. This limit is set by the availability of nutrients, particularly nitrogen, and the physical structure of the plant itself, particularly the inner vessels which move water and dissolved nutrients around. Nitrogen is a key nutrient which plants need in order to grow, and it’s often the amount of available nitrogen that limits total growth. This is why farmers and gardeners use nitrogen fertilisers, to overcome this limitation.

Together, these constraints mean that carbon uptake during the growing season is a self-regulating mechanism in trees and herbaceous plants. Only so much carbon can be taken up.

Earlier autumn colours

In a world with increasing levels of carbon in the atmosphere, these new findings imply that warmer weather and longer growing seasons will not allow temperate deciduous trees to take up more carbon dioxide. The study’s predictive model suggests that by 2100, when tree growing seasons are expected to be between 22 and 34 days longer, leaves will fall from trees between three and six days earlier than they do now.

A pile of yellow and orange maple leaves with a dark red leaf in the middle.
Get ready for this happening a little sooner in the future. Greg Shield/UnsplashCC BY-SA

This has significant implications for climate change modelling. If we accept that the amount of carbon taken up by deciduous trees in temperature countries like the UK will remain the same each year regardless of the growing season, carbon dioxide levels will rise more quickly than was previously expected. The only way to change this will be to increase the capacity of trees to absorb carbon.

Plants that aren’t limited by the amount of nitrogen available may be able to grow for longer in the warming climate. These are the trees which can take nitrogen from the air, such as alder. But these species will still lose their leaves at roughly the same time as always, thanks to less daylight and colder temperatures.

But on the upside, with the prospect of some trees losing their leaves earlier and others losing them at the time they do now, there might be the prospect of prolonged autumnal colours – and more time for us to kick through the leaves.


This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Cover photo by Timothy Eberly on Unsplash.
Polar link unites far extremes of north and south

Polar link unites far extremes of north and south

By Tim Radford

They are different worlds, one an ocean, the other a continent. But a polar link keeps them in touch with each other.

LONDON, 30 November, 2020 − The Arctic and Antarctica are literally a world apart, but for an unlikely polar link. Change in the mass of ice in the north can and does precipitate change in the furthest reaches of the southern hemisphere.

According to 40,000 years of geological evidence, when the Arctic Ocean ice retreats, global sea levels rise to start washing away the sea ice around the shelf of the vast frozen continent at the other extreme of the planet.

This pattern of action at a distance is confirmed by computer simulations: the planet’s two hemispheres are in a kind of conversation, according to a new study in the journal Nature.

“Our results highlight how interconnected the Earth system is, with changes in one part of the planet driving changes in another,” said Natalya Gomez, of McGill University in Canada, who led the study.

“In the modern era, we haven’t seen the kind of large ice sheet retreat that we might see in our future warming world. Looking to records and models of change in Earth’s history can inform us about this.”

“Ice sheets can influence each other over great distances. It’s as though they were talking to one another about sea level changes”

The Arctic is one of the fastest-warming places on the planet: what happens in the far north has reverberations throughout the hemisphere. And Antarctica, too, is changing swiftly.

Although both extremes of cold are vulnerable to global heating driven by profligate fossil fuel use and global-scale loss of forests, climate scientists have tended to consider them as separate cases.

But a closer look at geological records − ice cores and samples from the ocean bottom that offer evidence of iceberg drift across the millennia − revealed a connection. The polar link is real.

At the height of the last ice age more than 20,000 years ago, the mass of ice in the north lowered global sea levels and the Antarctic ice shelf advanced. As the world began to warm again, ice in the north began to flow into the sea. Sea levels rose in the southern hemisphere and this began to force a retreat of the Antarctic ice.

“Ice sheets can influence each other over great distances due to the water that flows between them. It’s as though they were talking to one another about sea level changes,” Dr Gomez said.

Dynamic ice

“Polar ice sheets are not just large static mounds of ice. They evolve on various different time scales and are in constant flux, with ice growing and retreating, depending on the climate and the surrounding water levels.

“They gain ice as snow piles up on top of them, then spread outwards under their own weight, and stream out into the surrounding ocean where their edges break off into icebergs.”

The evidence showed that sea level change in Antarctica and ice mass loss in the Arctic were linked, over a sequence of at least 40,000 years.

“These ice sheets are really dynamic, exciting and intriguing parts of the Earth’s climate system. It’s staggering to think of ice that is several kilometres thick, that covers an entire continent, and that is evolving on all of these different timescales with global consequences,” Dr Gomez said.

“It’s just motivation for trying to better understand these really massive systems that are so far away from us.” Climate News Network


Cover photo by W Bulach, via Wikimedia Commons
Online event: Building climate resilience through insurance: Lessons from the InsuResilience Investment Fund’s first six years

Online event: Building climate resilience through insurance: Lessons from the InsuResilience Investment Fund’s first six years

The InsuResilience Investment Fund (IIF) is hosting an event at this years’ InsuResilience Global Partnership Annual Forum. The virtual side event “Building climate resilience through insurance: Lessons from IIF’s first six years” will take place on the 10th of December 2020 at 15:15 – 16:30 CET.

