Climate Change Impacts on Development: A note of Oxfam's experiences for the Stern Review

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Climate change - in the sense of rapid, large-scale and noticeable climate change, unusual in people's experience - is happening already. This is having important economic and social effects. It is making life more precarious for many people, particularly those who are already the poorest. Yet people are not passive, but are changing their lives in various ways in order to adapt. Climate change has been implicated in a growing number of disasters to which Oxfam has to respond, from hurricanes to droughts. However, this paper looks rather at some impacts of climate change on people's day-to-day lives in the development sphere. It is based on Oxfam experience.
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    1  Climate change impacts on development. A note of Oxfam’s experiences for the Stern Review. Climate change – in the sense of rapid, large-scale and noticeable climate change, unusual in people’s experience – is happening already. This is having important economic and social effects. It is making life more precarious for many people, particularly those who are already the poorest. Yet people are not passive, but are changing their lives in various ways in order to adapt. Climate change has been implicated in a growing number of disasters to which Oxfam has to respond, from hurricanes to droughts (for further information see the Red Cross/Red Crescent Climate Centre, www.climatecentre.org   ). However, this paper looks rather at some impacts of climate change on people’s day-to-day lives in the “development” sphere. It is based on Oxfam experience or on cases brought to our attention. In the main, climate change, rather than introducing radically new phenomena, exacerbates existing climatic variability, and exacerbates existing problems, notably of poor water management. Similarly, people’s adaptive strategies are often based on doing more of the same as their ancestors, but some strategies are more radical or innovative. In the future problems are likely to affect not only more “weather-dependent” and rural societies, but also a wider range of seemingly less susceptible ones, for example city-dwellers whose water supply is further reduced. Some changes are sometimes beneficial to some groups, but the longer-term sustainability of these beneficial conditions is open to doubt. It is important to understand the unequal impacts of climate change on different groups in different places, as well as the particular ways different societies will try to cope or adapt. Climate matters: Living with increasing climate variability and uncertainty in southern Africa The ADAPTIVE research project 1  has investigated farmers’ perceptions of, and responses to, changes in the summer rainfall zone of South Africa. Individuals, communities, and nations have, to varying degrees, had to cope with and adapt to climate variability and change for centuries. So, in order to better understand how societies may adapt to future climate change, it is necessary to understand human behaviour and decision making as well as having a firm grounding in climate science. Understanding climate variability and uncertainty For farmers in South Africa, the concepts of “drought” or “extreme” rainfall are not necessarily sufficient to capture the dynamics of climate variability that are critical to decision making. Factors such as the timing   of the onset of first rains (which affects    2crop planting regimes), the distribution  of rainfalls within the growing season, and the effectiveness  of the rains, are all real criteria that affect the success of farming. Therefore better drought   forecasting per se may not be enough to help people cope with climate uncertainty and change. Table 1 Climate parameter characteristics for the three study areas in South Africa Climate parameter Limpopo Province (northern area) Case study village: MANTSIE NW Province (west of Mafikeng) Case study village: KHOMELE KwaZulu Natal (eastern area of the northwest of the province) Case study village: eMCITSHENI Long term mean annual rainfall 400-500mm 500-600mm 8000-900mm Onset of season characteristics Growing length of dry season, later start to wet season in October to early November Early wet season rain days have been increasing (Sept-Oct) Highly variable and increasingly uncertain. Increase in early season rains with parallel decline in late season rains (Feb-March) for some years. Within season characteristics Within wet season a trend towards fewer rain days in Nov and Dec and an increase in overall occurrence of dry spells Variability in rainfall amounts and distribution with no specific wetting or drying trends identifiable Higher rainfall in first half of growing season, characteristically heavier rainfall events with lower rainfall events later in the season. Drought frequency Frequent in the last two decades: 1982-3, 1987, 1990 and 1994 Regular over the last 50 years No trend Individual people in the case study areas showed an acute awareness of the changing climate trends around them. Where repeated exposure to an event has occurred, such as with drought in Mantsie, familiarity and experience mean it can be viewed very differently from other ‘surprise’ events (like flooding) which occur less often. As one farmer said: “Drought is easier to cope with because we are used to it, the heavy rains are not good because we need a little and often”.  