Victims of a cyclone in Bangladesh which is
regularly devastated by natural disasters
It was perhaps the most bizarre government meeting in history.
Cabinet ministers dressed in scuba diving gear gathered around a securely anchored horse-shoe shaped table and communicated with white boards and hand signals during the 30 minute summit. Witnesses included shoals of multi-colored exotic fish.
The underwater conference held in several metres of clear pearl blue ocean water was a gimmick, of course, but with deadly serious intent. The unusual meeting had been called by President Mohamed Nasheed to highlight the precarious plight of the Maldives, a chain of 1,190 low-lying coral reef islands in the middle of the Indian Ocean, in advance of the world climate summit in Copenhagen.
Known to world travelers as one of the most beautiful vacation locations on earth, to climate change and environmental experts, the Maldives represent a far more sinister symbol of impending disaster—the island nation could literally disappear under the waves unless the international community comes to grips with the effects of climate change, rising sea levels and environmental degradation.
The islands have already had a foretaste of what might be in store. The great 2004 Pacific tsunami swept over most of the coral land surface—standing only 2.1 meters above sea level—causing dozens of deaths and widespread destruction.
Japanese satellite data helps in the fight against
climate change / JICA file photo
Climate change is the only thing that I believe has the power to fundamentally end the march of civilization as we know it – former US President Bill Clinton
In the wake of that catastrophe, Japan sent emergency teams and humanitarian relief and extended its first official development loan (ODA) to the Maldives to help reconstruct port, harbor and sewerage facilities. A subsequent project is helping to develop clean energy resources.
Despite that assistance the longer term threat remains and President Nasheed told the special ‘water cabinet’ meeting “If the Maldives cannot be saved today, we do not feel that there is much of a chance for the rest of the world.”
Asked what would happen if the Copenhagen meeting failed, President Nasheed replied: “We are going to die.”
JICA has helped shore up the sea defenses in the Maldives Islands which are threatened by rising sea levels and natural disasters / JICA file photo
Political leaders have a responsibility to future generations to create a sustainable society by transforming the social structure that we have known since the industrial revolution – Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama
Because of its own history—its position on Asia’s ‘Ring of Fire’ and its constant exposure to natural calamities such as earthquakes and other climate and geographical vagaries—Japan has been a leader in the climate change debate for many years. It hosted the so-called 1997 Kyoto Protocol, a legally binding initiative committing signatories to tackle climate change and global warming by reducing their production of greenhouse gases.
Recent prime ministers have all unveiled specific initiatives. In 2007 then Prime Minister Shinzo Abe unveiled a Cool Earth 50 project with an overall aim of halving global carbon emissions by 2050.
The following year his successor, Yasuo Fukuda, unveiled the ‘Cool Earth Partnership’ – a five-year, $10 billion fund to support developing countries climate change goals. Special ‘Cool Earth Loans’ were made available to help states reach their climate goals. The premier said Japan would also link with the United States and the United Kingdom in a new multilateral fund.
Shortly after taking office, current Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama announced his own ‘Hatoyama Initiative’ pledging to reduce Japan’s own emissions by 25% in the next decade and to work closely with developing countries on their own programs.
As Japan’s key development agency, and the world’s largest bilateral organization with operating assets of around US$10 billion annually, the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) undertakes many of the climate change and related projects in developing countries—those nations often most adversely affected by the fallout but least able to deal with the consequences.
The U.N. Development Program (UNDP) noted: “Developing countries and the poorest people who live in them, are the most vulnerable to climate change.” For instance, Africa accounts for only 4% of global greenhouse gas emissions, the same amount as the state of Texas.
But more than one billion people, virtually all in developing countries including Africa, do not have enough water for daily needs and a similar number do not have enough to eat, according to U.N. figures. Nearly one-third of the world’s population is without electricity or other modern energy supplies.
Several years ago JICA established a global environment department to oversee the organization’s growing commitment on that issue which is often closely related to climate change developments. In December 2007, an office for climate change was created.
In 2008 JICA underwent a sweeping reorganization, merging with one arm of the Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC). ‘New’ JICA for the first time was able to offer all three major components of development assistance and all ‘under one roof’—technical expertise, grant aid and yen (soft) loans. The increased synergy, and financial and technical muscle provided by the merger has significantly increased JICA’s ability to participate more fully and effectively in the climate change arena.
