Fire needs oxygen to burn. When a fire starts inside a building, the floors, ceilings, walls, doors, and windows can constrict the flow of air. Breaking in to fight the fire thus carries the risk of opening a new airway. If that happens, a smoldering fire can expand explosively, bursting into roaring flames as it sucks air in through the new passageway. This sudden inrush of air to fuel a burst of fire has a name: backdraft.
High mountain regions face grave environmental challenges with climate change impacts already as severe as any place on earth. Temperature increases are expected to be greater at higher altitudes than at sea level, and glaciers and snowfields are retreating in many areas, increasing the risk of catastrophic glacial lake outburst floods, affecting fresh water supplies for hundreds of millions of people, and exacerbating territorial and natural resource disputes.
Feminized Development in Latin America: Understanding the Confluence of Gender Equity and Cultural Tensions›
Historically, the concept of “water wars” – inter-state wars fought solely over water – has been fairly unsubstantiated. But continued population growth, accelerating development, and environmental changes are making water more scarce and in turn increasing the chances of related tensions and violence. To illustrate the growing role water plays in tensions around the world, Al Jazeera has put together a map linked to a series of stories they’ve done on water “flashpoints.”
The United Nations biannual population projections are some of the most (if not the most) widely used numbers in demography. Researchers and policymakers alike rely on the figures to plan for present and future challenges. But few consider the story behind the statistics. Where does the data come from? The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) recently released a short documentary on conducting censuses in challenging environments, with a spotlight on Indonesia, Chad, the Palestinian Territories, Belarus, and Bolivia.
›Climate change is expected to produce winners and losers – for example, melting ice-caps may open up new economic opportunities for Greenland at the same time as sea-level rise threatens Asia’s bourgeoning coastal mega-cities. The same can be said about plans to address climate change, from both the mitigation and adaptation perspectives. A special issue of Global Environmental Change, “Adding Insult to Injury: Climate Change, Social Stratification, and the Inequalities of Intervention,” takes on this topic, with two case studies providing particularly compelling evidence.
The REDD Menace: Resurgent Protectionism in Tanzania’s Mangrove Forests,” that efforts to ensure REDD readiness in Tanzania have placed local communities at risk of forced evictions, shattered livelihoods, and persecution by both the state and conservation community. Contrary to dominant narratives that “portray local resources users, the Warufiji, in negative terms as recent migrants who are destroying the mangrove forests,” the authors say that they in fact depend upon “allow[ing] the mangroves to regenerate naturally while preparing new rice fields.” “To carbon traders, however, an uninhabited forest greatly simplifies the logistical tasks of monitoring and paying for ecosystem services,” assert the authors. This has resulted in declaration of local communities as squatters, illegally invading the forest. Government officials have repeatedly voiced threats of eviction. As well as increasing the potential for social tension, the study concludes that, “it is difficult to reconcile Tanzania REDD’s participatory and benefit sharing goals with the rhetoric, practices, and plans of the Tanzanian state.”
Accessing Adaptation: Multiple Stressors on Livelihoods in the Bolivian Highlands Under a Changing Climate,” Julia McDowell and Jeremy Hess present evidence about how specifically-tailored adaptations to climate change risk increasing vulnerability to a complex web of other, less obvious stressors. The study draws evidence from the livelihoods of historically marginalized indigenous farmers in highland Bolivia. The authors, who see “adaptation as part of ongoing livelihoods strategies,” use the case to “explore the tradeoffs that households make when adjustments to one stressor compromise the ability to adjust to another.” For instance, socio-economic stressors have forced many farmers to more closely couple their livelihoods with the market economy by growing more cash crops, intensifying land use, participating in off-farm laboring, and relying on irrigated agriculture. However, the shift to more market-orientated livelihoods has also increased their sensitivity to climatic stress. “As stressors compounded, the ability to mobilize assets became constrained, making adaptation choices highly interdependent, and sometimes contradictory,” the authors write. Avoiding these sorts of lose-lose situations, requires “ensuring sustained access to assets, rather than designing interventions solely to protect against a specific stressor.”
›Download Reducing Urban Poverty: A New Generation of Ideas from the Wilson Center.
In 2008 the global population reached a remarkable turning point; for the first time in history, more than half of the world’s people were living in cities. Moving forward into the 21st century, the world faces an unprecedented urban expansion with projections for the global urban population to reach nearly five billion by the year 2030. Virtually all of this growth will occur in the developing world where cities gain an average of five million residents every month, overwhelming ecosystems and placing tremendous pressure on the capacity of local governments to provide necessary infrastructure and services. Failure to incorporate urban priorities into the global development agenda carries serious implications for human security, global security, and environmental sustainability.
Recognizing a need to develop and strengthen urban-focused practitioner and policymaking ties with academia, and disseminate evidence-based development programming, the Wilson Center’s Comparative Urban Studies Project, USAID’s Urban Programs Team, the International Housing Coalition, the World Bank, and Cities Alliance teamed up to co-sponsor an academic paper competition for graduate students studying urban issues. The first competition took place in the months leading up to the 5th World Urban Forum, held in Rio de Janeiro in March 2010.
