Geology for Global Development

Science Funding

Jesse Zondervan’s January 2019 #GfGDpicks: which climate adaptation methods are on the rise in 2019?

Jesse Zondervan’s January 2019 #GfGDpicks: which climate adaptation methods are on the rise in 2019?

Each month, Jesse Zondervan picks his favourite posts from geoscience and development blogs/news which cover the geology for global development interest. This past month’s picks include:  Why it’s so hard to predict tsunamis, which climate adaptation methods are on the rise in 2019 & opportunities for scientists to solve local challenges with Thriving Earth Exchange.  

Plastic waste in the oceans and on beaches visibly smashes itself back in our faces to trouble our consciences after attempts to dump and hide the consequences of human waste-production. The size of our triggered guilt aside, how does our plastic problem quantitively compare in scale to the problem of carbon dioxide emission? You may be surprised, or not.

More significantly, climate adaptation, rather than prediction or prevention, takes the foreground at the start of 2019. In a long-read worth having a cup of tea over, National Geographic reports ways of adaptation gaining steam, such as the American Geophysical Union’s Thriving Earth Exchange, a sort of tinder for scientists and communities facing challenges related to natural resources, climate change and natural hazards issue (see whether you can help!).

“The American Geophysical Union’s Thriving Earth Exchange, a sort of tinder for scientists and communities facing challenges related to natural resources, climate change and natural hazards issues”

In addition, consider the following about adaptation: if you want to built a sustainable water-energy-food nexus, how do you manage or cope with migration? After all, even though development efforts might be thwarted, migration is a very efficient coping mechanism. Tellingly, both America and Bangladesh have started relocating flooded communities.

In disaster risk, we are looking back at 2018:

When a tsunami triggered by a landslide caused by the Anak Krakatau eruption in Indonesia bypassed the tsunami-warning system put in place to warn for earthquake-induced tsunamis, the world was once more reminded of our inability to predict all hazards, and its consequences.

However, studies like the one which uncovered a historic South China Sea tsunami from the geological record help to dust off our hazy memories of such events. Timely, since large infrastructural projects like the Belt and Road initiative are in full swing planning harbours and nuclear plant locations.

While insurance company Munich Re captured the world’s natural disasters of 2018, the fourth-costliest year since 1980, in numbers, the Bank of England plans to test climate resilience of UK banks.

As usual, there is a lot to check out, so go ahead!

Climate Adaptation

Once derided, ways of adapting to climate change are gaining steam by Andrew Revkin at National Geographic

Water – Energy – Food – Migration Nexus

Water-Migration nexus and the human displacement discourse by Nidhi Nagabhatla at Future Earth blog

Hike in record-dry months for Africa’s Sahel worries scientists by Laurie Goering at BRACED

How technology is helping farmers predict and prepare for El Niño by Michael Hailu at Thomson Reuters Foundation

Sea-level migration

In first, Native American tribe displaced by sea gets land to relocate by Sebastien Malo at Thomson Reuters Foundation

Bangladesh lends land to islanders as water devours homes by Rafiqul Islam at Thomson Reuters Foundation

Bracing for climate change – a matter of survival for the Maldives by Hartwig Schafer at End Poverty in South Asia

Climate Change

The Ocean Garbage Patch Is Tiny Compared to Our Carbon Footprint by Sarah Burns at State of the Planet

Disaster Risk

Why the ‘Child of Krakatau’ volcano is still dangerous – a volcanologist explains by Thomas Giachetti at The Conversation

The Anak Krakatau Tsunami, from the Beginning until Now by Dana Hunter at Scientific American

Scientists say a tsunami hit China 1,000 years ago – and there’s still a risk of a giant wave hitting today by Martin Choi at the South China Morning Post

The natural disasters of 2018 in figures by Petra low at Munich Re

Bank of England plants to test climate resilience of UK banks at Acclimatise

External Opportunities

CfP – 2019 Mexico Conference on Earth System Governance

Multiple positions in the field of climate adaptation governance (post-doc and doctoral researchers)

Seeking Book Proposals on Water, Green Infrastructure, Climate Change Adaptation, and Public Health


Check back next month for more picks!

Follow Jesse Zondervan @JesseZondervan. Follow us @Geo_Dev & Facebook.

Putting Science at the Heart of Development

Putting Science at the Heart of Development
Sue Desmond-Hellman (CEO of Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation) and Nick Hurd (Minister for International Development, DFID – UK Department for International Development) have written a joint article on putting science at the heart of development.
“If we are going to end extreme poverty, it’s going to take more than additional funds or deeper commitment, however. We are going to have to put science at the heart of international development…… We believe that science should go not only to improving the lives of those who can afford it, but also to those with the greatest need, regardless of where they are.”
We would add the following short reflections to this article:
(1) Putting science at the heart of development means greater recognition of the role that ALL the sciences can play, ensuring that all the sciences are playing their role in ending poverty. For many of those reading this post, that means working hard to put geoscience at the heart of development (including natural resource management, agriculture, water and sanitation, disaster risk reduction, climate change, health…). Geology has a significant role to play in many of the Sustainable Development Goals.
(2) Putting science at the heart of development means greater integration of scientists within the development sector. We need to see more effective, meaningful partnerships between scientific organisations and those delivering development support. Having scientists embedded within development organisations (including international NGOs) helps increase understanding of the benefits and limitations of science, together with supplying specialist technical knowledge to inform policy, programmes, and campaigning.
(3) Putting science at the heart of development means strong technical capacity strengthening. It’s great to see the article emphasise the importance of developing scientific knowledge in Africa and, we would add, other low income countries. Scientific and development organisations should be actively engaged in strengthening the technical capacity of institutions such as universities, research institutes and public-sector geological surveys. This requires meaningful consultation, with all relevant groups represented and working together as equals. This demands a wide range of supporting skills, including cultural understanding, effective communication, diplomacy and knowledge exchange (read more).