In addition to the side event, IIF will participate on Day 4 of the Annual Forum. Maria Teresa Zappia, Chief Impact & Blended Finance Officer of the IIF Fund Manager BlueOrchard Finance, will participate in a panel discussion on “Impacting lives”.

Learn more about the event below and register today to guarantee your place.

Session description

How can we mobilize private finance to achieve real and lasting impact through offering climate insurance in developing countries? Join the IIF for a stimulating discussion to learn from its experience after six years of building climate resilience through climate insurance in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caucasus.

On the day that the IIF launches its new report “Protecting low-income communities through climate insurance: Achievements from the InsuResilience Investment Fund” authored by IIF, Acclimatise and Climate Finance Advisors, the panel will discuss how the IIF has used a blended finance approach to direct private capital towards building climate resilience through insurance. We will hear directly from two of IIF’s investees about how the Fund‘s investment and support has helped them to launch and grow climate insurance products, in Nigeria and in Pakistan.

The panel also includes representatives from IIF’s fund managers as well as its public and private investors, who will provide insights into how the IIF has raised USD 167 million and invested USD 133 million in 21 companies from across the insurance value chain. Through its unique model, the IIF has extended climate insurance cover to 25 million poor or climate vulnerable people in developing countries.

The session will give participants the opportunity to learn about the IIF’s strategic approach to developing an emerging ecosystem of insurance entities in developing countries and delivering real resilience benefits to poor and climate vulnerable people, and at the same time, delivering value for its investors.

The panel: Moderated by Lea Mueller, Head of Consulting at CelsiusPro, the panel will include:

  • Stefan W. Hirche is Principal Portfolio Manager at KfW, Germany
  • Chukwuma Kalu, Head, Agric Insurance & Emerging Business, Royal Exchange General Insurance Co. Ltd, Nigeria
  • Qasim Raza, Associate Principal, Investment Team, Open Society Foundation, UK
  • Zainab Saeed, Head of Research & Development at Kashf Foundation, Pakistan
  • Maria Teresa Zappia, Chief Impact & Blended Finance Officer, Deputy CEO BlueOrchard Finance, Switzerland
Climate crisis: how museums could inspire radical action

Climate crisis: how museums could inspire radical action

By Colin Sterling and Rodney Harrison

When Victorian tea-merchant Frederick Horniman was looking to build a new home for his extensive collection of natural and cultural artefacts, his own back garden offered the perfect spot. Situated on one of the highest points in London, Surrey Mount – the Horniman family home – enjoyed commanding views across the city. The surrounding area of Forest Hill was a thriving suburb, and Horniman sought to “bring the world” to this growing community by making his collection accessible to everyone.

Architect Charles Harrison Townsend was commissioned to design the new museum, which opened in 1901. Soon afterwards, Horniman presented the museum and 15 acres of gardens to the London County Council as a gift in perpetuity for the “recreation, instruction and enjoyment” of the people of London.

Like many museums around the world, the Horniman was forced to close temporarily in March 2020 to help stop the spread of COVID-19. The gardens remained open throughout lockdown, taking on a vital role for the local community during this period of forced isolation. The sloping lawn where Surrey Mount once stood became an impromptu gathering place to watch the sun set across the city’s now empty skyscrapers.

It was around this time that the museum was added to a crowd-sourced map of statues, monuments, named buildings and streets to “shine a light on the continued adoration of colonial icons and symbols”. Although known as a philanthropist and social reformer in Britain, Horniman’s wealth, like that of many of the founder’s of Britain’s museums, was acquired through colonial exploitation – in his case, the tea trade.

As the museum’s Chief Executive Nick Merriman noted in an article written in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests, tea growing was “labour intensive, poorly compensated and, in many cases, used indentured or forced labour”. Similarly, its collections include objects such as a number of Benin Bronzes, which were obtained through colonial violence.

People wander through a grand museum exhibit.
The Horniman Museum’s World Gallery. © Andrew Lee

In many ways this is a familiar story. The emergence of the public museum in the 18th and 19th centuries cannot be disentangled from painful histories of colonial subjugation and exploitation. While Horniman’s desire to bring the world to south London may have been enacted in a spirit of education and social “improvement”, the very idea of building a museum to collect, order and display the world speaks to a broader mindset of western dominion over other cultures – and nature.

As many scholars have shown, hierarchical notions of race and culture developed and perpetuated by museums underpinned violent practices around the globe and continue to do so today. They also supported a vision of European exceptionalism that helped to justify a harmful relationship with the natural world, encouraging ideals of progress and exploitative understandings of nature as a resource.

This attitude has been challenged repeatedly as part of anti-racist, anti-colonial and pro-environmental institutional reform. Now, in the shadow of a climate and ecological emergency that is impacting on all areas of social, political and economic life, the very purpose of museums is again being called into question.

Reimagining museums

While the Horniman may be an archetypal museum in many respects, it also contains a few surprises. Alongside galleries dedicated to natural history, anthropology and musical instruments, visitors can explore a butterfly house, a small animal park, and an aquarium that is home to an innovative research project exploring coral reef reproduction.

