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September 2011

On the passing of Wangari Maathai

Warren Evans's picture

Yale Club, New York City, 2002. Photo by Martin Rowe

I came to the World Bank in 2003 with 25 years developing country experience − but all in Asia. I knew that I needed to quickly become familiar with other parts of the world, particularly Africa. So I went on a 10-day immersion “course” to Kenya, led and managed by Professor Wangari Maathai’s daughter, Wanjira. 

I first met Prof. Maathai in one of her District villages − she was serving as a Member of Parliament and Vice Minister of Environment at the time. I was greeted at that first meeting the same way she greeted me in all subsequent meetings −with smiling eyes showing warmth and true joy in meeting me, and her embrace sending a signal of graceful strength.  Our friendship was quickly solidified when she asked me where I was from. Kansas, I had said − and she smiled and told me that she had gone to university and received her bachelor’s degree in biology from Kansas!

At that first meeting, she was surrounded by villagers who loved and honored her. I thought that I was going to see trees and hear about the way the Green Belt Movement engages women to replant degraded and denuded hillsides with indigenous tree seedlings which they raise in village nurseries. Of course that was one part of the day but the primary focus of the Professor was on helping the village deal with the struggle against HIV-AIDS.

She had arranged for the construction of a small shelter for villagers suffering from the disease, and perhaps more importantly, was teaching them to grow nutritious food in the adjacent garden that would help give strength to those who could still lead a reasonably productive life. It was a community effort in an already-impoverished community that was hard hit by HIV-AIDS. Her love for the people and theirs in return was evident at every turn and in every place where initiatives were underway to improve the quality of the lives of the villagers, in part by improving the productivity and services of the surrounding ecosystems. Prof. Maathai was thus a pioneer in applying the concept of protecting and restoring ecosystems as a fundamental element of reducing rural poverty.

An action agenda for Africa...discussions at the Annual Meetings and beyond

Idah Z. Pswarayi-Riddihough's picture

It’s that time of year again… this week the World Bank-IMF Annual Meetings open, making for an energetic and hectic time for all involved. For those of us working on climate change issues in Africa, this is an especially exciting time.

For one, there is heightened awareness and urgency surrounding climate change issues in Africa. In November, South Africa will assume presidency of the Convention of Parties (COP-17) meeting of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change which will take place in Durban, the first time a climate change COP will be held on the African continent. This being Africa’s “first COP”, many people not traditionally expected to be involved with such issues have been taking a lead and stepping up to the plate – country leaders and finance ministers for example, joining their environment and natural resources ministers in seeking adaptation and mitigation solutions to climate change.

In the past two weeks, three meetings–on climate-smart agriculture, environmental protection, and sustainable energy access–have been held in South Africa and Mali, creating a momentum of support for the issues that lie at the heart of Africa’s development challenges. Closely tied to this is the collective realization that is emerging: that climate is not just an environmental issue, but also fundamentally a social issue, an economic issue, and a major threat to achieving development. In fact, a changing climate affects every facet of human endeavor.

So how does one go about combating climate change within a sustainable development context? Given the cross-cutting nature of climate change effects, we believe that actions–adaptation and mitigation–are needed on a broad range of fronts.

Staying silent is a crime, so engage on climate change

TMS Ruge's picture

If you are like most people, the topic of climate change is not something you think about everyday. It was certainly not something that I thought about often. The subject seemed unattainable, incomprehensible and to be dealt with smart people. It was always a conversation where I thought I wasn’t qualified to engage in. What I have come to realize, is that climate change is part of our everyday conversation. We may not deal with the scientific terms or sit at the round table with think-tanks and heads of state, but we do talk about the effects of climate change in our own lives. We talk about the increasingly hot summers, or commiserate over pictures of the latest flood, or disucss the now unpredictable planting seasons. These are stories we share amongst ourselves without realizing they are small chapters in humanity’s tome to the subject.

Since climate change affects all of us, it seems appropriate that we all should have a voice at the decision-making table. All too often though, we only get to hear from the academics, the heads of state, or the violent protestors. Where are the voices of the common man, the single mother, the student? Where are the voices of the villagers in their garden on the outskirts of Marrakech, the shop owner on a busy street in Kigali, the sugar cane grower who can no longer predict the rains in Zambia? How do we determine our collective future if we don’t take time to listen to each other’s stories?

