Evidence for Development looking forward to working with Walker Institute colleagues

By Celia Petty, Director of Operations at EfD

Celia-Petty-368x297Evidence for Development (EfD) has recently moved from central London to the Walker Institute – many thanks to everyone for your warm welcome.

We are a non-profit research organisation with a small core staff in the UK and associates in Uganda and Malawi. We work on livelihoods analysis, developing practical data collection methods and software modelling tools that are designed to provide policy-relevant information to decision makers. To support this work we also develop teaching and e-learning materials which are currently used for post-graduate training in the UK and overseas.

FormEfDwebsiteEfD’s mission is to facilitate well-informed decision making, based on the best possible evidence. It’s increasingly recognised that in the complex and rapidly changing environment of the 21st century, this requires close collaboration across and between disciplines.  And this is the reason for our move.

It was clear from our first conversations with Prof. Ros Cornforth less than 2 years ago, that there was a close match between the Walker Institute’s mission and our own.  The Institute’s focus on harnessing the knowledge derived from climate science, to better understand the impact of climate change on human society is critically important. We hope to contribute to this work through our deep knowledge of rural economies in Africa, our expertise in livelihoods modelling and our innovative use of information technology.

We are currently working with colleagues in Reading on the DfID/NERC HyCRISTAL project in East Africa. This project aims to reduce the high levels of uncertainty in climate projections in the Lake Victoria basin sufficiently to improve the effectiveness of future development planning. EfD will be leading work to better understand the nature of current livelihood vulnerability in the region, and incorporating this information into models of climate change impacts.   Field work is starting in Uganda, where we will begin to assemble data to populate the models and start the process of tracking change over time.

We are also collaborating with Walker Institute colleagues to develop research and teaching initiatives in health, nutrition and social protection. We will be extending our e-learning tools to support these initiatives, linking wherever possible with other international distance learning programmes.  Another great advantage of being based on campus is the opportunity to integrate with, and share interests and skills with researchers in computer science – initially in manipulating the data sets we’re collecting; subsequently in analytics and data mining of those data sets.

Finally, we have an active intern programme.   The aim is to provide meaningful experience that contributes both to the student’s own career development and to EfD’s objectives as a development organisation. We will be posting information on intern opportunities as these arise.

We look forward to meeting more colleagues across the University as these projects progress.


PICSA climate services for smallholder farmers launches in Francophone West Africa

Farmers at Daga Birame examining historical rainfal (photo by Andree Nenkam)

Farmers at Daga Birame, Senegal examining historical rainfall during PICSA field training. (Photo by Andree Nenkam.)

March 2016 saw an exciting new development for the PICSA Climate Services for Smallholder Farmers as training was delivered in French for the first time at a launch event in Kaolack, Senegal.

PICSA – Participatory Integrated Climate Services for Agriculture – is a step-by-step approach for smallholder farmers, originally developed by Dr Peter Dorward, Dr Graham Clarkson and Prof Roger Stern at the University of Reading in the UK working with colleagues in Zimbabwe, Kenya and Tanzania. It puts smallholder farmers in the driving seat and equips them with the tools and information they need to make their livelihoods more resilient to climate.

Smallholder farmers are key to food security across sub-Saharan Africa where much of the population relies on small-scale, rain-fed farming as their main source of food and income. Critical farming and household decisions depend upon how much rain falls, when the season starts, the length of the season and the likelihood and timing of dry spells; all of which vary considerably from year to year.

PICSA couples climate, crop, livestock and livelihood information with tools that farmers can use to decide the best options for them.  It focusses on practical hands-on methods that can easily be picked up and used. The PICSA approach reaches farmers through extension and NGO field staff who are trained in its use. Then, using additional material prepared by their National Meteorological Agency, these trained staff work with groups of farmers to expand the reach of PICSA climate services.

With over 100 million French speakers spread across 24 countries in Africa, developing training in French is a vital step to bring the benefits of PICSA to many more of Africa’s smallholder farmers.

