A changing climate


Over the past few weeks, I’ve been writing articles about climate change and, more broadly, reducing the risks in disasters (man-made and natural). I’ve also signed myself up to the FutureLearn online course Climate Change – Solutions. This has all been happening in the midst of the latest international climate change talks (COP25) in Madrid. A busy few weeks then. Here are five of some of my learning takeaways.

  • I need to get out more. I spend way too much time inside office, buildings, my own head. I’d like to take more opportunities to see and experience more of this amazing, wonderful, God-given natural world.
  • How scientific and technical the field of climate change is. Which makes the evidence for global warming even more compelling – it isn’t just peoples’ opinions. In fact, scientists tend to err more on the side of caution. So, when they (scientists) say they are highly confident that people play a big part in global warming (IPCC, Met Office) – that translates to being 95 – 100 per cent sure. Not only that , but we are actually changing the physical natural composition of the earth – for the worse, because of carbon emissions. However, scientists can make general observations, but cannot make specific assertions about the role of climate change in the case of particular extreme weather events. Although they are inching closer towards being able to do so.


  • From geoengineering to fracking, it’s important to have some grasp of the science behind the headlines.

  • …but you don’t have to be a scientist to broadly understand the issues or realise the implications of what’s at stake. Although I’m quite analytical, I’m not a scientist, and didn’t study geography at university. And yet even I can see we are in an ‘all hands on deck’ situation where global warming is concerned. It helps to read widely. I have various go-to points that include websites, online magazines, social media and newspapers. For me, especially the FT for international news (+ they do an interesting ‘Moral Money’ email newsletter). Climate Home News is also becoming a useful resource. It’s done a good summary of COP 25. Also, if you’re wondering how to have conversations about climate change without coming across as a self-righteous know-it all, grab a copy of their free e-book How to Have Conversations About Climate Change.
  • However, it’s not just an academic exercise. I’ve got to be honest, I have been travelling quite a bit over the last couple of years for both work (actually, mainly for work) but also for leisure. On the other hand, I don’t drive – I mainly use public transport and feet. And I don’t have kids – so no little darlings eating up resources. I am rethinking the way I travel though – maybe ‘slower leisurely travel’ for example -staying in places for longer rather than jetting from one place to next. Just being more aware of my carbon footprint and how I can change things up on a daily basis too, not just the big things. Needless to say, I’m still trying to figure things out myself.
  • I’ve been able to see climate change at work first-hand through my jobs with the UN over the last nine years. From drought and food crisis in the Sahel, to pollution in Kabul, I can see how climate change wraps itself around other problems such as conflict and the economy. The Nigerien pastoralists I met back in 2010 were devastated by the loss of their cattle because of drought (picture above) – the irony of their cattle dropping and dying in the middle of a food crisis yet not being able to eat the meat because of a lack of (for example) refrigeration. Now, desertification is leading to conflict between those pastoralists and more settled farmers as they jockey for land and resources.

While working for UNICEF in 2011, I saw how in Bangladesh, floods were causing people to move multiple times, uprooting families and disrupting their children’s education. And most recently in Afghanistan I’ve seen directly how floods have been so disruptive, adding to the problems caused by conflict. Weather patterns seem to be getting more unpredictable and more extreme, negatively impacting those who have contributed the least to climate change.  

  • There’s hope but it’s going to be a long, tough road. And we are nowhere near to where we need to be. We have less than 11 years to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 45 per cent and keep the rise in global temperatures below 1.5 per cent this century (IPCC, BBC). However, we’re not close to reducing carbon dioxide emissions to the required levels. CICERO notes that to limit global warming to two degrees centigrade, emissions should be falling by around 3 per cent per year. But in 2018 they rose by about 2 per cent. According to this Financial Times video, it’s the big emitters who really need to make the seriously impactful cuts that are now needed: Climate Change Explained – what can ordinary people do?



A fine afternoon in Tokyo


My visit to Ebisu encapsulates some of the reasons for my recent first time visit to Tokyo: the cultural offerings, the food, and fresh experiences. I daresay the landscape and geography have much to recommend themselves too, but, alas, time cut short my tasting of those.

I started my day by once again navigating the metro, to hotfoot it over to Ebisu, where I planned to visit the Tokyo Photographic Art Museum.

First impressions of Ebisu? That’s it’s an upscale part of town. A quick stop off first for a healthy salad and prosciutto lunch at Dean & DeLuca. Then, a walk past fashionable clothes shops and a long escalator walkway led me to entrance of the museum. The two exhibitions I opted for cost £10 and were worth it: the 2019 World Press Photo award winners, and Shimada Tadashi, a Japanese photography who documents wildlife through his camera, especially birds, and especially kingfishers.

Nature photography isn’t really my thing but I’m so glad I tried something different. His photographs are terrific, traced from his early 1965 offerings (taken with a pretty impressive advanced-looking Canon) to stunning photos taken in Japan and other parts of the world.