This unusual combination of natural and cultural collections, outdoor spaces and zoological research was highlighted in the museum’s climate and ecology manifesto, published in January 2020. As well as plans to minimise waste, reduce pollution and invest in environmental research, the manifesto calls for a suite of changes related to the collections, the site and the organisation. It makes clear that while museums may be “institutions of the long term”, they have a “moral and ethical imperative to act now” in the fight against global warming.

A man with a wheelbarrow in a colourful garden.
The sunken garden at the Horniman Museum, south east London. Dominic Lipinski/PA Archive/PA Images

From Anchorage to Sydney, this call to action has resonated across the sector in recent years. While the scale and urgency of climate change can often seem overwhelming, museums are beginning to recognise that they have a crucial role to play in shaping and supporting society’s response to this crisis. Just as the Horniman gardens became a restorative meeting space during lockdown, the purpose of museums more broadly is ripe for reimagining in the era of climate change.

But what might this look like? Earlier in 2020 we launched an international design and ideas competition to gather responses to this question. Over 250 submissions were received from 48 countries, with proposals from architects, designers, activists, artists, student groups, academics, indigenous communities and those already working in museums globally.

The brief was purposefully expansive: against the backdrop of a rapidly changing environment, what would it mean for museums to actively shape a more just and sustainable future for all?

Practical solutions and speculative concepts were equally welcome. While some responded with proposals to create more sustainable museum buildings, or develop new exhibitions on climate change, others sought to redefine the very foundations of museological thinking and practice. The eight finalists are currently developing their ideas for an exhibition at Glasgow Science Centre ahead of the 26th UN Climate Change Conference COP26, which will take place in Glasgow in November 2021.

A historical reckoning

For some museums, looking to the future in this way will mean confronting their own complicity in many of the forces that have brought the planet to the brink of ecological collapse.

The term museum now embraces a dizzying variety of buildings, projects, ideas and experiences. But their roots can be traced to the princely palaces and cabinets of curiosity of the 17th century – spaces in which powerful individuals assembled and displayed their most notable possessions.

In Britain, Sir Hans Sloane’s collection – one of the largest in the country when he died in 1753 – included “curiosities” and natural specimens from North and South America, the East Indies and the West Indies. Sloane – who was born in Ireland in 1660 and found fame as a physician to the aristocracy – acquired the wealth to build his collection from enslaved labour on Jamaican sugar plantations. Sloane’s collection provided the foundation for the British Museum and the Natural History Museum, a legacy that both institutions are now beginning to grapple with.

Most recently, in August 2020, the British Museum announced that it had moved a bust of Sloane to a new display case, where it could be reinterpreted alongside artefacts related to the British empire. While many museums are increasingly willing to acknowledge the many ways in which their own histories are bound up with ongoing debates around race and inequality, drawing threads between these injustices and the problem of climate change has yet to become common. Instead, it regularly falls to outside voices to make these connections clear.

Observers behind a fence look at artwork of white faces and arms in foreground.
BP or not BP?’s ‘Monument’, installed at the British Museum overnight during their occupation of the museum on February 9 2020. © Rodney Harrison, Author provided

The work of activist group BP or Not BP? is a case in point here. Known for their highly theatrical protests, BP or Not BP? occupied the British Museum for three days in February, taking over galleries and creating a new sculptural artwork in the museum’s Great Court, partially supported by staff and at least one member of the museum’s board. They sought to shine a spotlight on the impact of BP around the world, drawing attention to the different ways in which “the museum’s own history and that of its sponsor were born out of colonialism and empire”.

Moving statues and reinterpreting collections can only go so far in this respect. As BP or Not BP? argue, reimagining what a “truly enlightened, responsible and engaged British Museum could look like” will require radical, systemic change.

Architect John Zhang’s proposal for our competition – titled The British Museum of Decolonized Nature – offers one vision of what such change might look like. With the museum emptied of its colonial artefacts, Zhang imagines nature taking over. This is not a dystopian wasteland, but a purposefully programmed set of experiences where “we may see our relationship with nature anew”.

Taking up the challenge of what it would mean to transform existing museums into spaces of social and climate justice, Zhang proposes turning the British Museum’s Great Court into an open forum for public debate on climate action. While such ideas may seem fantastical, BP or Not BP?’s intervention shows how this work is, in many senses, already underway.

An overgrown building.
The British Museum of Decolonized Nature. © John Zhang, Author provided

Collecting worlds, making futures

While not all museums are burdened by the same colonial roots as the British Museum, the central premise of amassing natural and cultural objects to tell a particular story has shaped the way societies globally now understand their place in the world. In many instances, this has meant supporting, justifying and perpetuating certain ways of living that may have disastrous consequences for the environment.

In the early 20th century, the American Museum of Natural History sponsored a number of excursions to Africa to capture and kill animals for a series of new dioramas. The creatures – including lions, giraffes, elephants and gorillas – were stuffed and mounted to encourage their preservation “in the wild”. This led to the establishment of one of the first protected areas in Africa, Albert National Park in the eastern Congo, named after the King of Belgium. The park, which is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was renamed Virunga in 1969.

