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Prof Lena Dominelli, Associate Director of Vulnerabilities and Resilience at IHRR and a researcher on the BIOPICCC project, was interviewed by Responding to Climate Change — an NGO that produced news coverage of the COP17 conference in Durban, South Africa. In this video, Lena talks about the role of social work in delivering the needs of communities that have been impacted by climate change.
A new report from the United Nations Development Programme argues that development, equity and environmental sustainability must be addressed together in order to tackle some of the biggest challenges facing the world today, such as poverty, rising food prices, deforestation and climate change.
Similar to the international advice given in the World Risk Index, it is ambitious in scope and presentation. Many developed and developing countries alike have been struggling to work out an economic and environmentally sustainable plan for the future that mitigates climate change and other environmental crises. What this report emphasises is that such a strategy should not be separate from equity — fairness and social justice and greater access to a better quality of life.
Some countries have provided model examples in developing their economies through environmentally sustainable initiatives including Bangladesh, Vietnam, Nepal, Chile, Cameroon and many others. The Report argues that ‘health, education, income, gender disparities and energy production, combined with protection of the ecosystem’ are part of ‘environmental sustainability’. As I’m sure many of you are aware, the term ‘sustainability’ is often ambiguous and frequently exploited, such as for ‘green washing’ campaigns by some private companies whose aims may be anything but ‘sustainable’. Yet the UNDP argues for the importance of sustainability, perhaps helping to breathe new life into an environmental movement that has been incorrectly interpreted as promoting ecology at the expense of economic development. Read more
Listening to the voices of indigenous peoples who experience the effects of climate change firsthand is definitely a way to help spread awareness about the need to reduce global CO2 emissions, but also to adapt to the world’s changing climate. There have been recent studies that demonstrate the value of indigenous and local knowledge in climate science (see Local knowledge benefits climate change science and adaptation) and there will likely be many more as it provides researchers access to data that only can be revealed by local and indigenous communities. However, there is without a doubt much work to be done. After all, neither indigenous peoples nor climate scientists (or anyone else for that matter) has a complete picture of how the Earth’s climate(s) will change over time. Instead, different forms of knowledge are available that could be used to create a broader, more in-depth understanding of how the effects of climate change are impacting different regions of the Earth today.
There are a number of organisations that exist who are working to preserve and bridge indigenous and local knowledge with science. In terms of local knowledge, researchers in IHRR have been working closely with communities in Nepal (see Building Rural Resilience in Seismically Active Areas) to understand what they know about physical hazards and how both scientists and local people can benefit from each others’ knowledge to adapt to earthquakes, landslides and other physical hazards. While both scientific and indigenous knowledge are distinct from one another, more scientists are finding that indigenous knowledge in many ways is also scientific or at least improves upon scientific knowledge in places where little is known. For example, advanced technology like satellite imaging definitely helps reveal changes to the land, ocean, atmosphere and other parts of the Earth’s environment, but in some cases what it doesn’t reveal is how or where people experience climate change. However, bridging them together can increase scientists’ environmental knowledge as well as help indigenous peoples become more resilient to changes in climate that affect local resources they depend on for survival (see this study for a good example: Space Technologies for Enhancing the Resilience and Sustainability of Indigenous Reindeer Husbandry in the Russian Arctic). Read more
The number of older people in the UK and other parts of the world is projected to increase significantly in the future. By 2031, people 65 or older will make up over one in five of the population of England. Extreme weather events in areas where older people require care are also projected to increase due to climate change, including floods and heat waves.
Researchers from IHRR and Heriot-Watt University part of the project BIOPICCC (Built Infrastructure for Older People’s Care in Conditions of Climate Change) have recently published a study that has mapped the likely patterns of heat waves, cold waves and flooding in England. BIOPICCC is a 3-year project funded by the EPSRC part of a major research network known as ‘Adaptation and Resilience in a Changing Climate’ (ARCC). It is dedicated to developing strategies to make infrastructure for older people, including health and social care systems, sufficiently resilient to withstand the harmful effects of climate change, up to 2050.
According to the study, the warmest conditions in the future will be experienced in South and South West England, while the East, North West, Yorkshire and Humber will likely experience an increase in heat waves compared to present conditions. While cold waves will be less common they will still present a challenge to health and social care providers.
Professor Sarah Curtis, Director of Frontier Knowledge in IHRR and a researcher in the Department of Geography in Durham University said: ‘It makes sense to plan ahead. Cold waves will continue to occur in the future and pose a significant health risk to older people. The 2009/10 cold wave resulted in 25,400 excess winter deaths in England and Wales, the majority amongst those aged 75 and over.
‘Service providers must take into account the increasing numbers of retired people living in rural settlements and moving to the coast. In some areas the oldest population will more than double by 2031, so needs for health and social care provision will increase’.
‘When extreme weather events occur, special measures are needed to make sure people have access to the care they need in the community as well as in hospitals. Planning is important to try to keep road networks and utilities functioning, to ensure community care teams can reach their clients, and to help people manage in their homes in extreme weather’.
In order to understand the impacts of climate change in the regions of the world that are most vulnerable, why not ask the locals? One study did just that by interviewing people in village communities in Darjeeling Hills, West Bengal, India about the changes in weather and water availability that they have experienced firsthand. Interestingly, their findings correlated with scientific data on climate change for that region. The importance of local knowledge to scientific research has been met with scepticism and approval by many researchers, but its role in science as well as policy in many cases is still at an early stage. What makes the Himalayas particularly important is that it is not only one of the regions of the world most vulnerable to climate change, but is also a well-known ‘hotspot’ for biodiversity, and has the highest concentration of glaciers in the world, outside the polar ice caps. Read more