Tag Archives: Climate change

Climate Variability and Livelihood Diversification in Northern Ethiopia – A Case Study of Lasta and Beyeda Districts

By Zerihun B. Weldegebriel, Addis Ababa University, and Martin Prowse, Lund University

Prowse

Land degradation (gullies) formed due to extreme climatic events flooding in Lasta district (C) Zerihun B. Weldegebriel and Martin Prowse .

Ethiopia is currently facing the worst drought in its modern history, resurrecting the world’s collective memory of the tragedy of the 1980s. But such severe meteorological conditions may not be so rare in the future: the observed and projected impacts of changing climatic conditions in Ethiopia point towards a considerable worsening of food security status for many smallholder households. The following quote from a smallholder farmer in Lasta District, Northern Ethiopia, encapsulates the predicaments that millions of smallholder farmers in the country are facing:

“In recent years, the gamen [a local term for high temperatures] is becoming unbearable and we all are suffering from the extreme heat. We [the elders] spend time with our flocks of sheep in tree shades yearning for the belg [short] rains to give us some respite from the long dry spells which seem to stay forever.”

In our paper, recently published in The Geographical Journal, we provide empirical evidence of the perceptions of smallholder farmers towards climate variability and the forms of adaptation strategies employed in two districts in Northern Ethiopia. We argue that assessing smallholders’ perceptions of climate variability and existing diversification strategies is a good first step to understanding what works best in terms of successful adaptation to climate change. Perceptions and associated adaptation practices can be an important input for adaptation policy since strategies are mostly the result of long-term experiences and assessment of risks in their day-to-day production and consumption decisions.

We find that smallholders perceived increased temperatures, erratic rainfall patterns and increased extreme weather events in the last two to three decades. While meteorological records support the claims of an increase in temperature, claims of an overall reduction in rainfall are not reflected in the records. But this is mainly because the highly variable belg rains (short rains) are compensated for by more stable kiremet rains (long rains).

In view of the perceived changes in the climate, the article looked into the types and viability of the adaptation strategies pursued. Two major approaches were identified – diversification within agriculture and diversification outside agriculture. Most of the adaptation within agriculture comes through demonstration effects from state-led schemes whilst diversification away from farming (both off-farm and non-farm activities) is mainly wage labour differentiated by wealth group (with the poorest doing piecework on neighbours’ land and working on public works schemes whilst wealthier households seek formal-sector employment in nearby towns and further afield). In a nut shell, diversification away from agriculture is highly seasonal and largely follows a piecework/public works  or wage labour path. Smallholders are constrained in their ability to enter self-employment due to a lack of regular demand, skills, finance as well as cultural attitudes.

There are subtle but important differences between the two districts that highlight the role of both climatic and non-climatic factors in adaptive capacity. This is particularly interesting for geographers as it highlights the spatio-temporal differences that play a role in determining both perception and adaption to climate variability and change (see Weber, 2016). For instance, farmers in Lasta perceive greater changes in the climate than those in Beyeda. We also find that smallholders in Lasta have diversified their livelihoods to a much greater extent. But this has at least as much to do with the proximity to urban opportunities and a construction boom in the nearby town (triggered by public investments) as changing climatic conditions.

Overall, our limited data from Northern Ethiopia suggests that diversification is occurring mainly through wage labour: international, national and regional for wealthier households, local piecework and on public works schemes for poorer households. In this context, policymakers could do worse than look more at how urban-rural connections can support smallholders’ adaptation efforts.

About the authors

Zerihun B. Weldegebriel is an Assistant Professor of Development Studies at Addis Ababa University, Centre for African and Oriental Studies, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Martin Prowse is an Associate Senior Lecturer at Lund University, Department of Human Geography, Lund, Sweden           

References

books_icon Weber, E. U. 2016. What shapes perceptions of climate change? New research since 2010. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change, 7(1), 125–134.

60-world2 Embassy of the United States US response to the Ethiopian Drought 2015-2016 http://ethiopia.usembassy.gov/u.s.-response-to-the-ethiopian-drought.html

Climate change: adaptation, science, and the media

By Joseph J. Bailey,  University of Nottingham, UK.

