Beahrs ELP Blog

The Loudest Call for Climate Action in History: Will it be Heard?

by Alexander Iscenco, Moldova, ELP 2013
Written on September 23, 2014.

September 21st, 2014 became one of the historical moments in the global action to raise awareness about climate change issues and mitigate them. On this very day the largest march calling for climate change action in human history took place. More than 675 thousand people (around 0.01% of global population) marched on the streets of New York, Barcelona, Paris, London, Rome, Berlin, Istanbul, Jakarta, Buenos Aires, Rio de Janeiro, Melbourne, Sydney… There were over 2800 climate-change-related events in 166 countries that day. This so-called People’s Climate March became the largest and loudest call for action to mitigate climate change and its negative consequences so far.

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All that was organized to push the global leaders, who are gathering on September 23rd, 2014, at the UN Headquarters in New York City for the UN Climate Summit 2014 to discuss the state of climate change nowadays, what is currently being done, and what still needs to be done in order to reduce (as avoidance is already not feasible) the economically, socially and environmentally damaging consequences of global climate change caused by anthropogenic activities. The one-day programme of the Summit includes announcements of national action and ambitions from the participating countries, forum for private sector, and then announcements of multi-stakeholder initiatives agreed upon. All in all, it is expected to be a surprisingly short event with quick discussions on such a complex and crucial issue as global climate change.

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As I am currently doing research at IÖW in Berlin, Germany, I managed to participate in the Climate March and Festival here. Approximately 10,000 Berlin residents marched in a Silent Climate Parade from the Neptune Fountain (Neptunbrunnen) towards the Brandenburg Gate, where the Parade transformed into a Festival with music, dances and climate-change-related exhibits. Different environmental organizations, both local and international, such as Avaaz and Greenpeace, put up their stands to inform people about the issue of climate change, what it leads to, and how we can mitigate it through common action.

Indeed, such an event attracted much attention of pedestrians, visitors, local residents, and mass media. Still, did it succeed in communicating the whole complexity of the issue and the urgent need for action? This is the question I keep asking myself since my participation in the Berlin Climate March.

Firstly, the general message was mostly about the problems related to climate change. Much less focus was on possible solutions for climate change mitigation. What can a person do to reduce his/her carbon footprint and at the same time maintain the same level of happiness and wellbeing (and perhaps increase it)? It would have been great to have more showcasing of solutions to climate change offered for the people by the people.

Secondly, although there were some solutions expressed, they were targeting dominantly the transport and energy sector. Indeed, these are the largest greenhouse gas (GHG) emitting sectors (approximately 20% and 30% of the global emissions respectively), but they are not the only ones. Industrial processes (~15%), unsustainable agricultural practices (~10%), and commercial and residential activities (~10%) also contribute to the release of carbon dioxide, methane and other GHGs into the atmosphere. So, we also need to account for them in shaping up the global climate action. For instance, the Climate Festival in Berlin created quite a volume of paper and other waste that could have been avoided. Yes, much of it will probably be recycled. But that also means that energy will be used for the recycling process. And what have I pointed out about the energy sector above?

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Thirdly, the way we communicate messages about climate change and environment protection should be improved. For instance, the Berlin Climate Festival ended up as an ordinary music festival with people around selling merchandise, dancing and getting drunk. Only those participants, who already knew about the importance of climate change, kept the interest and passion for climate action till the end.

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Overall, the People’s Climate March became a significant historical moment within the global people’s movement to address and mitigate the climate change issue. People succeeded in coming together and raising their voice full of desire to reduce the negative effects of the issue now and in the future. Still, as the Berlin Climate Festival showed, the ways of communicating the climate-change-related messages need to be improved. Climate change is a multi-faceted issue that should be considered in all its complexity and from all its sides. Our call for climate action should reflect that. And I hope it will be so in the near future.

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For now, we will see what outputs the UN Climate Summit 2014 produces and whether the People’s Climate March have had any effect on them. Then we should prepare for the next important event – the UN Climate Change Conference, or COP-20, that is going to happen in Lima, Peru, in the period of December 1st – 12th, 2014. It is there the global climate agreement is expected to finally be decided upon. And it is there that our loudest call for change in history is expected to be heard.

The US-Africa Leaders Summit: Perspectives from the Congo Basin

Denis Sonwa photoBy Denis Sonwa, Cameroon, ELP 2010
This article was originally published on CIFOR Forests News Blog.
Read the original article here.


