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Environment

A view from the top: mountain forests

Klas Sander's picture

“Mountain Forests – roots to our future”. That was the headline for this year’s International Mountain Day celebrated by the UN every 11th of December since 2003. This year especially emphasized the interdisciplinary implications of sustainable mountain development. Whenever I have the opportunity to spend time in mountains, I realize how strongly the different elements in that landscape depend on each other and how fragile it all is. Earlier this year, for example, I had the privilege to visit the mountain gorillas in Rwanda. The experience of seeing these amazing animals in their natural habitat was incredible and it wasn’t just the climb up the Virunga Volcanoes that was breathtaking.

But the conservation of this ecosystem does not only provide benefits in terms of biodiversity conservation. Adjacent communities and the Government of Rwanda as a whole benefit from the income streams the tourism sector generates. Protecting the ecosystem also helps to assure sustainable flow of water from these “water towers” benefiting agriculture and lowland ecosystems alike. Not only are the Virunga gorillas and other mountain species threatened by climate change but there are also consequences for the communities that depend on them.

Covering 24% of the Earth’s surface, mountain ecosystems play a critical role in maintaining a sustainable flow of resources to the plains below. Mountains are the source for nearly 50% of the world’s freshwater for direct consumption, agriculture, and energy. Also, mountain tourism accounts for 15-20% of the world’s tourism industry, totaling an estimated $US70-90 billion per year. Mountain regions are also severely impacted by climate change, which only magnifies existing development challenges. Ecosystems will experience a vertical shift, as climates warm, generally flora and fauna will move towards higher altitudes. Fragile alpine ecosystems systems and endemic flora and fauna are likely to change resulting in significant negative ecological and socio-economic implications.

What did Durban deliver?

Andrew Steer's picture

At 4.30 on Sunday morning, after 36 hours of overtime (a record), the 194 country members of the UNFCCC pulled a rabbit from the hat. Special flights had been put on by South African Airways as a way to encourage delegates not to leave.

Putting the Puzzle Together

Three big pieces of the jigsaw needed to fall into place in order to clinch the `Durban Platform’. First, a new commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol, without which developing countries would have walked. Second, a road map towards a truly global deal to be effective by 2020 at the latest, without which the EU wouldn’t sign on to a new Kyoto. Third, the launch of the Green Climate Fund, without which developing countries wouldn’t sign on to such a global road map.  

Putting the pieces together required compromise and was accompanied with brinksmanship, emotion, and millions of words spoken, usually repeating what had already been said. The outcome, however, is highly positive for the long term prospects for a deal, and delivered all that could reasonably be hoped for (see my earlier blog: Will Durban Deliver?).

Thus, in a nutshell, delegates left Durban having agreed on:

  • A new commitment period under Kyoto for the EU and 11 other countries beginning January 1, 2013.
  • An agreement to negotiate a global deal by 2015, which would be effective from 2020 with "legal force" applying to all countries.
  • A Green Fund launched, with regional groupings to nominate board members in the coming three months. Board selection will be very important since most operational details yet to be designed.

Making carbon finance work for the poor

Rachel Kyte's picture

During this week in Durban, we announced two new financial initiatives designed to help the least-developed countries access financing for low-carbon investments and enable them to tap into carbon markets after 2012 - the Carbon Initiative for Development (Ci-Dev) and the third tranche of the BioCarbon Fund (BioCF T3).

The funds, focused on agriculture and access to energy, are designed to strengthen links to private sources of capital via carbon markets for some of the world's poorest communities.

The new instruments will help client countries to buy carbon credits from a range of projects including household biogas systems in Nepal, cook stoves in Africa, reforestation in the Democratic Republic of Congo, soil carbon in Kenya, and municipal solid waste in Uganda.

Ci-Dev, aiming to raise USD 120 million, is a partnership of donor and recipient countries, where public and private sector are pledging their support to capacity building and carbon market development in the poorest countries of the world.

The second initiative, the BioCF T3, will focus on reforestation and agriculture projects.

The agriculture projects are another example of the climate-smart agriculture we have been talking about all week – and deliver a triple win of increased food security and resilience through reduced soil erosion and increased land fertility as well as the access to new carbon markets.

Let's take charge of our future

Max Thabiso Edkins's picture

Here at the African COP, I aimed to highlight African climate change experiences. As a young African filmmaker, I am extremely excited to have been selected as the winner of the Connect4Climate Special Prize in their photo/video competition. This is a great opportunity for me and for the communities I have been working with in Southern and Eastern Africa to showcase the exciting photo, theatre and video work I have been engaged in with them.

With Astrid Westerlind Wigström I have developed and implemented the ClimateConscious Programme of ResourceAfrica UK. Under this programme, we have worked with partner NGOs in Namibia, Tanzania and Kenya to raise awareness, build capacity and facilitate the knowledge exchange with and from rural African communities. Our activities are aimed at spreading climate change knowledge to those communities most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and least likely to receive climate change education.

Working together on adaptation-based mitigation

Rachel Kyte's picture

Over the weekend the business community held its meetings coinciding with CoP17.

