Last Friday, the events at the State Department’s U.S. Center at the 18th Conference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP 18) in Doha wrapped up. The NASA Hyperwall was packed, and the staff headed back to the
U.S., after a long two weeks overseas. It was a successful run, with thousands of people visiting the U.S. Center to hear the talks and chat with staff, and tens of thousands more popping in online to watch the webstream (and if you missed them and want to check them out, they are still online here).
Event at U.S. Center on December 3, 2012, Panel: A Conversation on Climate, Clean Energy and Sustainability. Panelists: Aimee Barnes, Jennifer Morgan, Kit Batten, Mary Robinson, and Lisa Jacobson.
One of the highlights of the two-week program was undoubtedly the event entitled “Women in Climate, Clean Energy, and Sustainability” which featured former President of Ireland, Mary Robinson. Mary Robinson has a long and distinguished political career, which began at age 25 when she was elected to the Irish parliament, and where she made a name for herself campaigning for many women’s issues, including a right to contraception, the right of women to sit on juries, and to continue to work in civil service after they were married. In 1990, she became the first woman President in Ireland’s history. She was credited with breathing new life into the Presidency, taking an office that had once been seen as ceremonial, and giving it new legal knowledge, political experience, and diplomatic credibility.
Panel: A Conversation on Climate, Clean Energy and Sustainability
However distinguished her political career in Ireland, Mrs. Robinson has achieved much, much more since leaving office. Mrs. Robinson has been participating in the COPs for years, giving high level speaking events where she has been advocating for the world’s poor. Most recently, as a lead up to COP-18, Mrs. Robinson met with a group of Arab women leaders in Dubai to discuss Arab women’s involvement in climate change issues, and identified gender-climate outcomes that they wanted to see come out of the negotiations.
The U.S. Center event, which also featured women leaders from other governments and agencies was a standing room only event. Remarks from all the panelists centered around the role women play in adapting to climate change, particularly in the developing world, where women make up a large percentage of the farmers and depend on the environment for their livelihoods. Robinson also spoke at length about the need to have more women in the bodies of the UNFCCC, and postulated that once this happened, there would be much more attention paid to the role of women in adapting to and slowing climate change. What is up next for Robinson? Itis hard to say, but we can be sure she is going to keep traveling the world, speaking out against climate change, and advocating for the world’s poor. In keeping with this month’s theme, Mrs. Robinson is a true environmental hero.
This entry reflects the author’s personal judgments and does not represent the views of the United States Government or the Department of State.
” height=”194″ />What is sustainable forestry? It means “managing our forest resources to meet the needs we have today without interfering with [the needs of] future generations That means making sure we are not using more trees than we can plant, recycling tree-based products so as not to unnecessarily waste trees, and constantly planting trees so that we not only have them for timber and paper products, but also to serve the important functions of creating habitat, shelter, and carbon sequestration.
There are organizations around the world fighting to not only protect existing forests, but to raise awareness about and implement sustainable management practices. One such organization is the Sustainable Forestry Network, whose purpose is “to educate the public as to the ecological, spiritual, and commercial values of our forestlands, as well as ensuring that the legacy of our natural heritage is passed on to our children through the implementation of sustainable, non-destructive forest use policies.
The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is an independent, non-governmental, non-profit organization that “promote[s] the responsible management of the world’s forests.” FSC works with forest owners and forest-dependent communities on certification and management processes to transition to sustainable forestry. Check out their website for more information, including finding the nearest FSC to you.
The Iwokrama International Centre for Rainforest Conservation and Development (IIC) is an international non-profit organization where the idea of a truly sustainable forest is tested: “where conservation, environmental balance and economic use can be mutually reinforcing.” Iwokrama is self-described as “The Green Heart of Guyana” and is located in the geographical heart of Guyana, comprised of 371,000 hectares of forest.
Do you recycle paper products, look for sustainable forestry-certified products, or take other actions to support sustainable forestry?
