Climate change risks and rights of people

Linking climate change risks and rights of mountain peoples in the Mekong

Xu Jianchu, Rajesh Daniel

Book chapter in: Lazarus K., Resurreccion B., Dao N., and Badenoch N. (Eds.) 2011. Rites of Access: Seeking Justice in Managing Mekong Region Waters. Earthscan, London. Vol 3 of the M-POWER book series.

Introduction

A changed climate is already here as the world faces threats of disaster from more frequent and intense cyclones, heavy rainfall events, sea-level rise, and warmer temperatures with adverse effects on crops, ecosystems and human health (IPCC 2007a, 2007b).  Much of the climate burdens are falling on the poor and marginalized peoples in developing countries bringing to light attention as much on the disasters and impacts they face as on issues of rights and justice with respect to the allocation of resources as well as burdens and risks (Kates 2000; Thomas and Twyman 2005).  This chapter draws on the context of the uplands of the Mekong region to highlight the interconnected dimensions of climatic risks and the rights of those affected by climate change and development, in particular social and political rights[i] as enshrined in the International Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

The uplands of the Mekong region within Montane Mainland Southeast Asia (MMSEA)[ii] comprise steep slopes and tectonic activities where natural hazards and risks are omnipresent. As a result of the seasonal shifts in monsoon weather patterns, a large part of upland Asia is exposed to increased annual floods and droughts (Bates et al, 2008). Climate change multiplies these risks. Available evidence shows that extreme fluctuations of climate such as rapid or sudden shifts in rainfall can result in either too much water causing loss of lives and property from flashfloods or too little water leading to drought, loss of crops and death of livestock (Xu et al, 2009).

Climate impacts are often socially constructed (Ribot, 2009). Apart from climate-induced risks, various government development policies, institutional settings and expansion of regional, national and international markets have also placed upland peoples in a position of greater vulnerability. The rapid pace of regional economic integration has meant that previously subsistence-oriented livelihoods are quickly shifting towards a market-orientation, often at the encouragement of the government. New cash crops are accompanied by new forms of financial management for local people, and debt has become a major concern across the uplands. In this period of transition, the risk of natural disaster has compounded economic implications for local livelihoods.

Response to climate change in terms of mitigation and adaptation can multiply risks as well. Structured measures for climate change adaptation such as embankments might redistribute flood risks (Lebel et al, 2007a) while hydropower development poses threats to river ecosystems and local livelihoods such as fisheries. Tree plantation projects, for instance, to earn carbon credits are taking away common lands and secondary forests used by upland communities (Adger et al, 2007; O’Brien et al, 2007).

Douglas and Wildavsky (1982) define risk as a joint product of knowledge about the future and consent about the most desired prospects. Living with multiple risks, poor and marginalized groups must manage the costs and benefits of overlapping natural, social, political and economic hazards (Xu and Rana, 2005; Ribot, 2009).   The rural poor have successfully faced threats linked to climate variability in the past in forms of mobility, storage and communal pooling of water and other natural resources, diversification, architecture and market exchange in rural settings as the basic mechanisms through which households address risks in securing livelihoods (Agrawal, 2009).

The diversity of the Mekong uplands includes multiple livelihoods (from shifting cultivation in the humid tropics to nomadic herding on the high Tibetan plateau, from rice terraces to tea gardens), multiple ethnic cultures (more than fifty officially recognized ethnic nationalities and hundreds of linguistic groups), as well as numerous vulnerabilities (see Box 10.1).

While the upland peoples in the Mekong region experience both threats and opportunities from climate change or development actions, many people, in particular the economically poorer, face disproportionate vulnerabilities in terms of loss of livelihoods and assets in the face of climate variability and global change (Sen, 1981).  This situation is exacerbated by the fact that upland peoples are frequently blamed for environmental risks in downstream and coastal areas, despite the complex and still poorly understood causal linkages between change in the mountains and change in lowland areas. As will be discussed further below, policies to halt perceived environmental degradation in the uplands has often resulted in increased vulnerability for upland people, while the risks to lowland society remain unmitigated.