In Copenhagen, the business community, especially in Europe, had mobilized for a deal and arrived in force. Even the financial and investor communities turned up. But then the negotiation process came unraveled and some blamed the business community for not mobilizing enough.

In Cancun, having licked its wounds and learned lessons, the business community adopted the classic entrepreneurial behavior of “don’t ask permission, just apologize afterwards” i.e. don’t wait for a deal- if it makes business sense go ahead.

There, the focus was on action on the ground, strategies, and innovations for firms across the world.

In Durban, things have moved on yet again – here, there is a greater focus on adaptation and, while the stories of success are powerful, there was a call for action again - for the public sector to set the conditions necessary to move ahead at speed and scale.

Will Durban deliver?

Andrew Steer's picture

The next two weeks will see nearly 20,000 people descending on Durban for this year’s Climate Change negotiations.  What might they achieve? Not much, if you believe some of the pessimistic assessments in the press. Are the gloomsters right? No, not necessarily.

What could be achieved?   

Here goes… starting with the practical decisions that are on the agenda, and could affect peoples’ lives fairly quickly:

  • A global system of technology centers that would provide access to knowledge and capacity building in developing countries for climate smart technology – which in turn could yield more investment, more jobs and lower costs.
  • A system that would help developing countries prepare and finance their adaptation plans.
  • A decision to incorporate agriculture fully into the Convention (something that, oddly, has never been done), allowing poor farmers to benefit from climate finance.
  • Simpler rules on how to credit greenhouse gases from forests, in turn making it simpler to prevent deforestation, and for forest dwellers to access support.
  • Common rules allowing city-wide approaches to dealing with climate change. (Many cities are showing more leadership than countries).
  • New eligibility procedures that would help bring sustainable energy to the 65% of African households that currently have no electricity.
  • Agreements that would encourage the development of a long-term networked carbon market that would lower the costs of addressing climate change and bring finance and technology to developing countries.

There is a risk that these measures will be crowded out by the big political decisions at Durban. This would be a mistake. While not game-changers individually, they are important building blocks towards an eventual global deal. 

Will Suna get a dam despite the change in rainfall?

Philip Angell's picture

Earlier this year, we were in a country called Suna. If it sounds unfamiliar, it is an imaginary developing country in West Africa. For one day, two dozen senior Ghanaian officials and business leaders in Accra participated in a simulation exercise. They were grappling with a question on whether to build a new hydroelectric dam in the backdrop of uncertain data on water availability for the next 50 years. Although the situation was fictionalized, the problem is quite real for decision makers in many parts of the world.

The broader question was: How do you prepare for the tough, contentious, complex decisions required to deal with impacts of climate change that now seem inevitable? 

That question posed for the simulation exercise was key to the 13th edition of the World Resources Report: Decision Making in a Changing Climate (jointly published by the World Bank, UNDP, UNEP, and the World Resources Institute). We took a distinctly new approach to research and writing this report, one that engaged a wide range of experts and practitioners from the very beginning, as well as one that tried new techniques. 

One important part of that new approach was to engage government officials, members of civil society and the private sector in two developing countries, Ghana and Vietnam, to participate in scenario exercises involving climate adaptation decisions. The goal was to learn how officials approached such decisions, how they would go about making them…and why.

The reason the core question is complex is the vast sea of uncertainty on the extent of future climate impacts. Between now and 2050, predictions in a 2010 World Bank report on the Economics of Adaptation to Climate Change, suggests that yearly rainfall in the country could plummet to 60% less than it is today or increase by as much as 49%.

From cow dung to biogas to carbon credits for Nepal

Kirtan Chandra Sahoo's picture

Early this year, I visited several households in the small village of Bela located in the Kavre district of Nepal, about 50 kilometers from the capital Kathmandu. Mr. Niranjan Sapkota’s house was located on a steep mountain surrounded by forests. I had to walk along narrow mountain paths, grabbing on to bushes and sometimes hands of accompanying local staff. I was going to verify if the biogas plant Mr. Sapkota had constructed in the February of 2005 was still in operation.  I turned the brass valve in the kitchen and with a hissing sound, gas flowed and the family pointed to the meal that they had just cooked using biogas from cattle dung that they had in plenty.

There are 225,000 such families in Nepal who now have easy-to-operate biogas plants in their backyards. Bela is considered a model biogas village with almost every house equipped with a biogas plant.

Last month, the Nepal’s Biogas Program reached an important milestone: the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), for the first time approved and issued carbon credits to two Nepalese biogas projects. To date, this is the largest worldwide issuance of carbon credits, or Certified Emission Reductions (CERs), in a Least Developed Country (LDC). Two more similar projects from Nepal are now at an advanced stage of being registered with the UNFCCC. Together, these projects are expected to generate about 170,000 carbon credits per year, which is equivalent to avoiding emissions from approximately 60,000 cars every year.

For most women living in this mountainous region of Nepal, looking for firewood every morning was a daily ritual. This program reduces the time spent collecting firewood and, since they are no longer exposed to the indoor smoke from burning of firewood in traditional stoves, it also dramatically improves the health of these women and their children. Other important benefits of the program are lessening the pressure on deforestation and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

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.

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