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Timing Is Everything

David Zilberman

Professor David Zilberman

by Prof. David Zilberman, Beahrs ELP Co-director


Dear ELP-ers,

I hope 2015 has taken off to a good start for all of you and I wish everyone a wonderful year ahead. This year we will celebrate the 15th anniversary of the Beahrs ELP. As we continue to have more cohorts, the number of interested applicants is not declining and the alumni network is growing. Hence, we are moving towards sustainability and will stay around for a long time. While our agenda and faculty and staff are evolving, one topic has caught our attention since the very first day – Climate Change.

I became aware of Climate Change in the 1980s when scientists debated its significance and likelihood. The 1990s established that it is a major menace and humanity has to do something about it. Since then, we are debating on what to do. For economists like myself, it is clear that if humanity is serious about tackling the problem, we need to make emitters to pay for the greenhouse gases that they produce and we need to engage in developing and introducing technology that will slow and end greenhouse gas build-up. Kyoto was nice, and some of the cap-n-trade programs we see are very useful. But still, it was a small effort aiming to contain a huge wave. The reality made introducing solutions with teeth politically difficult. When energy prices increase, like in the 2000s, it is difficult to sell carbon tax, so people fought for alternatives that are far from optimal but now, prices of energy are declining in a big way. We also realize that we develop technologies that allow reducing the cost of alternative energies. Solar has is becoming more and more affordable in many developing countries, and has become cheaper than using diesel generators. Biofuels are becoming economically viable in the U.S. and in Brazil, food prices have declined in recent years, and we have the technology to have a Bio-economy that produces food and some fuel. Conservation has a huge potential. Already we have learned that if consumers need to pay more for their energy, they will switch to energy saving devices. If low energy prices will continue, some of the achievements of the past will slowly erode. But if we introduce some sort of carbon tax now, we can continue the momentum towards an alternative path of reduced greenhouse gas emissions. So now is the time to tax; it would be painful but much less than the alternatives. It is our challenge as citizens, to make sure that the tax money will go to good uses.

It seems that in the last few years, the urgency about climate change has eroded. Some spoke about Global Warming Hiatus (don’t tell anyone that I use Wikipedia, but it can be useful), but at the same time, we learned that 2014 is the warmest year on record globally. While there are uncertainties about the timing, dimensions, and impacts of climate change, there is a high probability that really bad things are likely to happen and most of the solutions have other beneficial impacts, they tend to allow us to do more with less, reduce air pollution, and to gradually transition away from non-renewable fuel sources. Therefore, we must do something about climate change and now is the time to take action.



Positive Change for the Environment led by Youth Action

by Nelia Lagura (ELP 2004), Philippines

When I started teaching Environmental Law at the University of San Carlos – College of Law in Cebu City, Philippines, I had to ask myself how I should be as a teacher: one who terrorizes, by forcing students to know the laws by heart or one who inspires. However, I chose the latter and I am very happy with the results.

To make my environmental law classes relevant, I required my students to come up with projects that can create a positive impact in society. Last semester, a group successfully partnered with the Visayas Electric Company and lobbied for the issuance of a municipal resolution in San Fernando, Cebu, encouraging the use of LED bulbs within their jurisdiction. Another group focused on water conservation. What touched me the most was the group, composed of seventeen 23-year old students, who went to clean one of dirtiest rivers in Cebu City.

The river clean-up seemed ordinary, but it was not. The area was extremely polluted with all types of garbage and the passage to the river was slippery and steep. However, the students successfully cleaned up the river, albeit not completely, for there was trash that just couldn’t be extracted by hand. The plates below show a remarkable change in the river. After the clean-up, one could feel that there is, after all, life flowing through the river.

The two photographs indicating the healthy condition of the river before (left) and after the students’ assignment was completed (right).

The two photographs indicating the condition of the river before (left) and after the students’ assignment was completed (right).

However, it was not the fact that they cleaned the river in the best possible way that mattered most. It was their own reflection on the activity that struck a chord and made me re-realize that there is still hope.

The following is an extract from their report:

“After almost three hours of back-breaking work, the river looked like it was breathing fine. It no longer was as congested with garbage as it was the earlier morning. It was a day to be reckoned as the day that the General Maxilom River was treated to a vigorous scrubbing, leaving it cleaner and habitable.