At the end of March approximately 35 staff from government and non-government organisations in Senegal, national research institutes of Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger and Senegal, gathered in Kaolack for a week’s training in PICSA. The aim was to train front line field staff and their managers so that they can use PICSA with farmers in the communities that they work with in Kaolack, Kaffrine and Fatick regions of Senegal. The new French manual was put to good use and will continue to be as participants roll out the use of PICSA in the coming months. The training was facilitated by staff from the University of Reading, ICRAF and ICRISAT as part of the CASCAID flagship 2 project funded by CCAFS. Also at the training were staff from the Meteorological Organisations of Senegal, Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger in preparation for CASCAID to introduce PICSA as part of its work in these countries.

As part of the training, the team spent a day with about 60 farmers in Daga Birame in Kaffrine using the PICSA tools and overall approach. Farmers responded very positively.

Dr Jules Bayala, co-leader of CASCAID at the World Agroforestry Centre, says: The level of enthusiasm and engagement of the rural community of Daga Birame is a strong indication that climate information is considered a key input for improved productivity in this climate risk prone environment of West Africa.

Translation of the PICSA manual into French was by Rachel Stern of Incisive Services Group, Andree Nenkam of ICRISAT and Catherine Ky-Demebele and Djibril Dayamba of ICRAF.

Watch the launch of the English version of the training manual>>

Download the training manual (French)>>

Download the training manual (English)>>

The PICSA Climate Services approach for smallholder farmers has been developed with the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) and is working closely with  the UN World Food Programme (WFP) as well as NGOs including CARE International and Oxfam.

News: Creating a smart and sustainable city – a look at Reading, Berkshire

Professor Tim Dixon, Chair in Sustainable Futures in the Built Environment, School of the Built Environment, University of Reading

Reading Berkshire

Reading town centre from the Abbey Ruins with a view of the Blade, Reading’s tallest building. Source: David Merrett: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:The_Blade_from_Reading_Abbey.jpg

The world’s growing urban population

We live in an urban world. Today a majority of the world’s population lives in cities, and this is set to grow to nearly 70% by 2050. In the UK we are already heavily urbanised with about 80% of the population living in cities. In England much of the future growth will come from existing smaller and medium sized urban areas like Reading.

So rapid urbanisation, changing demographics and climate change will all impact on the way that people live, work and play in cities. This means we need to plan for the future to try and overcome the current disconnection between short term planning horizons and longer term environmental change to 2050.

City visions

Many cities around the world have therefore developed visions (or shared expectations) about the future. In the UK, for example, Bristol’s 2020 vision, and its smart city vision, is based on ‘people, place and prosperity’, a desire to be a ‘Global Green Capital’, and an aspiration to be a centre for smart city thinking. In Canada, Vancouver aims to be the world’s greenest city by 2020, with tough targets set for greenhouse gas emissions and a desire to create a city which is resilient to climate change. In Denmark, Copenhagen’s vision is based on a target to be carbon-neutral by 2025, underpinned by a highly successful walking/cycling policy agenda and a strong focus on renewable energy.

These cities are planning to be both ‘smart’ and ‘sustainable’. This means using new technology (such as smart metering, environmental sensors, and smart traffic management systems) to help create a more sustainable future for people living in cities which is also economically, socially and environmentally sustainable. Creating a smart and sustainable city isn’t easy. It requires a clear strategic vision, a strong link with climate change strategy, active planning, inclusive participation with key stakeholders, and a sense of political viability.

So what about Reading?

Reading’s success is based on its physical and virtual connectivity nationally and internationally, but a big challenge is how to balance the amount of skilled employment required in Reading with the size of its direct labour force. Reading is a net importer of labour, which also creates pressures on housing, transport and longer commuting distances. A rich heritage and historic built environment also makes it difficult to re-engineer or retrofit an urban area like Reading, and adapt and mitigate for the growing effects of climate change. Reading also suffers from poor air quality, and, if accompanied by an increasing frequency of extreme weather events, this could affect people’s health and safety, the continuity of business, and the resilience of energy and water supplies.

So to help us think more strategically about these important issues in Reading the University has been working with Barton Willmore and Reading UK CIC to help create a smart and sustainable vision for Reading, looking ahead to 2050. Through a series of workshops and other related activities we have started to develop a vision for what Reading will look and feel like in 2050. Our thinking has covered urban design scenarios which encompass ‘rivers and parks’, ‘green technology’, and ‘festivals and cultures’ themes. By helping Reading continue to develop as a centre not only for green thinking and research, but also for digital technologies, Reading could also ultimately become an ‘urban living lab’ to help other cities become both smart and sustainable.