A child carries firewood near the village of Masako, Democratic Republic of Congo. A recent US-Africa summit sought to include youth perspectives in discussions about development and conservation on the continent. Ollivier Girard/CIFOR photo

A child carries firewood near the village of Masako, Democratic Republic of Congo. A recent US-Africa summit sought to include youth perspectives in discussions about development and conservation on the continent. Ollivier Girard/CIFOR photo

The recent US-Africa Leaders Summit brought attention to several initiatives that seek to improve resilience and biodiversity in Central Africa—and illuminated opportunities and challenges for future development in this region.

The theme of the summit in Washington was “Investing in the Next Generation”—and two summit sessions were of particular relevance to the next generation of communities and forests of the Congo Basin.

One session sought to address the problems of wildlife trafficking in Africa, a rampant problem that threatens the biodiversity of continent—and especially the Congo Basin, an area of critical biodiversity.

This session was an occasion for the US to underscore its efforts in trying to combat illegal trafficking, including its Wildlife Enforcement Network (WEN) in the Horn of Africa. The US is seeking to eventually extend the WEN to Central Africa. An important aspect of this initiative—and a fitting approach to the “next generation” theme of the summit—is the recruitment of youths as park rangers and in natural resources management.

Challenges remain to biodiversity conservation in this region, however. In Central Africa, the wildlife sector has not yet generated enough funding to ensure its effective management, security and sustainability. Moreover, criminalizing smallholders who are hunting for wildlife for sustenance—as is currently the case throughout much of Central Africa—will not help to solve the crisis of unsustainable hunting of bushmeat. Without a permanent source of income to sustain biodiversity conservation in and around protected areas, it remains difficult to effectively combat wildlife trafficking in Central Africa and to halt declining wildlife populations.

The second session of note dealt with resilience and food security in a changing climate. US efforts in this realm are rooted in the “New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition,” which aims to lift 50 million people out of poverty in sub-Saharan Africa by 2022—similar to efforts by the African Union, with its own milestone of 2025.

Climate-smart agriculture was pitched as a way forward for the continent. The challenge for the Congo Basin and Central Africa in general is to find a way to mainstream agriculture in natural resource management at the national and regional scales. In the landscape planning process, agriculture needs to be seen as a business that can be sustainable. Instead of vilifying agriculture (particularly smallholder agriculture) as a driver of deforestation, stakeholders in this sector need to be involved in the planning and execution of biodiversity conservation and management initiatives.

The agricultural sector in the Congo Basin can also help to achieve both mitigation and adaptation to climate change—but efforts to do this in other parts of the continent often miss the region. On climate change resilience, the US-backed Global Resilience Partnership focuses primarily on the Sahel and the Horn of Africa, for example. Despite the recent reaffirmation of African Union that “adaptation is a priority in all actions on climate change in Africa,” climate-change responses are different in the heart of the continent. In Central Africa, besides Lake Chad (where droughts illustrate how climate change is silently impacting ecosystems), the Congo Basin is not yet a subject of high interest for continental resilience initiatives.

This is partly due to lack of information on the vulnerability of communities and forests in this region: Meteorological and hydrological stations inherited from the colonial period are now obsolete, for example, and less research is taking place in Central Africa than in other parts of Africa. Gradual information/outputs from the Cofcca and Cobam projects are helping to correct this, though, filling information gaps and revealing that this part of the continent also deserves attention for adaptation to climate change.

The summit, true to its name, put the future generation at the center of the discussion. Institutions such as the University of California-Berkeley received youths participating in the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) in the lead-up to the summit. But as CIFOR researchers and colleagues of the University of Prince Edward Island (Canada) found recently, at the local level, youths are not included in the decision-making process in rural areas. Actions to rectify this are under way, though: Recognizing that youths are the next frontier of forest management, an entire session at the Global Landscapes Forum, a side event to the UNFCCC COP in Warsaw last year, was dedicated to youths. On achieving food security and climate change resilience in Central Africa, the potential of youths must not be left untapped.

At its heart, though, the summit was an occasion to reflect on US-Africa relations and how they relate to environmental issues in the Congo Basin. The CARPE initiative as well as US facilitation of the CBFP constituted milestones in the cooperation between the US and Central African states in the environmental sector.

Alongside interest in wildlife trafficking, adaptation to climate change and food security (particularly climate-smart agriculture) constitutes untapped opportunities to alleviate the vulnerabilities of forests and communities in the heart of Africa.

Land-sparing or Land-sharing? The future of farming

by Claudia Havranek, United Kingdom, ELP 2014
Written on August 7, 2014.