Unless we take steps to arrest climate change, we are heading toward catastrophic consequences that will be irreversible – former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan
Under recently established JICA guidelines, a set of ‘basic principles’ emphasizes projects which not only aim to reduce greenhouse gases but at the same time achieve sustainable economic growth in poorer nations. Research to promote a low carbon society has received a new emphasis. Japan’s cutting-edge technology in such areas as satellite data, early warning systems and clean energy are being applied and, where appropriate, transfer technology is encouraged as is increased private investment.
The guidelines outline several broad implementation approaches. One key buzzword, ‘mitigation’ emphasizes a so-called co-benefit approach whereby projects tackle climate change issues, but also enhance overall national growth.
‘Adaptation’ projects help threatened countries to ‘adapt’ to ongoing or expected climate change conditions by, among other things, strengthening manpower resources and developing programs to protect vulnerable coastal zones, glacial regions or arid areas before the situation deteriorates further.
A clean development mechanism (CDM) is official jargon for developed countries helping developing states to achieve sustainable development while at the same time receiving carbon emission ‘credits’ for their participation.
Some projects incorporate each aspect. Schemes to regenerate mangrove forests in places like Mexico and Myanmar will help reduce greenhouse gases through carbon absorption, and help prevent further climate change by preventing coastal erosion and neutralizing rising temperatures while at the same time sustaining economic growth through local industry.
Forget about making poverty history. Climate change will make poverty permanent – Bangladesh activist – Nazmul Chowdhury
The importance of natural barriers such as mangroves was emphasized in 2008 when Cyclone Nargis crashed into Myanmar virtually unhindered, killing tens of thousands of persons in the worst natural disaster in that country’s history.
Mangrove rejuvenation, forestry and afforestation projects as far afield as China and Ethiopia are only one strand of a myriad of specific climate change projects currently undertaken by JICA and partner countries.
Satellite technology is helping to preserve the great rainforests of the Amazon and Indonesia where Japan last year announced a US$300 million yen loan—its first and most ambitious climate change loan to date.
Developing alternate clean energy sources is a major plank to try to tame climate change. Japan has helped to establish the largest wind farm in Africa on Egypt’s Red Sea coastline, bring electricity for the first time to isolated Nigerian villages via small renewable energy power stations and is helping to harness the world’s largest supplies of geothermal resources in Indonesia.
Pure scientific research involving JICA and other Japanese institutions and universities is seeking solutions to glacial meltdowns in the Himalayan mountains, the threat to low-lying Pacific nations such as Tuvalu and how to more effectively harness waste from Brazil’s massive sugar cane harvests which currently contribute to air pollution.
The devastating effects of forest fires in the Amazon rainforests, see clearly from space / NASA
The global warming scenario is pretty grim. I’m not sure I like the idea of polar bears under a palm tree– British comedian Lenny Henry
The fallout from climate change affects every area of daily life across the globe. JICA has helped to improve the transportation systems in some of the world’s most crowded cities including New Delhi and Manila—improving the quality of daily life and economic activity and reducing polluting gases.
Agriculture and water may be severely affected by climatic changes. In Africa, JICA is involved in helping to double the continent’s rice crop by, among other things, developing new strains more resistant to drought and high temperatures.
In Bangladesh, one of the most disaster-prone countries in the world, projects to establish early-warning disaster systems, promote education programs in schools and build cyclone resistant shelters which can also double as schools were launched.
JICA also runs what has been described as the world’s largest training program under which more than 8,000 government experts, administrators, academics and businessmen from around 140 countries visit Japan annually to attend a smorgasbord of training programs, including many of them devoted to climate change issues.
“Climate change has become the most urgent, and perhaps the most complex issue of our times,” JICA President Mrs. Sadako Ogata said. “This is particularly true in developing countries where JICA is committed to helping millions of the world’s most vulnerable groups to improve their lives through better health care, education, jobs and a safe environment.”
She added, “These countries are suffering a disproportionate fallout from climate change. In Africa, for instance, that continent has been responsible for few of the problems associated with global warming, but climate change nevertheless has affected the lives of hundreds of millions of people – farmers tilling the land or young children searching for increasingly scarce sources of clean water.
“It is the job of JICA to help in the battle against climate change, concentrating particularly on helping the people most at risk.”