Reducing the Risk of Future Disasters

GfGD welcomes the release of the UK Government Office for Science Foresight Report into “Reducing the Risks of Future Disasters: Priorities for decision makers. The report has been specially commissioned to recognise the growing need for good disaster and risk reduction (DRR) science.

The report describes how the growing threat of natural hazards to increasingly vulnerable communities worldwide can be lessened using better processes of decision making, through the integration of information provided by scientific developments. This course of action will subsequently save lives and resources in developing countries.

Over the next 30 years the risk of disasters is expected to increase as a result of amplifying factors, primarily expanding populations in high-risk regions and a warming climate. Through strategic investment in scientific research, we can expect to improve our ability to predict, understand and manage hazards.

We support the decision by the UK Government and Department for International Development to invest in developing and improving this field through the production of this report. We are particularly encouraged by the report’s focus on the improved use of science and evidence within disaster and risk reduction; it is important that the latest geoscientific knowledge on hazards is understood by policy makers, especially in developing countries where populations may be more vulnerable. At the same time, we feel it is prudent to recognise the limitations and uncertainties of DRR science and to ensure we are sensitive to and inclusive of indigenous knowledge.

We feel that for hazards research to move forward effectively, we need to strengthen communication between scientists, policy makers and the affected communities. In light of the recommendations in the Foresight report, we offer some thoughts on how communication can be best fostered:

  • There is a need for training in the communication of science to include multi-disciplinary and cross-cultural approaches.
  • Exchange and overlap between geoscientists and development practitioners should continue to be encouraged.
  • Undergraduate and Master’s courses should work to place natural hazards into a wider context

You can read our official response to the report from our advocacy team, and read a summary of our response in our press release.

We also hosted a twitter discussion about the report, which has been documented using storify. Our discussion focused on the meaning of some of the terms in the document: vulnerability, hazards and disasters, which are often misused. We also asked broad questions that we have to address following of the Foresight report’s findings: What kinds of collaborative efforts can you see happening in the next 20 years relating to DRR? Do you think scientific literacy on vulnerability is increasing? What can GfGD do to enhance this? How ready are the scientific community to incorporate local and indigenous knowledge into their work, hazard analysis and hazard assessments? Is this valued and used currently, and if not why not? We welcome your continued contributions to this discussion through twitter, facebook or blog post comments.

We believe that geoscience can make a significant contribution to DRR. Further steps need to be taken to ensure that the scientific tools and models being developed can be used to their best effect by other stakeholders. Geology for Global Development will be working to play their full part in addressing these challenges, and preparing young geoscientists to contribute to DRR.


The full report can be accessed here:

An executive summary of the report can be accessed here:

Our official response:

GfGD Foresight ‘Reducing Risk of Future Disasters’ Response

Our press release:

Our storify documenting our twitter discussion:


China: The Future Looks Bright…

China, one of the largest and most populated countries on Earth, is emerging as an economic superpower. More and more frequently, emerging economies are choosing to peg their currency to the Yuan, rather than the US dollar. Their success is built on a strong research and development sector. Having just come under new leadership, China is entering an exciting decade.

On a recent trip to Xuzhou city, Jiangsu province, I was able to look around the University of Mining and Technology . The campus is huge and a large proportion of it is dedicated to geoscience.  The newly renovated laboratories were filled with every kind of analytical facility, but strangely devoid of geoscientists… the University has been expanded to accommodate future growth. China is preparing to become an academic and economic powerhouse – racing out ahead of the pack in scientific research.

The University of Mining and Technology

While the rest of the world is allowing science funding to stagnate, China increased funding by 50% between 2010 and 2011identifying Earth Science as a key target area. China has always invested heavily in geoscience for two reasons; they have a thriving extraction industry and they are threatened by a number of geological hazards. There are regular deadly earthquakes, landslides and water resource issues.

As well as securing it’s academic future through investment in research, China is acquiring resources world wide, most notably in Africa, to fuel the rapid growth in buildings and infrastructure. Many of the outcrops we attempted to visit during our field campaign had been covered up with new towns since the previous field season! China’s interest in Africa’s natural assets may have a knock-on effect, bringing infrastructure and resources into parts of Africa.

The recent leadership shake-up in will have a big impact on the direction of China’s growth and development over the following decade. Xi Jinping, who did a degree in chemical engineering, was recently announced as leader of the ruling party. He will now lead a country of 1.3 billion people alongside the six other men on the party’s standing committee. It is unlikely that Xi Jinping will make any changes to his predecessors policies until he has spent some time in power.

Mr Xi will face some serious challenges during his leadership: moving away from reliance on coal power, managing natural hazards, and narrowing the gap between the rich and the poor. Although urban China is now surfing alongside the EU and the US, parts of rural China have been drowned by the wave of recent development. Many people in China have not seen the benefits of China’s growth and are still living in poverty.

This elderly man is harvesting peanuts by hand in rural China.


High-rise modern buildings make up the famous Shanghai skyline. The streets in Shanghai are lined with designer outlets and expensive restaurants

We urge Xi Jinping to use his powerful position to take action on climate change, to drive development throughout China and to continue heavily funding geoscience and hazards research.