Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Aid and our changing environment

Sometimes it’s great to get the long view. Last week at the ReCom meeting in Stockholm on the above subject, we were confronted with a quick run-through of the history of human land use. Quite appropriate as the signs advertising the “Stockholm marathon” are already up around the city – and just the thing to work up an appetite.

Thomas Hertel’s model took us through pre-settlement land undisturbed by human impact, to frontier development, subsistence farming, intensifying, to intensive land use. If you take it on further, of course, the typology presented in different ways is also the history of human migration and urbanization. 

The implications of this for Africa were expertly elaborated by Ephraim Nkonya, a Tanzanian specialist from the International Food Policy Institute. With global warming, marginal land can easily be tipped over into being unproductive land. Population growth and new demand for food is scheduled to increase dramatically in coming decades. The greatest potential availability of land to be brought under cultivation is in Africa  (hence the current land grabs from external countries and companies) and Latin/Central America. The gap between current yields per hectare and maximum potential yields is highest in Sub Saharan Africa. However, what Africa and the world do not need is for Africa to decimate its remaining forests to bring more and more land into farming. Everything points to the need for intensification of production on land already in use and a focus on increasing yield.

Of course, there was much more besides on this vast subject. A draft position paper is already available. Difficult though the challenges are, that paper concludes that climate change is unlikely to preclude realistic prospects for growth prior to 2040. Emphasis should be given to agricultural research, regional  (ie. cross border) river management and the vulnerability of infrastructure to extreme events.

The position paper concludes that key institutions such as REDD+ (forests), the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) , the Global Environment Facility (GEF)  and the Green Climate Fund ( GCF)  are based on reasonable analysis, but impaired by the lack of financing and demand for what they offer. Currently the Green Climate Fund is “essentially a hollow shell” due to lack of finance. Other key international institutions related to agriculture are in need of reform to achieve greater impact.  A critical independent report on the work of the Food and Agriculture Organisation is cited in the position paper.

Some of the themes emerging throughout the day were:

  • The need to remove the most obvious perverse incentives – in particular fossil fuel subsidies
  • Rather than using subsidies, the international community and governments should concentrate on ensuring that there is a well functioning carbon market and reliable national policy frameworks
  • A pragmatic approach that rather than imagining that a wholesale reform of instruments would be achieved - making existing instruments work better would be the way forward. So far it is OECD and Middle Income Countries which have benefited primarily from green private investment
  • Action is needed to reduce investment risk for green finance.
The realism apparent extended to the appearance of the Swedish and Danish development ministers who stressed that development aid has a specific role in assisting the world’s poor in their responses to climate change, but aid budgets cannot be expected to pay the bill for climate change mitigation. They were “multitasking” on that day – we heard the applause from a neighbouring hall in the SIDA headquarters as they spoke at a launch meeting for the UN High Level Panel on Post-2015 Development.
I asked them if they were satisfied with the outcome of the High Level Panel’s discussion on international development post-2015. Both expressed satisfaction – Gunnilla Carlsson (Sweden) that the emphasis on the eradication of extreme poverty has been maintained and Christian Friiis Bach (Denmark) that the good start made in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) has been consolidated into a broader agenda: extreme poverty; sustainable development; jobs and inclusive growth; peace and effective, accountable institutions  - as well as the need for global partnership on development. It remains to be seen whether the efforts to achieve the MDGs will result in renewed commitment to this extensive agenda, or whether the Member States of the UN will feel they have just finished a marathon and have no appetite for a new, more challenging set of objectives.
Carlsson also argued convincingly that the aid budget should not be pressurized to sort out all the problems of climate change. It should primarily help the poorest to find ways of living in response to the results of climate change, rather than picking up the bill for all that needs to be done on mitigation.
Dr Roger Williamson is a Visiting Fellow in the Vulnerability and Poverty Reduction Team. He is currently undertaking research on urban poverty and the Millennium Development Goals at the Institute of Development Studies.