Research: Is climate change making groundwater supplies in Sub-Saharan Africa less reliable?

africa_waterOver 500 million people in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) depend upon groundwater supplies, and this is set to rise dramatically. Safe and reliable access to water for the rural poor is a critical factor when reducing the proportion of people living in extreme poverty. As the majority of poor people in Africa depend upon farming for their livelihoods, developing resilient agricultural water supplies is an essential first step.  Groundwater could provide a solution to this as there is the potential to tap into huge groundwater ‘reservoirs’ under the Sahel to provide water  (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-17775211).

Groundwater resources are considered to be more resilient to variations in rainwater levels compared to surface water, and may therefore provide an important water resource to help adapt to changing climate and land use. However growing evidence suggests that extended periods of low rainfall may cause groundwater supplies to fail, dependent on the underlying rocks in the area. It is therefore unclear whether the planned development of groundwater resources to meet increases in demand is feasible in all areas.

It is vital for the survival of rural communities to understand how well levels are being affected by climate change and how extraction of groundwater in one area affects other areas.  Over use of groundwater in one area (e.g., for irrigation) can trigger wide spread well failure in other areas.

The Walker Institute, University of Reading is leading a consortium which is working with practitioners and government in Ghana and Burkina Faso to understand where to drill, how deep and what well failure can be expected.

The BRAVE project will address this by incorporating the most up-to-date scientific knowledge within Earth System models to develop appropriate tools for water resource planning in the Volta River Basin of Burkina Faso and Ghana. These new groundwater planning tools will be piloted in eight communities, and their impact on the livelihoods of some of the poorest communities in the region will be evaluated.

The plan is to deveLorna_Younglop seasonal groundwater status reports which will be linked into the Rainwatch-AfClix Drought Early Warning System in Burkina Faso and Ghana.

Within the project, the Walker Institute is working with the Lorna Young Foundation to communicate early warning of drought/flood through radio broadcasts to reach remote farming communities.



Opinion: Understanding everyday perceptions: the ‘third wave’ of climate change and migration research?

Nigeria flood 2011 4Dr Alex Arnall, Walker Institute and Lecturer in Agriculture & Development, School of Agriculture, Policy and Development

The dramatic influx of people into Europe from North Africa and the Middle East this summer highlights the long recognised role that conflict, poverty and political unrest play as drivers of migration. These events have, once again, placed international migration at the top of the European political agenda. But what role does environmental change, and particularly global climate change, play in this complex picture of human movement? This question is being considered increasingly by both researchers and policymakers. However, as Dr Alex Arnall explains, this recent environmental turn in migration studies has been far from simple, and debate continues over how best to understand the phenomenon.

It has long been recognised that changes in the environment can alter patterns of human movement. More recently, the impacts of climate change on people’s migration behaviours and mobility has been a subject of considerable interest to national governments and international development organisations. In particular, concern has been raised that climate change will increase population movements as migration becomes a significant climate change adaptation strategy or an indication of a failure to adapt.

It is in this context that research scientists and policymakers have set out to better understand the links between climate change and migration. However, the nature of this work has changed considerably in recent years. The aim of this article is to describe two distinct ‘waves’ of climate change and migration research that have occurred to date, and suggest that we are on the cusp of a new ‘third wave’ which aims to engage with people’s everyday experiences, perceptions and understandings of environmental change and mobility.

Climate change ‘refugees’

The first wave of climate change and migration research emerged in the mid-2000s. It focussed on the problem of the ‘climate change refugee’, defined as someone who is forced to relocate due to climate change-related impacts, such as flood and drought. Ten years ago, this issue was of considerable interest to policymakers, not least because of a widely-quoted report produced by the international NGO, Christian Aid, which stated that there could be as many as one billion climate change refugees worldwide by the 2050s. This raised the possibility of mass immigration of people into the developed world from developing countries, a scenario that alarmed some western-based politicians.