Climate-related risks will have direct and indirect human rights impacts [iii].  Climate change is already undermining the realization of a broad range of internationally protected human rights: right to health and even life; right to food, water, shelter and property including access to natural resources; rights associated with livelihoods and culture; with migration and resettlement; and with personal security in the event of conflict (UNHCHR, 2009). Multiple climate and economic development-related risks impact on a range of rights including participation in decision-making (Molle et al, 2009).

Climate impact analyses that links to human rights can prove useful in formulating detailed policy and research agendas to inform overarching climate change policy options (ICHRP, 2008), including strategies for mitigation and adaptation, and for particular ecological settings such as the uplands in the Mekong region.

Adaptive management to global climate change can often lie beyond the capabilities of upland and indigenous people even though many communities are dealing with climate risks using their traditional and/or ecological knowledge systems. While recognizing that some groups are more resilient than others, the capabilities of local people and groups can be strengthened when appropriately assisted through partnerships with government and non-government organizations to ensure equitable access to resources and benefits.  Yet low ‘capacity’ for adaptive management is often a product of constraints within the governance system of a country or region. Traditional ecological knowledge and environmental management practices are deeply rooted in local natural and cultural landscapes, but as upland areas are increasingly integrated into lowland social, economic and political systems, the pressures on indigenous and local knowledge increase. However, representation of upland people in national political processes is often constrained to varying degrees across the region. This means that what is perceived as a problem of many may actually be a problem of empowerment; thus the argument for inclusion of rights as a central component in considering risks from climate change.

Our analysis of the climate risks in the Mekong uplands through a rights-based approach tries to address the climate-related vulnerabilities including both natural and human-induced hazards for the upland peoples, in particular for the poorest, in the Mekong region. The chapter’s intent is to bring together three threads that in the authors’ view are not adequately addressed in the climate change discourse: viz. uplands, poor/marginalized people and their disproportionate risks, and the human rights dimension.

The risks-rights framework helps to better understand and address climate related risks and impacts in the uplands of the Mekong region and improve policies related to upland governance and climate change to benefit the poorer and marginalized peoples of the upland populations. Mapping geophysical hazards and socio-political constructed risks provides an entry point for concerted pro-poor climate change adaptation efforts.

The chapter includes the following sections: The risks analysis of geophysical hazards and climate change in the Mekong uplands; Accelerated risks and socially constructed vulnerabilities; The value and challenges in a rights-based approach; The risks-rights nexus towards integrating rights for living with risks; Potential strategies and means to cope with, as well as rebound after, climate risks and disasters; Discussion and conclusions about improving and incorporating local rights as well as addressing the adaptive capacity of upland peoples to climate change.


[ii] The Mekong uplands, lying within the larger context of Montane Mainland Southeast Asia (MMSEA), as defined in this chapter is a large, eco-region comprising about half of the land area of Cambodia, Laos, Burma/Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam, and China’s Yunnan Province. The headwaters of the Yangtze, Salween, Irrawaddy, Mekong, Red, Chao Phraya and Pearl Rivers are located within the MMSEA region that drain an area of nearly 4 million km2 and have impacts on the lives of more than 696 million people (Xu and Thomas, 2010). The MMSEA region can be further divided into an alpine zone (above 3,000 masl), a high mountain zone (between 1000~3,000 masl), and a low mountain zone (between 300~1000 masl). The term “uplands” is used here to describe areas in the montane and alpine zones (Thomas et al, 2008). Our definition centers on areas that are between 300 to 3,000 metres above sea level (masl) in elevation, and located within and across several river basins. The alpine zone, which is dominated by the high altitude Tibetan Plateau, is referred to as the ‘Water Tower of Asia’ (Xu et al, 2008), while the montane zone has been called the ‘Roof of Southeast Asia’ (Thomas et al, 2008).

[iii] Climate change will have implications for the enjoyment of human rights. The United Nations Human Rights Council recognized this in its “http://www2.ohchr.org/english/issues/climatechange/docs/Resolution_7_23.pdf” \t “_blank” resolution 7/23 “Human rights and climate change” (28 March 2008), expressing concern that climate change “poses an immediate and far-reaching threat to people and communities around the word” and requesting the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner to prepare a http://www2.ohchr.org/english/issues/climatechange/study.htm study on the relationship between climate change and human rights (“http://www2.ohchr.org/english/issues/climatechange/index.htm” http://www2.ohchr.org/english/issues/climatechange/index.htm, accessed 14 June 2010).

