Development

How dammed are we? Conservation and dams

Guest blog by Alex Mauroner
Why does the conservation community spend so much time talking about dams — or, more properly, water infrastructure?
The simple reason is that we cannot talk about conservation or sustainable development without also talking about where to locate, how to build and how to operate dams. As part of my internship with the Alliance for Global Water Adaptation (AGWA), I have been spending many hours researching dams. It came as no surprise to find that the answers to the questions above are quite complex.

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Environmental flows: where have we been, where are we going?

Is it possible to sustain aquatic ecosystems amid the forest of water infrastructure — irrigation, water supply and sanitation, hydropower, and so on? Can we balance needs and competing demands? Does the ecosystem always have to lose? The environmental flows (eflows) movement dates back to the mid-20th century as an attempt to solve precisely this problem. The movement has spread from the developed world to active programs in many dozens of countries. However, the strong scientific basis for thinking about how to systematically include a “fair share” of water for species and ecosystems in aquatic systems is still pretty new — dating back only to the early to mid 1990s. I like to point out how all of the key contributors from this scientific synthesis are not only still alive but very engaged in research, implementation, and learning. Indeed, the sophistication of eflows has increased substantially since then at the same time that the audiences and stakeholders engaging on eflows have broadened. Written by myself and LeRoy Poff, a colleague at Colorado State University, a new paper in Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability describes some of the trends of the past 25 years of eflows and suggests some of the emerging directions and challenges for the next 25 years.
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New guidance on freshwater ecosystems and climate resilience

The role of NGOs (non-profits) in water management has never been easy or straightforward. Governments, businesses, communities, and other similar institutions actually manage water, not NGOs. Particularly when big infrastructure is involved, the opportunities for engagement may be few. So civil society is primarily limited to advocating how to manage a complex resource in a sustainable way, often with scarce institutional resources and capacity. Climate change makes this much worse, of course, given the low level of understanding among water managers and any consensus on best practices about resilient water management. A new publication by International Rivers, a great NGO based in California, attempts to fill this gap through an overview of what building and maintaining climate resilience means in the context of rivers and riparian projects for vulnerable communities, ecosystems, and climate-sustainable development in a book-length treatment. (Disclaimer: John Matthews, one of the authors of this entry, served as a reviewer during the development of the text.)
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Video + podcast: An extended discussion of adaptation science and practice

From our sister-site at AdaptationAction.org, we present another video exploring some of the emerging issues in adaptation and conservation, particularly from the view of ecological science. Dr. Lee Hannah is an ecologist with Conservation International and the University of California, Santa Barbara. He's also one of only a few scientists who has been engaged for well over a decade on climate adaptation, so he has a deep perspective on how the science of climate adaptation has been evolving and where it might be headed. Working globally and regionally, Lee has been trying to bridge the gap between studying the impacts of climate and helping species, ecosystems, and communities and economies in the developing world adjust to the emerging climate. His work spans the laboratory, the field, and science and resource management policy. Here, we present a short video with some highlights of the discussion Lee and I had.

Here, we present both a brief video with highlights of conversation between myself and Lee. If you are interested in more of the details around
how the science of adaptation is changing and where the practice of adaptation, conservation, and resource management are moving, then please listen to an edited version of our discussion in a podcast.




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New PLoS Biology paper: The water-climate-infrastructure nexus

What happens when an engineer, a hydrologist, and an ecologist -- all working on global climate adaptation issues -- get together for a beer? Almost inevitably, a paper, more beer, and a bad hangover. The offspring in this case just published in the September 2011 issue of the journal PLoS Biology, entitled Converging Currents in Climate-Relevant Conservation: Water, Infrastructure, and Institutions. During the February 2011 conference by the American Academy for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the lead author of the paper gave a talk in a symposium on the practice of sustainable resource management in the developing world. The talk focused on the themes of water and climate change, and how infrastructure -- especially infrastructure designed to manage water for hydropower, agriculture, and cities -- was a key point of both conflict and potential convergence between the environmental and economic development communities. An editor from PLoS Biology came up afterwards and said, Could you turn that into a paper? The results are expressed both in print and in a short video below that the authors produced.