One is never short of media coverage on climate change, but there has been a flurry recently in relation to its purported role in the ‘sinking’ of several islands in the Solomon Islands, following a publication by Australian researchers (Albert et al., 2016). Dramatic headlines included: “Five Pacific islands lost to rising seas as climate change hits” (The Guardian, 2016a) and “After the Pacific Ocean swallows villages and five Solomon Islands, a study blames climate change” (The Washington Post, 2016), to list just two. Such headlines would lead anyone to think that climate change had solely caused the sea levels to rise and destroy these islands and, therefore, that climate change sank the islands. Perhaps not, though.

The Guardian was quick to release a subsequent article: “Headlines ‘exaggerated’ climate link to sinking of Pacific islands” (The Guardian, 2016b) after they spoke to the paper’s lead author, who identified that many headlines were “certainly pushing things a bit towards the ‘climate change has made islands vanish’ angle”. The Solomon Islands’ sea level rise is above average because of a range of factors, including natural climatic cycles and increases in the strength of the trade winds. These changes are operating alongside global warming which does indeed increase average global sea levels but also increases the intensity of these trade winds, as outlined in the article. It is a complicated climatic system that has been simplified and widely misrepresented in the media to varying extents.

Taking the line ashore. A villager in his canoe takes the line ashore at Halavo, Nggela (Florida) Island, Solomon Islands. Source: This photograph, which has not been edited, was taken by Jenny Scott and downloaded from Flickr (link to photograph) for non-commercial use on this blog under a Creative Commons 2.0 License.

Interestingly, all of this happened about one week after Lord Krebs wrote an article for The Conversation about media responsibility in reporting climate change, and the need for scientists to engage with the media to support more accurate reporting (Krebs, 2016). The issues discussed and articles referenced by Lord Krebs are potentially of a more serious nature than the case of sea level rise affecting the Solomon Islands. However, despite differences in the seriousness of the misrepresentation and simplification of the science between Lord Krebs’ examples and the more recent reports surrounding the Solomon Islands, there is overlap in the associated issues and questions raised. Namely: how can the public and politicians fully understand the science and respond to it in the face of inaccurate and pervasive media reports? Furthermore, if people are not clear on the science of climate change, how does this affect our resilience and willingness to adapt to probable changes in the future?

A recent article in Geography Compass explores climate change adaptation in much detail (Eisenhauer, 2016). Climate change adaptation describes the process whereby people seek to decrease the risks and impacts of climate change through societal and economic strategies, for example (details). The paper focusses on pathways, which describe “alternative trajectories of development” (p. 209), in the context of climate change adaptation because such adaptations are part of continual change towards desirable socio-ecological conditions. Four approaches to pathways are proposed and discussed. They aim to fill the current gap between usable knowledge and action that the paper identifies. In particular, these actions generally relate to governance or development. The importance of local people in adaptation planning is also highlighted.

Discussion of this gap between usable knowledge and action, and attempts to address it, is important because the creation of knowledge is one thing, but identifying which aspects of it are of the greatest relevance and usefulness for the task at hand is another. Subsequent dissemination to stakeholders must then follow, and is it here that the media has great potential. But, as we have seen time and time again, including only this month, knowledge can be misrepresented or simplified to the point where it is no longer presents what the authors intended. Some simplification is necessary to create readable news articles and, as the lead author of the Solomon Islands paper, Dr Simon Albert, told The Guardian, ‘dramatic’,  eye-catching headlines can attract readers and raise the profile of important issues. However, caution is required and a balance between a headline’s accuracy and ability to draw in readers must be struck.

Climate change is one of the most geographical issues, covering all aspects of the human, natural, and physical world, and the connections and interactions therein. The ability of communities to adapt will play a large role in determining its impacts in the future. It is vital that scientific findings are made to be usable and relevant for policy-makers and stakeholders so that effective strategies can be instigated. We have seen here the presentation of science and of geographic phenomena in the media can be inappropriate at times. This makes it difficult for people to be properly informed and make sound decisions about climate-related environmental changes. Additionally, the Solomon Islands coverage should be used as a cautionary example that not all environmental changes are because of climate change: the world is complicated. Communication between scientists and the media and, subsequently, between the media and observers to disseminate accurate and useful knowledge will no doubt be a key ingredient in the initiation of positive action.