And climate matters: amongst all the disturbances that affect African societies today, including the impact of HIV-AIDS and political disturbances, local people say climate change is significant. The ADAPTIVE work has identified differing forms of responses to climate variability and change. These are outlined in Table 2. The strategies are either simply means of ‘getting by’, or coping  , or represent real forms of adaptation  to the changes in precipitation parameters. Some of these responses, such as diversifying livelihoods, are not unique to climate disturbances, but importantly have been clearly identified by rural people themselves here as deliberate  responses to climate triggers. The    3following definition as to what is “coping” and what is “adapting” also come from the people themselves. Table 2: Impacts of, and responses to, locally identified climate parameters in the study villages M ANTSIE   Parameters identified by focus group Perceived impact Range of responses – rapid (coping) and longer-term (adaptation) Little rain Breaks in rainy season On welfare of household ã Hunger ã Demands from family and friends for food ã Sickness and tiredness On natural resource- based livelihoods ã Crops die ã Loss of seeds ã Less fodder for animals to eat ã Debt (money owed from ploughing) ã Young animals die ã Less grass Change a farming practice – coping ã Buy salt ã Store fodder ã Go to town to buy more seeds Spatial/temporal diversity-adapting ã Eat wild fruits ã Look at plants and birds to decide what can be planted when and where ã Buy short-maturing crop varieties ã Take smallstock to river area or other villages Commercialising –adapting ã Sell your animals ã Try to start a business ã Travel to town to find work Networks- coping and adapting    ã Send someone from the community to ask the government what they will do to help ã Go to church ã  Ask family elsewhere to help ã Collect your welfare payments/food ã Steal K HOMELE  Parameter Impact Response Less rain Period of no rain Unpredictable rain Rain out of season Late rain On welfare of household ã Tiredness and hunger On natural resource based livelihoods ã Seeds do not germinate ã Makes soil more unproductive ã  Affects planning – cannot tell the rainfall patterns by flowers on wild plants ã Poor quality grass ã Livestock die ã Dryland crops die ã Pests proliferate ã Leaves change colour Change a farming practice – coping ã Grind maize stalks as feed ã Use resistant yellow maize ã Plant late maturing fruit trees Spatial/temp diversity-adapting ã Use irrigated land ã Eat wild fruits ã Work land in other places ã Cut fodder from ironwood trees and collect seeds from wild plants Commercialising –adapting ã Gardening projects to improve food security ã Form groups to start new business venture ã Sell livestock, esp. at auction    4 ã Less water for animals ã More thorn bushes ã Look for piece work ã Plant winter crops ã Plant late maturing fruit trees ã Breed indigenous species Networks- coping and adapting    ã  Ask for money from relatives ã Get help from government e.g. subsidised feed ã Have village meeting ã Local leasers decide what to do ã  Advice from church ã Get medicines E M CITSHENI Parameter Impact Response Changing seasons Hail Drought Frost Heavy rain Snow On natural resource based livelihoods ã No feed for animals ã Makes soil more unproductive ã  Animals die ã Can’t afford to buy good seeds ã Can’t sell crops ã Lack money (no crop/livestock sales) ã No money for transport ã Crops die Change a farming practice – coping ã Store fodder ã Build cattle shelter Spatial/temp diversity-adapting ã Change type of vegetable or maize type Commercialising –adapting ã Change type of vegetable or maize type (related to sale opportunities) ã Plant vegetables ã Sell livestock or goods ã Start projects ã Find work Networks- coping and adapting    ã Borrow from family ã  Apply for government grant ã Have village meeting ã Pray at church ã  Ask extension officer for information The ADAPTIVE project also found that some forms of response were occurring in all three areas. Commercialising small-scale agricultural production was important in all areas, creating a source of cash that can then be used flexibly to meet household needs. The findings illustrate that concerns about the effects of climate change on rural societies are justified: climate change is happening, and it is affecting activities that depend on the natural environment. However, far from being passive victims, people recognise even subtle changes in climate parameters, and take steps to respond to them. Some of these responses may be positively beneficial; some though, may be harmful, in the short or long-term. Either way, people are making significant changes in their lives. Inevitably, there will be winners and losers in the process. Some people will adapt more successfully than others, and it may be that climate change will result in a polarisation of wealth and well-being in ways we have not seen before.
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