Geology for Global Development

Geology for Global Development

Flooding in some of the world’s most at-risk cities

Flooding in some of the world’s most at-risk cities

What are cities doing to mitigate rising sea-levels? What are the numbers behind the related challenges? In our August ‘Coast’ month, Heather Britton focuses on sea-level rise in the coastal cities of Jakarta, Lagos and London, where barriers and new islands are likely proposed solutions, even if they seem inadequate. [Editor’s note: This post reflects Heather’s personal opinions. These opinions may not reflect official policy positions of Geology for Global Development.]

It is safe to say that the impacts of climate change will be felt in some parts of the world more than others, and that in many regions these impacts are already making themselves apparent. One of the inevitable consequences of global warming is rising sea levels, caused by the dual effects of melting ice caps and the expansion of water volume in the oceans with increased temperatures, amongst other factors. In this week’s blog, I intend to focus on three cities which are under threat from flooding due to sea-level change, and look at how they are coping with the problem of sinking into the sea.

Jakarta

Jakarta is the world’s fastest sinking city, sinking on average 15 cm every year.

Jakarta is the world’s fastest sinking city, sinking on average 15 cm every year. Situated next to the Java sea, and home to 30 million people, there is a very real danger that this city will soon be completely submerged. The source of the problem is not, however, purely sea-level rise, but also to the fact that the city itself is sinking. This is not a purely geological issue and relates to a lack of sources of clean drinking water in the capital. The surface drinking water sources are too polluted to be considered safe places to drink, and a significant number of people are forced to dig their own illegal wells in order to access the cleaner, groundwater reservoirs. Draining the aquifers on which the city rests is causing the gradual subsidence of the region, but until clean drinking water is available to even the poorest of Jakarta’s residents, the problem is likely to continue into the future.

Current measures to combat the flooding are minimal, although various government officials have tried and failed to make a difference, for example by beginning a clean-up of waterways in the city and setting out plans to develop at least a rudimentary sewage system. The city’s most ambitious move has been the construction of the city’s coastal wall (which will likely be submerged itself by 2030). This has been constructed in collaboration with the Dutch government in a project called the National Capital Integrated Coastal Development program. A further idea associated with this project is to put an even larger sea wall off the coast of Indonesia, essentially cutting off Jakarta from the rest of the Java sea. Critics, however, say that without solving the problems that are leading to flooding within the city, building larger and larger barriers to keep out the sea is likely to be ineffective.

Lagos

A large-scale idea to grow the economy in Lagos is to create a new financial centre, on a new ‘island’ called Eko Atlantic.

Lagos (Portuguese for lakes) is one of the most populous cities in Africa. Climate change has contributed to extreme storms, rainfall and rising sea levels, aggravating a flooding problem that has severely affected this country for decades. The people of Lagos are living on what is essentially a series of islands. Much of the city was built on top of swampland, which has since been reclaimed and settled, destroying one of the barriers which would have protected the city from the ever-encroaching ocean. Poor infrastructural planning has meant that most of the ground surface in the city is impenetrable, and water simply has nowhere to go but remain on the surface, taking days to drain away and leaving thousands impacted by flooding year upon year. One example of this is the terrible flooding that the city experienced in 2012.

A large-scale idea to grow the economy in Lagos is to create a new financial centre, on a new ‘island’ called Eko Atlantic. Plans for this island have, to some extent, considered the flooding risk – the centre will be surrounded by a sea wall – but this would likely worsen the flooding situation elsewhere. The effect on the poor, who make up 70% of the city’s population, would be greatest, as the slums of the city sit in the city’s lagoon regions where floodwater is most likely to pool and cause the greatest disruption to residents.

The Thames barrier in London, Stevebidmead on pixabay.

When constructed, it was thought that this barrier might be closed every 2 – 3 years. The current rate of closure is currently double this, at 6 – 7 closures a year, and this is only likely to increase.

London

During the last ice age, the North of the UK was weighed down under the weight of the ice that was amassed there. After this ice melted, isostatic rebound has resulted in the uplift of Scotland by ~ 1 mm, accompanied by the sinking of the south, including the UK capital city of London.

The Thames Barrier was constructed in response to the flood risk in London and was made operational in 1982. The structure is designed to protect the city against 1 in 100-year flooding events. When storm surges combine with high tide, waters can rise by up to 2 m, making this one of the regular causes of flooding in the city. When constructed, it was thought that this barrier might be closed every 2 – 3 years. The current rate of closure is currently double this, at 6 – 7 closures a year, and this is only likely to increase. With the impact of climate change, sea levels could have risen up to 115 cm by 2100, if emissions continue at the current rate.

There is hope that this prediction will not be the case, however. The UK has committed to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 and is the first country to do so. This demonstrates the ambition to combat climate change and minimise warming, but many argue that a 2050 target is not ambitious enough to prevent most of the adverse impacts that we are already beginning to see materialising around the world today.

