One man does not control the world’s climate

It is important not to over-react to the news that Donald Trump wishes to withdraw the USA from the Paris Agreement and seek to renegotiate a ‘fairer deal’ for America. The wailing and grieving around the media that has accompanied yesterday’s announcement is exactly the sort of reaction that Trump is seeking to provoke. It plays to his sense of self-importance and it fundamentally mis-reads the relationship between the Paris Agreement and the climate system.

The BBC’s top-level news headline for today on their web-site has been “Global dismay at US climate deal pull out”. World leaders, including Barack Obama, have lined up to denounce Trump’s decision and media headlines proclaim “A crime against the future of people and the planet”. Other commentators express concern about a set-back for the Agreement itself – a “devastating failure of historic proportions” according to Senator Chuck Schumer — and what it will mean for the future of the world’s climate.

This set of reactions may be understandable, but they play straight into the hands of Donald Trump and his advocates. They reaffirm his mission of self-importance, of fighting against the establishment, his self-belief that what he says and does matters more than anything anyone else says and does.

Overstating the significance of Trump’s announcement also mis-reads the nature of the Paris Agreement and its efficacy in ‘governing’ the world’s climate. The Paris Agreement is already a voluntary arrangement of self-determined and self-policed intentions to reduce greenhouses gas emissions from different national jurisdictions. There are no penalties, no sanctions for states which fail to meet their Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC).

Even if, following Trump’s announcement, the USA now fails to secure its own NDC – and this if far from certain for reasons below – the projections of how this might alter the average global temperature by 2100 reveal the sleight of hand. Projections suggest a warming of about 3.6°C (without the USA in Paris) rather than 3.3°C (with the USA in Paris), a reduction of just 0.3°C and well-within the random noise in the system. The fact is, all the NDCs declared by nations leave the world well short of the declared goal of 2 degrees of warming, let alone the aspirational target of 1.5°C.

We should not fall for the hype of defenders of the Paris Agreement and its own self-pronounced historic status. Neither therefore should we despairingly denounce Trump for declaring he will remove the USA from the Agreement. Such reactions give too much weight to the actions of one man to shape the world and they place too much faith in the Paris Agreement to effect change in societies around the world.

This is not a defeatist position to hold. And I am certainly no defender of Donald Trump. It is rather a position that recognises the limited powers that Trump holds over his own economy and the limited effectiveness of any single global treaty to “govern” the world’s climate. What matters far more are the thousand and one sites around the world where change is taking place, the thousands of different political actors, social movements and loci of innovation and change which are shaping the trajectory of future world development.

For sure, some of these have taken inspiration from the Paris Agreement. But many have not and are driven by their own internal logics: new business start-ups and commercial opportunity; cultural movements for enhanced well-being and healthy life-styles; effective city planning to deliver cleaner air and efficient mobility; moral imperatives to deliver improved energy, health and education services for the world’s left behinds; and so on. These developments have a momentum and a motivational force of their own that do not stand or fall on the febrile politics of the Paris Agreement, even less on the whims of an American President.

Rather than obsess about Donald Trump’s “will-he-won’t-he” games it is far better to look on the up-side of what is already happening around the world and to lend ones shove to many of these changes underway. We should read Trump’s announcement in a different way: paradoxically, it will invigorate and make more determined many of the individuals, organisations and movements alluded to above.

One man does not control the world’s climate.

Mike Hulme, 2 June 2017

Reducing risks in urban centres: think ‘local, local, local’

Undefined

Most urban centres in sub-Saharan Africa and many in Asia and Latin America are dangerous places to live and work. This can be seen in aggregate statistics for nations' urban populations that show (for instance) high infant, child and maternal mortality rates.

The dangers particularly affect low-income populations living in informal settlements. These areas often lack most risk-reducing infrastructure (such as safe, sufficient, accessible and affordable water; good-quality sanitation and electricity; all-weather roads; and street lighting) and risk-reducing services (including healthcare, waste collection, emergency services and policing).

But when basic provisions for these are in place, urban centres can be among the world's least dangerous places to live – shown by very high life expectancies.

Local government responsibility

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) mention addressing these risks and 'leaving no one behind'.  But they don't acknowledge that the responsibility largely falls to local governments, and that most risk in urban areas cannot be reduced when local governments fail their responsibilities.

These failures, and their causes, including inadequate support from higher levels of government and international agencies, are the most important reasons so many urban centres are so dangerous.  

