Entries tagged with “vulnerability”.

From my recent post over on HURDLblog, my lab’s group blog, on the challenges of thinking productively about gender and adaptation:

My closing point caused a bit of consternation (I can’t help it – it’s what I do). Basically, I asked the room if the point of paying attention to gender in climate services was to identify the particular needs of men and women, or to identify and address the needs of the most vulnerable. I argued that approaches to gender that treat the categories “man” and “women” as homogenous and essentially linked to particular vulnerabilities might achieve the former, but would do very little to achieve the latter. Mary Thompson and I have produced a study for USAID that illustrates this point empirically. But there were a number of people in the room that got a bit worked up by this point. They felt that I was arguing that gender no longer mattered, and that my presentation marked a retreat from years of work that they and others had put in to get gender to the table in discussions of adaptation and climate services. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Read the full post here.

things often go wrong.  Take, for example, the climate change vulnerability index produced by Maplecroft.  At first glance, this looks interesting – a scale of risk that can be mapped to visually represent the levels of challenge presented by climate change to any particular place.

© MapleCroft

However, look more closely and it becomes clear that the product isn’t really useful at all.  Anybody who takes 42 variables and aggregates them into a single category (vulnerability) has created something sort of useless.  OK, so the vulnerability is high.  But vulnerability to what?  Flood, drought, crop failure due to temperature, coastal fisheries collapse?  All of these things are problems related to climate change, but they are not present in all places at all times, and they all have different impacts on people (and Maplecroft should probably note that they have different impacts on investments) that require different interventions.  So the index does not tell you anything diagnostic about this vulnerability.  It is, at best, a first step to thinking about vulnerability and how to address it.

On top of overselling the product and its value, their underlying data is problematic – if you download the map you can see the size of the grid they used for the data – it is huge.  This suggests that they have used global circulation models (GCMs) for their climate projection variables.  The use of global scale data in local cases is highly problematic – downscaling these models to regional or even local levels has proven very difficult because the factors that most influence the global climate are not necessarily the most important factors at regional or local scales.  For example, local deforestation can have a huge impact on local precipitation patterns over time without having a very large impact on global circulation as a whole – so the downscaled model (focused on global circulation) will not capture the importance of this local factor in determining local climate outcomes.  Just looking at Ghana on their free map (you can download a copy from the page above), I can tell you that they have missed a really distressing trend toward the loss of the minor rainy season in the forest (Southern) areas of Ghana . . . which is going to have a massive impact on both cocoa production (national economic impact) and rain-fed agriculture.  If they got this wrong, I am guessing they have missed a hell of a lot of other things.

This is what happens when the business community starts jonesing for climate change, but won’t go to the scientific community to get solid advice on how to get the information they need.  Look at Maplecroft’s core team – only one of the six has really engaged with climate change or global environmental change more broadly in any meaningful way – and he is trained in Business Studies, not climatology, biogeography, ecology, anthropology, political ecology or any other number of fields that produce the people who develop basic knowledge on climate change, environmental change and their related human impacts.  In short, they really don’t know what they are talking about, but they have made a nice looking product that might mislead people into thinking that they do.

What drives my concern here is not some sort of academic/governmental territoriality.  When people approach the issue of climate change and its human impacts without a serious consideration of the science behind these broad issues, there is the potential for very serious problems.  You should see the REDD+-related business proposals circulating out there . . . I’ve seen crazy stuff, like people wanting to plant genetically-modified super-fast-growing eucalypts in the swamps around the Amazon to enhance carbon uptake in otherwise not-so-forested areas, without the slightest consideration for the ecological impact of such a species (which would, according to my biogeography colleagues, surely go invasive immediately).  Without meaning to, people might end up doing a hell of a lot more damage than good if they just run off willy-nilly.

There are a lot of us out here who would love to work with you – we want to help, and we’ve already made a lot of these mistakes.  Let us save you time, and save the folks suffering these vulnerabilities a lot of unnecessary pain.