 

REFERENCES

Albert, S. et al. (2016). Interactions between sea-level rise and wave exposure on reef island dynamics in the Solomon Islands. Environmental Research Letters, 11 (5).

Eisenhauer, D. C. (2016). Pathways to Climate Change Adaptation: Making Climate Change Action Political. Geography Compass, 10 (5), 207 – 221.

Krebs, J. (2016). Lord Krebs: scientists must challenge poor media reporting on climate change (online). The Conversation. Available at: https://theconversation.com/lord-krebs-scientists-must-challenge-poor-media-reporting-on-climate-change-58621 (last accessed 12th May 2016).

The Guardian (2016a). Five Pacific islands lost to rising seas as climate change hits (online). Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/may/10/five-pacific-islands-lost-rising-seas-climate-change (last accessed 12th May 2016).

The Guardian (2016b). Headlines ‘exaggerated’ climate link to sinking of Pacific islands (online). Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/may/10/headlines-exaggerated-climate-link-to-sinking-of-pacific-islands (last accessed 12th May 2016).

The Washington Post (2016). After the Pacific Ocean swallows villages and five Solomon Islands, a study blames climate change (online). Available at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2016/05/09/after-the-pacific-ocean-swallows-villages-and-five-solomon-islands-a-study-blames-climate-change/ (last accessed 12th May 2016).

X Marks The Spot: Chemtrails, Conspiracies & Discourse Analysis

By Morag Rose, University of Sheffield 

Sfc.contrail.1.26.01

NASA photograph of aircraft contrails, take from I-95 in Northern Virginia, January 26, 2001 by NASA scientist Louis Ngyyen.

The X-Files recently returned to television after a fourteen year absence. The Guardian provides a useful guide to the new series, which had mixed reviews and was accused of Islamophobia and Transphobia. As ever the show explores a range of paranormal phenomenon, folklore and contemporary conspiracy theories.  These may seem strange subjects for geographers to take an interest in but such stories are an integral part of society. For an exemplar, see Pile (2005) on phantasmagorias and the role dreams, magic, vampires and ghosts play in modern city life.

In an article published in The Geographical Journal, Rose Cairns explores the online world of “chemtrail” conspiracy narratives and asks what they can tell us about the international politics of geoengineering. Conspiracy theories are not new, and Cairns provides historical examples of the role they play in making sense of the world.  She highlights “the instability of the distinction between ‘paranoid’ and ‘normal’ views”, suggesting “moral outrage at the idea of global elites controlling the weather” should not simply be dismissed as irrational (2016:70). The reaction is provoked by many things including our emotional and visceral connections to the weather.

Geoengineering is often discussed as a possible intervention against climate change.  Perhaps fears around chemtrails can be seen as embodying a wider mistrust with authority, mainstream media and science which is seen as elitist and opaque. Belief is connected to scepticism about climate change and may indicate a failure to convey research in clear and understandable ways. As public engagement is perceived to be an increasingly important facet of academic communication, perhaps we should encourage conversations with those who provide alternative viewpoints. Cairns recognised this may be difficult when arguments are polarised and emotional.

Discourse analysis can draw contradictory narratives into a bigger picture that explains how and why belief systems develop within a society. You don’t have to agree with something to find it interesting, and it’s often illuminating to try and understand radically different perspectives. Cairns has been attacked for her work by “truthers” but we all need to keep questioning. We also need to refrain from dismissing anything that deviates from the hegemony simply because it sounds unbelievable to us. Just last week a former aide to President Nixon was quoted as saying, with regards to another alleged cover-up:  “We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the (Vietnam) war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities…and vilify them night after night on the evening news” (Baum, 2016).