In high-income and some upper-middle income countries, urban governments have dramatically reduced most of the life- and health-threatening risks by providing infrastructure and services, but also by managing land-use. This is important for making serviced land for housing available and affordable, for protecting watersheds, and for avoiding settlements on dangerous sites.  
 
In most cases, this has required well-functioning city governments and strong civil society pressure, including demands from organisations representing the urban poor.

There is little comparable progress in low- and many middle-income countries. Indeed, many have gone backwards: the proportion of their urban population lacking sanitation and piped water at home is lower today than it was in 1990 (PDF).

Data and local action

Cities in high-income countries also have information on risk: through censuses, vital registration systems, surveys, hospital records and data on air pollution. Reporting on road accidents, for example, has often led to concerted action. Similarly, understanding the health impacts of small particles has led to more stringent air pollution controls.

Reducing risk depends on local knowledge to identify and understand risk, and then local capacity to respond. Where conventional responses are too expensive or beyond local government capacities, communities are important.  

There are many examples of household and community-level action on risks. For instance, communities have led on installing sewers and drains (PDF) in many informal settlements in Karachi and other urban centres in Pakistan, and Mumbai's informal settlements have hundreds of community-designed and managed toilets and washing facilities (PDF).  

But community organisations cannot build the city-wide systems – the water mains, trunk sewers and drains, waste disposal, public transport, and so on. What was important in both these examples was community organisations working with government agencies and within local resource constraints.

When there is no local risk data

Where formal information systems don't exist, or where good information cannot be obtained from them, then new locally-rooted data collection is needed.  

Applying the DesInventar methodology to cities shows up many local risks that usually go unrecorded. This draws on local sources, such as newspaper reports, and includes events where people died or lost property but where too few were affected for a disaster to be recorded.

But it also faces limitations – for instance there are no records on most premature deaths from infectious and parasitic diseases on which it can draw.  

What too often gets forgotten is local people's knowledge and capacities. These can be accessed through household surveys, site visits, discussions with community organisations (PDF), and focus groups and interviews with key individuals (including local government staff and community leaders).

This is the third of three blogs drawn from the editorial in the April 2017 issue of the international journal, Environment & Urbanization. This issue is on 'Understanding the full spectrum of risk in urban areas' and it was prepared in partnership with Urban Africa Risk Knowledge (Urban ARK). The first blog was on 'Urban risks: where are the top five biggest blinds spots?' and the second was on 'Addressing the needs of vulnerable groups in urban areas'. 

Police, emergency services and hospitals also hold records on some risks. Then there are the detailed surveys and maps undertaken in hundreds of cities by slum/shack dweller federations. These provide much of the data needed to inform risk reduction and engage local populations in setting priorities. 

Functioning local democracies are another route to local knowledge on risks as they make local governments respond to demands by those who lack risk-reducing infrastructure and services, and this serves as a substitute for spatial data on risk.

Research programmes can help too. Urban ARK is a three-year programme of research and capacity building led by 12 policy and academic organisations from across sub-Saharan Africa, with partnerships in the United Kingdom. It aims to identify the most serious risks and break cycles that make risks accumulate.

The work is concentrated in four core cities – each presenting different development and hazard contexts: Ibadan (Nigeria), Karonga (Malawi), Nairobi (Kenya), and Niamey (Niger). Additional research is under way in Freetown (Sierra Leone), Dar es Salaam (Tanzania), Mombasa (Kenya), Dakar (Senegal), and Addis Ababa (Ethiopia).

International support for local action

International agencies must recognise they need to support local action by local governments, local universities and local civil society organisations. There is much they can do.

These agencies can help local groups access data from government agencies at all levels. They can pressurise national statistical offices and census bureaus to serve and support local governments and other local groups by providing useful data.

International agencies can also learn to support 'co-production' between local governments and groups at risk. But perhaps most important of all, international agencies must develop a capacity to help fund and support a range of initiatives in each locality, including civil society initiatives.

In short, the focus needs to be unrelentingly 'local, local, local', as agencies assess the most serious everyday risks, as well as the small and large disaster risks facing each settlement, and act on these.

Standfirst: 

Urban centres can be among the world's most healthy places to live and work – but many are among the least. How healthy they are is powerfully influenced by local government competence, local information, and support for local action.

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized

Reducing risks in urban centres: think ‘local, local, local’

Undefined

Most urban centres in sub-Saharan Africa and many in Asia and Latin America are dangerous places to live and work. This can be seen in aggregate statistics for nations' urban populations that show (for instance) high infant, child and maternal mortality rates.

