No.005 (July 2007) Adapting to Climate Change:
Bridging the gap between developed and developing countries
Dr. Ancha Srinivasan
Principal Research Fellow and Acting Project Leader, Climate Policy Project,
Dr. Ancha gained his PhD. in Natural Sciences from the University of Cambridge, UK. He has been honored many times for his work in crop science and the environment. He is a recipient of Eisaku Sato Memorial Award of Excellence from the United Nations University, a letter of appreciation from the Prime Minster of India, and a Gold Medal at the Indian Agricultural Research Institute.
His name has been listed in publications such as
" Who's Who in the World" and "Who's Who in Science and
Engineering" since 1999. He published widely and
contributed to various international initiatives such
as the Global Environmental Outlook, Global
Environmental Facility, Millennium Ecosystems
Assessment, Development Education and Exchange
Service, and others as an author, as a member on the
roster of experts or as a reviewer.
--- Tell us a little about your academic background.
I was born into a farming family in a small coastal village in Andhra Pradesh, India and this is the foundation of my keen interest in agriculture. I studied for an undergraduate degree in agriculture and then a postgraduate qualification in agronomy, which included methods of cultivation, the use of technology and also interaction with the climate (agro-meteorology etc.,) with a minor in agricultural statistics. I went on to do a PhD at Cambridge University where I mostly worked on crop and climate interactions through modelling. The objective was to see how crops (in my case, oilseed rape) would respond to variations in both external (e.g., temperature, light intensity) and internal (e.g., carbon assimilation rate) factors. My aim was also to investigate the best ways of modelling such responses using a computer. For this, we used plant growth chambers and assessed the response of crops when exposed to different temperatures or light intensities. Using that primary data we were able to develop modelling techniques which allowed us to replicate various environmental situations using a computer.
After earning my PhD, I joined a research project at the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT). Again I looked at interactions between the climate and various crops, mainly legumes. My research was on chickpeas, particularly regarding cold tolerance. The main problem was that the North Indian climate conditions caused chilling stress in the plants which led to poor crop yields. This was not only a problem in India but also in Bangladesh, Pakistan and Myanmar, as well as high altitude locations such as Sudan and Ethiopia. In view of the wide applicability of the problem, we thought that it would require a strategic research method to introduce the cultivation of leguminous crops into such areas. To pursue such research further, I came to Japan.
--- Why was it that you chose to come to Japan?
While I was at Cambridge doing my PhD, there was a Japanese visiting professor who actually invited me. When I finished my employment at the ICRISAT and came to Japan, I worked for the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. I was initially in Sapporo, then Okinawa, then in Sapporo again. The main focus of my work was on the effects of either low or high temperatures on the reproductive growth of leguminous crops. We looked at how plants would respond to increases in temperature by 2 degrees or a decrease in rainfall by 10%, for example. We employed various spatial information technologies such as GIS (geographic information systems) and remote sensing using the data we had collected. I also used this experience in elaborating the concept of Precision Agriculture - the precise application of agricultural inputs to match varying soil and crop conditions to optimise productivity without harming the environment. Interested readers may refer to a book that I edited on this subject - Handbook of Precision Agriculture: Principles and Applications published by Haworth press Inc.
--- You have travelled to and worked in many countries around the world. What is it that has kept you in Japan?
My initial plan was to stay in Japan for 2 years, but that has become 13 including almost 4 years in IGES. The Director General of my former institute requested that I initially continue for another 2 years, and then that was followed by more and more extensions of my contract. Meanwhile I received a number of offers from different institutes, but I found my work very challenging and interesting so I decided to stay on in Japan. We had difficulties during our first 6 months in Japan because of the language etc., but over time I managed to develop a wide professional network and my family developed many good friendships with Japanese people.
---- What differences have you seen in Japanese research techniques?
The way in which research is conducted in Japan is quite different from how it is done in India or in western countries. One basic difference is that, because of cultural differences, junior researchers seem to have difficulties in challenging the work of senior researchers or the institute management. Either they just keep quiet and do as they wish, or they keep quiet and do as they are told. But of course, just because they don't challenge others, it doesn't mean that they don't have a very high potential.