It is tempting to finish with a glib Mulder and Scully slogan that “the truth is out there” but reality is so often more complex and fantastic than fiction.

References

60-world2 Baum D 2016 Legalize It All: How to Win The War on Drugs Harpers March 2016 online at https://harpers.org/archive/2016/04/legalize-it-all/ (accessed 22.2.2016)

books_icon Cairns R  2016 Climates of Suspicion: “Chemtrail” Conspiracy Narratives and The International Politics of Geoengineering  The Geographical Journal 182: 1 pp 70-84 http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/geoj.12116/abstract

books_icon Pile S 2005  Real Cities Modernity, Space and the Phantasmagorias of Modern Life London: Sage Publications Ltd

60-world2 The Guardian  The X-Files Episode by Episode http://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/series/the-x-files-episode-by-episode (accessed 22.2.2016)

Climate change and human health: how COP21 has helped

By Joseph J. Bailey, University of Nottingham, UK.

The potential adverse impacts of climate change on natural and human environments are prominent in the media, but impacts on human health are seemingly discussed less often. In The Geographical Journal, Papworth et al. (2015) write about the multifaceted nature of climate change in relation to human health. Examples of health impacts include: heatstroke, injuries from disasters, infectious diseases (water-borne and vector-borne), malnutrition, food poisoning, lung diseases, and allergies (see their figure 3, which also lists required adaptations; p. 415). A key impact also listed therein is that of mental health, which reduces resilience of individuals and societies to the aforementioned health problems and environmental change. For example, links between mental health and climate change have been recently reported in Australian farmers.

Drought and flooding can have huge impacts on agricultural landscapes and, consequently, human health. Western Madagascar, author’s own (© Joseph J. Bailey).

Drought and flooding can have huge impacts on agricultural landscapes and, consequently, human health. Western Madagascar, author’s own (© Joseph J. Bailey).

The 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) in Paris in December 2015, which, amongst much else, miraculously forged an emissions agreement between 187 countries, has helped to more prominently bring some of these issues surrounding human health to the public eye. The decisions made at COP21 may help us to mitigate, and adapt to, future impacts of climate change on human health. Indeed, a central aspect of the agreement is “the right to health” and the director of the World Health Organisation (WHO), Dr Maria Neira, said that the Paris agreement “pushes countries to develop adaptation plans that will protect human health from the worst impacts of climate change”. More broadly, WHO referred to COP21 as “a historic win for human health”.

The success of COP21 in relation to human health will not be measurable for some time, but it has hopefully put in place the infrastructure required to encourage adaptive approaches to climate change from local to international scales that will ultimately benefit human health, and the health of the wider environment. Some people are cynical of us actually preventing a temperature rise more than 2°C this century. However, I would argue that the fact that so many countries came together, spoke, and made a range of legally binding commitments is highly encouraging. It represents progress on a path towards greater use of renewable energy and more sustainable policies and practices, which can only be a good thing for human, and indeed the planet’s, health as we move forwards, even if the specific targets are not met.

– – – – –

books_icon Papworth, A., Maslin, M. & Randalls, S. (2015) Is climate change the greatest threat to human health? The Geographical Journal, 181, 413–422. (View online).

60-world2 WHO report: “New climate change agreement a historic win for human health”. (Online, last accessed 15th Jan 2016)

Can new remote sensing technologies improve diplomacy in shared river catchments?

By Joseph J. Bailey, University of Nottingham, UK.

Rivers are the arteries of the world, carrying life-giving water to the organs that are the natural habitats and human settlements. An increase or decrease in flow can have disastrous consequences through droughts and flooding, thus ensuring a sustainable water supply is seen as a priority by many states worldwide. Despite the vast number of environmental problems dams can (and do) cause, they allow people to not only control water flow to the population in times of low or high supply/demand, but also produce energy through hydroelectric technologies. Whether or not to build a dam, and when to remove a dam, is, or at least should be, decided by comparing the environmental impact with the benefits of energy and water provision. The accumulated impact of building multiple dams within a watershed should also be considered, because this can result in lower water quality for humans, alongside inflated environmental impacts.

