Intentions and Realities: A case for better fund management

Uganda ChildrenOne of the biggest hang-ups to addressing climate change is finance.  How are research projects funded?  How are solutions funded so that they can be implemented at a meaningful scale?  While finance was not my area of focus at COP 23, it certainly came up concerning “agriculture, forestry, and other land use” issues (AFOLU).  One of the most impressionable moments I had at COP 23 concerned finance for adaptation in agriculture.

At a side event for “addressing climate change for a world free of hunger, malnutrition and poverty,” the conversation among the facilitators and stakeholders seemed collaborative.  Then, Kagandga John, the Executive Director of Kikandwa Environmental Association (KEA) of Uganda, spoke.  He started slowly, thanking the Chair and other members joining the roundtable discussion.  He expressed his gratitude that finally agriculture and food security were being talked about seriously.  Then his voice escalated.  “You sit here and talk about funding innovative projects in agriculture.  You even continue to suggest new pilot projects for our region.”  At this point, he became animated, his voice nearing a crescendo.  “But I will tell you now that WE ALREADY KNOW how to adapt our farming to climate change!  Stop funding new pilot projects!  Start funding projects that already work.  Come to Uganda, we will show you.”

Part of the financing problem appears to be the mismanagement of available funds.  Is this possible?  For developing countries like Uganda, this inefficiency must be very frustrating.  After the meeting, I spoke with Kagandga John.  I learned that the education center in the Mityana district of Uganda that educates children about the environment and climate change must close due to lack of financial support from the local and international community.

Surely there is a better way to manage funds for developing nations.

The Indigenous Platform: A win-win for climate and indigenous rights

climate impactsYesterday I observed a side event that left me feeling anxious about our future. With all the acknowledgment of climate change and the steps taken by parties to the UNFCCC since 1992, greenhouse gas emissions are still rising. In fact, nowhere on the graph presented did the tangent show progress in decreasing emissions. That’s right! After 25 years of learning and negotiating about climate change, it seems we are making little progress with respect to our ultimate goal of reducing global emissions. The implications of this, if gone unabated, could be catastrophic. Indeed, as the atmospheric greenhouse gas concentration now exceeds 400 ppm, we are headed into uncharted territory. Our lives depend on our ability and capacity to adapt to the coming changes as well as to mitigate what we can. Who will show us the way?

It has long been recognized that indigenous knowledge is invaluable for addressing and responding to climate change. For this reason, a platform was established at COP 21 in Paris to afford indigenous people the opportunity to share their traditional knowledge and unique perspective for adapting to, and mitigating climate change. The following year, in Marrakesh, the COP decided to adopt an incremental and participatory approach to developing the indigenous platform. But in the waning hours of COP 23, the COP adopted a decision that includes a formal statement of the purpose for the platform as well as how it will function.

indigenous-potatoes-790x547The purpose of the platform is to “to strengthen the knowledge, technologies, practices and efforts of local communities and indigenous peoples related to addressing and responding to climate change.” The platform will facilitate the exchange and sharing of best practices and lessons learned on mitigation and adaptation and work to enhance the engagement of local communities and indigenous peoples in the UNFCCC process. This is important and exciting! Who knows better the nuances and changes of a particular environment and ecosystem than the people who have relied on them for generations? When it comes to reforestation efforts, it is the indigenous and local communities that understand the seeds to be used, the viability of the soil, and the changes in weather patterns that will determine growth. When it comes to producing food, these people know best what farming techniques will be successful and sustainable, or what practices need to change due to changing weather and hydrological cycles. We can learn so much!

But perhaps the most exciting thing about the platform is what it provides to indigenous peoples and local communities- a seat at the table. The platform is expected to build the capacity of indigenous people and local communities so that they can engage in the UNFCCC process. The platform is also expected to build the capacities of Parties to meet their NDCs under the Paris agreement.

indigenous-peopleWhat does this mean? It sounds like there is finally going to be a collaborative effort between Parties and indigenous people and local communities to address climate change- both in terms of mitigation and adaptation. Speculating as to what co-benefits may flow from this, it seems evident that Parties must now seriously take up the issue of land tenure with respect to the indigenous communities within their respective states. Perhaps indigenous populations will finally gain the security of holding enforceable rights to their traditional, native territories- ensuring the continuation of their culture.
The platform is a win for the climate and indigenous populations.

The Value of a Tree

How much is a tree worth?  How do you calculate its value?  Board feet?  Ecoservices?