Something profound changed in the lives of each and everyone in the group that day. In the diversity of life, a river had touched the sensitive nature inherent in each of us. It made us feel alive with the thought that it is never too late. Something can always be done for the better.”

What the students chose as a project had a tremendously positive impact – on the river, on themselves and on me. The experience of cleaning the river and the lessons that the students learned is evident in their report.

My students were inspired in more ways than I could have possibly imagined. They reinforced my faith that there are a lot of young people in the world who are just waiting to be inspired, encouraged and enlightened to drive positive change for the environment.

The Food-Energy-Water Nexus

by Dr. Noureddin Driouech (ELP 2012), Italy

Some of the biggest challenges the world is facing hinge on the growing scarcity and allocation of resources vital to sustaining life – water, energy and food. Food, water and energy security are finally being recognized as the most important national and international security issues.

To produce enough food to support a growing population, we need more water and energy. Producing energy requires water to cool power plants and produce biofuel, while making water accessible and clean for human consumption demands energy. According to UN estimates, by 2030 we will need 30% more water, 45% more energy and 60% more food.

Understanding the complex relationship between water, energy and food systems has become critically important to the development of a sustainable and secure future for all nations and regions. This was clearly highlighted at the Bonn 2011 Nexus Conference held in preparation for the United Nations (UN) Rio +20 Conference. The conference highlighted the importance of addressing sustainability issues in the closely related sectors of water, energy and food security.

This was also a central lesson that emerged from last year’s observance of the International Year for Water Cooperation. The relationship between water, energy and food security demonstrate how deep the inter-linkages are between these systems. At heart of the relationship is the interdependence of resources – how demand for one resource can drive demand for another one. Similarly, how the cost of one resource can determine the efficiency of production of others.

In addition, it is well recognized that efforts to address only one part of a systemic problem by neglecting other inherently inter-linked aspects may not lead to desirable and sustainable outcomes. With this perspective, for an increasing number of nations, policy decision-making requires a nexus approach that reduces tradeoffs and builds synergies across sectors, and helps to reduce costs and increase benefits for humans and nature in contrast to independent approaches to the management of water, energy, food and the environment (Figure 1).

Figure 1: The FAO approach to the Water-Energy-Food Nexus (Source: FAO, 2014)

Figure 1: The FAO approach to the Water-Energy-Food Nexus (Source: FAO, 2014)

There are many synergies and tradeoffs between water, energy use and food production. One example is the use of water to irrigate crops which might promote food production but it can also reduce river flow and hydropower potential. Growing bio-energy crops under irrigated agriculture can increase overall water withdrawals and jeopardize food security. Converting surface irrigation into high efficiency pressurized irrigation may save water but may also result in higher energy use. Recognizing these synergies and balancing these tradeoffs is central to jointly ensuring the availability of water, energy and food.

In this regard , the question to be raised concerning the water-energy-food nexus is where are we now? This will bring us to several crucial questions including the following:

  • Nexus thinking has been around for a while now, but is it really integrated enough yet?
  • Do we have enough data points to catalyze action?
  • How are organizations tackling interconnected resource challenges and what concrete examples of scenario planning collaboration or programs in place?
  • Could the move towards valuing natural capital help accelerate nexus thinking and policy making?

Work on what is being termed the water-energy-food nexus is starting, but much still needs to be learned and accomplished regarding increasing efficiency, reducing tradeoffs and building synergies across sectors. This calls for joint global responsibility and cooperation among users, scientists and policy makers. Understanding the nexus and the setup of an appropriate nexus approach is essential to develop policies, strategies and investments to exploit synergies and mitigate tradeoffs among water energy and food systems.

In line with this approach, a research team of the Mediterranean Agronomic Institute of Bari-Italy(CIHEAM–MAIB) started many research and cooperation activities last year dealing with issues on water-energy-food security. In particular, it has recently launched a stakeholder’s open consultation on nexus in the southern and eastern Mediterranean countries in order to pave the way for the establishment of the “Mediterranean Nexus Network”. The stakeholder consultation is in progress and the preliminary outcomes are expected to be available later in 2015.