It is not surprising then that dams are highly contentions across all scales, from the local to the global. Indeed, they are one of the most contentious geopolitical issues in the world today, with international debates surrounding the Nile in Africa and within-country debates over Brazil’s Belo Monte and Madeira dams, to take just two examples. Dams have even been considered ‘powerful weapons of war’ in the Middle East. To sum up, dams are amongst the most important structures in the world because they safeguard the most valuable resource in the world for whoever owns it. Dams therefore hold great political, as well as hydrological, power and are understandably at the centre of many international debates and discussions.

Brahmaputra River, Shigatse, Tibet

Brahmaputra River, Shigatse, Tibet (Boqiang Liao via Wikimedia Commons, available at: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Brahmaputra_River,_Shigatse.jpg?uselang=en-gb)

Often in such debates and discussions, the owner of the upper reaches of a river, and any dams therein, holds vast amounts data about spatial and temporal water flow (discharge) in that region, and may closely guard those data from its neighbours, and from global data hubs. Those who hold the data have a political advantage when discussing the future for a particular river, and those downstream, who possess no or very little data on the upstream parts of the river flowing through their country, may struggle to apply any political pressure.

This issue of data sharing, or lack thereof, is discussed in a paper by Gleason and Hamdan (2015) in The Geographical Journal. They write how a novel remote sensing technique might be able to help with this using two case studies: the Brahmaputra and the Mekong (known as the Lancang in China). Both have featured in the news recently, with the opening of a Chinese dam in the upper reaches of the Brahmaputra in Tibet (e.g. Reuters Africa, Voice of America) and with the Mekong because of the many dam constructions completed recently or in progress (map and details at International Rivers; also see Al Jazeera). Both of these situations are very complicated, affecting millions of people in the countries concerned, as well as attracting international attention.

The aforementioned technique highlighted by Gleason and Hamdan (2015), and initially developed by Gleason and Smith (2014), is called ‘at-many-stations hydraulic geometry’ (AMHG). It uses remotely sensed data (from satellites) and recent advancements in geomorphic theory and aims to address the data shortfall many countries experience in relation to inaccessible watersheds. These are usually in another country, but the technique may also be of use in hard-to-reach areas within a country. While the model produces noteworthy inaccuracies compared to in situ gauge measurements, these data are obtainable by anyone and may at least partially fill a knowledge gap for some countries.

Perhaps through enabling countries without direct access to flow rate information of river stretches outside of their borders, data from remote sensing technologies will benefit a nation’s diplomatic standing with their neighbours. Such technologies are also likely to improve in the future with dedicated satellites for measuring river properties (see Gleason and Hamdan, 2015). This will overcome inaccuracies seen with AMHG, which, at present, may be an argument that countries owning upper reaches can use against those further downstream; that the data being used are not accurate enough to make a valid case for more or less water to be released downstream, for example.

However, whilst these new technologies will no doubt be able to assist with hydrological monitoring into the future and probably help with these often tense cross-border situations by enabling downstream countries, the ultimate challenges, as is already the case in many places at the moment, will be political and rely on the relationship between the countries concerned. This is because one country will always control the dam that stops and releases the water, even if their neighbour knows absolutely everything about the watershed concerned through remote sensing. There are many discussions to be had about who really owns rivers, containing arguably the most valuable resource on the planet, when they start in one country and flow into another. As climate change continues, and populations grow, water resources are likely to be stretched ever further and it may be prudent to attempt to resolve the issues discussed here sooner rather than later.

References

books_icon Gleason C. J. and Smith L. C. (2014). Toward global mapping of river discharge using satellite images and at-many-stations hydraulic geometry. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 111, 4788–91.

books_iconGleason, C. J. and Hamdan, A. N. (2015). Crossing the (Watershed) Divide: Satellite Data and the Changing Politics of International River Basins. The Geographical Journal (early view).

Climate resilience and adaptation: raffia production in Makira Natural Park, north-east Madagascar

By Joseph J. Bailey (@josephjbailey), University of Nottingham, UK.