Not only does he capture the exuberant colours and characteristics of the animals, but in my opinion, the ‘background’ landscapes are beautifully shot. There’s one with a hapless captured frog caught in the beak of a hungry bird practically ‘moves on the canvas’. Hope that doesn’t sound too pretentious – I think you can surmise that I enjoyed the exhibition, and I think kids too would love it. Note that taking photos of the exhibits isn’t allowed.


The pictures from the World Press Photo Awards exhibition were, as I expected them to be, thought-provoking and well-documented. The winner is that one you’ve seen in the newspapers of the crying little girl looking up, as the viewer can see just the torsos of her mother who is being handcuffed, and the US border officer taking them into custody. Other photos too remind of troubles in Yemen, Afghanistan, Europe, America and other places.

And yet there’s also humour, albeit with an undertone of disquiet. A young Iranian girl, desperate to attend and watch a football match against authority rules, has dressed as a man. A sceptical male-onlooker glances in her direction, perhaps unconvinced by her disguise.* A female boxer’s face is contorted like some horror-cartoon character as her opponent smashes into her. More wry than funny ha ha.

13 September 2019 UPDATE – the death of Sahar Khodayari, however, stops any laughter. Read –

Financial Times: https://www.ft.com/content/2e379f74-d499-11e9-8367-807ebd53ab77

BBC: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-49646879

The natural world

There is a ‘nature’ section at the exhibition too. Photos of the puma (also known as the cougar) capture a creature which is ‘shy’ and retiring yet (both males and females) will stalk their prey for an hour before attacking.

Yebisa, beer, food and drink, Japan, museum
A Yebisa beer poster

But that wasn’t the end of my afternoon. As I left the museum and walked around, across the way I caught sight of the Yebisa Beer Museum. And who would have thought a museum about beer could be so – engaging. The voyage starts from the beer’s Germanic influence and launch in 1890, to 1904 when a bottle of beer cost ten times more than a bowl of soba noodles, through to its contemporary re-emergence.

Yebisa, beer, Japan, travel, food and drink, culture, museum
Yebisa, beer, Japan, travel, food and drink, alcohol

And, of course, the journey ends with a real-life draft.


Beer, Japan, Yebisa, travel, culture, alcohol, food and drink


Try these Kuala Lumpur restaurants

These are Kuala Lumpur restaurants I would return to a second time (and especially to Lai Po Heen, pictured above, at the Mandarin Oriental hotel). This will depend on whether they can maintain a consistent standard of service.

Dumplings, food, Asia, Kuala Lumpur, restaurant
HoMinSan black truffle pork dumplings

The choice of KL restaurants and cafes at the Pavilion mall (Bukit Bintang) can be overwhelming. So, it’s good to have at least one go to, reasonably priced place. HoMinSan is one such place for me (for an early lunch).

I think I’m getting slightly obsessed about a couple of their dishes in particular: try the deliciously delicate black truffle pork dim sum (poking a chopstick into it makes the juices spurt and splatter out, so watch your clothes). And the goose too, with it’s addictive fat that melts into the meat and mouth. Those two together with chrysanthemum tea cost under £10.

Chicken, food, restaurant, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, travel, eat
ChoCha’s herb stuffed chicken

This is where I had my first taste of the nutty-tasting black rice, coupled with a tender herb stuffed chicken. They need to do some work on their selection of wines (by the glass) and, apparently, their duck, but apart from those things, well worth the visit for a calm place away from the city bustle, offering good Asian fusion food. Average meal for one with wine around £20.

By the way, you must visit the hipster cocktail bar upstairs, Mrs Jones Parlour. It specialises in hand-crafted and global gin concoctions. My own drink choice was the not-too-sweet but lovely gin, jasmine and tarragon combo at just under £8.

Cocktails, gin, botanicals, restaurant, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, food, travel
Mrs Jones’ Parlour

Mixed reviews on Tripadvisor, not helped by the duck salad I had (way too many bones), but get past that and here’s somewhere for a healthy lunch at the busy Suria/KLCC mall. Despite the disappointing duck, the Asia beef salad was plentiful and fresh, not overpowered by the dressing, while the crispy fries lightly sprinkled with paprika did work. No alcohol but good choice of alternative drinks.

Get here at the right time and you can bag a prime seat to watch the fountain light show while enjoying a good meal and drink. I’ve only ever had the flavoursome beef rendang both times I’ve visited, plus a nice glass of pinot noir.

Light show performance viewed from Mama San

I’ve saved the best of this list for last. If you are yearning for a delicious roast duck and plum sauce fix, complete with good quality wines, then look no further. If you are staying at this beautiful hotel where the service is excellent without being fusty, then even better.

Fine dining, Mandarin Oriental, duck, food, travel, luxury, restaurant, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Delicious duck at Lai Po Heen
Poolside at the Mandarin Oriental hotel

Click here for more about my trips to Malaysia, Singapore and Hong Kong

Vanessa Curney