Game with Impact

by Alexander Iscenco (ELP 2013), Moldova

“The CO2 level rises as never before…”

“Our ignorance of climate change issues will become our doom…”

“We need urgent action NOW, or else there might be no LATER for our children…”

These are just some of the many calls for urgent climate actions spreading on-line before and during the global climate negotiations, COP 20, in Lima. As you can see, the general tone of such messages is the one of warning – that unless we do something now, we can expect a rather grim and apocalyptic future. This is one of the ways to motivate people to change their behavior and commit to necessary actions. And it rests on creating the feeling of fear.

mega-logo-no-spaceIn Moldova, the organization Moldovan Environmental Governance Academy (MEGA) has decided to go a different way to stimulate change of behavior and commitment to environmental protection, including climate change mitigation. This way is paved by fostering a totally opposite feeling – FUN.

Fun is used by MEGA in cooperation with Bright Games to develop a unique collaborative sustainability innovation – the Game with Impact. It represents an on-line platform that uses the concept of gamification to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of environmental learning and action for youth. The platform is designed as an immersive game where you, as a player, need to accomplish sustainability-related missions, go through challenging levels taking place in different countries, upgrade your profile with various skills and experience, and ultimately achieve the status of a Change Agent with enough knowledge and experience to develop your own eco-innovation and start a green business.

DIY Solar Oven

A Do-It-Yourself Solar Oven that can be developed to achieve certain missions in the game

The uniqueness of the Game with Impact is that it connects on-line play with off-line action. That is, in order to accomplish missions you actually need to do the tasks in the real world, thereby creating positive social and environmental impact during the play. For instance, if you decide to take on the Climate Change Quest, you will go through levels and missions that require you to report on greenhouse-gas-intense activities you perform, reduce/eliminate them from your everyday life, assist your friends in doing so, write about climate change issues in a local blog/newspaper, deliver a training on reducing climate footprint in school, develop an open-source renewable energy solution and share it with your community, etc. At the final level you will have enough knowledge, skills, and resources to initiate your own climate change mitigation project, organization, or startup. In this way you will perform a number of environmentally responsible actions not because of the fear of the future, but because it is simply fun and exciting. And this is what we offer to people: the opportunity to really enjoy improving the environment and their well-being.

The full Game with Impact will be released on the 5th of June 2015 (on the World Environment Day). However, you have the opportunity to be one of the first testers for the public Beta version to be released in February 2015. In order to receive your exclusive invitation, you just need to subscribe at

Let’s Play for Impact… and a sustainable world!

 The Game with Impact preview demo screenshots

MEGA - Game with Impact - Demo Printscreen - 1

MEGA - Game with Impact - Demo Printscreen - 2

MEGA - Game with Impact - Demo Printscreen - 3



Factors Destroying the Environment in Afghanistan

by Sayed Hashmat (ELP 2004), Afghanistan

Eng.Hashmat ELP 2004 Participant

Eng.Hashmat, ELP 2004 alum

Afghanistan is one of the countries that is located in central part of Asia. It is bordered by Iran on the west, Pakistan on the east and south, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan on the north and China (a narrow strip – Wakhan) in the north east. Its capital is Kabul. Afghanistan is officially known as the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and its total area is about 647,497 sq km1. War in Afghanistan during the late 20th century, caused substantial population displacement with millions of refugees fleeing into Pakistan and Iran. Generally, the regional ethnicity remains the same as it had been before the unrest.

Environmental problems being experienced in the country
If we were to compare the environmental situation of Afghanistan with other developing countries, the situation in Afghanistan is indeed terrible. The natural environment has been significantly damaged because of natural disasters such as drought, and three continuous decades of civil war. In the past decades, there has been a lack of infrastructure development, unplanned increase of population with fragmented expansion and lack of law enforcement which has intensified problems. The people have low awareness about environmental issues. The government lacks the capacity to realize the importance of different environmental issues. Lack of understanding and ignorance of this vital issue has a negative impact on the whole nation. Environmental sustainability and protection will directly depend on strong leadership, sustainable management and continued follow up.

Causes and factors of these environmental problems in Afghanistan
In general, the destruction of the environment is brought about by two factors: (1) natural; and (2) human-induced.

Natural causes of environmental problems in the country
Afghanistan located in a mountainous and tropical area. The country is partially warm and dry, where the annual rainfall is significantly less than the average annual rainfall compared to the rest of the world. Most of the country in the southern, south western, western, and north consists of large plain deserts. Hence, the government needs to consider solutions for the revival of the pastures and forests.

Flood is the main natural factor which destroys agricultural lands and removes the surface soil. Also some times, land slides affect land and destroy houses in some places.

