›September 30, 2009 // By Brian Klein
Some advocates of geoengineering have touted fake, plastic “trees” as a promising technology for absorbing carbon. But other experts are promoting a solution that also filters water, encourages rainfall, prevents erosion and desertification, offers economic opportunities, and provides a vital source of food for a growing global population: real trees.
“Trees are one of nature’s most ingenious answers to many of our problems,” said Achim Steiner, executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), at the recent World Congress of Agroforesty in Nairobi. Agroforestry—the practice of integrating trees into farmland—could be one solution to the challenges of climate change, food insecurity, and global poverty.
Storing Carbon, Mitigating Climate Change
In the lead up to Copenhagen, international climate negotiators are devising a scheme to compensate countries for reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD), which account for 15-20 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.
“All REDD requires is making forests worth more alive than dead,” explained Annie Petsonk, international counsel for the Environmental Defense Fund, at a recent event on REDD and local communities hosted by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) and several other environmental groups. Climate experts hope that assigning a monetary value to trees’ carbon stock will encourage states and citizens to better protect and maintain forest areas and plant trees to earn income through the carbon financing market.
The World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) estimates that agroforestry alone could remove “50 billion tons of carbon from the atmosphere over the next 50 years, meeting about a third of the world’s total carbon reduction challenge.”
Buffering Food Security
“Food security is not just about food,” said Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the Clinton Global Initiative Closing Plenary, “it is all about security – economic security, environmental security, even national security.” In an “unprecedented initiative,” the Obama administration has made sustainable access to adequate nutrition a top development priority.
“If we can build partnerships with countries to help small farmers improve their agricultural output and make it easier to buy and sell their products at local or regional markets, we can set off a domino effect,” Clinton explained. “We can increase the world’s food supply for both the short and the long term; diminish hunger; raise farmers’ incomes; improve health; expand opportunity; and strengthen regional economies.”
Trees and agroforestry are critical to this effort. “The right kind of trees in the right place can be enormously important for helping to increase the yield of fruit crops,” said ICRAF Director Dennis Garrity at the Nairobi conference.
“Trees often withstand drought conditions and allow people to hold over until the next season,” added ICRAF Deputy Director Tony Simmons.
As Miranda Spitteler, chief executive of Tree Aid, told BBC News, “‘Conventional’ crops are often not native and require expensive inputs, significant irrigation and land preparation in order to produce a successful harvest,” she said. “Trees, on the other hand, often survive when other crops fail” and provide sustenance in the form of fruits, nuts, seeds, leaves, flowers, sepals, and sap.
Research also suggests that the practice of agroforestry improves depleted soils and thus lessens the need for chemical fertilizers to increase crop yield.
“Trees throughout the world provide new opportunities for farmers to generate cash by growing fruit trees and other high value trees for both local and international markets,” Garrity told the conference.
If a REDD regime decreases illegal logging, planting and harvesting trees in a sustainable manner also “offers an opportunity for timber production and thus alternative livelihoods” for the rural poor, Steiner elaborated.
If REDD is done right, said Steve Panfil of the Climate, Community, and Biodiversity Alliance at the UCS event, it could benefit local communities by safeguarding essential ecosystem services; providing employment, income, and a sustainable supply of forest products; and strengthening the land rights of indigenous peoples.
However, Panfil warned, it could exclude vulnerable populations from land and resources, increase government or elite control of target areas, and displace the livelihood activities of the rural poor.
Johnson Cerda, a Quichua indigenous leader from the Ecuadorian Amazon working with Conservation International, worried that government elites bent on winning REDD funds might neglect to consult with local communities, disregard pre-existing local plans, and proceed without the free, prior, and informed consent of affected groups.
These concerns are coming to a head in Uganda, where a project intended to reduce global carbon emissions by planting 25,000 hectares of trees in Mount Elgon National Park is accused of displacing indigenous people from their homes.
A spokesman for the indigenous Benet communities, Moses Mwanga, told IPS News that “the evictions have caused indescribable suffering to the Benet who are now living as squatters, having lost their land and other belongings to armed park rangers.”