In June I will be attending the Rio+20 conference on Sustainable Development and highlight the role tropical glaciers play for water supply in the Andes of South America. Glaciers in all Andean countries have retreated dramatically during the 20th ce
ntury, primarily in response to a rapid increase in temperature. Glaciers are one of the best and most visible examples of climate change as they respond directly and exclusively to changes in temperature or the amount of snowfall. They basically act like a bank account and shrink if more ice is melted (withdrawal from your account) than is being replenished (deposit on your account) through snowfall. If temperature or snowfall amounts change, the glacier will adjust by either advancing or retreating until it finds a new balance with the changes in climate. The current retreat of mountain glaciers is a clear sign of a warming planet.
The pictures shown below highlight two examples from Venezuela (top row) and Bolivia (bottom row) where mountain tops were once covered by glaciers, but now are completely without ice. The example from Chacaltaya in Bolivia is particularly interesting as it used to serve as the world’s highest ski resort (5400m) and when I first visited this place in 1996 people were still skiing on a glacier, which by now has completely disappeared. In one location in the Rio Santa valley in Peru, a mountain that was once called ‘sleeping lion’ due to the shape of its glacier is now called ‘lion has left’ (‘leon dormido’ has become ‘leon se ha ido’). The retreat of glaciers is not simply an aesthetic loss but the increased melt also adds to global sea level rise, destabilizes mountain flanks and increases the risk of natural hazards such as mudflows, and reduces the potential for winter tourism as highlighted in the case of the Bolivian glacier Chacaltaya. Most importantly, however, glaciers provide a very important environmental service by guaranteeing a continuous stream of meltwater in rivers. This is especially important in regions where climate is characterized by long dry seasons and glacier melt water provides the only source of water when rainfall is absent. Hence where glaciers exist, water will be available for agriculture, hydropower production, drinking water, sanitation and all kinds of economic activities throughout the year. If glaciers disappear water will become scarce at times and conflicts about water rights, access to clean water, etc., will ensue.
Andean glacier retreat
As a result of our greenhouse gas emissions, rural populations in Andean nations (such as the family living below Quelccaya ice cap in Peru, see picture), are now faced with making very difficult decisions on how to adapt to a rapidly changing environment. Such adaptations are not impossible and may include water conservation measures, search for new water resources (e.g. ground water), construction of water treatment plants to clean up polluted water or creation of water reservoirs, but they can be very costly and may have to be implemented in many regions without much delay.
Alpamayo, a peak in the Cordillera Blanca mountain range of the Peruvian Andes. (Wikimedia/RedWolf)
About half of the world’s freshwater resources come from precipitation (rain and snow) in mountainous regions. Whereas the impacts of climate change on the stability of mountain glaciers and year-to-year reliability of snowpacks have received much attention, understanding how climate change will impact monsoon rainfall that is actually the dominant freshwater source on mountain slopes and adjacent lowlands in the tropics and subtropics remains a challenge.
With worldwide distribution and strong environmental and climatic gradients, mountains are elevated observatories where the impacts of climate variability and change can be first detected. Yet, mountainous regions remain among the least observed regions in the planet.
In the Fall of 2011, a science-grade network of 10m towers was placed at high elevations (1,400 to 4,000 m) to measure above-canopy precipitation on the envelope orography of the Central Andes, more precisely in the Kospiñata river valley in the vicinity of Parque Nacional del Manu a collaborative project funded by the Nacional Science Foundation including Duke University, Wake Forest University, and the University of Cusco in Peru. These stations are to be the core of an observing system to understand cloud forest and wet puna hydrometeorology, and in particular climate controls of fog-cloud-rainfall interactions. It is expected that such observations will also provide valuable ground validation data to improve the performance of satellite-based rainfall estimation algorithms (e.g. NASA’s upcoming Global Precipitation Measurement mission) in the region and elsewhere. Ultimately, satellite-based observing systems are the realistic path toward achieving high density continuous observations of mountain precipitation at global and regional scales.
