Friday, 10 December 2010 10:03

Andean mountain ecosystems and climate change adaptation Featured

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By Adam Kotin and Emily Kirkland, Brown University Climate change presents unique challenges in mountainous regions, especially the Andean regions of Chile and Peru. Retreating glaciers threaten mountain peoples’ water supplies and biodiversity loss is a very real threat as temperatures rise. Research in these areas is complicated by the difficult topography and significant historical gaps in scientific knowledge. For that reason, new approaches to development planning are now underway, incorporating diverse stakeholders from government agencies, NGOs, private companies, and local communities. We caught up with Carmenza Robledo of Intercooperation to talk about the project 'Adaptation to Climate Change' (PACC) Peru, an exciting new initiative that seeks to combine scientific expertise with local knowledge for new development.
So tell us a bit about the project that your organization, Intercooperation, is working on in Peru. The project is a project on adaptation and climate change. [It’s done through] cooperation between the Swiss government, the Ministry of Environment in Peru and the governments of the regions of Apuirmac and Cusco. It is a program on disaster risk reduction, adaptation to climate change and food security. We combine scientific knowledge, authorities, and communities, [who all have] knowledge that is valuable in adapting to climate change. The aim of the project is to have development that reduces vulnerability to climate change, that reduces disaster risk, and [that] ensures food production and consumption. Do you think climate change will require a new development model? If you have a development challenge, climate change increases [it]. What we need to understand is - how big is this additional burden due to climate change? In some cases, climate change brings opportunities and that’s important to realize. If you work with a holistic approach, you do not need a new [development] model. But you need to understand a new parameter in this model, which is climate change. Specifically, in Peru, you said that a new pest had recently become a problem? Among many other things, yes. What we have done in the past one and a half years is downscaled climate models to understand [changes relating to] glaciers. [We’ve also looked at] perceptions in local communities of climate change. This example of the pest is one example of a new phenomena that has appeared, [in addition to] changes in the rainy season, changes in the period in which they have ice on the surface on the land. All these things have impacts on livelihoods. So we combine all these things and we say, “This is the new challenge that they have, this is the additional challenge that they have, and how do we want to work with it?" We work with scientific institutions, both in Switzerland and also from Peru. It’s a great challenge to bring these groups of people together. We have Swiss scientists who are experts in glaciers talking to farmers, talking to the university in Lima, talking to local governments. What has been very surprising is that even if at the beginning we had an understanding problem, because we all speak different languages—in multiple senses—the project is [now] going on quite well. These communities are recognizing the knowledge and experience of each other, and then we are able to work together to propose adaptation measures. That’s a great achievement. Is there knowledge within communities that helps with adaptation? Yes, a lot. [We’ve] worked before on bio-indicators of disaster risk. And based on that, we realized two things. First, that bio-indicators like frogs or flowers are different now than generations ago. People in the field have realized that, have [seen] relationships: if the frog is appearing or not, should we plant the crop or not. This knowledge, when combined with scientific knowledge from down-scaling models of climate change, gives you a far clearer picture. So what’s exciting is that it’s not only one set of knowledge; it’s the knowledge of all these communities together that increases our understanding of climate change and our possibilities for adaptation.
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