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Monthly Archive

Clean Energy Policy and Indigenous Territorial Rights: Notes from my Collaborative Research in Southern Chile

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Windy, sunny days, cold nights and mornings, and occasional rains mark the beginning of spring in southern Chile. White flowered plum trees dot the landscape. Hummingbirds and bees buzz between flower treats. The campo is bustling. Long days are dedicated to turning the fields, planting, weeding, and preparing animals for new pastures. Farmers are planting earlier in hopes that plants will be hardier. Not enough rain fell this year, and farmers are worried about summer water supplies. Concerns about drought’s effects are overshadowed by the looming questions regarding ongoing small hydropower development on the many rivers and streams of the sacred Puelwillimapu territory of the Mapuche-Huilliche people.

Caption 1: Río Calcurrupe, located in the Andean foothills of the Ríos region, is threatened by aquaculture and hydropower development. It is an important river in Mapuche-Huilliche cosmovision and for recreational fishing tourism.

Economic development and socio-ecological change threaten the mountainous river-lakes system, the native temperate rainforest, and the communities of indigenous people with many thousands of years’ connections to these landscapes. These territorial pressures include hydropower and aquaculture development, seasonal drought, lack of rural education and job opportunities for youth, and the construction of roads and other infrastructure. According to many local actors, the most worrisome change is ‘small’ hydropower development, which, according to some international agencies, is ‘cleaner’ than large hydropower dams. In practice, however, it’s not that simple. Just because a project generates fewer megawatts of energy does not necessarily mean its cultural and ecological impacts are less severe.

To make things more complicated, Chile’s legal recognition of indigenous rights is still in process, hindering the Mapuche-Huilliche peoples’ ability to have a voice about their territory’s future. On the surface, renewable energy appears to be a positive and necessary change for our global energy system. Upon closer inspection, however, it is clear that we need legal and regulatory action to mitigate the negative side effects of these projects, such as habitat fragmentation, water contamination, and cultural value loss, particularly when indigenous territory is affected. We need to think more critically and holistically about how to guide these changes while protecting human rights and critical ecosystems. In terms of climate change policy, this calls for better integration of policy and actions to adapt to a changing climate with those taken to mitigate greenhouse gas production (for example, promoting renewable energy production). 

Caption 2: With much of the native forest replaced by agriculture in the pampa (flatlands), rivers arecritical for maintaining biodiversity. Many native species and medicinal plants can be found in the riparian corridor of the Wenuleufu (Río Bueno), which is threatened by proposed hydropower and operating aquaculture projects. Wenuleufu is an important river in Mapuche-Huilliche cosmosvision and history, and for tourism activities including boating, kayaking, and fishing.

When I stepped onto southern Chile soil eight months ago, I knew I wanted to understand hydropower conflicts. After spending time with communities learning about the issues they view as most important, I shifted to studying how: 1) the indigenous consultation process works for hydropower development; 2) changes in water availability (quantity and quality) affect traditional water uses and rural livelihoods; and 3) co-producing basic territorial information with local stakeholders can inform local and regional decision-making processes. As a CLIMAS Fellow, I’ve been conducting grassroots and policy outreach to support this effort. This includes working with Mapuche-Huilliche people, while holding ongoing conversations with the Ministry of the Environment, the Ministry of Energy, the Water Directorate, and members of the private sector.

With local stakeholders in the Bueno River Basin, we’ve developed maps to understand territorial change. For a broader public, we have created handouts on issues such as how the environmental impact assessment process works. I’ve led presentations on different aspects of natural resource governance, such as how the water rights systems functions. In meetings with indigenous people and government officials, I ask how my research can best inform their needs, and what are their lingering questions. These recurrent dialogues guide my investigation, allowing me to pose more nuanced questions as my research advances and our shared understanding grows. Through this ongoing exchange I am developing some policy recommendations on the environmental, regulatory, and indigenous rights issues associated with small hydropower development. 