The diurnal cycle of rainfall (e.g. where it rains, how much it rains, how fast it rains, how long it rains, and at what time of day) varies greatly from one mountain region to another, and in the same region it can vary greatly with elevation and landform. For example, a comparison among observations on the envelope orography of the central Andes and the central Himalayas indicate that whereas the wet season (monsoon) rainfall totals are about the same, rainfall amounts peak in the early afternoon whereas rainfall intensity peaks in the evening at low and high elevations in the Central Andes, but rainfall amounts and intensity peak during in the evening and very early morning in the southern facing slopes of the central Himalayas at all elevations below the treeline. Interestingly, despite their location in the cloud forest, recent observations from the Peru show that rainfall intensities exceeding 100 mm/hr are not uncommon at roughly 2,700 m elevations, where rates as high as 200 mm/hr were measured a high elevation valley location. These high rainfall rates are associated with landslide activity and debris flows that can cause much landscape damage and loss of life.
Rainfall intensity as a discriminant of rainfall regime is critical for assessing the sustainability of freshwater resources in mountainous regions. Light rainfall is dominant at high elevations in cloud forests and wet grasslands in the Andes. Although light rainfall is expected to decrease due to changes in fog and low level cloud regimes, lower relative humidity and higher low level temperatures in the troposphere, morning light rainfall is likely to be more sustainable than afternoon light rainfall depending on how changes in temperature are reflected in the diurnal cycles of temperature in a warmer climate. Changes in fog and rainfall intensity affect canopy harvesting of fog and interception of rainfall on the one hand, and infiltration and soil moisture. Lower surface soil moisture leads to increased soil and boundary layer temperatures, in a positive feedback loop, that would tend to further increase surface layer temperatures and the dryness of upper soil layers, thus affecting understory and forest floor vegetation at first, and consequently albedo and surface temperature, depleting soil moisture from the root zones, ultimately altering runoff production mechanisms and groundwater recharge, and streamflow regimes. On the other hand, if heavy rainfalls were to increase in frequency or in intensity with climate change, this would have major implications for hillslope stability and overall ecosystem resilience besides the human social and economic toll on mountain populations. Vegetation disturbances caused by landslides for example can facilitate the progression of invasive species, and threaten the biodiversity of mountain ecosystems.
The idea of sustainable development can be a complicated one: growing while reducing one’s impact on the environment. There are social components tied to logistical concerns, and there is always the issue of resources: from water to land to funding. To help navigate things, we can start with the idea of sustainability.
Sustainability is based on a simple principle: Everything that we need for our survival and well-being depends, either directly or indirectly, on our natural environment. Sustainability creates and maintains the conditions under which humans and nature can exist in productive harmony, that permit fulfilling the social, economic and other requirements of present and future generations. Sustainability is important to making sure that we have and will continue to have, the water, materials, and resources to protect human health and our environment.
So how does that impact you, today? Are there steps that you can take in order to live more sustainably? Many of you may already be doing things that are sustainable: using LED light bulbs, recycling, reducing water waste (such as when washing dishes or brushing one’s teeth), turning off the lights when you leave the room to reduce energy use. These are all fantastic!
Have you considered plugging all your electronics into a power strip and turning off that power strip at night or when you are not home? This stops unnecessary energy waste. A great way to cut back on harmful chemicals and toxins getting into the water supply is to switch to natural, non-toxic cleaning supplies and soaps and shampoos. Do you often buy new clothes, shoes and accessories? Consider shopping at second hand stores, doing a clothing swap with friends, or buying clothing and shoes made from sustainably harvested materials.
Did you know that certain fish are sustainable, while others are being over fished and might disappear in as little as a few years? To find out if a certain fish is sustainably caught, enter in the name in this handy site.
There are many small steps you can take in order to make your life more sustainable. How do you live more sustainably?