As recent studies have shown, such protected areas can create an unhelpful divide between local communities and the lands they inhabit. Indigenous voices and alternative systems of land management are often marginalised in this approach, which extends the frozen world of the museum diorama to living ecosystems. Both are symptomatic of a modern attitude towards the environment that represents a significant obstacle to meaningful climate action.

In their response to the competition brief, experimental spatial practice Design Earth concocted a playful yet provocative antidote to this situation – a magical realist story accompanied by speculative design drawings.

“Elephant in the Room” asks what would happen if one of the creatures shot by celebrated “conservationist” Teddy Roosevelt and subsequently mounted in the Hall of African Mammals at the American Museum of Natural History came to life and demanded justice. As the elephant rampages through the museum and out into the streets of New York, its belly “echoes with resonant demands to decolonise the museum” and “divest from carbon industries”. The museum itself becomes an architectural taxidermy, with only its facade remaining.

A colourful drawing of a building with elephant in foreground.
Elephant in the Room. © Design Earth, Author provided

This striking image upends the familiar hierarchies of the museum. Stasis and order give way to chaos – but of a regenerative kind – with the elephant standing in for the Earth itself. The idea that humans exercise any kind of “mastery” over nature was always an illusion. Museums – “those symbols of elitism and staid immobility” as anthropologist James Clifford once put it – have helped to reinforce this view of the world for too long.

Reimagining museums as pillars in the fight against climate change means more than just paying lip service to issues of sustainability, recycling and carbon emissions (important as these are). It means a historical reckoning with the role museums have played in supporting the main drivers of climate breakdown – not least colonialism, capitalism (at least as we currently know it), and industrial modernity.

Climate action from this perspective is wrapped up with calls for social justice and racial equality. Museums have emerged as a key battleground in these wider debates, and it is crucial that we begin to connect the dots between the intersecting legacies of colonialism and climate change.

Museums and climate action

Climate action typically refers to a suite of activities that either look to reduce greenhouse gas emissions or enhance the way societies globally can adapt to the worst effects of climate change.

The 2015 Paris Agreement aims to ensure global average temperatures do not rise more than 2°C above pre-industrial levels. Current policies put the world on track for warming of around 3°C. As the journalist David Wallace-Wells writes in his searing book The Uninhabitable Earth, such a catastrophic rise would no doubt “shape everything we do on the planet, from agriculture to human migration to business and mental health”.

Stuffed songbirds behind glass in a museum display.
Stuffed songbirds. Bruno Martins/UnsplashCC BY-SA

While museums around the world have implemented programmes of climate change education and pushed for more environmentally friendly practices, far less attention has been paid to building resilience or adapting to a rapidly changing climate. This echoes broader work across the heritage sector. As a recent report on climate action from the International Council on Monuments and Sites highlights, questions of adaptation and resilience in heritage tend to focus on learning from the past to guide contemporary planning.

The profound challenge of the climate emergency forces us to think more radically about what museums could and should be. What would a museum dedicated to meaningful climate action look like? How would it operate? Who would it serve, and what stories would it tell?

Despite a general claim to be working in the interests of “future generations”, museums and the heritage sector more broadly rarely consider the future in specific terms. Instead, present conditions and attitudes are simply projected into the future, as if change is something to be fought against rather than embraced. As a recent research project led by one of us concluded, there is an urgent need for more speculative and creative thinking in the field to confront the inevitable social and environmental transformations climate change will bring.

This was very much in the back of our minds when we were developing the competition. Alongside new initiatives such as the New York City based Climate Museum and Climate Museum UK, which aim to address the climate crisis directly, we hoped the brief might encourage applicants to consider climate resilience and adaptation in broader terms, or ask how a changing climate might prompt new ways of living with the Earth. In short, we invited submissions that might consider not only how we survive, but how we might thrive in the climate change era.

Living well in a warming world

Several of the proposals did just that. Weathering With Us, submitted by Singapore-based architects Isabella Ong and Tan Wen Jun, imagines a new kind of contemplative museum space where climate action is materialised in the very structure and experience of the building.

Their dreamlike concept – a huge floating barge situated where the equator intersects with the prime meridian at 0’ latitude and 0’ longitude – takes the form of a mandala sand sculpture made of olivine, a material which naturally pulls carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and redeposits it as carbon in the skeletons of marine creatures and shells in the ocean.

Our collective understanding of climate change is often represented by a doomsday clock. The museum put forward by Weathering With Us asks what would happen if “we have a shared emblem that functions not as a harbinger of doom, but of healing?”

Abstract grey circle with lines.
Weathering With Us. © Isabella Ong and Tan Wen Jun, Author provided

If the monumental scale of Weathering With Us shows how the design of new museum buildings might rise to the challenge of climate action, other proposals gestured towards the practical work that museums perform in the world. In particular, a key theme running through many submissions was the possibility for museums to support new ways of living with and relating to the Earth.

Estimates on the number of museums in the world range from 55,000 to 95,000. The sheer diversity of the field is a reminder both of the malleability of the term “museum”, and of the globalised reach of an idea that has its roots in European colonialism and capitalist exploitation.

