climate change

Climate change is the greatest threat facing humanity today. To avoid catastrophe, we must dramatically reduce the carbon intensity of our modern energy systems, which have set us on a collision course with our planetary boundaries. This is the challenge leading up to three key international events this year: a July summit on financing for new global development goals, another in September to settle on those goals and — crucially — a global meeting in December to frame an agreement, and set meaningful targets, on climate change.

For Sub-Saharan Africa, 2015 is a turning point. The summits on sustainable development, financing and climate change are swinging the spotlight not only onto Africa’s needs to accelerate development and adapt to global warming, but also onto the region’s urgent energy crisis. 

But this crisis is also a moment of great opportunity, as we demonstrate in the Africa Progress Report 2015, Power People Planet: Seizing Africa’s Energy and Climate Opportunities. Demand for modern energy is set to surge, fuelled by economic growth, demographic change and urbanisation. As the costs of low-carbon energy fall, Africa could leapfrog into a new era of power generation. Utility reform, new technologies and new business models could be as transformative in energy as the mobile phone has been in telecommunications.

The Africa Progress Report 2015 explains the bold steps that leaders globally and in Africa must take to achieve this vision. Above all, the report shows that the global climate moment is also Africa’s moment – Africa’s moment to lead the world.

While at the first Africa CSA Alliance Forum in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Mama Kena Kgoroeadira, talks passionately about the need to focus attention on harnessing indigenous knowledge in best farming practices to overcome the challenge of climate change in Africa.

Climate change is one of the most relevant topics for analysis in the field of geopolitics today. In the second half of this century (between 2050 and 2070) the atmosphere's concentration of carbon dioxide from greenhouse gas emissions (560 parts per million) might be twice the level reached during the industrial revolution (280 parts per million).

The global warming from this concentration is a phenomenon that will affect all aspects of daily life, including institutional and political systems.

The AAA Global Climate Change Task Force submitted their final report to the AAA Executive Board in May 2014 and it was approved in December 2014. A Statement on Climate Change and Humanity will be available soon as well as a synopsis report with a public rollout in the early summer.

During the recent World Water Week in Stockholm, Sweden’s King Carl Gustav presented the city’s prestigious Water Prize to John Briscoe, a former water manager at the World Bank. After many years spent in the international water bureaucracy, Briscoe says he is “controversial and proud of it”. Indeed, the jury’s choice raises contentious questions about dams and their alternatives.

The Kenyan government may be pushed into reconsidering its current ban on genetically modified (GM) foods, as the technology appears to be winning support from some farmers struggling to deal with climate stresses.  In Kenya's driest counties, there is increasing demand for GM crops because of their potential to improve food security and increase yields.  However, some local farmers remain apprehensive; they argue that research regarding the degree to which GM crops increase yields remains unsupported, and they pose serious environmental risks.

An initiative to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from landfill sites in Cameroon cannot be expanded to other Central African countries as planned due to a lack of income from the troubled global carbon market, while facilities to convert trapped methane into cheap cooking gas have also been put on hold.

Trees inside and outside forests contribute to food security in Africa in the face of climate variability and change. They also provide environmental and social benefits as part of farming livelihoods. Varied ecological and socio-economic conditions have given rise to specific forms of agroforestry in different parts of Africa. Policies that institutionally segregate forest from agriculture miss opportunities for synergy at landscape scale.  More explicit inclusion of agroforestry and the integration of agriculture and forestry agendas in global initiatives on climate change adaptation and mitigation can increase their effectiveness. We identify research gaps and overarching research questions for the contributions in this special issue that may help shape current opinion in environmental sustainability.

GEC journal

This study examines the ways in which the adaptive capacity of households to climatic events varies within communities and is mediated by institutional and landscape changes. We present qualitative and quantitative data from two Maasai communities differentially exposed to the devastating drought of 2009 in Northern Tanzania. We show how rangeland fragmentation combined with the decoupling of institutions and landscapes are affecting pastoralists’ ability to cope with drought. Our data highlight that mobility remains a key coping mechanism for pastoralists to avoid cattle loss during a drought. However, mobility is now happening in new ways that require not only large amounts of money but new forms of knowledge and connections outside of customary reciprocity networks. Those least affected by the drought, in terms of cattle lost, were those with large herds who were able to sell some of their cattle and to pay for private access to pastures outside of Maasai areas. Drawing on an entitlements framework, we argue that the new coping mechanisms are not available to all, could be making some households more vulnerable to climate change, and reduce the adaptive capacity of the overall system as reciprocity networks and customary institutions are weakened. As such, we posit that adaptive capacity to climate change is uneven within and across communities, is scale-dependent, and is intimately tied to institutional and landscape changes.