The tree-planting effort, a partnership between the FACE Foundation and the Uganda Wildlife Authority, is designed to offset the carbon emissions of a new 600 MW coal-fired power plant in the Netherlands.
In Kenya, the government is considering a measure that would force farmers to plant trees on at least 10 percent of their land. The move comes as Nairobi struggles to evict impoverished, landless settlers from the Mau Forest Complex, a critical water source for the region. Earlier this year, a Kenyan conservation group, Rhino Ark, completed a 250-mile electric fence around the Aberdare mountain range north of Nairobi. The fence is meant to discourage settlers and safeguard the region’s critical water and forest resources.
“[S]imply locking away forests to secure their carbon as if they are the Queen’s jewels, or putting up the modern equivalent of a Berlin Wall between forests and people, is almost certainly folly and almost certainly a recipe for disaster,” UNEP Executive Director Steiner urged in Nairobi.
To realize the full benefits of trees and avoid conflict, Panfil said that planners and policymakers should guarantee that in all REDD projects and similar efforts:
- Rights to land and resources are respected;
- Benefits are shared;
- Sustainable livelihoods and poverty reduction are explicit goals;
- The project is coherent with broader sustainable development goals;
- Ecosystem services are maintained;
- Full participation of all interested groups is assured;
- Affected communities are given timely and full access to all information;
- The project is in compliance with local, national, and international laws.
Photo: Kokerboom trees survive in the desolate landscape around Keetmanshoop, Namibia. Courtesy Flickr user ibeatty.
Map: “Where the undernourished live.” Courtesy U.S. Department of State and Worldmapper.
›September 29, 2009 // By Gib Clarke
Demographers often get a bad rap for being boring. There’s a saying that demography is all about sex—but the details aren’t as much fun. To find out, I’m in Marrakech, Morocco, reporting on the biennial gathering of number crunchers, the 26th conference of the International Union for the Scientific Study of Population (IUSSP). After the first day, I have only 4 days, 86 panels, 327 presentations, 5,340 PowerPoint slides, and 426 poster presentations left to go.
To most of you, this may not seem exciting. But it is terrifically important. For example, at a panel on maternal health, the presenters offered easier, more accurate, and less expensive ways to collect maternal mortality data, which led to a discussion of strategies for meeting MDG 5 and for improving maternal and infant health throughout the world. Similar panels addressed the challenges facing scientists and programmers working on issues as disparate as water, migration, and the effect of armed conflict on children.
For its 50th Anniversary, IUSSP also indulged in a bit of navel-gazing. Wolfgang Lutz called for more research on predictions and more policy recommendations—what he dubbed the “Demographers’ Transition” (an inside joke, to be sure). Ndola Prata’s “Opportunity Model” (developed jointly with Malcolm Potts and Martha Campbell), argues that use of contraceptives may increase simply if they are more available. Borrowing from marketing theory and such examples as remote controls and Post-It notes, the model generated quite an uproar. A UNFPA-hosted plenary on “After Cairo” closed the day with a strategic discussion about future population, family planning, reproductive health, and development strategies.
A Visit to the Hospital
At the Ibn Zohr Hospital’s crisis center in Marrakech, victims of sexual, physical, and psychological violence are treated and counseled free of charge. Though only founded in 2006, the clinic has defied expectations by helping hundreds of women and children each year, thanks in large part to an effective referral network comprising NGOs, media (especially radio), the police, hospitals, and health professionals. “Listening centers,” local outposts offering basic education on health and rights, are responsible for 56 percent of all referrals.
Ibn Zohr’s services are funded by the Moroccan government and UNFPA. Data has been collected since service delivery began, and shows that the overwhelming type of abuse suffered by women is physical (86 percent), while children under 15 report a mix of sexual (40 percent) and physical (43 percent) abuse, with more sexual abuse occurring among boys than girls.
Other IUSSP site visits included a rural reproductive health clinic, a center for abandoned children, and a house for female students. Too often, site visits are far away from the conference and before or after the main events, costing attendees extra time and money. Instead, the IUSSP site visits are here in Marrakech, where even the most experienced practitioners can learn more about Morocco’s unique blend of modernization and religious and cultural conservatism. These trips are truly unique and invaluable learning opportunities—organizers of similar conferences take note.