This first phase of research placed the climate change and migration issue high on the international agenda. However, it was not long before migration scientists began to question the numbers of potential refugees that were being reported, pointing out that one billion people seemed unfeasibly high. Moreover, some policymakers working on forced migration issues objected to the use of the word ‘refugee’ in an environmental sense, arguing that it undermined the term’s association with more traditionally-recognised problems such as persecution and conflict.

Drivers of migration

It was against this backdrop that the second wave of climate change and migration research emerged, which addressed the ‘drivers of migration’. This research was built around a major Foresight Report on Migration and Global Environmental Change released by the UK Government’s Office for Science in 2011.

The science underpinning the Foresight Report was more interdisciplinary that that of the first wave, and received more direct involvement by migration experts. This resulted in a more sophisticated theoretical basis that took into account existing patterns of migration – especially rural-urban and national-based ‘circular’ migration – and how such processes might be accelerated or disrupted by present-day and future global environmental change. A major conclusion from the study was that climate change risked ‘trapping’ millions of people in areas increasingly susceptible to climate-related shocks and stresses.

Incorporating ‘ordinary’ voices

There is no doubt that the second wave was a major step forward in understanding the relationship between migration and climate change. However, in the past few years, new research has begun to emerge. Instead of focussing on the views of scientists and experts, this ‘third wave’ aims to bring the voices and experiences of ‘ordinary’ people into the frame, particularly those of vulnerable or marginalised groups that are directly affected by global environmental change.

The third wave is especially relevant to small-island developing countries, or SIDS, based in the Pacific and Indian Oceans. These countries are considered by the international community to be particularly vulnerable to climate change, mainly due to sea level rise. However, as a range of recent research articles1 have demonstrated, this ‘reality’ can look very different when viewed from the perspective of ordinary islanders, rather than those of national ‘elites’ engaged in international climate change negotiations. For example, instead of seeing themselves as vulnerable, or even ‘helpless’, in the face of global climate change, our research2 in the Maldives indicates that islanders very often have long histories of coping with, and adapting to, a wide range of shocks and stresses via migration to and from the national capital, Malé.

Although still in its early stages, research conducted to date suggests that this third wave is important for two main reasons. First, understanding everyday perspectives can improve climate change communication, and can even help to overcome the risks of climate change scepticism and denial.

Second, this work can provide new meanings of, and insights into, existing climate change and migration-related problems, and assist in the development of more effective responses that place the interests, goals and aspirations of vulnerable people at the centre of concern. In short, it can recognise the agency of marginalised people directly affected by global environmental change. It is in this respect that the third wave of climate change and migration research should continue to grow in the years to come.


1 For example:

  • Farbotko, C. and Lazrus, H. (2012) The first climate refugees? Contesting global narratives of climate change in Tuvalu. Global Environmental Change, 22:2, pp 382-390.
  • Marino, E. (2012) The long history of environmental relocation: Assessing vulnerability construction and obstacles to successful relocation in Shishmaref, Alaska. Theme Issue: Adding Insult to Injury: Climate Change, Social Stratification and the Inequities of Intervention. E. Marino & J. Ribot (Eds.) Global Environmental Change, 22:2, pp 374-381.
  • Mortreux, C and Barnett, J. (2008) Climate change, migration and adaptation in Funafuti, Tuvalu. Global Environmental Change, 19:1, pp 105-112.
  • Shen, S and Gemenne, F. (2011) Contrasted views on environmental change and migration: the case of Tuvaluan migration to New Zealand. International Migration, 49:s1, pp. e224-e242.


2 Funded by the Norwegian Research Council, project no. 217188/H30.

Opinion: Understanding Climate Change and Infectious Disease – is the One Health movement enough?

Dr Claire Heffernan and Kathy Maskell

Dr Heffernan is a Principal Research Fellow in the Livestock Development Group, School of Agriculture, Policy and Development. Her research interests include climate change adaptation and resilience, infectious disease, One Health, and sustainable low carbon development for the global livestock sector, global food security and trade. Kathy Maskell is Communications Manager at the University of Reading’s Walker Institute

In the coming decades, climate change is predicted to produce a range of direct and indirect impacts on both human and animal health. At the most basic level, rising temperatures and changes to rainfall patterns have a direct impact on vector populations and thereby, vector-borne diseases (VBDs). For example, human diseases such as malaria and dengue are now occurring at higher altitudes and latitudes, which historically have been free of the disease (Dhiman et al., 2010). This change has been directly attributed to climate warming. Outbreaks of livestock disease in new geographies such as blue tongue disease in Europe have also been linked to climate change (more specifically seven of the warmest winters in Europe on record during the late 1990s to early 2000s)(Tabachnick, 2010).

