Monthly Archives: January 2013

Painting scenarios in a warming South Asia

Cyclone Aila of 2009 left Gabura, a Gangetic delta village in Satkhira district of Bangladesh, devastated and waterlogged for many months. The salt content left by the storm surge still  makes farming impossible here. Photo: Max Martin

By S. Gopikrishna Warrier

COLOMBO: “What will my future be? I wonder,” sang Julie Andrews acting as Maria von Trapp in the 1965 classic, The Sound of Music. Decades later, the line still resonates in our memories because of its musical score and the timelessness of its rhetoric.

There is uncertainty in the science related to climate change. This is the reason why the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) – the touchstone body for climate change science – builds scenarios rather than projections. These are “what if” rather than “what will be” situations in the future.

The uncertainty gets even more complicated since science cannot exist in vacuum and rides piggyback on the socio-economic situation in localities, countries and regions. An Arab Spring, for instance, can make all scenarios meaningless since it rewrites all assumptions made earlier about polity, institutions and economy.

Designing climate-resilient agriculture is one more step removed – interventions over socio-economic scenarios, over climate scenarios.

With its 15 international agricultural research centres and multiple research stations across the globe, the CGIAR Consortium (formerly the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research) has the global mandate for developing agricultural systems that can feed the world’s population into the future. In recent years, the CGIAR developed a Consortium Research Programme, called Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) to develop and implement the agenda for climate-resilient agriculture for the world.

CCAFS had recently initiated the process for developing socio-economic scenarios for South Asia at a three-day workshop held at Colombo in Sri Lanka. I was a stakeholder-participant at the workshop.

Five scenarios were considered most plausible in South Asia:

  1. An aware and informed population combined with high institutional capacity; high transfer of science and technology; good political stability; industry and services are the dominant sectors of the economy; and low population growth and medium urbanisation.
  2. An unaware and uninformed population combined with low institutional capacity; low transfer of science and technology; political instability and conflict in the region; agriculture is the dominant sector of the economy; and high population growth with high urbanisation.
  3. An aware and informed population combined with high institutional capacity; high transfer of science and technology; political instability and conflict in the region; agriculture is the dominant sector of the economy; and low population growth and medium urbanisation.
  4. An aware and informed population combined with medium institutional capacity; high transfer of science and technology; political instability and conflict in the region; industry and service are the dominant sectors of the economy; and moderate population growth and high urbanisation.
  5. An aware and informed population combined with low institutional capacity; low transfer of science and technology; political instability and conflict in the region; agriculture is the dominant sector of the economy; and high population growth and urbanisation.

Experts from across South Asia discussed what the situation would be in each of the scenarios. Two issues emerged more or less as given in the South Asian situation. One, a certain amount of political instability within the countries and the region would not hamper growth and development, since that is how the South Asian region has always worked. Two, the region had an innate ability to innovate and make do with any situation.

The scenario development process involving multiple stakeholders has a two-fold objective. One, to explore key socio-economic and governance uncertainties in the region for food security, livelihoods and environment due to climate change in a time frame leading up to 2050. Two, to use these scenarios with global, regional, national and local actors to develop fine-tuned strategies, technologies and policies to deal with climate change impact.

The Colombo workshop initiated a longer process. In the next step, CCAFS will quantify the scenarios through agricultural economic models where the socio-economic scenarios will be combined with quantitative climate scenarios. The combined scenarios will be available for governments, policy makers and private sector companies for setting policies, agenda and investment planning.

CCAFS had also conducted similar scenario building exercises in West Africa and East Africa. According to CCAFS, scenarios allow for the capturing of uncertainties and system complexities in a coherent and plausible, yet surprising and challenging fashion.

CCAFS is a research partnership that aims to close critical gaps in the knowledge of how to manage the trade-offs between food security, livelihood and environmental goals in the face of climate change. It is working to develop and evaluate options for adapting to climate change – for agricultural development, food security policy and donor investment strategies. CCAFS research is expected to enable and assist farmers, policymakers, researchers and donors to monitor, assess and adjust their actions in response to observed and anticipated changes in climate.

(The author is the regional environment manager of Panos South Asia. Views are personal.)