Existances – a project developed by a group of Brazilian academics and museum workers – simultaneously challenges these roots and asks “how we might live well” in the Anthropocene. Highlighting the power of collective knowledge in the fight against climate change, Existances (a neologism produced by bringing together the words “existence” and “resistance”) imagines a network of micro-museums embedded in and responding to the diverse cosmologies of Afro-Brasilian, Amerindian and rural communities. While acknowledging the severity of the climate emergency for such communities, this is a project of hope – one that challenges us to think and act together to imagine alternative ways of being in the world.

Drawing of mountain landscape with geodesic dome museum.
Existances. © Jairza Fernandes Rocha da Silva, Luciana Menezes de Carvalho, Nayhara J. A. Pereira Thiers Vieira, João Francisco Vitório Rodrigues, Natalino Neves da Silva & Walter Francisco Figueiredo Lowande, Author provided

Without denying the scale of this task, a few key themes emerged in response to the competition that suggest what shape this reorientation might take.

The first relates to breaking down boundaries and moving away from authoritarian values of order and control. In an inevitably transforming future world, museums must accept and embrace the creative possibilities of uncertainty and change rather than work against these forces.

This will also mean reimagining the familiar structure of museums. Instead of centralised spaces and buildings, many of the proposals submitted to the competition called for non-hierarchical “networks” enabling a decentralised approach to collecting, education and research.

This would require a fundamental rethink of the way museums are typically governed – the third and perhaps most important theme to emerge across the competition entries. Certain crises demand new forms of decision making where experts and lay people can come together to imagine new futures.

It’s clear that 2020 has been a tumultuous year for museums. The pandemic has forced many around the world to close, and each week brings news of further staff redundancies. In the UK, museums have been drawn into a manufactured culture war with threats from the government that those institutions which remove statues or other contested objects from display risk losing their public funding. On top of all this, a battle has raged within the international museums sector over what the term “museum” even means. To say this is a sector in flux would be an understatement.

Museums will not solve the complex problem of climate change, but they might set a powerful example for how this work can unfold across society over the coming years. The ideas generated in response to our competition show how vibrant, collective and transformative museums could be. The climate crisis brings with it a sense of inevitable change, of things unravelling, but how society responds to this change is far from certain. An expanded notion of climate action is required, one that focuses on environmental justice, racial, social and economic inequalities and – perhaps most radically – new forms of living with the Earth.

As the Horniman proves, in dealing with complex legacies and ongoing injustices, museums have already become testing grounds for localised action on a broad range of social, political and economic issues. The position they take with regards to climate action could resonate far beyond the field.


This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Cover image by Deanna J on Unsplash.
Desert locust outbreak highlights gaps in risk governance

Desert locust outbreak highlights gaps in risk governance

By Monique Bennett  

The desert locust outbreak requires several levels of response from national and regional governance structures.

We know that environmental disasters are a function of our disregard for the environment we have been entrusted to steward. The current desert locust plague is a timely reminder that the consequences of climate change enables environmental disasters beyond just extreme weather. The warming of the Indian Ocean, caused by anthropogenic heat, has helped increase the frequency and intensity of tropical cyclones, creating favourable conditions for desert locust breeding and mutation.

In 2019, the North Indian Ocean experienced its most active cyclone season ever recorded. This created ideal locust breeding and survival grounds across the Arabian Peninsula. Desert locusts (Schistocerca gregaria) occur in swarms due to a particular combination of weather, soil and vegetation conditions that complement their reproduction and mutation from an otherwise solitary creature into one that matures and develops into speedy swarms (gregarisation) of up to 150 million locusts⁠. This mutation makes the desert locust one of the most destructive insect groups when met with cropland.

The very nature of a desert locust disaster calls for a policy approach that must intersect with many levels of governance. Disaster risk management (DRM) for desert locusts requires early reaction, efficient control and monitoring and, fundamentally, a prevention approach. What makes desert locusts such a devastating pest is their ability to rapidly develop into swarms, migrate across regions and states, quickly destroying cropland. A swarm the size of Paris can eat as much as half the population of France in one day. East Africa is currently experiencing the worst desert locust outbreak in decades. The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) estimates that over 42 million people are facing acute food insecurity in the ten affected countries.

Despite early warning by The Desert Locust Watch agency during the 2019 cyclone season, the invasion could not be stopped in time. Knowledge on the ecology of desert locusts has developed considerably over time, but without international policy and implementation cooperation, understanding the species is not enough. National governments must domesticate the procedures and strategies agreed upon at the regional level. In 1962, the Desert Locust Control Organisation for Eastern Africa (DLCO-EA) was established to unify cooperation between the governments of Ethiopia, Somalia, Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda. The DLCO-EA hoped to ensure cooperation in the control of desert locust plagues across the region. Despite having the necessary scientific understanding of how to deal with the locusts, the organisation has struggled to deal with the magnitude of the current outbreak.

The desert locust disaster is an example of the disconnect between the actions of regional organisations and the preparedness of national locust control units. Ria Sen, Disaster Risk Reduction expert with the World Food Programme, asserts that although quantitative risk modelling is an important aspect of preparedness, grasping the context-specific scenario within affected states will ultimately determine the success or failure of a disaster risk management plan.