Advertisements

Ricardo Carrerre

My good friend Ricardo Carrere, Coordinator of World Rainforest Movement (WRM), passed away on 16 Aug 2011. It’s a big shock and I’m very saddened by this loss.

I have worked with him on forest campaigns especially about industrial tree plantations. He invited me to collaborate on a WRM film “Green Invasion” using case studies of the impacts of tree plantations around the South; I filmed and contributed the Thailand case study. When he visited Thailand, I had a memorable trip travelling together with him to villages who were fighting for greater access to their forest resources.

He was always keenly involved in my life in Thailand and always had something to say, usually extremely witty + acerbic (which he got away due to his huge charm) and always, always laugh-out loud humorous.

When I emailed to invite him to my wedding, he replied (using the “L” instead of the “R” for my name … knowing that’s how some Thais are prone to say it):

Dear Lajesh,
Wow!!!! I AM impressed. This is very serious business and there’s yet the Indian ceremony to come! It seems that when you marry you REALLY marry. I am also very impressed by the length of your bride’s name and surname. Can you actually pronounce it? Unfortunately, I have other things on my agenda on that date and will be unable to attend. I wish you the best. Cheers, Ricardo

In end December 2008, and only a few days before my wedding on 4 January 2009, I was working on an article on agrofuels for the WRM bulletin that took up more time than we expected and he kept editing and sending me new revised versions. Then we at last nailed the final version that he liked, after which he said (in some exasperation):

Finally! I hope this marriage thing will soon be over and your brain will start working at least the not-too-bright way it used to work in the past. Happy New Year! Ricardo

When I emailed him that I was soon expecting to be a father with my son to be born in June 2009, he said:

Dear Rajesh, Congratulations on your father-to-be status. I don’t have a clue about what you are supposed to be doing, given that when my daughter was born I was living underground and when she was 4 months old I had the stupid idea of getting myself imprisoned for seven years! But I’m sure your wife will tell you in very clear terms that you role is not about stocking beers or blogging your mind away. If you don’t want to get yourself in trouble you’d better be careful my friend!

The loss feels even more sudden as I was in touch with him not very long ago as he informed me about his retirement, mulled over the future of  WRM and discussed setting up a Mekong/Southeast Asia office of WRM. He sounded me out about working with WRM based in the Mekong region, saying WRM will have to re-invent itself again, though I don’t expect very dramatic changes in the near future. The Montevideo team will continue its work led by a new coordinator. Maybe now -that you know I won’t be around and that you have become a full-time father- you might begin to think seriously about my offer regarding a possible Southeast Asia WRM person.

This was probably something I would have leapt at even a few years ago, but now as I wanted to spend time with my son Rawin I was not able to give the idea the attention it should have merited, and replied to him that I would not be able to. This was something I feel quite sad about once I learnt of Ricardo’s passing away, that I was unable to do enough to help him when he really wanted me to.

He was a wonderful friend who always had time for a few beers and stories and some laughs.

I was really fortunate that I had more than a few occasions with him (in Thailand and also once in Oxford) exchanging stories over beers, and finding out more about his life, hearing those personal stories that he rarely talked about, and it was a privilege to hear him talk of his early life and struggles in Uruguay fighting against dictatorships, spending time in jail and later finding asylum in UK.

He always carried a mate drinking-carafe which had a long sipper. Mate is made from the coca plant and is prepared and drunk as a herbal tea. Ricardo always carried the jug and accessories as well as the tea leaves – for which he was detained once briefly in Malaysian immigration as they thought he was carrying cocaine. He even gave me a gift of a bombilla (metal straw that also acts as a sieve to drink the tea infusion) when he was in Thailand.

We shared many football stories and he was the classic Latin American passionate-fanatic-fan of his Uruguay team. When I asked him if I should try to go to Brazil for the World Cup in 2014, he emailed me:

On a separate issue, I wouldn’t advise you to come to Brazil for the World Cup. It’s probably going to end up as in 1950 (with Uruguay beating Brazil in the final) and I don’t think that Brazilians will be able to take it peacefully as they did last time. This time there’ll be rioting my friend, 11 Brazilian players (plus the manager) hanging in Copacabana, the police out in force, a coup d’etat and perhaps a quick invasion to Uruguay. You stay home and enjoy all that -and more- on TV.