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Interviews with thought-leaders in climate change: Engineering at the IDB

AdaptationAction.org is a new sister-blog of CCW that launched during World Water Week two weeks ago. While a lot of content has been planned for the site, the first focus has been on talking with some of the emerging thought-leaders in climate adaptation -- people who are at the edge of climate adaptation, conservation, economic development, and sustainable resource management. The first interview is with Fernando Miralles-Wilhem, an environmental engineer with the Inter-American Development Bank (usually just referred to as the IDB). Fernando is extremely unusual — an engineer who works with ecosystems, an academic with two decades of research into “applied” questions, and — rarest of all — a person who somehow combines science with policy and economic development. Affiliated with both Florida International University and the Inter-American Development Bank, Fernando describes how his work on wetlands has evolved into climate adaptation and climate-sustainable development.

Changing Currents: Filling the Stationarity Gap from John Matthews on Vimeo.

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"Difficult Hydrologies" for Everyone

David Grey and Claudia Sadoff wrote a wonderful paper in a 2007 issue of Water Policy that grouped countries into three categories: “those that harnessed hydrology, those hampered by hydrology, and those held hostage by hydrology.” One of the memorable phrases in the paper is "difficult hydrologies" (e.g., frequent weather extreme, high inter- and intra-annual water availability variations, many ephemeral/temporary surface water bodies, etc.), and how this acts as a constant impediment to maintaining growth trajectories. They estimate, for instance, that a single drought in Ethiopia can reduce economic growth at the national level over a twelve-year period. (Their discussion, incidentally, reminds me of an essay from the nineteenth century ecologist Alfred Russell Wallace, who reflected on how the tropics were so harsh compared to the “temperate” temperate zones of gentle England and western Europe, and how lucky we in the West were to have had the advantage of developing in a moderate, more friendly and less savage vision of nature.)
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Guest blog: Climate services for Latin America

Fernando Miralles-Wilhelm
Water & Sanitation Advisor, Inter-American Development Bank

As a society, one of the main deficiencies we encounter in dealing with climate change is the access to reliable climate information that is central to the design of effective policies related to mitigation, adaptation, dealing with climate-related risk and reducing vulnerability. Read More...
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World Water Day: Secretary Clinton on Water

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton On World Water Day
March 22, 2011
The World Bank
Washington, D.C.
 
SECRETARY CLINTON:  Thank you.  Good afternoon in this absolutely glorious fora with so many people who do the work every day that makes the World Bank such a respected institution.  It is my pleasure to commemorate World Water Day with you.   
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Tears in the rain: climate change, infrastructure, and sustainable development

Cross-posted with the Center for Strategic and International Studies

Water suffers from an awareness gap: many aspects of our food, energy, forestry, and health care securities intimately depend on freshwater, but these linkages are often ignored. When demand is low or water is plentiful, sloppy coordination usually has few consequences. But water resources are also among some of the most responsive aspects of the global climate system. I believe that one of the most difficult challenges for developing economies will be managing water resources in ways that do not make poor nations and communities poorer, generate international conflict, or trash freshwater and riparian ecosystems. In practice, this will mean that policymakers will have to build and operate water infrastructure to function under a much larger range of conditions than we can accurately predict today. And that also means that climate-sustainable water policy will need to be incorporated beyond the water ministry and merge into agriculture, energy, urban planning, health, and even foreign policy.
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UN must act soon to address threats on water in Africa, globally

As water in Africa is under grave pressure from climate change, and these threats will become more severe and complex in coming decades, the United Nations climate change body (UNFCCC) must formally address the need to integrate water issues with development aid, adjustment to climate change impacts, and reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. This was the joint message from African ministers and water experts attending a three-day UN-Habitat World Water Day conference in Cape Town.
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COP16 and Global Adaptation Policy: Feliz Navidad for Opportunties in 2010?

