Talking about local challenges makes climate change real

by Thin Lei Win | @thinink | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Monday, 6 October 2014 13:37 GMT

Sisters walk together as they move a herd of goats on grasslands located around 200km (62 miles) south-west of the Mongolian capital city Ulan Bator, April 4, 2012. REUTERS/David Gray

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Discussions about climate change often use language peppered with acronyms ordinary people can't relate to

Apple farmers in Indonesia’s highlands have seen harvests plummet due to warmer temperatures and shifting rainfall patterns. In Mongolia, where many make a living from animal husbandry, this age-old tradition is threatened by shrinking grasslands and desertification. 

Meanwhile, floods in Assam in northeast India regularly wash away homes and sources of income, but local people are bracing for things to get even worse. 

These are just some of the day-to-day realities communities in Asia Pacific face as climate change bites, according to experts at a regional forum last week. 

Discussions about climate change often use language peppered with acronyms ordinary people struggle to relate to. 

Many of the sessions at the three-day conference in Malaysia focused on sharing knowledge, how to get the private sector on board, and “mainstreaming climate change adaptation” (including ways to protect communities from climate impacts, like strengthening infrastructure or providing resilient seeds and weather information, in development planning). 

So it was nice to get a few glimpses of what people are actually experiencing on the ground and what’s being done to help them. 

“The rainy season is supposed to occur in a month ending with “-ber” (September to December), (but) nowadays it has flipped over. Water pours down in January to February,” a team from the Indonesian Institute of Sciences was told by an apple farmer in Batu, a hill station in East Java Province. 

The temperature in the area has risen by 1 to 2 degrees Celsius in the past two decades, rainfall has decreased and pests have multiplied, the researchers found. Productivity dropped from 28 kilos per plant to 16 kilos in a few years. Farmers responded by using more pesticides. 

The fruit introduced by the Dutch is now synonymous with Batu, which has 7,000 apple farmers. But due to climate change, apple production “may be extinct in the next 15 to 20 years”, said Syarifah Dalimunte from the institute.  

There are now plans to encourage organic apple farming, and promote Batu as a tourism spot. 

FAMILY FLOOD-WARNING KITS

Over in India, the Kathmandu-based International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) started a pilot early warning system in 2013 in two flood-prone districts in Assam to reduce loss of lives and property during flash floods. 

It’s a simple two-piece kit - a flood gauge and a control unit - that makes use of wireless technology and solar power, according to Neera Shrestha Pradhan, a water and adaptation specialist at ICIMOD. 

Electronic sensors fitted inside the flood gauge at different heights indicate varying risk levels. When water rises and touches the marks, it triggers an alarm in the control unit set up in a household living up to 700 m from the river.  

The family looking after the instrument then disseminates the flood warning. It’s not perfect – with the wireless range, battery life and sediment in the sensor causing some problems - but it’s a start.  

Mongolia, on the other hand, is still considering responses to the melting of permafrost, which occupies about 65 percent of the country’s surface area. Its loss could lead to reduced surface water, more desertification and higher emissions of greenhouse gases, said Qinxue Wang from the Japan-based National Institute for Environmental Studies

There are hopes that training herders to adapt to new conditions, and promoting renewable energy could help to some extent.

Greater efforts to highlight the real problems people face out in their fields, in their riverside dwellings, with their herds on the steppe or on slowly disappearing islands - alongside potential solutions - would surely help convince the wider world of the need for urgent climate action.

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