In the case of Ethiopia, policies do exist to ensure preparedness and risk management planning for disasters affecting the country. The federal agency responsible for their implementation has lagged and only half of the districts across the country have obtained the DRM plans and profiling since 2009. Coupled with the current political disputes between the Tigray Region and the federal government, the ability of the Plant Protection Division and Crop Protection Departments to support the implementation of local-level systems is highly constrained. Ethiopia continues to battle the recent upsurge of swarms in the north. If tensions continue to escalate between Tigray and the national government, the impact of the locust invasion will worsen.

Like most other environmental disasters, the desert locust outbreak requires several levels of response from governance structures both regional and national. Transnational governance response to environmental issues cannot act as a substitute for strong state-based governance. Strong national environmental policies create incentives for state and non-state actors to cooperate. The DLCO-EA should be complemented by member state investment into national and local level locust control policies so that they can work in synergy.

Key recommendations:

  • Countries and regional bodies must invest in further research and technology to improve the ability to predict and potentially prevent desert locust disasters.
  • Improve the early warning communication pathway between regional bodies like the FAO’s Desert Locust Watch and the affected countries.
  • Strengthen cooperation and engagement between the member states of the DLCO-EA, the Central Desert Locust Commission and the regional environmental centres.
  • Enhance coordination and prioritisation at a local and national level of prevention and control actions.
  • Increase resource allocation for disaster risk management bodies in advanced to avoid costly emergency response actions.

The implementation of these recommendations will help align existing regional and national governance structures to avoid prolonging the current outbreak and help prevent future related environmental disasters.


This blog post was originally posted on PreventionWeb.

Social Movements Lead Recovery from Devastating Back-to-back Hurricanes in Central America

Social Movements Lead Recovery from Devastating Back-to-back Hurricanes in Central America

By Christina Schiavon

With a sequence and strength described by meteorologists as unprecedented, a pair of category 4 hurricanes, Eta and Iota, have slammed into Central America less than two weeks apart. Iota struck while accounting of the ongoing damages of Eta was still underway, leaving the full magnitude of total damages from both hurricanes yet to be determined. What is known at the time of writing is that the death toll, currently nearing 200, continues to grow, while more than 200,000 are without homes and millions more are impacted by the combined effects of the hurricanes and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Faced with voids in government support, particularly in two of the hardest-hit countries, Honduras and Guatemala, social movements have stepped in to carry out essential needs assessments and emergency relief efforts. Simultaneously, movements are coordinating at the regional level to ensure not only emergency relief, but a just recovery grounded in radical self-management and mutual support, building upon a people-to-people model popularized by Puerto Rican social movements in the wake of Hurricane Maria in 2017. Grassroots International has launched an emergency appeal to support these efforts in Central America and is in close contact with partners on the ground. The following is some initial analysis of the situation shared by movement partners on the frontlines of the crisis

CLIMATE CHAOS, COVID AND CORRUPTION – A DEADLY COMBINATION

In the midst of a record-breaking Atlantic hurricane season, that Eta struck Central America just as the US withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement became official could not be more tragically ironic. The Honduran government rightly pointed to the Eta catastrophe as yet another example of the uneven impacts of climate change, with countries that have contributed least to global emissions often among those hit the hardest. What it failed to acknowledge, however, was its own promotion of environmentally destructive projects and its complicity in the extreme suffering of its population at present, particularly among peasant, Indigenous and Afro-descendent communities that have faced systemic marginalization and repression since the country’s military coup of 2009.

Miriam Miranda of the Black Fraternal Organization of Honduras (OFRANEH), representing Afro-Indigenous Garífuna communities, connects multiple dots as she puts the current situation into context. She explains that Hurricane Mitch, which ravaged the country over two decades ago, followed by numerous other manifestations of climate chaos, provided ample warning of Honduras’ great vulnerability, yet:

There does not exist any disaster prevention strategy on the part of the government, nor has any sort of national disaster response been prepared… The very difficult situation we’re in not only lays bare the lack of prevention, but also how corrupt governments and political classes do not plan to save lives.

Miranda adds that the extent of devastation is also a direct result of government policies supporting expansion of palm oil plantations and other extractive industries, often involving violent displacements of the communities inhabiting the land. As a result:

Many parts of Honduras’ mountains have been destroyed, and many watersheds have been destroyed to such a degree that heavy rains are converted into a threat for the whole of the Honduran population.

Communities already inundated with water are receiving more water, Miranda laments, and the natural systems that could have helped to protect against flooding such as wooded areas have been largely destroyed. Furthermore, land clearings for plantations and megaprojects have not only left the land degraded and more prone to flooding, but have pushed communities onto marginal lands, making them particularly vulnerable to landslides and other dangers when storms strike. This is why, “In a city like San Pedro Sula, there are thousands of displaced peoples, thousands of people, including Garífunas, who lost absolutely everything due to living in high-risk zones.”