Cities are going to have to adapt to increased flood risk if they are to survive in a world that has warmed by 1.5 degrees Celsius or greater, and these examples are just a few of those that are at risk. In achieving UN Sustainability Goals 11 (sustainable cities and communities) and 9 (Industry, innovation and Infrastructure), flood adaptation measures will be more essential than ever before.

**This article expresses the personal opinions of the author (Heather Britton). These opinions may not reflect an official policy position of Geology for Global Development. **

Tracking water consumption: how you can help fight climate-change-driven water stress

Tracking water consumption: how you can help fight climate-change-driven water stress

How much water do you think you’re using? When you eat 200 g of beef, you are using more than 3,000 liters of water. Regular blog author Bárbara Zambelli helps us understand how we can alleviate climate-change-related water stress in countries around the world, just through our choices of consumption. [Editor’s note: This post reflects Bárbara’s personal opinions. These opinions may not reflect official policy positions of Geology for Global Development.]

This month our blog theme is resources, and I chose to write about water, not only because it is our most basic need but also as it is the basis of all goods, products and resources that we use.

Freshwater, like any other natural resource, is unevenly distributed on Earth’s surface, leading to physical scarcity in many parts of the globe, while other regions are suffering from floods and heavy rain events. So, we have to deal with water scarcity problems every time that water is too little, too much or too dirty.

The largest share of water is used in agriculture and industry, whilst direct uses (such as drinking, cooking, bathing, cleaning and so on) are responsible for only a small amount

Another reason to be alert is that, according to the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development, 47% of the world’s population will suffer from water shortage by 2030. In this article, in order to better discuss sustainable water usage, I want to explore some important concepts in the following paragraphs.

Virtual water is the first one: it is related to indirect water used for different purposes, such as growing crops, energy production or transportation. Let’s take an example from food production – Do you know how much water is necessary to produce 1 kg of beef? The global average is about 15,400 L/kg.

On the other hand, to produce the same amount of vegetables, only 322 L are needed, for cereals 1,644 L/kg and for milk 1,020 L/kg. With that in mind, do you feel you really know your own water consumption? Would you like to find out? In this link, you can calculate your water footprint.

Here we come to the second important concept: water footprint. A water footprint reveals water consumption patterns, from individual to national level, communicating its expenditure in the manufacturing and production of goods. In addition, it reports the amount of water contaminated during those processes.

When a country is exporting some product (cereals, vegetables, oil, ores, clothes, technology and so on), it is also exporting virtual water needed to produce that product.

If we take a look at a list of highest water footprint by country, the United Arab Emirates leads the way, followed by the U.S. and Canada. Brazil appears at number 6.

It is important to point out that nowadays the largest share of water is used in agriculture and industry, whilst direct uses (such as drinking, cooking, bathing, cleaning and so on) are responsible for only a small amount. On this website, you can find many more interesting statistics about virtual water.

Another important concept is the international virtual water trade flow. When a country is exporting some product (cereals, vegetables, oil, ores, clothes, technology and so on), it is also exporting virtual water needed to produce that product.

Big virtual water exporters are most of the Americas, Asia, Australia, and Central Africa while big importers are in Europe, Japan, North and South Africa, the Middle East, Mexico, and Indonesia.

One problem related to this trade happens because the indirect effects of water exploitation are externalized to other countries. Moreover, consumers are generally not aware and do not pay for the water problems in the overseas countries where their goods are being produced.

So, how can we take action, at an individual level, to reduce our water consumption and, at the same time, tackle climate change?

 First of all, we need to think outside the box. Reducing water consumption means way more than closing the tap while brushing your teeth. We need to re-think our lifestyles, diet, our choices for daily commutes and more.

A good start would be cutting off meat one day of the week (meatless Monday, for example). Instead of buying new clothes every year, look for some in second-hand shops, flea markets or swap with friends. Choose public transportation or bikes over private cars. When you need to shop anything, always check for local products instead of imported ones. Overall, always be a conscious citizen!

**This article expresses the personal opinions of the author (Bárbara Zambelli). These opinions may not reflect an official policy position of Geology for Global Development. **

Careers in Geoscience-for-Development: Some Tips and Resources

Careers in Geoscience-for-Development: Some Tips and Resources

One of the most frequently asked questions put to me is ‘how does a geoscientist develop a career linked to international aid or sustainable development?’. Here are some thoughts, recently curated for the 2018 GfGD Annual Conference report, together with examples of how GfGD’s work helps to mobilise geoscientists to engage in sustainable development.