The extreme weather events (EWE) associated with climate change such as droughts and floods in addition to direct effects, may also have indirect impacts on the incidence and prevalence of infectious disease. Extreme flooding often causes a break-down in sanitation, supporting an increase in water-borne diseases such as typhoid and cholera. EWEs also often forge food and livelihood insecurity, which in turn supports shifts in both human and animal populations. Thus, while changes to vector populations may alter the geographic spread of a climate sensitive disease, the displacement of the host population (both human and animal) is equally influential to disease distribution. Resident populations may be exposed to pathogens transferred by migrants or conversely migrants may be exposed to new pathogens in their new environment. Among pastoralist populations in Africa, droughts frequently displace populations into refuges camps. Recent epidemics of meningitis, hepatitis E and cholera have occurred in refugee camps in Kenya, Somalia and the Sudan (Ahmed et al., 2013).

Determining the role and influence of climate warming on disease highlights another issue: our approach to understanding this new disease landscape itself. Despite the drivers being the same for human and animal disease, historically, there has often been little synergy between veterinary and human disease investigations. However, in recent years the emergence of a range of threats originally attributed to animal pathogens such as Sudden Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI), Swine Flu and Ebola has underscored the need for a combined approach.

With this recognition has come the rise of the One Health agenda which aims ‘to promote and improve the health of humans, animals and our environment, (AVMA, 2008). Crucially, One Health fosters collaboration between veterinary, medical, public health and environmental disciplines across the global health arena (FAO, 2011).

Despite this focus on the environment and in particular, the interface between disease and local ecologies, One Health, has not been widely utilized as a framework to perform detailed explorations of the impacts of climate change on infectious disease.

Part of the problem is the very nature of the One Health discourse. While One Health has been a rhetorical force across the field of Global health it has been less sure-footed as an analytical device. Critical issues in operationalising One Health include problems with knowledge silos and the need for better metrics across projects and programmes (Kihu and Heffernan, 2015). Explorations of the role of climate change on disease require both a robust and yet inclusive analytical approach. Indeed, it has been argued that climate change is not a single driver of disease but rather an embedded context and as such, is likely to influence a range of diseases in the same landscape among resident human, livestock and wildlife hosts, at the same time (Heffernan, 2015).

At its best, the One Health approach has the ability to identify the synergies and interactions important to disease transmission at the systems-level. The longevity and usefulness of the One Health paradigm is likely to depend on widening the frame to focus on climate change at the systems, as opposed to individual disease, level.



Ahmed J., Moturi E., Spiegel P., Schilperoord M., Burton W., Kassim N., et al. (2013). Hepatitis E outbreak, Dadaab Refugee Camp, Kenya, 2012 [letter]. Emerg Infect Dis, 19(6): 1010-1011.

AVMA (2008). One Health: A new professional imperative. One Health Initiative Task Force: Final Report. American Veterinary Medical Association, Chicago, IL. https://www.avma.org/KB/Resources/Reports/Documents/onehealth_final.pdf

Costello A. et al. (2009). Lancet and University College London Institute for Global Health Commission: managing the health effects of climate change. Lancet 373:1693-1733.

Dhiman, R., Pahwa, S., Dhillon, G., Dash, A. (2010). Climate change and the threat of vector-borne diseases in India: are we prepared? Parisitol Res 106 (4): 763-73.

FAO (2011). One Health: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations Strategic Action Plan. FAO, Rome.

Heffernan, C. (2013). The climate change infectious disease nexus: is it time for climate change syndemics? Anim Health Res Rev 14:151-157.

Heffernan, C. (2015). Climate change and infectious disease: is it time for a new normal? Lancet Infect Dis 15: 343-344.

IPCC, 2014: Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability. Part A: Global and Sectoral Aspects. Contribution of Working Group II to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Kihu, S. and Heffernan, C. (2015). One Health Metrics, Measures and Impacts. Report of a One-Day Think Tank, Sankara Hotel, Nairobi, Kenya. March 23, 2015.