Gib Clarke reported from Marrakech, Morocco.
Photo courtesy flickr user DavidDennisPhotos.
›September 24, 2009 // By Brian KleinAn interactive tool from Columbia University, the Gridded Population of the World (GPW) database, makes it easy to combine population and geographic data, explains Marc Levy, director of CIESIN at Columbia, in an interview with ECSP Director Geoff Dabelko.
“If you want to ask questions about how people are located with respect to drought hazards, for example, you can take your map of the location of droughts, overlay it with our map of population, and then you can get a sense of how many people are located in these drought zones,” Levy says. The user can do the same thing with infectious disease risk, vulnerability to sea-level rise, and other indicators.
GPW’s data is available to the public as:
- A gallery of maps created by CIESIN;
- Raw data that can be downloaded in GIS format;
- An open web-mapping service that can be linked to Google Earth;
- TerraViva!, a program for user-generated maps.
›September 22, 2009 // By Gib Clarke
“I think everybody…will agree that family planning is one of the biggest success stories of development cooperation. I also consider the paradigm shift in this field from top-down family planning (FP) to programs of reproductive health (RH) and rights for couples and individuals adopted in Cairo in 1994 to be a success story,” said Bert Koenders, the Dutch Minister for Development Cooperation, in a statement prepared for a roundtable discussion at the Wilson Center on future strategies in FP and RH.
Looking beyond the successes of the past, Koenders identifies a series of opportunities and challenges facing the RH community. He cites as the first opportunity the potential to “join forces” with the United States to meet Millennium Development Goal #5 (which focuses on maternal, sexual, and reproductive health, and family planning). He calls MDG 5 “the mother of all MDGs” and says that if it is not met, “then the other MDGs will not be attained either. It is smart economics to invest in MDG 5.” Other opportunities include public-private partnerships and the “growing awareness” in developed and developing countries alike.
The challenges, however, are significant. Youth, he notes, account for half of the world’s population and face barriers in access to reproductive health information and commodities. To overcome these barriers, we must first identify what adolescents and unmarried women and couples need, and recognize their rights to the same quality services as older and married women and couples. Koenders also says there is a growing opposition in many parts of the world to sexual and reproductive health and rights, and that programs must address this in order to be successful.
The roundtable discussion, to be held on September 22 at the Wilson Center, features Musimbi Kanyoro of the Packard Foundation, José “Oying” Rimon of the Gates Foundation, and Scott Radloff of the U.S. Agency for International Development.
›Climate change is “the biggest global health threat of the 21st century,” says the final report of a year-long commission held by The Lancet and University College London. A Lancet editorial, “Sexual and reproductive health and climate change,” says that rapid population growth “increases the scale of vulnerability to the consequences of climate change” and that meeting the unmet need for contraception “could slow high rates of population growth, thereby reducing demographic pressure on the environment.”
Following the escalation of hostilities in Gaza, the UN Environment Programme’s environmental assessment found that Gaza’s underground water supplies are “in danger of collapse as a result of years of over-use and contamination that have been exacerbated by the recent conflict.” IRIN reports that climate change has led to lower rainfall and “slowed the recharge rate of the aquifer” under Gaza, while “rapid population growth and suburban sprawl” have left “little space for rainwater catchment.”
In “Arctic Climate Feedbacks: Global Implications,” the World Wildlife Fund says that “warming in the Arctic will likely have far-reaching impacts throughout the world, resulting in a sharp increase in harmful greenhouse gases and significant shifts in global weather patterns that could disrupt the lives and livelihoods of hundreds of millions of people.”
The Obama Administration’s Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force Interim Report—now open for a 30-day review and comment period—“proposes a new National Policy that recognizes that America’s stewardship of the ocean, our coasts, and the Great Lakes is intrinsically and intimately linked to environmental sustainability, human health and well-being, national prosperity, adaptation to climate and other environmental change, social justice, foreign policy, and national and homeland security.”