The dangers particularly affect low-income populations living in informal settlements. These areas often lack most risk-reducing infrastructure (such as safe, sufficient, accessible and affordable water; good-quality sanitation and electricity; all-weather roads; and street lighting) and risk-reducing services (including healthcare, waste collection, emergency services and policing).

But when basic provisions for these are in place, urban centres can be among the world's least dangerous places to live – shown by very high life expectancies.

Local government responsibility

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) mention addressing these risks and 'leaving no one behind'.  But they don't acknowledge that the responsibility largely falls to local governments, and that most risk in urban areas cannot be reduced when local governments fail their responsibilities.

These failures, and their causes, including inadequate support from higher levels of government and international agencies, are the most important reasons so many urban centres are so dangerous.  

In high-income and some upper-middle income countries, urban governments have dramatically reduced most of the life- and health-threatening risks by providing infrastructure and services, but also by managing land-use. This is important for making serviced land for housing available and affordable, for protecting watersheds, and for avoiding settlements on dangerous sites.  
 
In most cases, this has required well-functioning city governments and strong civil society pressure, including demands from organisations representing the urban poor.

There is little comparable progress in low- and many middle-income countries. Indeed, many have gone backwards: the proportion of their urban population lacking sanitation and piped water at home is lower today than it was in 1990 (PDF).

Data and local action

Cities in high-income countries also have information on risk: through censuses, vital registration systems, surveys, hospital records and data on air pollution. Reporting on road accidents, for example, has often led to concerted action. Similarly, understanding the health impacts of small particles has led to more stringent air pollution controls.

Reducing risk depends on local knowledge to identify and understand risk, and then local capacity to respond. Where conventional responses are too expensive or beyond local government capacities, communities are important.  

There are many examples of household and community-level action on risks. For instance, communities have led on installing sewers and drains (PDF) in many informal settlements in Karachi and other urban centres in Pakistan, and Mumbai's informal settlements have hundreds of community-designed and managed toilets and washing facilities (PDF).  

But community organisations cannot build the city-wide systems – the water mains, trunk sewers and drains, waste disposal, public transport, and so on. What was important in both these examples was community organisations working with government agencies and within local resource constraints.

When there is no local risk data

Where formal information systems don't exist, or where good information cannot be obtained from them, then new locally-rooted data collection is needed.  

Applying the DesInventar methodology to cities shows up many local risks that usually go unrecorded. This draws on local sources, such as newspaper reports, and includes events where people died or lost property but where too few were affected for a disaster to be recorded.

But it also faces limitations – for instance there are no records on most premature deaths from infectious and parasitic diseases on which it can draw.  

What too often gets forgotten is local people's knowledge and capacities. These can be accessed through household surveys, site visits, discussions with community organisations (PDF), and focus groups and interviews with key individuals (including local government staff and community leaders).

This is the third of three blogs drawn from the editorial in the April 2017 issue of the international journal, Environment & Urbanization. This issue is on 'Understanding the full spectrum of risk in urban areas' and it was prepared in partnership with Urban Africa Risk Knowledge (Urban ARK). The first blog was on 'Urban risks: where are the top five biggest blinds spots?' and the second was on 'Addressing the needs of vulnerable groups in urban areas'. 

Police, emergency services and hospitals also hold records on some risks. Then there are the detailed surveys and maps undertaken in hundreds of cities by slum/shack dweller federations. These provide much of the data needed to inform risk reduction and engage local populations in setting priorities. 

Functioning local democracies are another route to local knowledge on risks as they make local governments respond to demands by those who lack risk-reducing infrastructure and services, and this serves as a substitute for spatial data on risk.

Research programmes can help too. Urban ARK is a three-year programme of research and capacity building led by 12 policy and academic organisations from across sub-Saharan Africa, with partnerships in the United Kingdom. It aims to identify the most serious risks and break cycles that make risks accumulate.

The work is concentrated in four core cities – each presenting different development and hazard contexts: Ibadan (Nigeria), Karonga (Malawi), Nairobi (Kenya), and Niamey (Niger). Additional research is under way in Freetown (Sierra Leone), Dar es Salaam (Tanzania), Mombasa (Kenya), Dakar (Senegal), and Addis Ababa (Ethiopia).

International support for local action

International agencies must recognise they need to support local action by local governments, local universities and local civil society organisations. There is much they can do.