Perry, B. and Sones, K. (2007). Poverty reduction through animal health. Science (315): 333-334.

Tabachnick, W. (2010). Challenges in predicting climate and environmental effects on vector-borne disease episystems in a changing world. J Exp Biol 213, 946-954.

Research: Gaps in the Indian monsoon make for tricky power balancing

renewable energyDemand for power in India is rising rapidly, driven by economic growth, rising prosperity, rapid urbanisation and growing demand for energy for cooling purposes. Some of this additional power need is being met by increasing investment in wind energy, particularly in the south and west of India. A recent analysis highlights important considerations for deploying  India’s expanding capacity in renewables in a more efficient manner to balance gaps in the annual advance of the Indian monsoon.

The seasonal cycle in India is dominated by the South Asian monsoon, a vast circulation pattern over the Indian Ocean and Indian sub-continent driven by intense heating from the Sun during northern hemisphere summer. The onset of the monsoon brings life-giving rains to support India’s population of over 1 billion people, but monsoon activity within any season system is irregular, and can be characterised into ‘active’ and ‘break’ periods. Active periods bring increased rainfall, stronger winds and lower temperatures for most of the country, while break periods are marked by reduced rainfall, higher temperatures and weaker winds. During the pre-monsoon season in 2015, for example, temperatures reached 47 °C in parts of India.

India powers up renewables
India’s total generating capacity has more than doubled since 1998, and wind power currently accounts for 8.4% of capacity: it is already the world’s fifth-largest wind energy producer, and is on target to meet 15% of its electricity requirements from renewables by 2020. “The problem arises because the higher temperatures in break periods increase power demand, mainly for air conditioning, while at the same time the production of wind energy is sharply reduced in the lighter winds which accompany break periods,” said Caroline Dunning from the University of Reading, the lead author on the recent paper in Environmental Research Letters (doi link). “The mis-match means that potential wind energy supplies are lowest, just when they are most needed.”

Current weather forecasts can provide only limited warning of an impending break, and little useful information as to its likely duration: this uncertainty forces India to retain secondary sources of power generation on short-term standby, without knowing in advance either when or for how long they will be required. Improvements in forecasting out to two weeks or more would bring significant environmental and economic benefits, as well as reducing uncertainty in day-to-day operational resource management, but are unlikely to be realised within the short term. Meanwhile, the occurrence of high temperatures during monsoon breaks has resulted in power outages in India in recent years, with both economic and social impacts.

An offshore solution?
Dunning and colleagues conclude that, “over-reliance on wind energy from southern India and along the western coast could lead to problems at times of high demand” and suggest that offshore wind turbines in the north-east Arabian Sea may reduce the imbalance, as that offshore region experiences increased wind speeds during break phases. A further complexity is the uncertain outlook projected for monsoon variability under future climate projections – as clearly any increase in the frequency or duration of monsoon breaks would exacerbate the situation further.

Dunning, C.M., Turner, A.G. and Brayshaw, D.J., 2015. The impact of monsoon intraseasonal variability on renewable power generation in India. Environ. Res. Lett., 10, 064002: doi:10.1088/1748-9326/10/6/064002 (Open Access)

Opinion: The Road to Paris – can we navigate the pot holes to a global deal in December?!

UNclimatelogoDr Chuks Okereke gives his personal account of progress, or the lack of it, from the recent UN climate meeting in Bonn (June 2015). Chuks is Associate Professor in Environment and Development and Associate Director of Leverhulme Climate Justice and Ethics Doctorate Training programme at the University of Reading.

The UN climate negotiations are famous for their agonisingly slow progress and last minute, late night deals, but even by their own standards, the Bonn meeting was notoriously frustrating, both in pace and content.

The 42nd meeting of the Subsidiary Bodies to the United Nations Convention on Climate Change (to use its technical name) which closed on Friday 12th June is just one more step on the road to the full UN Climate Summit in December in Paris. If it offers an indication of the kind of ‘deal’ to be expected in Paris then, clearly the omen is not good.

Game playing by the developed countries

While the Heads of State of some of the world’s richest countries gave encouraging words at the G7 summit outside Munich, it seemed that their climate negotiators, just 400 miles to the north in Bonn, were playing a game of time wasting.