We are currently faced with a global food crisis: nearly one in eight people are starving, and approximately two billion people are lacking micronutrients. The severity of this crisis is set to increase, as food demand is predicted to double by 2050 from a predicted population rise to 9 billion, as well as changes in demand.

Alongside the food crisis, we are also faced with the threat of an anthropogenically induced 6th mass extinction. Throughout the world, species ranges are contracting, leading to local extinctions, associated with a loss of ecosystem function and community resilience. Economically and ecologically, loss of biodiversity has implications for both the sustainability and yield of food production.

Threats to biodiversity, especially of habitat loss and pollution, are linked to farming and so solutions for conservation must not ignore the need for food production. With 38.2% of land committed to agriculture, there are two proposed strategies for the management of agricultural land: land-sparing and land-sharing. Land-sparing involves managing land for farming and nature separately, and is often associated with intensive farming methods. Land-sharing involves the use of wildlife-friendly farming to share farmland with nature.

Identifying the conditions under which land-sharing and land-sparing maximizes the yield-conservation trade-off, as well as understanding the logistical consequences of the implementation of each strategy may be crucial to solutions to both malnourishment and extinction rates. However, as is often the case, there is no unanimous solution.

Insufficient research on yield-conservation tradeoffs limits the extent to which policies may sensibly be based on this data. From the information we do have however, the more beneficial conservation and yield trade-off from land-sparing is countered with lower crop resilience. Land-sharing appears to offer a more long-term solution to improving food production and maintaining biodiversity. Despite lower yield from land-sharing, increased sustainability and resilience may make biodiversity and yield more secure in the long term.

However, drawing firm conclusions, and assuming an antagonism between land-sparing and land-sharing fails to address the real-world complexity. A continuum combining biodiversity conservation and agriculture with land-sparing at one extreme and land-sharing at the other may reflect the changes in biodiversity across different agricultural intensities better, as well as providing the opportunity to tailor management techniques specifically to both biotic and abiotic features of a landscape.

Priorities currently lie in getting food to the malnourished, through improving distribution chains, or improving yield for those least well off, rather than simply increasing global production. Potential for improvements in global food security is therefore at the level of smallholder farming, rather than large-scale intensive farming. At this level, creating sustainable ecosystem-based agriculture for subsistence farmers through land-sharing is likely to have the greatest impact, supported by successful examples in Ethiopia, Brazil and the Philippines where management methods were initially intended for conservation. The benefits of land-sharing for global food security on a logistical level may therefore result in the implementation of this strategy, supported by the limited biological data available.

Despite the complexity of this issue, the outlook is not altogether gloomy: as has been here discussed, the apparent conflict between conservation and yield may not be as contradictory as they initially appear. In a world driven by economics and political decisions, the fact that we are addressing the possibility of integrating food security and conservation, may it be through land-sharing, land-sparing or something in between, is reason enough to feel optimistic.

Public Health, Pesticides and Poverty in Senegal with Dr. Mountaga Dia

by Victoria Pilbeam, Australia, ELP 2014
Written on July 15, 2014.


a Senegalese farmer sprays pesticides without wearing any protective clothing

a Senegalese farmer sprays pesticides without wearing any protective clothing

At over 6 feet tall stands a participant whom many of the ELP participants refer to affectionately as “Docteur,” Dr. Mountaga Dia a trained doctor and public health specialist from the West African country of Senegal. I recently sat down with Dr. Dia and in a mixture of English and French we discussed his work, his background, his interest in taking part in the ELP and how he sees the connections between health and the environment.

When describing how he came to work in Public Health, Dr. Dia is pragmatic and contextualizes his own career path within the relative poverty of Senegal. As the fifth of ten children, in a family of modest means, Dr. Dia states matter of factly, “I knew that I was going to have to work to support myself and my family,” and it was this desire for financial security which initially motivated him to study medicine. However, it was the 1994 arrival of International Monetary Fund and World Bank Structural Adjustments Program in Senegal that pushed Dr. Dia to focus on improving Public Health in disadvantaged rural communities.

This program, by devaluing local currencies, led to a sharp increase in the prices of import goods like medicine and milk, which are crucial to health outcomes. As a medical student having then completed his thesis working with rural Senegalese community health centers on low birth weight, Dr. Dia was well placed to foresee the consequences of this policy, and 20 years later he still becomes visibly aggravated as we discuss its imposition. It was in response to this that Dr. Dia joined SIGGI (a word which literally translates to “rectification”) in 1994, an initiative supported by Enda Tiers Monde and Terre des Homme which sought to build capacity among largely untrained rural community health workers in Senegal. Dr. Dia described the yearlong process, “We met in a local primary school every Wednesday and there we would train them how to [give] basic medicines like paracetamol, aspirin, betadine and eventually injectibles. Then we would also provide supervision”.