Support for women’s associations in Madagascar to enhance raffia production is also helping the conservation of biodiversity in the Makira Natural Park.” (AllAfrica, Aug 18th 2015)

Local climatic changes, such as an increase in the frequency and/or severity of droughts, can have a significant impact on communities and businesses that rely on natural resource extraction. Building climate resilience is therefore vital to secure a sustainable income from these products. In parallel, these products must be sold for a fair price by means of establishing a solid value chain between the producers at one end and retailers at the other. Such businesses can also contribute tremendously to the economic empowerment of women in these communities, and safeguarding such provisioning ecosystem services can operate neatly alongside biodiversity conservation and the protection of other ecosystem services (e.g. flood prevention, carbon storage). The benefits therefore seem plentiful and ensuring the environmental and socio-economic sustainability of such schemes under future climate change should be a priority.

Raffia production around Makira Natural Park (NP), north-east Madagascar, provides a fine case study for demonstrating this interplay between climate resilience, economic empowerment, and biodiversity conservation, as reported earlier this week by AllAfrica. This area has an environment that allows for the production of high quality raffia products, which may be used in the fashion industry, for example, but has been affected by frequent droughts in recent years1. A current project by the International Trade Centre (ITC) (see their news article on the project) in collaboration with World Conservation Society (WCS) Madagascar is training several women’s associations (totalling 180 people) around Makira NP in raffia extraction, from the harvesting to the processing stage. For long-term sustainability, importantly, this includes training on planting techniques for new raffia trees in an effort to increase climate resilience and decrease losses. Training on contract negation is planned for next year. This is part of a broader ITC programme across Madagascar, which is supported by the government of Madagascar.

A use for raffia. High quality raffia, such as that produced in north-east Madagascar, is also frequently used in the fashion industry. Image from: Wikimedia Commons, by gripso_banana_prune (Antony Stanley). Available at: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Raffia_animals_created_by_artisans_in_Madagascar.jpg

A use for raffia. High quality raffia, such as that produced in north-east Madagascar, is also frequently used in the fashion industry. Image from: Wikimedia Commons, by gripso_banana_prune (Antony Stanley). Available at: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Raffia_animals_created_by_artisans_in_Madagascar.jpg

While still underway, this scheme seems to be going very well and it is hopefully progressing towards a situation where tangible, sustainable economies can operate for the people and empower women, whilst also contributing positively to the natural environment and the protection of many important species. This project is about adaptation by building climate resilience in situ to mitigate potential effects (e.g. increased frequency of droughts). However, this is not the only approach to climate adaptation, and more extreme approaches may be required when the environmental changes become severe.

A recent article by Bose (2015) in Area considers various approaches to climate adaptation, including strengthening resilience in situ, but also the idea of environmentally induced displacement (EID). This is where people are either completely relocated where there is a purported risk to their lives or to make space for climate adaptation infrastructure, or where people are prevented from accessing certain areas, which they may rely on for various resources, for connectivity, or cultural activities, in the hope that protecting such areas will produce a more resilient environment (these restricted areas may also be used for climate adaptation measures such as flood defence). The case study of Bangladesh, one of the countries presently most at risk from flooding and sea-level rise, is discussed by Bose, who considers the potential for the displacement of people not because of environmental transformations but because of climate adaptation schemes themselves, leading towards “the production of a new form of environmental refugee” (p. 6).

Here, we have therefore seen two very different approaches to potential climate change; building resilience in situ versus moving people from at-risk areas or areas that are required for adaptation infrastructure. Circumstances and the (potential) severity of the environmental changes will no doubt guide any such decisions, all of which will probably be highly idiosyncratic to the place in question. As a global community, we are already seeing the overwhelming need for climate adaptation solutions, from flood defences in London, UK, to managing increased drought frequency in north-west Madagascar, to the potential of moving people en masse when the environmental changes become too much to cope with. It strikes me that any solutions that can bring nature and people into accord will be the most sustainable and potentially highly beneficial culturally, economically, environmentally, and socially, to the people who live there.