Caption 3: CLIMAS fellow Sarah Kelly-Richards leads a participatory mapping activity in an meeting with local stakeholders.

As a scholar coming from another country, part of my contributions are pointing out oversights that are apparent to me through comparative analysis. In Chile, the lack of data on how rivers and streams are altered by climatic change threatens not only rural ways of life and a unique, biodiverse ecosystem, but also energy production. Chile, among many other countries, still has a lot of regulatory steps to take to ensure indigenous peoples and their territories are consulted (according to ratified treaty terms such as International Labor Organization’s Convention 169) and adequately protected. A delicate balance must be found between moving quickly to develop renewable energy on the one hand, and respecting and understanding changing landscapes and indigenous territories. By examining how the law works in practice in river basins of southern Chile, I hope to improve the process of consultation with indigenous peoples, and to better govern small hydropower.

As my indigenous research collaborators often remind me, our modern society occupies such a small blip in time compared to their cultures’ long-term relationships with the rivers, volcanoes, and valleys of Southern Chile. I’m grateful for the support of the CLIMAS staff and organization in helping me to produce research data with the people and landscapes of southern Chile that traverses the boundaries between indigenous people, government agencies, and other actors. As the warm sun contrasts the cold, damp ground of southern Chile, territorial priorities are being determined. Hopefully, my findings will inform how those decisions are made. 

Life between Hope and Despair: Climate Change Impacts in Coastal Bangladesh

Monday, December 19, 2016

Traveling across southwest coastal Bangladesh is not easy. With limited transport infrastructure and facilities, people might end up spending an entire day or night just to travel small distances. In the last week of May (2016), when I arrived coastal city Kuakata in Patuakhali district, literally I spent the whole night to travel ca. 150 miles from Khulna (a regional big city, which is 170 miles southwest of the capital Dhaka). It was a rainy early morning in Kuakata. However, it didn’t took much time to realize local vulnerability to climate impacts. I went to the Kuakata sea beach, and saw how local people are living with the risks of rising tides and coastal erosion. I clearly understood why for local people climate change is not an issue of scientific or political discourse; for them, it is the reality.

After spending few days and talking with local people, I realized local livelihoods are affected by various climate related risks, which can be broadly categorized into two major groups: (1) slow onset climate events such as sea level rise and salinity intrusion in land and groundwater and (2) extreme climate events such as tropical cyclones, coastal floods. Locally more information is available on extreme climate events than slow onset climate impacts, even though those can have long-term impacts on local livelihoods. It is not rare that people from the region are forced to migrate to some other regions, because locally lands are not any more arable due to increasing saltwater intrusion in local lands and ground water. In some areas, people have restricted access to drinking water because of the same reason. Sea level rise, water logging, coastal floods, tropical cyclones are among the long list of disasters that local people experience in their daily life.

A local NGO, ADAMS[1] (Association Development Activity Manifold Social Work) which is working in ten districts across southern Bangladesh, provided me invaluable logistics supports in the field. They helped me to travel into the remotest corners in the region and created opportunities for numerous interactive discussions with the local people. I interacted not only with local farmers or fishermen, I got the opportunity to talk with local government representatives, community activists, and many other village people. I was trying to link my text book references with local climate contexts. It was clearly apparent to me that even though climate change is often presented as a long-term macro-scale process, the reality is manifested and experienced as real-time local level alterations in climate variability.

However, it seemed to me that the future of humanity is now present in the coastal Bangladesh. If the people in this region can sustain, than many other parts of the world that are facing similar challenges can also sustain or thrive under shifting pattern of weather/climate. The future of human race largely depends on how we – social systems in general – will react to the changing patterns of climate. Human responses to climate variability and change can be identified as adaptation. Unfortunately, in coastal Bangladesh not all people have the similar capacities to respond to climate stresses. Some communities or people will do better than others.

Usually, in low-income developing countries these differential capacities to climate adaptation are largely shaped by the deep-rooted structural challenges, such as social marginalization, religious and ethnic exclusion, unequal land ownership, social relationship. In addition to climate risks, these context-specific structural challenges also contribute in determining individual/household capacity to respond to climate stresses.