  1. Geoscience matters, is critical to progress towards sustainable development, but is not always recognised. While geoscientists are critical to delivering many aspects of the SDGs, this is not always clear and understood by others engaged in development work. Geoscientists have many relevant skills, and their knowledge of Earth systems means they are well placed to be at the centre of sustainable development decision making, and not on the fringes. In 2018, GfGD were invited to submit a report to inform the International Commission on Education for Sustainable Development Practice Report, highlighting how geoscientists could fill a gap in professionals trained to engage in sustainable development. This report will be published later this year, and we hope that it will note the important role that geoscientists could make to sustainability efforts, raising awareness among other communities of geoscientists skills and understanding .
  2. Research into natural hazards can directly contribute to improved sustainable development decision-making. Photo Credit: Joel Gill

    Two pathways, both equally important. While there isn’t a straightforward career path or graduate scheme into ‘geoscience for sustainability’, we note two general, broad pathways that help geoscientists to put sustainable development at the heart of their career. Both are important and can result in exciting opportunities to see positive change. (i) Work for a traditional geoscience employer (e.g., energy, mining, environmental services, academia, risk modelling, geological surveys), championing the values and ethics GfGD promote. You can devote your career to supporting sustainable development in all the traditional geoscience career routes (academia, industry, public sector), being ambassadors for our values and ethics. For example, championing positive and respectful partnerships that build local science, technology, and innovation capacity, promoting good practice, engaging with geoethics, and taking part in capacity building. Our 2017 papers on ‘Geology and the SDGs’ and ‘Geoscience Engagement in Global Development Frameworks’ (both open access) give examples of how engaging in traditional geoscience sectors can help deliver the SDGs. (ii) The second approach is to work for a non-traditional geoscience employer (e.g., NGOs, DFID, development think tanks), but be prepared to invest in additional skills and knowledge to serve effectively in these roles. There are few jobs in the development sector for those with a pure geoscience background but if you combine your environmental understanding with further expertise in logistics, policy, communications, social vulnerability etc (see #4 and #5 for tips as to how to do this), you could be a very attractive candidate. While geoscience will inform and strengthen you in such roles, it is unlikely that your tasks will involve the day-to-day application of geoscience.

  3. Be in it for the long-term. Getting to where you want to be may take time and involve a winding path. Think strategically about what postgraduate courses may suit your future career plans. For example, ask if there are options to do your dissertation overseas, take modules from other departments, or do placements with those working in development contexts (so you build your network of contacts, see #6). Partnerships with those in the Global South can also take time to develop and build trust. Prove that you treat partners with respect, fulfil your obligations to send them data and reports if they help you with your dissertation. Recognise that it can take time to develop and mature meaningful partnerships.
  4. Invest in new skills and ways of working. The skills required to make an effective and positive contribution to sustainable development are often missing from the traditional education and continued professional development of geologists. Examples include communicating across cultures and disciplines, diplomacy, community mobilisation, social science research methods (e.g., how to do a good semi-structured interview, and how can that data enrich your understanding of water resources or hazard impacts). Demonstrating an understanding of why these are important in development contexts, and some competence in these skills, may help to boost your employability in some roles. In 2016, GfGD published a book chapter on ‘Building Good Foundations – Skills for Effective Engagement in International Development’ that outlines these skills (email for a PDF copy). We believe these skills are vital in many geoscience roles, embedding them into our conferences and workshops (coordinating training at international events in Tanzania and South Africa).
  5. Read widely around development challenges. Development challenges (e.g., access to water, food security, energy poverty, climate change, disaster risk reduction, urbanisation) are rarely solved by one discipline. We get a good understanding of technical geoscience in our degrees but miss out on opportunities to interact with and learn from other disciplines (e.g., engineers, geographers, social scientists, health professionals). Careers outside of the traditional geoscience industries will require you to demonstrate a broader understanding of sustainable development than just the contribution of geoscience. This is a reason GfGD conferences are interdisciplinary with speakers from economics, social sciences, engineering, and public policy. There are texts relating to disaster risk reduction, water management, natural resources, climate change and urban development that will present new ideas from human geography or the social sciences. If another department includes modules on relevant development challenges, but from different perspectives, email and ask for a reading list and start to broaden your understanding.
  6. The GfGD Annual Conference is a fantastic networking opportunity for geoscientists.

    Network, Network, Network. Use any opportunity you can to network – including in person and through appropriate use of social media (e.g., Twitter). The latter can be a good way to find jobs and learning materials and introduce yourself to people in development. Keep online accounts professional and active. Look out for free events and talks at and outside of universities. Organisations such as ODI have free events where you can attend in person or remotely via a webinar. GfGD have previously facilitated networking meetings, arranged placements, and provided conference bursaries and hope to develop further opportunities in 2019.

 

Do you have any further tips or thoughts on mobilising and equipping geoscientists to contribute to sustainable development? We’d love to hear them, so please do use the comments below!