Human-induced causes of environmental problems in the country
Three decades of war has had a negative impact on the country’s environmental resources. In the past, there were different factors as to why environmental resources were not protected. First of all, the central government was not capable of controlling the destruction of the natural resources, intentionally or unintentionally carried out by the people. Secondly, there was no proper strategy or plan for protection of the environment. The third factor is the poor economy of the people which forces them to cut the forest and trees for fuel purposes. The fourth factor is the lack of social awareness among citizens about protection of their environment. As a result, in the absence of an efficient government with no proper reform strategy for social, political and environmental issues, there has been no growth or development.

For further information, outlined below are some human indicated factors.

Direct effects of human-centric activities on the environment:
Due to the limited availability of resources related to agriculture, livestock, fuel, construction, and other requirements, people tend to over extract natural resources leading to their destruction. On the other hand, the forests in our country are not in a good condition. In this context, the following elements are to be noted:

  1. Cutting down trees and the destruction of forests in order to access material for construction or fuel or illegal smuggling of timber
  2. Cutting down trees and the destruction of forests in order to have land for agricultural purposes, residential housing or for the creation of villages within forests
  3. Burning down rest of the forest which does not produce timber wood so that coal can be obtained from it
  4. Movement of pasture and cattle in the forests – especially goats that eat leaves, branches, and even skin of the trees, which is supposed to be very harmful to the forests
  5. Untimely grazing of animals
  6. Due to excessive numbers of herds or animals concentration, the soil surface becomes loose and highly prone to erosion by winds and rain. Thereby, no fertile soil is left for growing natural vegetation
  7. Smuggling of timber from the Kunar province through the Narang Valley into neighbouring country Pakistan; there is no re-plantation to make up for the loss of the cut trees
  8. The change of pastures into agricultural lands due to lack of good quality soil and other alternative sources of livelihoods
  9. Providing forage for livestock, stock of the meadows and piling up for winter season
  10. Utilization and exploitation of plants used by industry, including botanical herbs and medicines
Kabul people mostly using cool and wood for heating their houses and causes more smoke.

People in Kabul mostly using coal and wood for heating their houses, leading to pollution.

Involvement of the government in environmental protection
NEPA or the National Environmental Protection Agency, established in 2005, is the only government agency related to environmental protection. An environmental law drafted by this institution was passed by the National Assembly in 2007 and issued by President Hamid Karzai. The law specifies the agency’s functions and responsibilities. NEPA serves as a policy maker on environmental issues; the agency is not directly involved in preserving or protecting of the environment. The role of NEPA is to regulate, coordinate, monitor and enforce the environmental law to protect national interests and benefit all citizens of Afghanistan. The agency is expected to play a major role in environmental protection and act as a focal point in dealing with environmental management.

Policies to be implemented by the government to address environmental issues
The environmental law of Afghanistan Official Gazette No. 912, dated 25 January 2007 was approved by the National Assembly. However, there are several challenges to enforce this law. There is a need for the government to implement practical steps to protect the environment.

Also, Article 15 in the constitution of Afghanistan mentions that the state shall be obligated to adopt necessary measures to protect and improve forests as well as the living environment. However, there is a need for application and follow up.

Proposal to the government to address environmental problems in the country
The Afghan government must consider the following points to address the problems related to the environment:

  • Natural resource management by supporting project classification, studies and design
  • Protection of environmental hotspots and national parks
  • Support community mobilization for clean energy utilization
  • Develop policies for waste management and provide training in waste management
  • Implement environmental education programs
  • Establish voluntary community groups
  • Develop publications and communication material like brochures that explains the value of the environment
  • Prevent logging in forests, smuggling of timber and hunting of wild animals
  • Prevent the import of old and second hand vehicles that cause the air pollution
  • Strengthen the capacities of the environmental protection agency

Considering the present situation in Afghanistan, addressing the environmental problems in Afghanistan is one of the biggest challenges that will take years to be addressed by the Government of Afghanistan and the National Environmental Protection Agency. The government of Afghanistan should at least take the following steps:

  • Ask the international community for their support and assistance
  • Provide sustainable finance and technical support
  • Develop management capacity in the capital and provinces
  • Develop inter-ministerial environmental capacity building
  • Develop a curriculum for environmental education
  • Develop community-based natural resources management initiatives



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