PNW ForestFor many people advocating for the implementation of REDD+, the value of a forest is great.  Forests in developing countries like Myanmar, Papua New Guinea and Mongolia are recognized for their vital role in protecting water sources, sequestering carbon, and controlling erosion.  The forests are also valued because they provide ecosystem services and protect biodiversity.  These benefits individually and collectively act as a buffer to the effects of climate change – creating a resilient ecosystem.

But what about the value of a tree?  More importantly, how should developed states value their trees and forests? The Temperate forests of Oregon and Washington and the Boreal forests of Alaska are considered global champions for climate change mitigation.  Yet the timber industry as well as the state and federal agencies that manage forests on public lands value a tree and even entire forest by extractable board footage.  Simply put, the value of a tree is determined by the immediate profit that can be realized by its removal as well as the jobs created in the process.  Little to no account is given to intangible worth like ecosystem services and the forests’ rich biodiversity.  Given less consideration are unforeseeable future benefits like a stable climate.


But if we are to adequately determine whether to remove a tree or a forest, perhaps we should take a page from the book of developing nations.  In doing so, it behooves us to place a proper value on the resource- considering its worth entirely.  We may find that the forest, yes even the tree, is worth more standing.


When the Storm Comes…

Climate Change is already having a significant impact on our planet.  Indeed, even our largest resource and carbon sink is suffering- our oceans.

seychellesWhile once thought of as an abundant, even infinite source of food and wealth, our warming planet is changing all of that.  Coral reefs are bleaching.  Schools of tuna are changing their migratory paths.  And anadromous fish, like Pacific salmon species are struggling to complete life cycles.  Exacerbated by commercial over-fishing and illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, many fish populations and fisheries are dangerously depleted.  This spells economic and food insecurity for many coastal communities- but especially for small-island developing states (SIDS) and archipelagos.  For these communities, this also means decreased resilience to the impacts of climate change.

But what can a small island nation do?  Implementing policies to restore marine fisheries and secure climate resilience through implementing sustainable practices costs money.  And many SIDS have limited financial resources and very little they can count on as an export to build financial capacity.  For Seychelles, a small archipelago in the Indian Ocean, the solution was found when its leaders turned their backs on the islands… and looked out to sea.

With 3000 times more ocean under its sovereignty that land, the ocean is an indispensable resource for Seychelles.  Still, Seychelles came into the Paris Agreement with a significant amount of national debt.  To alleviate that burden, it exchanged its debt for protecting its ocean- effectively relinquishing sovereignty of one-third of its oceans by placing it in a trust.  This expanded Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) and helped to ensure fish stock recoveries.  To further build a sustainable fishery, Seychelles created a “Blue Bond” economy which uses bonds to fund the development of its sustainable fisheries.  The Blue Bond economy also consists of a Blue Grant Fund which is accessible to domestic fisherman and other fish-workers.  These funds are used as an incentive for those in the fishing industry to adopt sustainable practices.  Provided they comply with sustainable practices, funds are readily available to help them achieve and maintain those practices.

Blue economyWhy does this work so well?  Because this is a bottom-up approach where the government is in fact considered a “minority” entity.  The structure of this system does not rely on government control because the resource is placed in a trust.  How did they persuade the fisherman to get involved with establishing protected areas?  They simply asked them where they wanted to fish.  The fisherman initially refused to cooperate with the process- afraid to deviate from business as usual practices.  But when they were told that one morning they may wake up to find their favorite fishing area protected and off limits, the fisherman were persuaded to engage in the process.  Thus, collaborating with the fisherman included them in the process and strengthened the framework for the trust.

For Seychelles, talking about jobs, nutrition, food, and even people is synonymous with talking about marine resources and FISH!  The dependence on its surrounding ocean cannot be overstated.  As such, climate change poses a significant threat.  But by placing a large portion of its EEZ into protected areas and building a sustainable fishing economy, Seychelles has taken a precautionary approach to address the impacts of climate change.  The result?  Increased biomass, increased maximum sustainable yield, increased food security and climate resilience.  And with increased resilience comes the ability to adapt to the coming changes.  As Seychelles’ permanent representative to the U.N. stated; “When the storm comes, we will be ready.”

Adaptation for Profit: Increasing agriculture productivity without compromise?

large agAre you a capitalist?

This was the question asked of the attendees of “The Business Advantage: Scaling up Private Sector Climate Action in Agriculture” side event at COP 23.  None of us admitted to being a capitalist.  But then we were ask if we valued social or environmental economy.  The unanimous answer was, yes.  “Well..,” said Tony Simons, Director of ICRAF, “…you are a capitalist.”