The Economics of Climate Adaptation Working Group estimates that climate risks “could cost nations up to 19 percent of their GDP by 2030, with developing countries most vulnerable,” and warns that the “historic pace of population and GDP growth could put ever more people and value at risk.” However, the group also contends that “between 40 and 68 percent of the loss expected to 2030 in the case locations – under severe climate change scenarios – could be averted through adaptation measures whose economic benefits outweigh their costs.”
›September 21, 2009 // By Geoff Dabelko
For everyone preparing to converge on Denmark’s capital for the next round of climate change negotiations, I offer a helpful hint that you won’t find in any IPCC assessment.
It’s CopenHAYgun, not CopenHAAgen. (Watch the video for a demonstration.)
As we have seen with Kyoto and the 1997 negotiations, the Danish capital will become shorthand for success, failure, or futility. So whether you say it with a hopeful lilt or a cynical slur, at least pronounce it correctly.
Don’t think Häagen-Dazs. The Danes are quick to remind you that CopenHAAgen is the German pronunciation.
Growing up in southeastern Ohio actually prepared me well for this challenge. Plenty of fellas in my high school liked just a pinch of CopenHAYgun brand chewing tobacco between their cheek and gum.
So while it might be more appealing to dip into a quart of ice cream on the rocky road to December’s negotiations, instead think of dippin’ from a can of snuff. It’ll help you win the good graces of the hosts and also keep you awake during any snooze-inducing panels.
“Water shortages,” warns South Asia scholar Anatol Lieven, “present the greatest future threat to the viability of Pakistan as a state and a society.
This warning may be overstated, but Pakistan’s water situation is deeply troubling, as described in a new report from the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Asia Program, Running on Empty: Pakistan’s Water Crisis.
Water availability has plummeted from about 5,000 m3 per capita in the early 1950s to less than 1,500 m3 per capita today. As Simi Kamal reports in the first chapter of Running on Empty, Pakistan is expected to become “water-scarce” (below 1,000 m3 per capita) by 2035—though some experts project this could happen in 2020, if not earlier.
In an unstable nation like Pakistan, water shortages can easily become security threats. In April 2009, alarm bells sounded when the Taliban pushed southeast of Swat into the Buner district of the Northwest Frontier Province. Not only is Buner close to Islamabad, it lies just 60 kilometers from the prized Tarbela Dam, which provides Pakistan with billions of cubic meters of precious water for irrigation each year.
Soaked, Salty, Dirty, and Dry
According to Kamal, Pakistan faces significant and widespread water challenges:
- Inefficient irrigation.
- Abysmal urban sanitation.
- Catastrophic environmental degradation.
- Lack of water laws to define water rights.
- Lack of a sound policy on large dams.
Women and Water in Rural Pakistan
Rural women and small farmers are particularly affected by Pakistan’s water crisis. Women bear the primary responsibility for obtaining water, but have been traditionally been shut out of government water-planning and decision-making processes. However, government and media initiatives, described by Sarah Halvorson in Running on Empty’s chapter on water and gender, are increasingly highlighting the importance of women’s participation.
Meanwhile, Adrien Couton reports that Islamabad’s water projects mainly benefit large and wealthy farmers—even though Pakistan has approximately four million farms smaller than two hectares.
Pakistan’s Thirsty Cities
With most of Pakistan’s water dedicated to agriculture, less than 10 percent is left for drinking water and sanitation. A quarter of Pakistanis lack access to safe drinking water—and many of them reside in the country’s teeming cities.
Worse, the drinking water that does exist is quickly disappearing. Lahore, which relies on groundwater, faces water table declines of up to 65 feet, as described by Anita Chaudhry and Rabia M. Chaudhry in their chapter on the city.
The scarcity of clean water in the cities—exacerbated by a lack of wastewater treatment—is a leading cause of deadly epidemics. At least 30,000 Karachiites (of whom 20,000 are children) perish each year from unsafe water.
