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Beahrs ELP Blog

Training environmental leaders

By Professor David Zilberman, Agricultural and Resource Economics, UC Berkeley

Last month, the 14th cohort of the Beahrs Environmental Leadership Program graduated. The Beahrs ELP brings mid-career professionals to Berkeley every summer for three weeks of professional training, and I was fortunate enough to be the co-director of the program, alongside Dean Keith Gilless.

When Dick Beahrs gave us the means to start the Beahrs ELP, I thought we would introduce the participants to the new frontiers of knowledge, most recent discoveries about climate change, ecological services and management of biodiversity, and the like. We needed to have a multidisciplinary approach emphasizing how science, including physical, biological and social sciences, can solve environmental problems. Even after fourteen years, we still present new knowledge and cutting edge research. For example, this year we had our first session on the merits of using geo-engineering to address climate change. But over the years, we’ve realized that our participants know a lot about environmental issues and continue to demand more emphasis on advanced tools to augment their leadership skills. Now a key feature of our program is a module on conflict resolution that teaches skills to improve co-worker and boss-employee relationships and helps conceptualize collaborative solutions to regional problems. We have developed sessions on how to present oneself more effectively, improve communication skills, and effectively utilize media. We also incorporated a session on marketing, realizing that environmental experts have many ideas and concepts to sell, and need ‘buyers’. The session where participants were asked to design a program to market their organization has become very popular. It forces people to think about what their organization is truly all about, their potential benefactors and clients, and ways to engage them.

IMG_8956 2

During this process, I began to think about leadership. My perception of a leader was someone like Churchill, Spartacus, Martin Luther King or Jeanne D’Arc, a heroic figure with unique courage and charisma who blazed a new path and changed the world. However, leaders are not limited to the grand events of history. They are people that establish the direction of their organizations and pursue it creatively and effectively, and indeed many of our leaders are in charge of environmental programs in government, companies, or NGOS. Frequently, leadership positions are imposeIMG_8799d on people as a part of the cycle of life. As you grow up, you are put in charge and asked to lead. Actually, parenthood is a very important position of leadership, and once you are there your challenge is to be an effective leader in raising your children. Our conflict resolution, marketing, and communication modules are part of our leadership training that emphasize interactive learning that encourages participants to work in teams, take and defend positions, make presentations, and write blog posts.

But, our course and teaching is only a start. We are challenged to help our participants become visionaries, be creative and maintain their integrity as they solve environmental and other social problems. I would really appreciate any insight from our participants on how to make the leadership module more effective.  Examples of real-world leadership challenges are welcome.  IMG_9710



Sustainble Development in the Congo Basin: Moving Beyond the Biodiversity Agenda

by Denis J. Sonwa (ELP 2010 and CIFOR)

Forest biodiversity conservation has been the main environmental priority in central Africa.  The bounds between the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) seem to be strong with the REDD+[1]. Some of the Aichi targets (5, 7, 11 & 15) of the CBD and the environmental safeguards of the REDD+ (UNFCCC) are good links between the 2 conventions. REDD+ has thus emerged as one way for biodiversity conservation in the Congo Basin.

Adaptation to climate change, which seems to be closer to the development of communities, did not receive the same attention as REDD+ in the UNFCCC priorities in the region. With the support of the African Development Bank (ADB) and the Economic Community of Central African States (CEEAC/ECCAS), CIFOR and partners are implementing a project on synergy between Adaptation and Mitigation[2]. After the Congo Basin and Climate Change Adaptation (COFCAA), this is one of the few regional projects on Adaptation in Congo Basin.

Rural development free from stressors such as climate change is supposed to be associated to biodiversity management, with the perspective of achieving conservation goals inside and outside protected areas. Application of the 2 conventions is not happening in the vacuum. Activities carried out in these conventions through the forest sector are in one way or another links to the development process targeted by countries of the region. Countries of the Congo Basin are envisioning themselves as emergent economies in one or two decades.

Using the Rio 92 (and following Earth Summits) perspectives constructed generally around socio-economic and ecological targets, it is evident that the agenda is incomplete in the Congo Basin. The Congo Basin is currently characterized by the co-existence of important biodiversity hot spots; high forest carbon stocks; conflict and post-conflict realities; important proportions of poor, unnourished, unhealthy and climatically vulnerable communities living in remote areas with few connections to modern sources of energy, etc.