Led by the US and to a lesser extent Australia and Canada, developed countries chose to clutter the process with distracting talk of concepts, possible flow of text and procedural matters.  For example, in the meetings on finance the G77 (a loose grouping of developing countries) and China were anxious to have a discussion on the scale and sources of finance, while developed countries preferred to talk about whether or not it would be better to have the section on scale before or after the section on sources!

Similarly in the meeting on intended mitigation commitments developed countries refused several invitations to discuss what emission reductions pledges they might make, but rather chose to focus on possible time frames and cycles for communicating action – the form and scale is yet to be decided.

From “Common but Differentiated Responsibility” to “Common but Shifted Responsibility”

Personally, I’m deeply concerned that this game of brinkmanship and delay might lead to a rushed and half-baked Paris deal that will fall short of the ambition required to protect the Earth and the most vulnerable populations around the world.

In particular, there is a distinct danger that the Paris climate agreement, if hastily worded at the last minute by powerful countries as was the case in Copenhagen in 2009, will end up imposing unwarranted obligations on poor countries who are the victims of climate change.

Indeed, several aspects of the lengthy and convoluted negotiating text appear to demand stringent emission reduction and reporting obligations from poor developing countries without providing for the necessary financial and  technical support they will need to meet such obligations. These moves suggest that developed countries are keen to walk away from the accepted common but differentiated responsibility principle in pursuit of a perverse ethical principle which might be termed the common but shifted responsibility principle.

Equity at the Core of the Disagreement

Despite the ‘smoke and mirror’ diplomacy deployed by developed countries, the key disagreements are quite obvious and these centre on old unresolved conflicts about equity and justice.

Developing countries are adamant that developed countries should not only take on ambitious mitigation commitments but should also provide adequate and predictable finance to help facilitate adaptation and low carbon development in the South. They are also angry that developed countries have consistently failed to meet previous promises made in relation to finance, technology transfer and capacity building.

Developed countries on their own part insist that the new agreement should generate far reaching financial and emission reduction obligations for all countries, especially the developing countries with fast rising emissions and GDP. They insist that the world has changed a lot since the initial convention was signed in 1992 and that the Paris agreement must reflect these ‘new economic realities’.

Two more rounds to go before Paris

There are two more rounds of negotiations, in August and October, before the Paris Conference in December, but it is hard to see how these intractable issues and fundamental differences can be resolved in these remaining meetings.  If the debacle of Copenhagen teaches us anything, it is that lack of openness and transparency can do lasting damage to the fabric of trust on which international environmental diplomacy is built.

Developed countries should come clean with their offers on how they plan to show leadership for cutting emissions that reflect their historical responsibility. There should be a commitment to negotiate in good faith and work with liked minded countries in developing countries to work out package deal that is fair, equitable and ambitious enough to protect the world from man-made climate change. Developing countries on their own part could move the discussion forward by putting forward concrete proposals that will ‘force’ a reaction from developed countries.  A deal in Paris is both an ecological as well as a political necessity and diplomats on all sides should know that the time to move a gear in the negotiation is now.


Opinion: Can devolution enable UK cities to become smart and sustainable?

Tim DixonProfessor in Sustainable Futures in the Built Environment, School of Construction Management and Engineering, University of Reading and Walker Institute Associate

city_croppedUK cities now seem likely to get greater powers to raise money and make their own decisions under a new Conservative government. But for cities to be smarter and more sustainable, and help meet national emissions targets, three other critical elements need to be in place: an integrated vision to inspire people; innovation to bring about change; and new thinking across disciplines and professions. 

Given the promise of new devolved powers for cities, with the Conservatives focusing on the ‘Northern Powerhouse’, how might this play out as a new Conservative Government takes shape?

Recent policy reviews by think tanks such as ResPublica have argued that evolving fiscal powers to cities would enable them to achieve greater autonomy, efficiency and collaboration with a strong focus on ‘place-making’. Currently the UK has a highly centralised system of funding, with only about 17% of funding being raised locally, compared with 55% in other OECD countries. Additionally London continues to dominate the city landscape in the UK, with more than 4 out of 5 private sector jobs in the UK created there between 2010 and 2012.