Ugan Manandhar Working on WWF Nepal Biogas Project (Courtest Photo)
Mr. Ugan Manandhar has been working with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Nepal for more than five years. He has a degree in electrical engineering and a post graduate in business administration. He joined WWF Nepal as an alternative energy officer and since then has developed expertise in the field of climate change and energy. He currently is the Program Manager of the Climate Change, Energy and Fresh Water Program at WWF Nepal and is involved in the program management from planning, fund raising to implementation followed by policy and advocacy work. He has been involved in the international climate debates there by implementing work in WWF Nepal on policy and advocacy at the national and international fronts, climate research, climate adaptation, carbon financing, REDD+ and low carbon development. He was also nominated for the IVLP Program (International Visitor’s Leadership Program) by the Government of the United States to enhance his capacity and learning so as to help lead his country in the field of his work on climate change and energy. Read Ugan’s blog post about carbon financing below!
WWF Nepal focuses on a variety of Climate Change and Energy Programs like Policy and Advocacy, Research, Adaptation, Carbon Financing and Low Carbon Development. Having worked in WWF Nepal for more than five years, I have found all programs equally interesting and enjoyable; but if I had to prioritize, I would opt for the carbon financing. The work has opened new avenues of learning and development. Climate Change poses the greatest threat to all mankind as our lives are dependent on the climate system, but at the same time through the global negotiation process, carbon financing has brought in some opportunities.
WWF Nepal is working on two perspectives of carbon financing. The first is renewable energy and the second is Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+). In terms of energy and energy efficiency things have developed, but REDD+ is still in the process of negotiations. Despite the fact that many developing countries have explored carbon markets successfully, many Least Developed Countries (LDC) are still behind and Nepal is one of them.
Ugan Manandhar doing forest carbon inventory in mountains (Courtesy Photo)
In this context, WWF Nepal has successfully piloted the first Gold Standard VER Biogas Project in the voluntary market. We have successfully passed two verifications to offset 12,125 tons of CO2 equivalent and 13,606 tons of CO2 eq respectively. Being the focal point for the project on behalf of WWF Nepal, the greatest satisfaction came when we were able to complete the construction of the 7500 biogas plants with carbon financing funds, with 1 ton of CO2 eq sold at 13.5 Euros. MyClimate is the organization that purchases the carbon credits of WWF Nepal’s project. Moreover, WWF has ensured that the benefits of the carbon financing have reached the local communities both in the form of subsidies through the government and as seed money for the revolving funds to construct the biogas plants. To date the local communities have about USD 400,000 and WWF does not charge any office operational cost from the funds that come from carbon financing. Thus this project has created a sustainable financing mechanism and catered to sustainable development.
As a REDD+ readiness initiative, WWF Nepal has trained 120 local resource persons in the Terai Arc Landscape to initiate forest carbon inventory work and establish a forest carbon baseline at a sub-national level. As REDD+ is still under negotiations in the UNFCCC process; WWF’s REDD+ readiness work has demonstrated an insight to both the technicalities of MRV and social perspectives of BSM (Benefit Sharing Mechanism). In addition to this has been the use of cutting edge technology- LiDAR was also piloted in partnership with the Forest Resource Assessment Project, Government of Nepal. WWF Nepal will now be working on forest carbon inventory work in the Himalayan areas to establish another sub-national baseline followed by developing a PDD (Project Design Document) in partnership with the Government of Nepal to look into the feasibility of REDD+ given its complexity both at the social and technical fronts.
Activists gather to ride bicycles for the environment on Earth Day 2011 in Kolkata. (Courtesy of Earth Day Network - India)
Young people need the knowledge and tools to take action on climate change issues. Check out two organizations below that are trying to give youth those tools, and click for great resources to help you take action!
The Australian Youth Climate Coalition says they are “building a generation-wide movement to solve the climate crisis.” Representing more than 30 of Australia’s largest youth organizations, they consist of over 71,000 young people from across the country. Check out their blog which discusses everything from the new Australian carbon tax to clean energy. They also have a “Learn” page with tons of educational resources “about everything from the latest climate science to community organizing tools!” This may be a great resource if you’re interested in starting your own youth environmental group and need the tools to learn more!