Experts working on behalf of international development organisations need better tools to assist land managers in developing countries maintain their livelihoods, as climate change puts pressure on the ecosystem services that they depend upon. However, current understanding of livelihood vulnerability to climate change is based on a fractured and disparate set of theories and methods. This review therefore combines theoretical insights from sustainable livelihoods analysis with other analytical frameworks (including the ecosystem services framework, diffusion theory, social learning, adaptive management and transitions management) to assess the vulnerability of rural livelihoods to climate change. This integrated analytical framework helps diagnose vulnerability to climate change,whilst identifying and comparing adaptation options that could reduce vulnerability, following four broad steps: i) determine likely level of exposure to climate change, and how climate change might interact with existing stresses and other future drivers of change; ii) determine the sensitivity of stocks of capital assets and flows of ecosystem services to climate change; iii) identify factors influencing decisions to develop and/or adopt different adaptation strategies, based on innovation or the use/substitution of existing assets; and iv) identify and evaluate potential trade-offs between adaptation options. The paper concludes by identifying interdisciplinary research needs for assessing the vulnerability of livelihoods to climate change.

savannas of our birth cover page

Savannas of our birth: People, wildlife, and change in East Africa, written by Robin Reid, tells the sweeping story of the role that East African savannas played in human evolution, how people, livestock, and wildlife interact in the region today, and how these relationships might shift as the climate warms, the world globalizes, and human populations grow.

The Future of Human–Landscape Interactions: Drawing on the Past, Anticipating the Future

Without question, humanity is at a crossroad amidst rapid environmental changes. Some of these changes are natural, such as climate variability, but human-induced alterations on Earth have accelerated in recent decades, reaching a scale and intensity like never before. Virtually no place on Earth remains untouched by human activity. This special feature explores new scientific questions and frameworks for tackling research frontiers for understanding human–landscape systems.

-Chin, A, KA Galvin, AK Gerlak, CP Harden, E Wohl (2013). The Future of human-landscape interactions: Drawing on the past, anticipating the future. Environmental Management. DOI 10.1007/s00267-013-0082-0​​

Click here to download a pdf of this article


In Zambia, the weather is changing — the rainy season begins later in the year than it once did, and its duration is now unpredictable, creating confusion about the best time for planting.  Traditional means of weather forecasting for planting and harvesting are no longer working as they once did.  Female farmers may be more prone to economic difficulties than males in part because they lack access to technology and technological know-how that can help them adapt to climate change. This article suggests women must be equipped with knowledge systems that help them implement farming strategies that increase adaptive capacity in the face of climate change.  

The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) approved US $88 million in grant financing for climate change adaptation efforts in 9 vulnerable countries. This is funded by IFAD's new Adaptation for Smallholder Agriculture Programme (ASAP), which channels climate finance to smallholder farmers so that they can improve their resilience to climate change.  These ASAP-supported projects will benefit poor rural communities in Bolivia, Nicaragua, Mali, Nigeria, Rwanda, Djibouti, Yemen, Kyrgyzstan and Viet Nam. 

Climate change is already affecting the livelihoods of West African smallholder farmers who rely on rain-fed agricultural techniques, and it is expected to make food shortages more acute as the region’s population continues to grow. However, some experts have proposed that an integrated approach to land management that ensures sustainable policies could help agriculture-dependent West Africa cope with the looming effects of climate change.

Farmers facing long periods of dry weather and floods have expressed hope that a new climate change adaptation initiative being rolled out in Tanzania and Malawi will spell an end to dismal crop yields.

The Climate Services Adaptation Programme launched in November 2013 by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) presents a window of opportunity for African farmers to use scientific knowledge to battle weather challenges.

community rights, conservation and contested land cover page

Community rights, conservation and contested land: The politics of natural resource governance in Africa, edited by F. Nelson, examines the political dynamics of natural resource governance processes through a range of comparative case studies across east and southern Africa. These cases include both local and national settings, and examine issues such as land rights, tourism development, wildlife conservation, participatory forest management, and the impacts of climate change, and are drawn from both academics and field practitioners working across the region. 

