Saturday, February 23, 2008

Caribbean Island activist calls for TQM approach to combat climate change

Clarence E. Pilgrim of the island of Antigua and Barbuda in the Caribbean advocates that policy-makers should take on the Total Quality Management (TQM) approach as a way to improve the faulty administrative systems that lead to poor planning, ineffective implementation of policies and laws,  and consequently the degradation of natural ecosystems which play an important role in successful adaptation to climate change. You can read about his arguments in the Antigua Sun.

This is an interesting premise and has prompted me to look at its prospects much more closely, hence this long posting. If you are not familiar with TQM, there are many resources on the Internet. So let's hear from the father of TQM - W. Edwards Deming. He proposed fourteen points of management and in this post I try to apply it to the climate change problem, especially as it concerns adaptation in small islands, and some interesting insight unfolds:

  1. Create constancy of purpose for improvement of product and service - the strive to improve tourism, port and other coastal developments should be integrated within a long-term planning and sustainable development framework taking into consideration sea-level rise and other climate issues. Without the product or service - for example an intact beach, tourism will flop.

  2. Adopt the new philosophy - we need to continue to undergo transformation at government and private sector levels to face the new challenges of climate change. Government, companies and communities that do this have a better chance of adaptation to climate change in the long-term.

  3. Cease dependence on mass inspections - We should optimise our management systems to prevent costly mistakes rather than trying to find the resources to fix them later. A hotel which practices sound beach management and coastal planning may not have to resort to costly coastal defences in the long-term. Government should increase its effectiveness at preventing costly mistakes.

  4. End the practice of awarding business on the basis of price tags alone - Social corporate responsibility and environmental stewardship are essential precursors to successful companies (and governments) today. The private sector should invest in community resilience and environment protection if they wish to gain competitive climate change advantage in the future. The oil markets are sending the appropriate signals - time to move to renewables.

  5. Improve constantly and forever the system of production and service - Deming's 'plan-do-check-act (PDCA)cycle.' is a must, as we must seek and be engaged in a continuous cycle of improvement to avoid repeating the same mistakes and improving on our short-comings. This needs to happen to be able to progressively cope with the uncertainty of climate change impacts on small islands.

  6. Institute training - Education, training, capacity building, research, innovation is CRITICAL to resilience building and adaptation to climate change. Those that invest in those reap the rewards. Universities should play a much greater role in advancing resilience and adaptation knowledge in the island states.

  7. Adopt and institute leadership  - Stop supervising, be a leader. This planet needs strong leadership. Our islands also need strong leadership - extraordinary individuals who have the foresight to engage their nation, company and community for a climate-proof future. For example, President Michel of the Seychelles wants to engage the entire global island community in adaptation through the Sea Level Rise Foundation.

  8. Drive out fear - empower rather than overpower. allow people to take on responsibility, be creative and allow collective decision-taking. Resilience to climate change has to be built bottom-up, although there is a need to strengthen commitment at the top.

  9. Break down barriers between staff areas - allow cross-sectoral collaboration. Climate change is a very complex issue and without strong collaboration among government agencies, empire building or sectoral approaches will not generate the benefits of adaptation to climate change.

  10. Eliminate slogans, exhortations, and targets for the work force - focus on improving the system, rather than just focusing on people. Poor planning systems are usually the cause for lack of efficiency in the implementation of development control and planning policies - not just the people.   

  11. Eliminate numerical quotas - In the elimination of red-tape, one should focus on improvements in quality not quick fixes with long-term consequences. For example, building of sea walls should be of last resort, as better planning and development control may indeed avoid such costly projects.

  12. Remove barriers that rob people of pride of workmanship - systems that encourage the best talent, will end up with the best talent. Brain drain in small islands is a big issue due to many systemic and policy failures. Governments and the private sector has an equal stake in retaining local talent, as this is their best hope for adaptation to climate change. Singapore, the world's most advanced small island state knows what I am talking about.

  13. Encourage education and self-improvement for everyone - learn and never stop learning. A learning society is a resilient society and one able to adapt much faster. The constant flow of knowledge should percolate throughout the entire society - young and old, rich and poor. Responsible media involvement is vital.

  14. Take action to accomplish the transformation - everyone one needs to be onboard. I recently posted a blog on the decision taken by the Malaysian Cabinet to engage in Climate Change adaptation. All levels of society should engage as adaptation is not a sole responsibility of governments or concerned groups.

US companies ignored Demings for most of the 93 years he lived and breathed TQM, so he went to sell his idea to the Japanese, and indeed TQM revolutionised the Japanese car industry and continues to revolutionise governments and corporations to this day. Demings insight is valuable for climate change adaptation today, ignore it at your own peril.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Wetlands - suitable and free candidates for adaptation to sea level rise

Two years after hurricane Katrina caused the devastating floods in New Orleans, the National Wetland Centre in the US stressed the importance of wetlands and barrier islands in coastal defences. This conclusion is no different to those made by scientists who studied the affected areas following the 2004 Indonesian Tsunami. Although both events may not be directly related to climate change and sea level rise, both mimic the devastating effects of flood waters and changes in sea level. They also illustrate the importance of wetlands for adaptation to climate change. Wetlands, which covers almost 6-8% of the planet is also meant to include mangroves and coral reefs, and indeed research has shown that these ecosystems, known as the kidneys of the planet,  are in need of urgent attention and protection.

Partners for wetlandsOn the 2nd February the world celebrated the World Wetlands Day. In Seychelles, as it has been in the last five years, it was a national event involving school children, the local community, government representatives and the private sector. This initiative is demonstrating how hotel developers can become custodians of wetlands and contribute towards its conservation.

The Mangroves for the Future initiative (MMF) initiated by former US President Clinton following the Indonesian 2004 tsunami disaster is partnership between IUCN  and local partners in the affected countries, including Seychelles and Maldives to improve management of coastal ecosystems, including wetlands. Although there is still some academic debate about the real value of coastal ecosystem restoration in disaster risk reduction, it's role in increasing adaptation of coastal communities to sea level rise should not be ignored. Management, restoration and conservation of the world's wetlands, especially in small islands and coastal areas is necessary if we are to adapt to sea level rise. 

Photo: Wetland Partners in Action: Banyan Tree Hotel contributes to wetland conservation in Seychelles (source: Seychelles Nation)

Further Reading: Katrina and wetlands, Tsunami and wetlands, Seychelles celebrates wetlands day, wetlands and climate change.