The global climate change policy landscape is littered with acronyms and insider language that’s not friendly to newcomers. Additionality, technology transfer, COPs, REDD versus REDD+ (and REDD++)… the terminology is messy and has a steep learning curve that often obscures the actual issues at stake. But these issues are quite important to understand for interested citizens. Here, I’d like to focus on an upcoming opportunity around the international climate change policy meetings scheduled for December in Mexico. This is a long entry, but the issues are complex and non-intuitive. I beg for patience. For those new to climate change policies at a global level, I have provided a simple background paragraph to frame some of the necessary terms.
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Video: Sundarbans and Climate Change

John Matthews from World Wildlife Fund and Sara Tynnerson from Stockholm Resilience Center from Stockholm University talks to Deepak Menon, India Water Portal. John talks about the impact of climate change on the Sunderbans in the eastern part of India.
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Global Strategy Forum: Water Policy in a Shifting Climate

The Bled Strategic Forum: Global and National Water Policy for the Next Decade
30 August 2010, Bled, Slovenia

As a result of climate change, population growth, environmental degradation and increased demand for food and energy, almost half of the world's population will have lived in areas of high water stress by 2030. With longer droughts, more frequent extreme meteorological events and changes in precipitation patterns, global warming affects particularly the water cycle. Climate change will impact on the most vulnerable communities in developing countries, multiplying the effects of poverty, poor governance and political instability. Read More...
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Green Glaciers: The Melting Grasslands of the Tibetan Plateau

An enormous amount of attention has been paid to the loss of the ancient glaciers in the Himalayas and across the Tibetan plateau. Their retreat and the loss of glacial mass have been tied to rising air temperatures, longer warm seasons, and shifting precipitation patterns. But while dramatic and newsworthy, the loss of glaciers does not have an
immediate impact on most people and ecosystems in the region beyond dry-season flows. Glaciers represent old reservoirs of water that build up over decades, centuries, and even millennia. However, most of the liquid water resources in the Himalayas and plateau come from seasonally frozen rain, groundwater, and snow, which accumulate each winter and melt over the following spring and summer to enter the rivers, groundwater, and lakes of south and central Asia.
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Video: Jim Jarvie from Mercy Corps on Development and Ecosystem-based Adaptation

Jim Jarvie of Mercy Corps: The Direction of Adaptation and Development.
2:25 mins, November 2009, Fuller Symposium, Washington, DC

Jim Jarvie was stood apart at the WWF Fuller Symposium last November: he works for Mercy Corps, one of the leading economic development non-governmental organizations active in the developing world today. In this video, he reflects on issues that are extremely relevant to the practice of climate adaptation globally: Is ecosystem-based adaptation different than community-based adaptation?
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Guest Blog: Farming with the Titimangsa: Losing Weather (and Water) in Time

By Nikolai Sindorf, WWF-US, based in Laos

In 1997 I went to the western part of Java in Indonesia to research on agricultural water management. Java is one of the most densely populated regions and high-yielding rice paddy lands in the world.
The focus of my research was how rice farmers dealt technologically and organizationally with ongoing reforms in large, engineered irrigation systems. During this research I met a farmer who had meticulously typed out his traditional cropping calendar. This cropping calendar — a titimangsa — read like a beautiful poem, describing the smell of the dew, the color of the sunset, the touch of the soil, and the observation of insect life cycles.
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The Watery Road to Copenhagen Livecast: Water & Climate Change Symposium!

Looking back across the last twenty years, there have been several notable climate change policy and science events. The 1992 Rio Convention helped define the shape of climate change policy for the next decade and created the IPCC as a science advisory board. The Ministerial Declaration of the Hague on Water Security in Twenty-First Century captured many key concepts on water and climate change, linking policy, water management, and the need for a new paradigm. And the Brisbane Convention on environmental flows in 2007 marked a major consensus between policymakers and ecologists and hydrologists that flow regime was the most important aspect of freshwater ecosystems to focus on for sustainable use. This is a good time for reflection on where we've come, and where freshwater conservation and development needs to go next. And fortunately, the Fuller Symposium on 3 and 4 November — titled Securing Water for People and Nature in a Changing Climate — is just in time.