60-world2 AllAfrica (2015) Madagascar: Empowering Malagasy Women Through Climate-Smart Raffia Production (online). Available at: http://allafrica.com/stories/201508180892.html


books_icon
Bose, P. (2015). Vulnerabilities and displacements: adaptation and mitigation to climate change as a new development mantra. Area. doi: 10.1111/area.12178

60-world2 ITC (2015). Empowering Malagasy women through climate-smart raffia production (online). Available at: http://www.intracen.org/news/Empowering-Malagasy-women-through-climate-smart-raffia-production/

NOTES
1 It is impossible to know whether what is being seen in north-east Madagascar is the result of short-term fluctuations or whether more frequent droughts are going to be an ongoing issue. It seems sensible to plan for the worst, though.

So what sort of climate do we want? Thoughts on how to decide what is ‘natural’ climate

By Chris Caseldine, University of Exeter

With the meeting in Copenhagen to releasing the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change synthesis report produced by Working Group I  in early November, it is timely to consider not only our response to likely changes in climate but also to look at just what sort of climate we are hoping to achieve (Caseldine, 2014). Possible implementation of various climate geoengineering schemes (Hulme, 2014), especially those under the banner of SRM (solar radiation management) which seek to mimic the cooling effects of volcanic eruptions to offset anthropogenic warming, has invigorated debate on the rights and wrongs of interfering with the  climate system. The ever increasing concentration of Green House Gases (GHGs) in the atmosphere (Friedlingstein et al., 2014) has though already built  climate change into the earth system for the next century so whether we like it or not choosing to reduce GHGs, or deciding to allow concentrations to rise will also impact on global climate.

Stranded iceberg calved from Dawes Glacier, Alaska, 2014. Photograph credit Chris Caseldine.

Stranded iceberg calved from Dawes Glacier, Alaska, 2014. Photograph credit Chris Caseldine.

Because of our increasing understanding of the climate system we are now in a good position to assess the likely effects not only of various forms of geoengineering but also of reducing or indeed increasing GHG emissions – so what sort of climate do we want and what do we understand by ‘natural’ climate? Palaeoclimate studies using a range of sources have provided evidence of climate characteristics before human interference and climate models can now exclude the human factor and determine likely future climate patterns should nature take its course. If however you look at the sort of climate envisaged for a low carbon world it does not easily translate into the sort of climates, and weather, that will be experienced, it is usually defined in terms of global mean temperature, levels of GHGs or increasingly in terms of climate stabilization, a term that is rarely formally defined – usually considered as the prevention of dangerous change, the possibility of exceeding some critical climate threshold or tipping point leading e.g to the total loss of Arctic summer sea ice and subsequent major reorganization of circulation patterns.

However much we manage to reduce GHG emissions or prevent the implementation of geoengineering schemes, climate, especially global climate will not though be more benign, it may not be climate as before, but can only be understood in the context of our knowledge of past climates. There is a real need to understand and explain what a move back to a more ‘natural’ climate will mean, and why if technology is seemingly available to tackle climate problems, to provide what is euphemistically called ‘climate solutions’, we should not adopt such procedures. We need a clear understanding of what we are aiming to achieve climatically, the grounds for following that trajectory and what it means for global populations.

About the author: Chris Caseldine is Professor of Quaternary Environmental Change in Geography, College of Life and Environmental Sciences at the Penryn Campus of the University of Exeter. He is a palaeoecologist and has carried out research into palaeonvironmental reconstruction, principally over the Holocene, in a range of environments including Iceland, Ireland, SW England and Southern Norway.

 Caseldine, C. 2014, So what sort of climate do we want? Thoughts on how to decide what is ‘natural’ climate. The Geographical Journal. doi: 10.1111/geoj.12131

 Friedlingstein, P. et al. 2014. Persistent growth of CO2 emissions and implications for reaching climate targets. Nature Geoscience, 7, 707-715

 Hulme, M. 2014. Can science fix climate change? Polity Press, 158pp.

 McGrath M 2014. IPCC preparing ‘most important’ document on climate change BBC