Contrary to the developed world, development and conservation has been perceived as antagonists in developing countries. For example, forest and intensive agricultural production seems to be incompatible. According to a recent World Bank report,  some of the conditions (remoteness, low funding and investment in the agricultural sector, low mining exploitation, low energy consumption per household, etc.) that contributed to keeping biodiversity and forest carbon stock in central Africa will change in the near future, with the chance to increase the deforestation. Without a strong will and a transformative change in looking outside the biodiversity sector with the means to save it, the current efforts may be in vain. It is difficult to think that the Congo Basin will be saved by the way the CBD and UNFCCC are implemented when populations are in this vulnerable situation.

The head of states summit of the Congo Basin in 17 March 1999 produced the Yaoundé Declaration translated by the Central Africa Forest Commission (COMIFAC) in July 2004 into what is known as a 10-years plan for conservation and sustainable management of the ecosystem of Central Africa. Within the Economic Community of Central African States (CEEAC/ECCAS), the forest sector is probably one of the most organized through COMIFAC, with the Congo Basin Forest Partnership (CBFP) as a platform, and with all partners interested in the sector.

Looking at the Congo Basin with a sustainable development framework, if ecological achievement through biodiversity conservation and management cannot by itself be the catalyst for development improvement, should not be a seen (or promoted) as an obstacle to this socio-economic transformation.

The current US Facilitation will probably help to revisit the current 10-years biodiversity plan and have another head of states summit to review the Yaoundé declaration. President Barack Obama, who will receive in Washington his peers from the region, among whom will be the head of state of the African continent in August 2014, has in the past been willing to help reduce deforestation in the Congo Basin.

Beside others initiatives, all the heads of state summits to come (in Washington and in the Congo Basin) represented good opportunities to move the agenda beyond just biodiversity.  Those summits can give chances for sustainable development to become realities in this part of the world, which is considered as the earth of Africa. The dream is to see forestry (conservation, industrial and smallholder loggings, plantations), industries (agro industries, mining, etc.) and smallholder activities (agriculture, non-wood forest products management, etc.) not only co-existing, but blooming together in the earth of Africa.


Some references:

Potential synergies of the main current forestry efforts and climate change mitigation in Central Africa.

Central Africa is not only carbon stock: preliminary efforts to promote adaptation to climate change for forest and communities in Congo Basin.

Exploring vulnerability and adaptation to climate change of communities in the forest zone of Cameroon.

Rio and the Congo Basin: the unfinished agenda after 20 years.

United States is back as facilitator in Congo Basin Forest Partnership

Deforestation is low in the Congo Basin, but is likely to increase.

Scaling up sustainability: time for forestry to come out of the forest.

Deforestation Trends in the Congo Basin:  Reconciling Economic Growth and Forest Protection. Washington, DC: World Bank.  doi: 10.1596/978-0-8213-9742-8.


[1] Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation and conservation, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks in developing countries.

The Waste Management Project at Waterfall Estate

by Kim Kieser
Please click here to view the pdf.


Food Losses and Waste: Challenges for the Mediterranean Food System Sustainability

by Dr. Noureddin Driouech (Ph.D), (ELP 2012)
Coordinator of  CIHEAM-Alumni Network (FTN)
CIHEAM- Mediterranean Agronomic Institute of Bari-Italy
Department of Sustainable Agriculture, Food and Rural Development -
Research team contact:

urplus tomatoes are dumped on farmland in Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain.  (Source:  Theguardian, 2009)

Surplus tomatoes are dumped on farmland in Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain.
(Source: Theguardian, 2009)

Food demand is likely to increase due to the global demographic growth and changes in consumption patterns that are linked to increasing affluence of population, especially in emerging countries. In this regard, it is crucial to increase the global food production from agriculture, animal husbandry as well as forestry and fishery systems by almost 60% by 2050. This represents a great challenge for the current global food system as this should be done within the planetary boundaries and with minimum negative externalities not only on natural ecosystems but  on social systems.

Many studies show that the increase in food production needed to meet the growing food demand – but also to address the current food and nutritional insecurity – can be reduced by increasing the food chains efficiency and reducing food losses and waste. (more…)

Gamification in Sustainable Development

by Alexander Ischenco

Gamification is a concept of applying game design and mechanics to a non-game context. This is a psychology- and motivation-based approach used in many areas (education, entrepreneurship, innovation, research, etc.) to increase the motivation, engagement and contribution of the target audience, as well as achieve the necessary results through their active involvement. For instance, in this article you can read about how gamification is applied to research in various domains of science.

Gamification-website1 (more…)

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