Faced with such conditions, OFRANEH is supporting emergency relief efforts, as it has throughout the COVID pandemic, while continuing to mobilize against their people’s displacement and increased vulnerability in the face of stronger and more frequent climate shocks. Such work forms a core part of OFRANEH’s approach to Black and Indigenous liberation.

Representatives of the Peasant Unity Committee (CUC) of Guatemala describe a similarly dire situation, with “dozens of flooded and isolated communities, damaged houses and infrastructure, hundreds of hectares of peasant crops completely lost to overflowing rivers, absence of shelters and overcrowding of families,” adding that: “As with other tragedies, the government response has been absent, slow or inefficient.” Situations of overcrowding among evacuees, both in Guatemala and Honduras, are particularly concerning given that both countries are still reeling from COVID-19, with government inaction contributing to skyrocketing rates of the virus in both countries. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) was already sounding the alarm on new outbreaks of the virus within makeshift shelters of Hurricane Eta victims before Iota struck.

CUC has lambasted the Guatemalan government for the inadequacy of its response in this moment of greatest need, in contrast to “the hundreds of thousands of quetzals (Guatemalan currency) that have been spent to mobilize police and military personnel who only carry fear and anxiety during states of exception,” including violent evictions of peasant and Indigenous communities from their lands. Government misuse and abuse of resources in the face of the combined COVID and climate crises have been similarly called out by OFRANEH and by other movements in the region. The regional coordinating body of peasant movements, CLOC-Vía Campesina (the Latin American Coordination of Rural Organizations), sums it up that:

In countries with neoliberal governments, we’ve seen much corruption in the face of the pandemic, and now the hurricanes, along with a lack of disaster prevention and support plan for the people. This has generated loss of human lives, together with infrastructural and economic losses. Under such circumstances, we reaffirm the refrain “Only the people save the people (Solo el pueblo salva al pueblo).”

“SOLO EL PUEBLO SALVA AL PUEBLO”

Taking this refrain to heart, social movements have been among the first responders in the aftermath of Eta and now Iota, conducting needs assessments and emergency relief in communities that have lost nearly everything yet are largely cut off from any other forms of support. In Guatemala, where impacts have been more confined to particular parts of the country, CUC has put out a call for support to impacted peasant communities, reminding Guatemalans that:

During these months of pandemic, the foods that have arrived at the tables of Guatemalan families have been provided by the hands of peasants who have not stopped working from sunrise to sunset to produce food, many of whom have now lost crops, animals, clothing and housing.

At the regional level, CLOC-Vía Campesina has formed an emergency committee that is coordinating directly with government, UN and nongovernmental bodies on emergency relief efforts, as well as coordinating with global allies like Grassroots International to bring direct support to movements on the frontlines of the crisis for the rebuilding of homes, farms and infrastructure. At the same time, they are pushing for a just recovery process over the medium and longer terms, supported by “progressive public policies that respect people’s lives and that support peasant agriculture.” A key component of this vision is a rebuilding of now-devasted food and agricultural systems with an orientation toward food sovereignty, in which communities are empowered to feed themselves and the broader population through diverse, resilient food systems. According to La Vía Campesina Honduras:

The agricultural sector has suffered its greatest destruction in the last 20 years; the losses are millions and incalculable. Until now the production of basic grains such as corn, rice, beans, vegetables that are basic products for food sovereignty have disappeared up to 80%, likewise thousands of hectares of coffee in the hands of small producers have been affected in the different regions of the country as a result of landslides and floods… Livestock has drowned.

Rebuilding from such devastation, as underscored by CLOC-Vía Campesina, will require “promoting the production of agroecological food, short circuits (of food transport) and healthy communities to avoid hunger” as well as “expanding the production of agri-food chains, transport, storage and distribution in nearby markets, native seeds, natural medicine and healthy consumption.” These are among the priorities that social movements are both calling for and making steps toward, even as they confront the extreme emergency needs of the present.

For Grassroots international’s Solidarity Program Officer for Latin America, Jovanna Garcia Soto, who has been coordinating directly with movement partners on the emergency appeal, the current crisis “brings back overwhelming memories of what happened when Hurricane Maria struck my archipelago, Puerto Rico, whose ultra-neoliberal government, like the governments of Honduras and Guatemala, placed the interests of capital above those of the people.” Another parallel she sees is how both the response by movements in Puerto Rico and by movements today in Central America demonstrate how community solutions based on mutual support and self-management save lives:

This is the path for a just recovery and the way to win the self-determination of our peoples. In these critical moments we have to stand up in solidarity with the Central American people impacted by hurricanes Eta and Iota. Our solidarity will define life or death, as we support grassroots groups and social movements organizing on the frontlines of the crisis now and working to dismantle the oppressive system over the long term. They are the backbone of the change towards a just and dignified world.


This article was originally posted on Relief Web.
Switzerland And The Pacific Islands Region Cooperate On Climate Change And Migration

Switzerland And The Pacific Islands Region Cooperate On Climate Change And Migration

The Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs and the Secretariat of the Pacific Environment Programme (SPREP) are pleased to announce Switzerland is contributing USD100,000 to build capacity on climate change and disaster related migration, displacement and planned relocation for resilient development in the Pacific.