We need to understand this complexity of human responses to climate change in the local level, and can employ the concepts of vulnerability, adaptation, and resilience, to better identify how responses to climate pressures vary among different households and communities and how we can provide appropriate adaptation solutions. We need to critically analyze what factors improve adaptation decisions, or, specifically enhance and increase adaptive capacity of the local people who are exposed to climate risks. Adaptive capacity is measured in terms of access to assets and resources such as information, social capital, power, diversifications, etc. For my doctoral research, I will explore the role of user-inspired climate services in promoting local adaptation decision-making.

I put “people” at the center of my months long pre-doctoral exploratory field research in coastal Bangladesh, since they are at the frontline of climate change impacts. They live with climate extremes, and realize changing patterns of climate much earlier than we, the researchers, can find. I incorporated local insights on building my climate knowledge on vulnerability and adaptive responses. I found local innovations on farming and livelihood adjustment under climate stresses, such as farming in elevated lands.

When I return to Tucson, AZ, which is quite a different environment with different climatic challenge, I came with new insights, questions, and curiosities. Thanks to CLIMAS’ Climate & Society Graduate Fellow Program for conducting this important work.  I often asked myself, did my field visit in Bangladesh made me a more optimistic or a more pessimistic person than I was before. Maybe I was puzzled with the complex nature of climate-society interactions in the region. However, I am fairly confident with concerted efforts among science, society, industry and policy, and as human society, we will thrive and we can survive even in face of largest human challenge that we have ever confronted.


Dec 2016 La Niña Tracker

Friday, December 16, 2016

From the December issue of the CLIMAS Southwest Climate Outlook

Oceanic and atmospheric indicators of the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) continue to indicate a weak La Niña event that is likely to last through mid-winter at least and perhaps into early spring (Figs. 1-2). The borderline weak status of the event, along with some discrepancy between the forecast agencies discussed here, means a more rapid transition to ENSO-neutral conditions cannot be ruled out. As with last month, there is some hedging in the forecasts and outlooks that likely stems from ongoing uncertainty as to whether the event can maintain even weak La Niña strength through winter 2017 (December–February). Fluctuations in forecasts and models are due to the limited coordination between oceanic and atmospheric conditions described in previous outlooks, “masking…by intra-seasonal activity” (as described by the CPC on Dec 8), and the difficulty in categorizing borderline conditions into a binary choice between weak La Niña and ENSO-neutral.

A closer look at the forecasts and seasonal outlooks continues to provide some insight into the range of expectations for a La Niña event this winter. On December 6, the Australian Bureau of Meteorology ended its La Niña Watch, declaring that La Niña is no longer likely in the coming months. They identified “very weak La Niña-like patterns,” including cool sea surface temperature (SST) anomalies, but the cluster of conditions did not meet the bureau’s threshold for designating an official La Niña event. On December 8, the NOAA Climate Prediction Center (CPC) maintained its La Niña advisory for an ongoing weak La Niña event, based on oceanic and atmospheric conditions during November, and forecast a transition to ENSO-neutral conditions during January–March 2017. On December 9, the Japanese Meteorological Agency identified the ongoing presence of La Niña conditions in the equatorial Pacific and forecast equal chances (50 percent) of this La Niña lasting through winter 2017 or a return to ENSO-neutral conditions. The agency also identified a 70 percent chance of ENSO-neutral conditions by spring 2017. On December 15, the International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI) and CPC forecasts identified a borderline weak La Niña event that was “just barely going,” and forecast a likely rapid decline to ENSO-neutral conditions in winter 2017 (Fig. 3).  The North American Multi-Model Ensemble (NMME) characterizes the current model spread and highlights the variability looking forward to 2017. The NMME mean already has risen above the La Niña threshold in the current run and is forecast to remain ENSO-neutral through the first half of 2017 (Fig. 4).