Pakistan Must Act Now To Solve the Water Crisis
Pakistan arguably has the technological and financial resources to provide clean water. So what’s the hold-up? In her chapter on public health, Samia Altaf argues that the problem is the absence of a strong political lobby to advocate for water—and that no one holds Islamabad accountable for fixing the problem.
The report offers more recommendations for addressing Pakistan’s water:
- Invest in existing infrastructure and in modest, indigenous technology.
- Strike appropriate balances between centralized and decentralized management.
- Devote more attention to water allocation and distribution on local/individual levels.
- Understand the links between agricultural and urban water pressures.
- Embrace the role of the private sector.
- Conserve by favoring water-saving technology; less water-intensive crops; and water-conserving urban building design.
- Address structural obstacles like systemic inequality and gender discrimination.
- Take immediate action. Tremendous population growth and rapidly melting glaciers in the Himalayas ensure that the crisis will deepen before it eases.
Michael Kugelman is the Wilson Center’s South Asia specialist. He is co-editor, with Robert M. Hathaway, of the recently published Wilson Center book Running on Empty: Pakistan’s Water Crisis, on which this post is based. Much of his work has focused on resource shortages in Pakistan and India.
›September 18, 2009 // By Kayly OberMany see wind as a great source of green energy, but some local communities around the world are seeing red. Specific cases in the United States and Mexico—two countries that are now investing heavily in wind energy—highlight the potential for community opposition to wind farms in the rural areas where they are being built.
Mexico was recently dubbed the “Saudi Arabia of alternative energy” by USA Today due to the government and foreign investors’ massive wind energy initiatives. The Isthmus of Tehuantepec, a narrow point between two mountain ranges where wind from the Gulf of Mexico is funneled out to the Pacific Ocean, is known as the one of the windiest places on earth.
Mexican President (and former energy minister) Felipe Calderon has called for the isthmus to produce 2,500 megawatts of electricity from wind power within three years. The project is intended to decrease Mexico’s dependency on its falling oil supplies and stimulate the economy in Oaxaca, one of the poorest states in Mexico.
However, the local community has greeted the initiative with unexpectedly fierce opposition. Residents are angry that the electricity will likely be sold to distant cement plants and big-box stores like Wal-Mart.
In addition, foreign companies have offered local farmers little compensation—about $46 per acre each year—for the land. Residents say they need more, especially since wind farms threaten their traditional livelihoods. Construction stirred up huge amounts of dust and blocked irrigation lines, forcing many farmers to cut crops and herds by more than half.
A group of farmers recently sued three Spanish companies, claiming that the investors aimed to trick poorly educated farmers, many of whom did not speak Spanish, with misleading contracts. Demonstrators in La Venta have disrupted the construction of the Eurus wind farm six times. And territorial disputes have reignited old feuds along racial and political lines in San Mateo del Mar.
Wind farms in the United States are also generating opposition, although of a milder variety. In Flint Hills, Kansas, 100 wind turbines now tower over 20 miles of roads. While most environmentalists cheer such a move, the positive energy prospects on the plains may also bring some negative consequences, such as fragmenting the already fragile prairie ecosystem.
The issue is even more contentious in Cape Cod, where developers are set to construct 170 wind turbines off the coast. Opponents argue that the Cape Wind project will obstruct ocean views, decrease tourism, disrupt traditional fishing trawlers, and block a major bird migration route. In 2008, when the Interior Department issued a favorable report on the project, the late Sen. Edward Kennedy famously announced that its decision “virtually assured years of continued public conflict and contentious litigation.” Local opposition groups, such as the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, have said they are prepared to go to court if the project proceeds.
With the renewable energy footprint of the U.S. set to reach nearly 80,000 square miles of land by 2030, tensions over land-use issues look likely to rise.
These cautionary tales should not deter us from pursuing wind as a viable alternative energy source. Certainly, given the imperative to act against catastrophic climate change, wind should be part of the mix. However, planners and policymakers must consider the likely impacts on the local community; work with affected communities during site selection and construction; and share the benefits of the new projects in order to avoid environmental degradation and social unrest.
Photo: A wind farm in Mexico. Courtesy Flickr user Cedric’s Pics.
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