Ricardo was an inspirational activist and my mentor on all things in life. He was my elder brother whose humour and advice I always cherished.

I will always really miss you, Ricardo.

Go in peace, in fond farewell.

¡Hasta siempre Ricardo! – Farewell from the WRM team

A message from the WRM Team on the passing of Ricardo Carrere.

WRM had an international meeting in South Africa on the dangers of monoculture timber plantations in 2007. Standing next to Ricardo, with camera, is Timberwatch’s Wally Menne. Timberwatch hosted the conference in Johannesburg. Photo: Langlle/GJEP-GFC.

It is with great sadness that we report the passing of our dear colleague and friend Ricardo Carrere on August 16. Although we had known for several months that he was ill, his death took us by surprise, as his condition rapidly deteriorated in just a few short days. (Pic: Ricardo Carrere (third from right) during a field trip in South Africa.)

We extend our deepest sympathies to his wife Mari, his children Cecilia and Francisco, his sister Margarita, and the rest of his family.

We who worked with him at WRM – Ana, Lizzie, Teresa, Raquel, Flavio and Winnie – are deeply sorrowed by his loss, and yet we are left with his clarity, conviction and love for what he did, his wholehearted commitment to social and environmental justice, seasoned with his unique sense of humour, optimism and zest for life.

Ricardo was the coordinator of the World Rainforest Movement (WRM) from 1996 until December 2010, when he retired. Throughout all those years, he played a fundamental role in building the organization and forging its network of contacts and partnerships based on shared trust and a clear definition of its ultimate goal, to defend the forest and provide support for the local struggles of communities and peoples for their rights and their ways of life.

Ricardo liked to listen to what the people of these communities had to say about their lives and their struggles, which is why he considered himself to be, as he put it, “more than a coordinator of anything, a learner of everything.” He reflected a great deal on everything he heard, during his morning ritual of drinking mate, in silence, during his many travels, and at home, in his garden full of native trees and plants, which he created and nurtured with enormous dedication and love.

Like few others, Ricardo was able to pass on what he learned to a great many people: to those of us who had the tremendous privilege of working directly with him, to others who met and worked and lived with him at different times in his life, and to people from organizations, networks and movements in many different countries.

We want to thank our friends and colleagues for the many messages we have been receiving from around the world. We plan to share back a bit of this outpouring of affection in our September bulletin, which we will be dedicating to Ricardo.

We also want to take up the suggestion made by some of our friends to hold a special tribute to Ricardo this coming September 21, the International Day Against Monoculture Tree Plantations. We will organize a tribute here in Uruguay, and our friends are more than welcome to hold tributes of their own wherever they are. But the most fitting tribute of all will be to join in the activities for this international day of struggle that Ricardo worked for so many years to disseminate and promote, with the enthusiasm, determination and passion that he was known for.

¡Hasta siempre Ricardo!

Ana, Lizzie, Teresa, Raquel, Flavio and Winnie

Democratizing Water Governance in the Mekong Region

Democratizing Water Governance in the Mekong Region. 2007. Lebel, L., Dore, J., Daniel, R., Koma, Y.S. (Eds.) Silkworm Books/Mekong Press, Chiang Mai. 284 pages. http://www.mekongpress.com/catalog/detail.php?isbn=9789749511251.

Over the last few decades, the Mekong region has been facing complex pressures and challenges in water governance driven by a range of economic integration efforts and relationships motivated by national self-interest.

This book, the first in a four-volume series, brings together the work of researchers, scholars, activists, and leaders in the Mekong region to provide a baseline, state-of-knowledge review of the contemporary politics and discourses of water use, sharing, and management, and their implications for local livelihoods.

The chapters critically analyze contested discourses on such topics as regional hydropower development, floods, and irrigation, along with the broader yet interrelated issues of gender, media, dialogue, and impact assessment. The writers explore the interplay of power relationships between actors such as state planners, regional institutions, the private sector, and various water users, in particular, politically marginalized groups including women, urban and rural poor, and ethnic peoples. The diverse array of topics and perspectives provides a sound basis for engaging in policy-related action.

The book will appeal to a broad readership and, at the same time, contribute to the Mekong region’s search for democratic water governance options.