Rebalancing the economy towards other key cities is essential, but the UK’s national carbon emission targets and the big role that cities play in creating emissions and consuming energy also require us to think very carefully about how we can make our cities both smarter and more sustainable. After all, smarter ways to govern cities (or ‘governance’) is an important way of helping achieve environmental, economic and social sustainability in our cities. But can we achieve this through greater devolution to cities?

The answer is, it depends, because three other pieces of the jigsaw are important too.

An integrated vision to inspire people

Firstly, it depends on whether cities also have an integrated vision of where they want to be by 2050 and beyond. Recently the “smart city” model has gained further traction, as commercial companies have seen a growing market for the future development of smart city technologies, and the supply of “big data” (or huge, dynamic datasets) has increased. Proponents argue that technology can be leveraged to enhance economic development and the quality of life, and that the increasing availability and integration of big data, can be used to underpin these goals. Information for decision-making at a range of scales is therefore vital, and further enhanced by the rapid development of pervasive technologies, such as mobile devices and ubiquitous computing, both in cities and people’s daily lives.

However, the smart city concept in its purest sense presents substantial challenges, and there is a real danger that by focusing exclusively on the alluring “smart” technology aspects of cities, that this distracts and deviates us from following a truly sustainable path of urban development. This is vital to bear in mind given that the majority of the buildings (and cities) in the developed world are likely to be still here in 2050, and so the main focus has to be on ensuring that existing cities are both smart and sustainable.

Cities need to develop an integrated approach to smart and sustainable thinking which joins up the best elements of smart technologies and sustainable practices. Developing inclusive visions for cities is fundamental to this goal, and putting people at the heart of any future vision for a city is critical to success. Although there is no single agreed definition of a smart city, smart city thinking typically sees pervasive technologies (including, for example, telecom networks, transport and infrastructure systems, sensors, meters and other networked systems) as offering the ability to connect, integrate and analyse data to enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of cities.

Data, however, does not exist in a vacuum, and people use technologies and react and behave in the context of their social practices and learning, so placing citizens centre-stage in a smart city view of the future is vital. This means not only understanding the context of the data generated, but also understanding how governance systems can be framed to protect privacy and confidentiality, as well as ensuring people across a city have access to appropriate technologies, and making sure that there is a recognition that “no one size fits all” for cities. This also means that to understand how cities respond to urban challenges, we need an integrated approach to thinking about (figure 1):

  • society;
  • economy;
  • environment; and,
  • governance


Figure 1: Four key themes in a smart and sustainable city*


*Adapted from International Telecommunications Union (2014): Smart Sustainable Cities-An Analysis of Definitions.

Innovation to bring about change

Secondly, for devolution to succeed in making our cities smart and sustainable, cities also need to recognise the benefits of using big data to improve the quality of life for its citizens through improved decision-making and better information and customer service. This needs to recognise the challenges around privacy and security. To help tackle these challenges urban innovation “ecosystems” need to be created that combine the expertise of civic society (including people and local government), business and academia. This links very closely with the idea of creating urban innovation in cities, and has also led to the development of “urban transition laboratories” or “urban living laboratories”, which are centres of reflexive learning and social innovation co-created by cities, business and academia. In a continued era of austerity, and with the likelihood of further funding cuts for local authorities, cities will also need to find innovative ways of financing the transition to a more sustainable future. Perhaps initiatives such as Gothenburg’s and Johannesburg’s green municipal bonds can provide us with valuable lessons in this respect.

New thinking across disciplines and professions

Thirdly, interdisciplinary thinking is needed, which brings together different disciplines, and this must not only be at the heart of research and development in smart and sustainable cities and big data solutions, but also in professional practice in the built environment. After all, cities are ultimately about people. As Shakespeare wrote, “What is the city but the people?” Understanding this fundamental truth is critical to developing thinking around smart and sustainable cities, and building our thinking about cities through ‘integration’, ‘innovation’ and ‘interdisciplinarity’ can help us maximise the potential of devolution in a post-election environment.

For further information on this topic please see the University of Reading’s new position paper:  Smart and Sustainable: Using Big Data to Improve People’s Lives in Cities

See also the Reading 2050 City Vision project

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