This is where the Connect4Climate team at the World Bank comes in. We are trying to reframe this critical conversation around a topic into a mutual exchange of listening and sharing. Ahead of the December 2011 United Nations Climate Change conference (COP17) in Durban, South Africa, Connect4Climate was launched with a photo/video competition for African youth, aged 13 to 30, in Bamako by Andrew Steer, Special Envoy for Climate Change at the World Bank.

Innovators that could light up Africa

Daniel Kammen's picture

Everyone talks about the crisis of energy access – the 2.7 billion people who use wood and other solid fuels, and the 1.5 billion without access to electricity – but who is doing something about it?

At the African Energy Ministerial Meeting in Johannesburg, South Africa, today, both high-level planning and on-the-ground energy projects were visible, and truly inspiring. In a five hour Green Household Energy Solutions Expo that I had the true pleasure to chair, the Minister of Economic Development for South Africa, Mr. Ebrahim Patel, kicked off the discussion by saying that South Africa was committed to growing nation’s clean energy generation capacity for both domestic use and for export and in the process create green jobs.

The meeting marks a key chance for integration and coordination as the last regional ministerial meeting before the COP17 Climate Conference in Durban, South Africa in December of this year. The room was packed, with over 15 ministers in attendance, and the discussion turned to the benefits of regional integration of transmission systems, building wind, geothermal, and large-scale solar energy projects.

However, the focus and the stars of the meeting were the innovators at the household and local community level who showed the possibilities that exist with a range of new approaches – some technological but many managerial and social as well.

Ron Bills of Envirofit, a producer of high efficiency woodstoves said: “We have sold 300,000 stoves, and can provide high quality stoves to scale up clean energy cooking markets anywhere!” 

Giving agriculture a voice in the climate change negotiations

Fionna Douglas's picture

If anyone can do it she can.

Tina Joemat-Pettersson, Minister for Agriculture Forestry and Fisheries is an energetic member of the South African government and a dynamic, passionate advocate for agriculture. She is determined to put agriculture on the agenda of the UNFCCC’s COP 17 taking place in Durban in later this year. She brings so much energy and enthusiasm to the cause, you would think she could do it alone. Luckily she won’t have to.

Every day that passes, the Minister is persuading others to join her campaign to give agriculture a voice in the climate change negotiations.

In Johannesburg this week, at Minister Joemat-Pettersson’s initiative, her Ministry, together with the African Union, hosted an African Ministerial Conference on Climate-Smart Agriculture that was supported by FAO, and the World Bank. African Ministers of Agriculture and their delegates from 21 countries joined scientific experts, civil society representatives, researchers and colleagues from multilateral organizations. The meeting was focused on sharing leadership perspectives, exploring challenges and grasping new opportunities for climate-smart agriculture.

As the international community considers the challenge of feeding over 9 billion people by 2050, in a world of increasing land and water scarcity and erratic weather patterns, climate-smart agriculture - an approach that offers triple wins of enhancing productivity, resilience and carbon sequestration - is attracting increased attention.

   

Awards for Change: How prizes can help us achieve energy goals

Daniel Kammen's picture

What will it take to foster and spread the ideas and practices needed for sustainable development? One thing that has stirred innovative thinking are the positive results of recent prize competitions. 

Perhaps the most notable of these – so far – has been the Ansari X Prize. The Ansari X Prize was a space competition in which the X Prize Foundation offered a US$10 million reward for the first non-government organization to launch the same reusable manned spacecraft into space twice within two weeks. It was modeled after early 20th-century aviation prizes, and aimed to spur development of low-cost spaceflight. There is real brilliance in this idea, but in the specific terms of the prize, which prompted other competitors – each of whom spent far more than the prize money. The prize, claimed by Scaled Composites in 2004 for its Tier One project launched or accelerated a diverse portfolio of private space ventures, “spaceports”, and an industry now worth billions.

Since 2004, prizes have been launched. One, technology-focused competitions is the i6 Green Challenge by the US government which will reward $1 million to each of six teams around the country with the most innovative ideas to drive technology commercialization and entrepreneurship in support of a green innovation economy, increased U.S. competitiveness and new jobs. There are others with concrete objectives to addressing key issues in ecological conservation, social networking, transparent national governance, and democratic transitions of power (for example, the Mo Ibrahim prize).

Can this idea work in energy, climate, and development?