The link between development and resource use

The link between development and resource use

This month the GfGD blog revolved around the theme of Resources. Blog author Heather Britton explores the link between the use of natural resources and development. How feasible are the various options available to us, to reach a use of resources aligned with sustainable development? From the ideology of a circular economy, a switch to renewable resources and increasing efficiency, what might help us get out of an unsustainable pattern? [Editor’s note: This post reflects Heather’s personal opinions. These opinions may not reflect official policy positions of Geology for Global Development.]

Resources play a huge part in determining the character, history and trading power of a country. Many of these resources – such as metal ores, precious stones and fossil fuels – link directly to the geology of a region, which has inspired the theme of ‘resources’ for this month’s selection of blog posts.

This week, I want to look at how in the past, and indeed to this day, the quantity and quality of resources available to a country has acted as a predictor of how developed that country is, and how this will need to change in the future if we are to succeed in meeting the UN sustainability goals.

The most striking example of development spurred on by the availability of resources is the industrial revolution. The UK is thought to have led the way in becoming an industrialised nation due to a combination of the amount of underlying carboniferous coal, and a strong agricultural economy.

Although Britain is thought to have experienced an industrial revolution of its own between the mid-18th century and 1830, the more widely recognized industrial revolution occurred between the mid-19th to the 20th century and was experienced by other countries, including France, Germany and North America to name a few.

Without the use of coal as a resource, development might have come to the UK much later.

It is predicted that by 2050, 140 billion tons of minerals, ores, fossil fuels and biomass will be used per year – three times the current average.

The environmental effects of burning coal and other fossil fuels were not fully appreciated at this time.

In the UK, as light has been shone on the negative impact of fossil fuel use, carbon emissions have been cut to a fraction of what they were during the industrial revolution. That being said, the UK is in the privileged position of having gone through industrial development prior to the threat of global warming being appreciated.

Many countries, particularly in parts of the world with low GDP, are only now beginning to use the natural resources available to them to undergo similar development to that which the UK experienced a century ago (this website gives an indication of world income by region over time).

This poses a problem for the climate, however, and brings us to the cusp of the problem – development needs to be decoupled from resource use, so that countries are able to reap the rewards of development in a sustainable way which does not exacerbate the negative impact that people have had on our planet up until now.

But how can this be achieved?

going from our entrenched linear method of dealing with waste to a circular economy would require huge changes to the way in which property, possessions and businesses f­unction

It is predicted that by 2050, 140 billion tons of minerals, ores, fossil fuels and biomass will be used per year – three times the current average.

Citizens of developed countries consume an average of 16 tons of these same materials per capita (ranging up to 40 or more tons per person in some developed countries). By comparison, the average person in India consumes only 4 tons per year. This stark contrast demonstrates how much resources are taken for granted in the economically developed world, and how this needs to change.

One method of severing the link between development and resource availability is to shift towards a circular economy. This is an ideology whereby there is little to no waste, and instead of items being thrown away once used, the worn-out components are continually replaced.

This idea is similar to how natural ecosystems function (there is no waste in nature). Adopting this kind of lifestyle would separate our reliance on resources from the ability of a nation to develop, but going from our entrenched linear method of dealing with waste to a circular economy would require huge changes to the way in which property, possessions and businesses f­unction.

Although it may be the ideal solution, transitioning to a circular economy would require a huge change in global attitude which will take a great deal of time to develop.

A far more feasible way of working to separate unsustainable resource use from development is … to minimise the use of non-renewable resources

A far more feasible way of working to separate unsustainable resource use from development is simply to minimise the use of non-renewable resources so that it is no longer essential to use them to reach a developed state.

Methods of doing so include adopting new, greener technologies to replace the heavy industries that have been large-scale users of fossil fuels in the past (for example adopting electric arc furnace improvements in the iron and steel industry) and ensuring that fewer high carbon fuels need to be burned to heat homes by improving home insulation, particularly in cooler parts of the world.

By improving the materials, insulation and orientation of buildings (orientations which make the most use of solar gains) energy use in buildings can be cut by 80%.

On top of these examples, using more renewable energy in agriculture and continuing to innovate to create alternatives to unrenewable resources use are further options.

Picture by Joyce Schmatz, distributed via imaggeo (CC BY 3.0). By making agriculture more renewable we can take a step towards decoupling development from resource-use.

It is doubtless that as a country develops, its resource use will increase. However, with awareness of the environmental challenges facing the planet as it is growing, developing countries will be able to tap into the growing renewables industry rather than turning to substantially increased fossil fuel use.

At the end of the day, countries will develop however they are able and it is not up to anyone to dictate how they do this. However, in the interests of meeting UN sustainable development goal 13 – climate action – encouraging sustainable development may be the best way to ensure that as development spreads to more countries, our planet is not significantly affected as a result.

**This article expresses the personal opinions of the author (Heather Britton). These opinions may not reflect an official policy position of Geology for Global Development. **