Dr. Dia engaging in community health work in Senegal on behalf of Enda Tiers monde

Dr. Dia engaging in community health work in Senegal on behalf of Enda Tiers monde

It was this strong background in community health mobilization that led him to his current work in pesticides. In particular, Dr. Dia cites one 2002 Senegalese study as being catalytic, “Enda [Tiers Monde], with GEF [Global Environment Facility] and FAO [Food and Agriculture Organization], did a small study with toxicologists on the level of pesticides in local market foods and they found results that were way out there, so much so that they were too afraid to publish. After that, they realized there was a serious problem and Enda asked me to work on it”. From there, Dr. Dia helped run a series of studies on how people use pesticides in Senegal, “we asked: how do you use pesticides? How do you measure them out? Because many people just use old Nescafe tins or water bottles. When do you use them? Do you wear protective clothes? Do your wife and children help?” From this platform, Dr. Dia was able to help shape a regional plan for pesticides management that includes prevention, water monitoring and creating a network of communities along the Senegal River. However, due to the lack of funds, implementation has stalled. Dr. Dia remains hopeful about this project however, and now through his position at the University of Bambey, he is trying to create networks to support this project and has had increasing international interest.

This interest in creating networks for sustainable change is largely what drew him to ELP. Dr. Dia posits, “We are here to build a network and especially in my area, environment and health, there has not been enough of this.” Given this, Dr. Dia questions the logic of some academics who choose to address health or environment to the exclusion of the other. “These days, having an interest in environment is the obligatory pathway if you want to work in health. As we do studies, we find that more and more, there are clear links between the environment and health.” Keenly interested in getting as much knowledge out of every session, Dr. Dia is often spotted filming key ELP sessions on his phone.

A Trainer Being a Trainee: Inspirations from the ELP

by Domoina Rakotobe, Madagascar, ELP 2014
Written on July 20, 2014.

Madagascar is considered one of the world’s hotspots for biodiversity, with unique fauna and flora embedded in fragile ecosystems. Since 2003, the Network of Conservation Educators and Practitioners (NCEP) has worked to strengthen conservation capacity in Madagascar, which is facing severe threats and a lack of trained individuals to meet them. Through a system-wide approach, we have convened key players to develop long-term strategies and worked collaboratively to implement solutions at the individual, organizational, and national levels. We have pioneered open-access educational materials tailored to the Malagasy context and improved the breadth and quality of conservation training available. Our work on assessing capacity development needs, developing competence standards for conservation professionals, designing complimentary training programs, and setting up systems of certifying professionals has set an important precedent and foundation in the country.

Despite my long experience in training, my experience as a trainee in my turn at the Environmental Leadership Program (ELP) shed light on potential progress of conservation capacity development in Madagascar and namely for NCEP.

Most of the ELP courses were dealing with prediction of the future. The haunting question is what might happen if…? Then, how could we, as environmental leaders, be better prepared to face these future challenges? What are the available options we have or need to develop to address them? Those are important questions to adequately address environmental challenges. For capacity development in Madagascar, three paths are worth considering in order to overstep the current myopic behavior. The first one is to increase exposure of local conservation professionals and educators to information, tools and skills that help better understand the future. For instance, geoengineering, land use change science or technological approaches to water management are among interesting topics that should be incorporated into academic and professional debates. Unavailability of technological resources should not impede a greater understanding of those global trends. NCEP could help organize conferences or develop training resources on such topics. The second direction would be investment in talent sustainability of conservation institutions; in other words, time and resources are invested to make sure that their staff is competent to fulfill job requirements in an attractive workplace where success is praised. This approach, more common in the private sector, should be extended to conservation. The NCEP certification program in protected area management has aimed to highlight current staff competencies and to address competency gaps. But it could, in the future, encompass institutional capacity building to optimize human resources. The third path is to increase development of leadership skills in conservation trainings either in academic or professional settings. Course content and format should better help environmentalists to be more proactive rather than only reactive. NCEP has disseminated wide use of active teaching techniques, but there is still room for training more effective conservation leaders. What might happen if Madagascar, as a main depositary of world biodiversity, does not have competent and visionary conservation agents?

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