Understanding Human–Landscape Interactions in the ‘‘Anthropocene’’

Abstract: This article summarizes the primary outcomes of an interdisciplinary workshop in 2010, sponsored by the U.S. National Science Foundation, focused on developing key questions and integrative themes for advancing the science of human–landscape systems. The workshop was a response to a grand challenge identified recently by the U.S. National Research Council (2010a)—‘‘How will Earth’s surface evolve in the ‘‘Anthropocene?’’—suggesting that new theories and methodological approaches are needed to tackle increasingly complex human–landscape interactions in the new era. A new science of human–landscape systems recognizes the interdependence of hydro-geomorphological, ecological, and human processes and functions. Advances within a range of disciplines spanning the physical, biological, and social sciences are therefore needed to contribute toward interdisciplinary research that lies at the heart of the science.

How will climate change spatially affect agriculture production in Ethiopia? Case studies of important cereal crops

Nearly all of Ethiopia’s agriculture is dependent on rainfall, particularly the amount and seasonal occurrence. Future climate change predictions agree that changes in rainfall, temperature, and seasonality will impact Ethiopia with dramatic consequences. When, where, and how these changes will transpire has not been adequately addressed. The objective of our study was to model how projected climate change scenarios will spatially and temporally impact cereal production, a dietary staple for millions of Ethiopians.We used Maxent software fit with crop data collected from household surveys and bioclimatic variables from the WorldClim database to develop spatially explicit models of crop production in Ethiopia. Our results were extrapolated to three climate change projections (i.e., Canadian Centre for Climate Modeling and Analysis, Hadley Centre CoupledModel v3, and Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization), each having two emission scenarios.

According to a report from the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and partner organisations, some areas of Kenya may receive more rainfall as climate patterns shift. Although climate predictions suggest that rainfall will increase in some areas, decreases in rainfall may be seen in some of the most productive agriculture provinces.   Initiatives to help pastoralists adapt to these uncertain futures is underway.  Local groups are partnering with international agencies to promote "Climate-Smart Villages" that provide practical adaptation options to improve food security and resilience.

Farmers in Dodoma, Tanzania have long relied on traditional weather forecasting methods to decide when to plant their maize crops. Since 2007, ongoing drought has threatened harvests. The FarmSMS initiative, led by the Tanzania Meteorological Agency (TMA), aims to help farmers reduce the risk of crop failure by delivering real-time weather information to mobile handsets that can inform planting decisions

Tanzania has set a goal to become a middle-income economy by 2025, a feat that may only be accomplished if the government can successfully increase agricultural production.  To reach this goal, Tanzania has ushered in a coterie of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to help support agriculture all along the supply chain. Enterprising firms promising better seeds, fertilizers and outputs are entering into the mix. And the government is also supporting the growth of large farms, too, which they say could employ technology to assist small farmers via local agreements. Still, the government of Tanzania faces challenges on many fronts, including resistance from farmers reluctant to change traditional agricultural practices, and the ongoing difficulty of adapting to a changing—and less predictable—climate.

Hybrid seeds are growing in popularity as they offer higher potential yields under good conditions.  However, as local climate regimes become more variable and unpredictable, local farmers in Zimbabwe are opting for traditional crop varieties. Some farmers believe that these more traditional varieties enhance resilience under unpredictable conditions by increasing crop diversity and food variety throughout the year.  Still, agricultural scientists consider hybrid varieties the better choice in terms of overall productivity and market integration potential.  

The Center for Research on Environmental Decisions (CRED) is an interdisciplinary center that studies individual and group decision making under climate uncertainty and decision making in the face of environmental risk. They recently made a great video introducing the team and their contributions to understanding the decisions that we make in regards to global environmental change.  Watch the video here

It is wondrous how the threat of climate change, a clear sign of the excesses and limitations of advanced economies, could ever become a driver of grand visions of progress in the developing world. But that is precisely at the root of a phenomenon that is ushering in a transformation of African agriculture.

Drylands across the developed and developing world are experiencing increases in water scarcity, drought frequency, and temperatures as a result of global climate change. This affects people on a daily basis.  Still, the U.S. has not taken significant action to tackle climate change issues, even though it has contributed the most carbon dioxide per capita than any other country.  See what our fellow SAES member, Kathleen Galvin, has to say in her call to action on climate change.  

Kathleen Galvin, who is a CSU professor of anthropology, senior research scientist at the Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory, and Director for Education programs at the CSU School of Global Environmental Sustainability, has been invited by the president of the American Anthropological Association (AAA) to sit on a new Global Climate Change Task Force. The task force has been developed to help increase communication, provide a forum for engagement and highlight anthropological contributions to climate change policy. 

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