Project partners, including the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, are working under the Framework for Resilient Development in the Pacific, endorsed by the Leaders of the Pacific Islands Forum PIF in 2016. Project funds are provided as co-financing under the EU-funded Intra-ACP GCCA+ Pacific Adaptation to Climate Change and Resilience Building (PACRES) which aims to deliver better regional and national responses to climate change challenges faced by Pacific ACP countries. PACRES is being implemented jointly by SPREP, the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat (PIFS), the Pacific Community and the University of the South Pacific.

The challenge of human mobility for Pacific Island countries was noted in the 2008 Niue Declaration on Climate Change, which recognised “the importance of retaining the Pacific’s social and cultural identity, and the desire of Pacific peoples to continue to live in their own countries, where possible”.

This new funding builds on a number of earlier Swiss investments that began under the Nansen Initiative Pacific Regional Consultation in 2013 and has continued under the Platform for Disaster Displacement. Switzerland’s Special Envoy for the Pacific Region Ambassador Yasmine Chatila Zwahlen said “The Pacific Islands Region is not only very exposed to Climate Change with its adverse effects on all aspects of Human Security, but it also harbours knowledge, tradition, solutions and best practices which the Blue Continent can share with the international community. I am proud that Switzerland can support the leadership in the Pacific Islands Region in this area of growing importance for the world.”

Project activities will include research to fill knowledge gaps to support policy development and enhancing coordination and communication to support the delivery of human mobility related programmes and policy development. Activities will be implemented by PIFS in the context of strengthening regional coordination in climate change and disaster resilience through the multi-stakeholder Pacific Resilience Partnership (PRP) for supporting resilience-building as guided by the Framework for Resilient Development in the Pacific (FRDP). To that end PIFS will deliver the activities in close collaboration with the PRP Technical Working Group on Human Mobility.


This press release was originally posted on ReliefWeb.
Cover photo by Daniela Turcanu on Unsplash.
Mixed farming beats intensive agriculture methods

Mixed farming beats intensive agriculture methods

By Tim Radford

Once again, researchers have shown that it should be possible to feed the human race and leave enough space for the rest of creation, simply by going back to centuries-old mixed farming practices.

That would mean an end to highly intensively-farmed landscapes composed of vast fields that were home to just one crop, and a return to a number of once-traditional husbandry methods. It sounds counter-intuitive, but European researchers are convinced that it could be good value.

They report in the journal Science Advances that they looked at more than 5,000 studies that made more than 40,000 comparisons between what they term diversified and simplified agriculture.

And they found that crop yield in general either kept to the same level or even increased when farmers adopted what they called diversified practices of the kind that sustained subsistence farmers for many centuries.

These include intercropping − different crops side by side − and multiple crops in rotation, strips of flowers to encourage pollinating insects, lower levels of disturbance of the soil and hedges, and forested shelter belts to encourage wildlife alongside farmland.

“Most often, diversification practices resulted in win-win support of services and crop yields”

The payoff? Better ecosystem services such as pollination, the regulation of crop pests by natural enemies, a more efficient turnover of nutrients, higher water quality, and in many cases better storage of carbon in ways that could mitigate climate change.

This, of course, is not how big agribusiness delivers much of the world’s food.

“The trend is that we are simplifying major cropping systems worldwide,” said Giovanni Tamburini, an ecologist at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences in Uppsala, who led the study.

“We grow monoculture on enlarged fields in homogenised landscapes. According to our study, diversification can reverse the negative impacts that we observe in simplified forms of cropping on the environment and on production itself.”

It’s an old argument. Is it better for a farmer to invest all in one vast crop of maize or wheat or soy, regularly nourished by commercial fertilisers, routinely sprayed to suppress pests, moulds and mildews, with the land ploughed and harrowed after harvest for the next crop, and always at risk of frost or flood, locust swarms, drought or blight?

All-round winners

Or would it be better in the long run for the farmer to spread the risk by changing and multiplying the crops, and to rely more on undisturbed soils and local habitats for birds and insects that would demolish some of the pests (and of course take some of the crop)?

Researchers have repeatedly argued that both to contain climate change and to preserve the natural world from which all human nourishment and almost all human wealth ultimately derive, farming practices must change, and so must human appetite. The argument remains: what is the best way to set about change down on the farm itself?

There have already been a large number of studies of this question. There have also been meta-analyses, or studies of collected studies. Dr Tamburini and his colleagues identified 41,946 comparisons embedded in 5,160 original studies. They also found 98 meta-analyses. And they took a fresh look at the whole lot to identify what could be win-win, trade-off and lose-lose outcomes.

They found that diversification is better for biodiversity, pollination, pest control, nutrient cycling, soil fertility and water regulation at least 63% of the time. “Most often, diversification practices resulted in win-win support of services and crop yields,” they report.

“Widespread adoption of diversification practices shows promise to contribute to biodiversity conservation and food security from local to global scales.” − Climate News Network


This article was originally posted on The Climate News Network.
Cover photo by Eirian Evans, via Wikimedia Commons