This publication, Reducing Urban Poverty: A New Generation of Ideas, marks the second annual academic paper competition. “Reducing urban poverty” was chosen as the theme with each author focusing on one of three topics: land markets and security of tenure; health; and, livelihoods. A panel of urban experts representing the sponsoring institutions reviewed 70 submitted abstracts, from which 16 were invited to write full length papers. Of these, six were selected for this publication. We congratulate the graduate students who participated in this competition for their contribution to our understanding of the complex relationship between urbanization and poverty.
These papers highlight the new research and innovative thinking of the next generation of urban planners, practitioners, and policymakers. It is our hope that by infusing the dialogue on these issues between the academic and policy worlds with fresh perspectives, we will foster new and innovative strategies to reduce global urban poverty.
Sources: UNFPA, UN-HABITAT.
›two-year research project on behalf of the German Federal Environment Agency, adelphi and the Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Energy, and Environment have analyzed the risks of international conflict linked to natural resources in a series of reports titled Beyond Supply Risks – The Conflict Potential of Natural Resources.
Resource extraction, transportation, and processing can create considerable crises and increase the risk of conflicts in producing and transit countries. This phenomenon – widely referred to as the “resource curse” – impacts consuming countries only if it leads to shortages and higher prices. However, in the producing and transit countries it can have much wider destabilizing effects – from increasing corruption to large-scale violent conflict. In addition, the extraction, processing, and transportation of resources often create serious environmental risks. Overexploitation, pollution, and the degradation of ecosystems often directly affect the livelihoods of local communities, which can increase the potential for conflict.
The eight reports that comprise Beyond Supply Risks explore plausible scenarios over the next two decades, focusing on four case studies: copper and cobalt in the Democratic Republic of Congo; the Nabucco natural gas pipeline project across Southern Europe and Turkey; lithium in Bolivia; and rare earth minerals in China.
Lithium in Bolivia
Bolivia possesses the world’s largest known lithium deposits, a potentially important resource for the development of electric vehicles. While the development of Bolivia’s lithium reserves could provide major economic benefits for one of the poorest countries in Latin America, our analysis identifies two main potential risks of conflict.
First, the environmental consequences of developing industrial-scale lithium production might have negative effects on the livelihoods of the local population. The local population in the lithium-rich department of Potosí has shown that it is capable of organizing itself effectively in defense of its interests, and past resource conflicts have turned violent, making a conflict-sensitive approach all the more important.
Second, the Bolivian economy is largely dependent on natural resources, and consequently is susceptible to price shocks. At present, this risk is primarily associated with natural gas. But lithium production, if developed, might be subject to the same dynamics, which could potentially destabilize the political system.
For consuming countries, these conflicts threaten supplies of lithium only if local protests or broader destabilization were produce bottlenecks in the supply chain.
Rare Earths and China
Like lithium, rare earths are likewise essential for some new technologies. China’s well publicized monopoly on 97 percent of the global production spurred a heated debate on the security of supply of strategic minerals. While our case study identifies supply risks for consuming countries, it also outlines some of the conflict risks China might face internally.
First, local populations could protest against the severe ecological impact of rare earth mining and production. In addition, conflicts might arise if those who profit from economic development (entrepreneurs or regional power-holders) undermine the traditional centralized party structures and expand their own influence.
International conflicts over access to Chinese rare earth resources, while they dominate the headlines, do not appear to be the dominant risk. Instead, internal political tensions could result in a weakened China that is not able to exploit its monopoly position for foreign policy gains. Or the government could enter into multilateral agreements and thus avoid a confrontational approach towards consumer nations.
Ultimately, the actual rate of diffusion of environmental technologies and the development of new technologies remain the key factors in determining whether relative shortages in global supply of rare earths will in fact occur. If industrialized nations and emerging economies commit to the same technologies to attain climate policy goals, international resource governance and coordinated promotion of (environmental) technology will also play a role in preventing conflict and crisis over rare earths.
The Way Forward
The series concludes with five recommendations to mitigate the risks of future resource conflicts:
- Introduce systematic policy impact assessments to understand how policy goals and strategies, especially in regard to climate and environmental policy, interact with resource conflict risks.
- Increase the transparency of raw material markets and value creation chains to prevent extreme fluctuations in prices and improve information on markets, origins, and individual players.
- Improve the coherence of raw material policy by linking raw material policies with security, environmental, and development policies.
- Demand and promote corporate social responsibility along the whole value chain.
- Increase environmental and social sustainability as a means of strengthening crisis and conflict prevention by systematically taking into account social and conflict-related aspects in the resource sector.
The individual reports from the project can be downloaded here:
- Conflict Risks (GERMAN only)
- Supply and demand (GERMAN only)
- Case Study: Nabucco Pipeline (GERMAN only)
- Case Study: Congo
- Case Study: Bolivia
- Case Study: China
- Conflict Resolution Strategies (GERMAN only)
- Summary and Recommendations
Sources: Government Accounting Office.
Photo Credit: “Potosí: miners in darkness,” courtesy of flickr user Olmovich.
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