These agencies can help local groups access data from government agencies at all levels. They can pressurise national statistical offices and census bureaus to serve and support local governments and other local groups by providing useful data.

International agencies can also learn to support 'co-production' between local governments and groups at risk. But perhaps most important of all, international agencies must develop a capacity to help fund and support a range of initiatives in each locality, including civil society initiatives.

In short, the focus needs to be unrelentingly 'local, local, local', as agencies assess the most serious everyday risks, as well as the small and large disaster risks facing each settlement, and act on these.

Standfirst: 

Urban centres can be among the world's most healthy places to live and work – but many are among the least. How healthy they are is powerfully influenced by local government competence, local information, and support for local action.

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized

Geocomputation for Geoscience: Crowdsourcing

PhD student and King’s Geocomputation member Alejandro Coca-Castro attended Europe’s premier geosciences event, The European Geoscience Union (EGU) General Assembly, in Vienna, Austria (April 24th – 28th 2017). In addition to presenting his preliminary PhD results in the session “Monitoring the Sustainable Development Goals with the huge Remote Sensing archives”, Alejandro kindly dedicated part of his attendance at EGU to capture the emerging Geocomputation fields applied to Geosciences, and in particular for land and biosphere research. In this post Alejandro summarises the latest advances in crowdsourcing presented at EGU, which he sees as one of the two main emerging fields revolutionizing the data-driven analysis allows knowledge-production.


 

Public participation in science is on the rise, and citizen science is playing a fundamental part in this. Citizen science is the participation of the public, non-professional scientists, in scientific research – whether it be in data analysis, data collection, community-driven studies or global research. According to a recent special issue of the Remote Sensing Journal, citizen science and projects which are based on user-generated content have dramatically increased during last decade, in particular to support analysis based on Earth Observation and Environmental sensing data. The EGU session “Citizen science and observatories for environmental monitoring, planning, and disaster resilience building” presented developments in the management of crowd-sourced environmental data, and how it can be used in the context of policy support and local planning.

picturepile

Fig 1. Traditional scientific data-driven analysis is now being favoured by so-called ‘citizen science’, through which  citizens can contribute to science and increase awareness of the global sustainability challenges. Source: Geo-wiki (2017).

One of the research initiatives presented in the session was the successful Geo-wiki project led by International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA). Through involving volunteers from all over the world, the Geo-Wiki project has been able to  tackle environmental monitoring problems relating to flood resilience, biomass data analysis and classification of land cover. Geo-wiki’s most recent campaign called ‘Picture Pile’ was presented to the EGU attendees as a citizen-powered tool for rapid post-disaster damage assessments (Figure 2, below). Picture Pile, which was originally designed to identify tree loss over time from pairs of very high resolution satellite images, announced the start of its new campaign to crowdsource post-disaster data from the Hurricane Matthew, which affected large regions of Haiti in September 2016. According to the authors’ campaign, “the proposed campaign will not only help to increase citizen awareness of natural disasters, but also provide them with a unique opportunity to contribute directly to relief efforts”. Anyone can get involved in the  current Picture Pile campaign and further info is provided here.

paperpile

Figure 2. Example of the mobile application interface designed as part of the Paper Pile campaigns for crowdsourcing rapid post-disaster damage assessments in developing countries. Source: IIASA (2017).

Dr. Steffen Fritz, main leader of the Geo-wiki project, explained to me that part of the success of the Geowiki campaigns is based on the transparency of the project (i.e. making all the collected data openly available), a dedicated research investment in rigorous methods/collaborative networks to use, analyse and recycle the collected data and last but not least providing fair acknowledgements to all volunteers involved (i.e. via co-authoring them in peer-review publications derived from each campaign).

Dr. Fritz admits even though the use of crowdsourcing for earth observation is still at an early stage, the huge potential arising from the combination of both data streams is already very clear. Challenges still remain, not least the need for more efficient methods to encourage citizens to collect data, the quality of crowdsourced data, data conflation, and the combination of crowdsourcing with other technologies and methods applied by experts (further details are provided here).


 

Interested in how Big data technologies are revolutionizing the way to collect/extract knowledge for data-driven? See Alejandro’s earlier post.

The author is grateful to the Geography Department Small Grants and the P4GES: Can Paying for Global Ecosystem Services reduce poverty? project for providing funding for Alejandro’s successful attendance to the EGU General Assembly. Revision of English version by Sarah Jones.

For updates about Alejandro’s research follow @alejo_coca on twitter.