The second thing is that they are more dependent on mechanical aspects and give higher priority to procedures, rather than outcomes. I feel that there is a limitation to that way of thinking because one becomes bound by instrumentation. Even though they have a very high intellectual capacity, researchers here strictly follow what the machine says or what the procedure dictates rather than thinking outside of the box or challenging the regulations. This is different to what I have been used to in my career as a researcher.
---- With such fundamental differences in their approach to research, what is the best way for foreign researchers and Japanese researchers to work efficiently together?
First, there must be a cross-cultural exchange of ideas. If the foreigners challenge the Japanese and the Japanese challenge the foreigners, that will stimulate thinking on both sides and will be good for producing a valuable research output. Second is to have mutual respect for both cultures. No-one must think, "my way is better than his." It is important to respect each system and to identify its strengths. Then by capitalising on the best points of all available methods we can produce an efficient research system.
---- Please tell us about your current research at IGES.
I am involved in two exciting projects at IGES. The first one is focussed on a future challenge regarding the climate regime beyond 2012, and the other one is on a current challenge, which is on how to adapt to climate change.
Asia-Pacific Consultations on the Future Climate Regime Beyond 2012
In June 2005 our project launched the "Asia-Pacific Consultations on the Future Climate Regime Beyond 2012." This series of stakeholder consultations aims to ascertain the concerns, interests and priorities of Asian countries regarding the future climate regime.
We published a report based on the first round of consultations, and have received many positive comments and responses. We are proud to be associated with this project because there is no single institute in the whole of Asia which is addressing region-wide concerns or interests regarding the future climate regime. From that point of view I am very happy that I initiated this project last year. Innovation is not only about learning concerns. We have done that. Now the important thing is how to bridge the gap in understanding that exists between developed and developing countries regarding the future climate regime. That remains a challenge and will be so for the next 3 or 4 years, and beyond.
Our first round of consultations was at a national level, but this year they will be sub-regional. In the second round, we are going to discuss four specific themes - energy security and development needs, the Clean Development Mechanism, technology development and transfer, and adaptation, all in the context of how these issues must be addressed in the post-2012 climate regime from an Asian perspective. Then the important question will be how to link the demands of developing countries in Asia and the interests of developed countries. That is quite a challenging task. But many people are interested in following this with us, and if resources permit we would like to pursue it for another 3 or 4 years.
Adaptation - how developing and developed countries can collaborate
My own research is focussed on the issues surrounding adaptation to climate change and also on co-operation with developing countries. But of course adaptation is not only important for developing countries but also developed ones. Therefore, my primary focus is on how developing countries and developed countries can collaborate with the joint aim of meeting the challenge of climate change. This could be in terms of adaptation or in terms of mitigation.
Most developing countries lack the capacity to adapt to climate change and
therefore require more help and assistance. Based on this, my personal
research goals are centred around visualising a more progressive Asia-
Pacific that can adapt to climate change more sustainably, and which at
the same time makes its own efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions
and accepts its due share of mitigation - responsibilities especially through
schemes like the CDM, which promote co-operation between developed
and developing countries. As much as possible, I want to play a catalytic role in achieving coordination and cooperation in the domain of climate change adaptation policy.
--- What direction do you think IGES research should take in the future?
The IGES mission is a very good one, but the question is how best to achieve it and to what extent we can deliver. From that point of view, IGES should be more proactive in defining its research direction. We are conducting work on the challenges that are facing humanity, with a particular focus on the Asia-Pacific region. However, much of our research concerns what is happening now, and there is very little on visualising what may be happening in twenty or fifty years from now.
We must be visualising what problems the region will be facing in the future, and begin to find various options to address them. For example, if we want a low-carbon society in 50 years time, what type of structural, technological or political changes are necessary to lead us there? We should be addressing these sorts of questions more seriously. I'm not saying we should stop our work on current problems, of course, but I think that that kind of research can be built upon.
Future-oriented research is very important for us as a strategic research institute. Simply put, we need more proactive strategic research in environmental policy - we should be looking further into the future while simultaneously addressing the concerns of the current generation.