For more even more resources, head over to Taking IT Global, the “largest online community of youth interested in global issues and creating positive change.” They align themselves with three words: “Inspire, Inform, Involve.” One of the global issues that they focus on is the environment, and they have an entire site dedicated to a variety of different resources, including a list of organizations, publications, blogs, policies, statistics and videos. Whether you are interested in the Global Council on Water Diseases (under Organizations) or Global Climate Trends (under Statistics), the this site is a resource hub for youth around the world interested in the environment and other global issues. Getting more specific, Taking IT Global’s environment page has a specific section dedicated to climate change! Check out the organizations section for links to international youth groups combating climate change!
How do you learn about environmental issues as a youth? Is it difficult to take action, or do you feel empowered to combat climate change, even when you are young?
Indian environmental activists bring the climate-change message to rural areas in solar-powered caravans. (Courtesy of IYCN)
Want to meet ten teens that will change the world? According to the Alaska Youth for Environmental Action in this short video, these ten young people are taking steps today to protect and sustain their planet. In a place like Alaska, which has such a wealth of natural resources that are constantly being threatened, it is inspiring to see youth taking the initiative.
Around the world, young leaders are taking similar steps to learn about environmental issues and sustainable practices. The International Institute for Sustainable Development has a Sustainability Leadership Innovation Centre. The website shares stories from young leaders in Africa, Latin America and Canada. To read intern stories from all over the world, click here.
Are there any great youth environmental organizations that you are a part of in your country? Tell us about them!
Seth Gross, the mastermind behind Bull City Burger and Brewery in North Carolina, USA
Seth Gross opened The Bull City Burger and Brewery in the North Carolina university town of Durham in March 2011, intent on offering something more than “just a burger.” Gross wants to change the way Americans approach and value their food. He often says he will close his restaurant before he allows “corn-fed, antibiotic-laden, hormone-injected beef” to be served to his customers. He also hopes to teach consumers – and young people, in particular – that by changing our food culture we can strengthen local economies and the environment.
The following text is based on a recent interview Gross did with the Global Conversations: Climate blog.
“I decided to open a restaurant in Durham in part because there’s a very strong farm-to-fork movement here. There’s something about Durham that attracts people who value healthy food and enjoy shopping at local farmers markets.
These are the people who come to The Bull City Burger and Brewery. They’re willing to pay a little bit more for food that tastes better and that doesn’t have hydrogenated oils, high-fructose corn syrup, artificial sweeteners or beef carrying hormones and antibiotics.
Some people say, “A burger is a burger,” but that’s not true. Our beef costs four times what conventional beef costs, but I’ve also had people say it’s the best burger they’ve ever tasted. Many of the older folks who come in are amazed. They say, “This tastes like real beef again, what I remember beef tasting like when I was a kid.”
Our basic burger costs $6 and down here in North Carolina, that’s a high price. Some people tell me, “I can get a Big Mac at McDonald’s for $2.99. Why should I pay twice that?” That’s where the education comes in. Can you put a value on a thicker beef patty that has no hormone in it? Maybe it’s worth more than $2.99?
The minute customers walk through the door to our restaurant we start to educate them about our food.
All farmers we source from have to sign a two-page letter with a code of ethics laying out what the cow can eat and how it’s treated. Everything we serve is fresh and never frozen because it comes to us straight from a farm a half-hour or hour away.
We make everything in-house: the buns, mustards, sauces, sauerkraut, pickles… We think that’s very powerful, and many of our customers do, too.
Sourcing food locally has several benefits. It ensures seasonality, keeps money local and supports agriculture the way it used to be here in the United States before huge factory farms became the norm. You also have less of a carbon footprint when you source locally because you’re not flying or trucking food in.
The biggest challenge right now is making sure people understand seasonality, and tomatoes are one of our biggest battles. In North Carolina, you can’t grow tomatoes outside year around, but I don’t want to fly in tomatoes from California or the Southern Hemisphere.
I’ve had customers come in and say, “If there’s no tomato on my burger I’m never coming back.” Some people don’t care if the tomato is flavorless and mealy, but in our restaurant we do. We make it clear to our customers that we’ll only have tomatoes in season – and why.
If we can educate and convert just one person to look differently at food and how we use Earth’s natural resources, I think we’ve made a difference.”