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Water & Climate: Not Everything Is Negative

I had a bit of press coverage during World Water Week last August. I'll spare you from the article that appeared in the People's Daily Worker in China, but ThinkGloballyRadio.org conducted a nice 30-minute interview (and I didn't say "uh" too much either, which was a relief). You can stream the interview at the station's website and clicking on the episode listed (at the top right of the window) as 091011. I talk about the impacts of climate change on freshwater ecosystems, the ability of climate change to bring disparate groups together, and the state (as of August 2009) of international freshwater adaptation policy leading up to COP15. Read More...
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The Watery Road to Copenhagen: Podcast with Three Groups

Lets take two scenarios.  On the 18th of December, the world walks away with a new global deal on climate change.  The agreement includes progressive emission targets for rich countries, nationally appropriate mitigation strategies for developing countries, financing for adaptation and a good institutional framework. Read More...
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One Talk, Two Heads: Bloviating on Climate Adaptation in Two Languages

This video is a fair representation of the overview adaptation talk I've been giving for the past few months, describing how climate adaptation differs from much of the economic development and conservation work up to now and how climate adaptation has some special challenges and opportunities for the water sector. Read More...
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Fixed video streaming! The Cerrado of Brazil

I’ve just returned from a trip to Brazil, where most of my time was spent talking in Brasilia with colleagues and policymakers working on climate adaptation issues from a freshwater perspective. Read More...
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Guest Blog: Reflections from the Sundarbans: Short-Term Progress, Long-Term Strategies?

In this entry, Anurag Danda, the program coordinator for the Sundarbans Adaptation Center, discusses recent relief efforts and the possibilities for long-term solutions to the ongoing climate-driven crises for people and species in the Sundarbans. Can the escalating problem of tropical storms and cyclones such as May 2009’s Alia be prevented or mitigated? Is there even a future for the Sundarbans as inhabited islands? — JM Read More...
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The Road to Copenhagen 1: Setting the Agenda in Bonn


The next stage in the process leading up to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change Copenhagen meeting (usually referred to as a “cop” or council or consultation of the signatory parties) began this week in Bonn, Germany. I’m not able to attend, but the process is important and I’ve been receiving almost hourly updates from colleagues there. You can see some of their progress and concerns on a
video blog in order to get an idea of what being there is like. The most obvious issues are US climate mitigation policy, such as the Waxman/Markey bill (discussed in previous entries). But climate adaptation finance — the “adaptation fund” — is showing up a big second topic as well. Some background on adaptation finance was covered as well in previous entries here indirectly and here for more general issues. However, a “side event” has been planned to continue the process associated with the Nairobi Guiding Principles for freshwater adaptation and the water sector. What are those goals? And why does Bonn matter? Read More...
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From Climate Crisis to Weather Disaster: Tropical Storm Alia Strikes the Sundarbans

The Sundarbans are a chain of islands spanning the mouths of the Ganges-Brahmaputra rivers off the shores of India and Bangladesh. They’ve been the subject of several entries here, including some of their human, species, and ecosystem-based vulnerabilities to climate change, disaster risk reduction, and the founding of a regional climate adaptation center. A major tropical storm has hit the region. The regional WWF director for the Sundarbans is Anurag Danda, where he focuses on community-based adaptation and assists with the Bengal tiger program. He emailed me this morning with an update, which I have edited here. Please read his update, see the images he’s sent of the damage, and consider his request for assistance. Contact information included.
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Growing an Adaptation Community


Those of us working in climate adaptation often work alone and in isolation within our organizations. It’s hard to find each other to learn and grow professionally. Moreover, we know we need support — emotional as well as professional, since climate adaptation is challenging and draining work whether you work in DRR, conservation, policy, or economic development. There have been a growing number of online communities that focus on climate adaptation. Here, we’re launching a new one called ClimateAdapt.Info. Read More...
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Elevator Stories: Moving Up at the World Bank


There are three major global water-related meetings: the World Bank’s Water Week every February, World Water Week in Stockholm every August, and the World Water Forum, which occurs every three years (and is discussed in another recent entry). Last February, I was invited to speak about some work I was leading for a team at the Bank’s Water Week. Water Week occurs in Washington, DC, where the World Bank’s global headquarters is located. The World Bank was founded after World War II at the Bretton Woods Conference along with the United Nations and the International Monetary Fund to promote equitable economic development. Water is a critical element in the Bank’s strategy: reliable and sustainable water use and infrastructure development are critical to development in most (all?) parts of the world, so the Bank advises on and funds projects such as dams, irrigation programs, and even habitat restoration. But the World Bank is not a normal place to be for a conservation biologist. Either from the Bank’s perspective or from the biologist’s. We don’t really go to the same kinds of parties. Read More...
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