According to most forecasts, a weak La Niña remains in the cards for the Southwest during winter 2017, which is more likely than not to bring warmer- and drier-than-average conditions to the region over the cool season. Even if the event decays more rapidly than currently forecast and conditions tack back toward neutral conditions, borderline La Niña conditions still could affect temperature and precipitation patterns through the winter. Southwestern winters are relatively dry already; La Niña years tend to cluster on the dry end of the distribution (Fig. 5), so even a weak event could shift that seasonal pattern to an even drier state. Given the baseline climate of the Southwest, a weak La Niña event might not stand out, but snowpack and water supply could be affected going into the spring and summer, so this is something to keep an eye on. Seasonal forecasts likely were already incorporating the influence of La Niña into monthly and seasonal forecasts, and for as long as this La Niña event persists, even in a weak form, we can expect these forecasts will continue to suggest warmer- and drier-than-average conditions (Figs. 6a–b, 7).

Figure Credits:

Dec 2016 CLIMAS Southwest Climate Outlook - Climate Summary

Thursday, December 15, 2016

From the December issue of the CLIMAS Southwest Climate Outlook

Precipitation & Temperature: November precipitation totals were average to above average in Arizona’s climate divisions, and above average to much above average in New Mexico’s climate divisions (Fig. 1a). November temperatures were much above average across most of Arizona and all of New Mexico (Fig. 1b). This continued a trend of warm temperatures this fall, with parts of Arizona and New Mexico recording record warm temperatures in October and November (Fig. 2). Very little precipitation has fallen in December. This is not unexpected, as the Southwest generally receives limited precipitation between the end of the monsoon and early fall tropical storm activity and the uptick in precipitation in mid-winter into spring (when much of the cool season precipitation falls in the region). Temperatures in December have been mostly above normal in Arizona and western New Mexico, with cooler-than-normal temperatures in eastern New Mexico (Fig. 3). The upcoming polar vortex in the upper midwestern and eastern U.S., in addition to atmospheric river activity off the U.S. Pacific Coast, should shift this pattern in the latter half of December. 

Snowpack & Water Supply: Warm temperatures continue to limit early season snowpack across the West, and snow water equivalent (SWE) values are below average across much of the region. As of December 14, most of the stations in Arizona and New Mexico were at or below 50–75 percent of normal, while stations in Colorado and Utah recorded 50–90 percent of normal and 90–125 percent of normal, respectively (Fig. 4). There is ongoing concern that continued drought conditions may lead to water supply restrictions (see Reservoir Volumes).

Drought: Long-term drought conditions persist across the Southwest (Fig. 5). According to the December 13 U.S. Drought Monitor, most of Arizona is designated as abnormally dry (D0) or experiencing moderate drought (D1). The far southwestern corner of the state is designated as experiencing severe drought (D2), reflecting the persistent multi-year drought conditions extending from central and Southern California. In New Mexico, most of the northern half of the state and pockets along the U.S.-Mexico border are designated as abnormally dry (D0).

ENSO & La Niña: Borderline weak La Niña conditions are present but are declining, with a likely return of neutral conditions during winter 2016–2017. The decline that most models and forecasts identify could limit the influence of La Niña on weather in the Southwest, although weak La Niña events have been less reliably dry compared to moderate and strong La Niña events. Regardless of the ENSO signal, the climate of the Southwest is inherently dry. The cool season already receives relatively low precipitation totals in a normal year, so La Niña conditions—weak or otherwise—are more likely than not to increase the chances of a drier-than-average winter. This is a concern, given the multi-year drought currently underway in the Southwest, along with the looming possibility of water restrictions in coming years if Lake Mead levels are forecast to drop below the 1,075-foot elevation threshold.

Precipitation & Temperature Forecasts: The December 15 NOAA Climate Prediction Center’s outlook for January calls for increased chances of below-average precipitation and above-average temperatures. The three-month outlook for January through March also calls for increased chances of below-average precipitation (Fig. 6, top) and above-average temperatures (Fig. 6, bottom).