Sustainable Production Consumption Systems: Knowledge, Engagement and Practice

Sustainable Production Consumption Systems: Knowledge, Engagement and Practice. 2010. Lebel, L., Lorek, S., Daniel, R. (Eds.) Springer Verlag, New York, 278 pages. http://www.springer.com/environment/book/978-90-481-3089-4?detailsPage=toc.

The pursuit of sustainability in particular places and sectors often founders at the edges. Efforts to tackle environmental problems in one place shift them somewhere else or are overwhelmed by external changes in drivers. Gains in energy efficiency of appliances used in houses are offset by greater total numbers or compensating changes in patterns of use.  Analytical perspectives and practical initiatives which treat production and consumption jointly are needed to compliment experiences and efforts with sector-, place-, product- and consumer-oriented approaches.

There is now a growing body of scholarship exploring a diverse range of initiatives and experiments aimed at enabling sustainable production-consumption systems. From this body of work flow useful insights for others who would engage, for example, in re-designing relationships around and with technologies and resources in view as in product service systems or markets for the poor.

A systems view of production-consumption systems currently has some limitations related to complexity. For instance most analysts and practitioners struggle to cope with issues of both scale and network linkages simultaneously. Interdisciplinary challenges also increase when the two-way interactions between social institutions and human behavior are related to material flows and transformations. Research- and experienced-based knowledge plays a critical role in many initiatives, but it is rarely separable from issues of power.

This book brings together a set of designed case studies intended to provide a more in-depth understanding of challenges and opportunities in bringing knowledge and actions closer together for the sustainable management of specific production and consumption systems. The case study approach often enabled researchers to engage directly with some of the actors involved in the production, consumption or regulation of specific goods or services and other stakeholders impacted by those processes. Such engagement was particularly worthwhile when it helped mobilize actors to pursue linking knowledge with action in ways that improve the prospects for sustainability.

Critical States: Environmental Challenges to Development in Monsoon Southeast Asia

Critical States: Environmental Challenges to Development in Monsoon Southeast Asia. 2009.  Lebel, L., Snidvongs, A., Chen, C.-T.A., Daniel, R. (Eds.) Gerakbudaya, Kuala Lumpur. 473 pages. http://www.gerakbudaya.com/products-page/asian-studies/critical-states-environmental-challenges-to-development-in-monsoon-southeast-asia/

The peoples of Southeast Asia share a common need for action: a proactive engagement with and forward-looking response to the multi-level environmental and social changes which are redefining vulnerabilities and opportunities in development.

Extraordinarily rapid economic development has radically transformed urban-industrial, agrarian and marine environments throughout Southeast Asia. Future development is now being constrained by the consequences of decades of largely unregulated exploitation of the region’s rich natural resources and biodiversity. It has also increased or altered the vulnerabilities of Southeast Asian populations to both climatic variability and global economic shifts.

Critical States provides transboundary “state-of-the-science” reviews, case studies, and assessments of issues in the environmental change-development nexus, including: governance and institutional challenges, urbanization, climate change, poverty, and land-energy-water use.

After the Logging Ban: Politics of Forest Management in Thailand

After the Logging Ban: Politics of Forest Management in Thailand. 2005. Daniel, R. (Ed.) Foundation for Ecological Recovery (PER), Bangkok. 220 pages. http://www.terraper.org/publications.php (price 350 baht).

The book reviews the state of forests and forest policies in Thailand and shows why the nationwide ban on logging concessions declared in 1989 seems to have had little or no effect in halting forest degradation.

The book reveals how Thailand’s often corrupt forestry industry is exploiting forest resources not just in the country but across its borders such as in Burma and Cambodia, while other efforts to cash in on forest areas such as establishing large-scale tree plantations are bringing their own set of ecological problems and social conflicts.

In examining the critical problems with the forest conservation ideology of the Thai state, the book unveils how conservation areas such as national parks are placing more restrictions on access to forest resources by local communities as well as discouraging local forest conservation efforts. Meanwhile, important legal initiatives for increased local control over forests including the “People’s Community Forest Bill”  are struggling to materialize.

The book points to new ways to build social spaces towards strengthening community-based resource management and reverse the present trends of forest destruction in Thailand.