The most basic notion of capitalism is to take actions to maximize something.  Thus, if we choose to maximize anything, even something like social well-being or the world’s natural systems, we are capitalizing.  We are capitalists.  So what does this have to do with how the private sector can contribute to climate change mitigation?  According to Simons and a panel of representatives from IFAD and CGIAR, joining hands with the private sector is the most feasible way to spread climate-smart agricultural (CSA) practices.  But first, we must dispel the common belief that capitalism itself is an evil within a system.

If we are to realize food security, and mitigation and adaptation in the agricultural sector, the panel argued that innovations in agriculture need to be scaled up.  The panel asserted that there are ways to intensify farming practices as to realize system efficiency.  This would mean realizing higher yields and increased meat production while reducing the greenhouse gas emissions associated with agriculture.  While, there were various techniques discussed, there was no forthright application of science offered.  Nonetheless, the general consensus was that these techniques needed to be communicated to the private sector and financial institutions needed to be convinced of them.  After all… scaling up of agricultural innovations costs money.  But apparently, this will not happen without joining hands with the private, industrial agriculture sector.

small scaleWhile scaling up innovations to take climate action in the agriculture sector makes good sense, I left the event troubled by two thoughts.  First, the concept of establishing global CSA practices requires bridging the gap between the small-scale and industrial farmer and providing funding to the small-scale farmer to take on these innovations.  Unfortunately, lending institutions are not amiable to doling out large quantities of small loan amounts.  But this is precisely what needs to happen if small-scale farmers are going to scale-up CSA.  Thus, the paradox. If small farmers are going to scale up CSA, they need funding to do it.  But a lending institution wants to see a “bankable” project before lending- something a small farmer cannot show without some financial assistance.  It’s a catch-22.

Furthermore, if the private sector is going to get on board, they must be able to make a profit.  “Profitability should be the angle of approach,” they said.  “The private sector can contribute to NDCs in terms of mitigation, but it will not do so without realizing tangible (financial) benefits.”  And indeed this is so.  One corporate food and agriculture representative who sat on the panel assured us that sustainable, climate-smart agriculture was in their best interest.  Yet, she noted that her corporation’s first priority was yield, then resilience.  Is it really possible to increase productivity without compromising the climate system…or the corporate bottom line?

What seemed conveniently left out of this equation in the end was social and environmental economy.  After all, are we not all capitalists?

Food Sovereignty: An Adaptation and Mitigation Tool

peru_woman (1)When nations recognized the need to mitigate climate change by finding ways to reduce carbon emissions, emissions from the agriculture sector were not readily considered a priority.  In fact, some claim that parties intentionally kept agriculture off the negotiating table in terms of mitigation because… well, everyone needs food.  Furthermore, global population growth and a shortage in food security for some due to climate change would require that global food output increase. With the advent of GMOs and global transport, supplying food to vulnerable populations seemed the obvious answer.  And because mitigation played such a prominent role in the UNFCCC Conference of Parties’ negotiations initially, the need for adaptation in our food systems was not of paramount concern.

But the emissions from the agriculture sector can no longer be ignored, nor can the need for farming practices to adapt to the coming changes.  According to the U.S. EPA, the United States’ agricultural sector contributes 9 percent to its total GHG emissions. Globally, emissions from agriculture comprise upwards of 13 percent of total emissions.  And if an increase in industrial food production is necessary because of population growth and decreased food security, these emission figures can be expected to rise.  Additionally, food systems will need to adapt to extreme weather events, desertification, decreased precipitation, and an increasing influx of parasites and disease.  Is there a way for our food systems to mitigate and adapt to climate change simultaneously thereby enhancing global food security?


By localizing food production, food sovereignty is effectively placed in the hands of indigenous cultures and small farmers who naturally farm in ways that produce less emissions.  For example, indigenous practices do not include the use of industrial fertilizers that continuously contribute to nitrous oxide emissions- a greenhouse gas 300 times more potent that carbon dioxide.  Small scale farming practices also negate the need for large land-use changes like  deforestation and forest degradation which remove vital carbon sinks and greatly contribute to carbon emissions.

Keeping food systems local also allows farmers to adapt to our changing climate in a localized manner.   There is no person who knows better the changes required for a particular location than the farmer who has seen the climate and precipitation patterns change.  Unfortunately, national policies to adapt to climate change often disregard indigenous knowledge because of the firm belief that science is the best solution.  As such, industrial agriculture greatly focuses on genetic modification, increasing soil fertility via chemical fertilizers, and managing pest and disease infestation through the use of pesticides.  Yet, indigenous systems have proven to be resilient due to growing a diversity of food crops, incorporating biological pest management, crop rotation and selective weed management practices.  The nuances of these practices will surely need to change with the climate.  But the point is that they can and they will- without the need for increased emissions.  What better way is there to both mitigate and adapt to climate change while keeping people fed?