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Archives for Environment

Eye in the Sky Moves Mountains in Development

THE WORLD IN HIS HAND: Him Lal Shrestha, a Remote Sensing Analyst at the USAID-funded SERVIR Himalaya initiative, explains how data is transmitted from a satellite and informs the Government of Nepal on how best to make use of their land. Photo by Richard Nyberg, USAID

THE WORLD IN HIS HAND: Him Lal Shrestha, a Remote Sensing Analyst at the USAID-funded SERVIR Himalaya initiative, explains how data is transmitted from a satellite and informs the Government of Nepal on how best to make use of their land.
Photo by Richard Nyberg, USAID

When Him Lal Shrestha wants to know what is happening on the ground affecting Nepalese farmers, he shoots a glance up—way up to an orbiting satellite. That great big white ball on the top of his building helps bring life-saving data down to earth. Here’s how.

Shrestha is a Remote Sensing Analyst at the USAID-funded SERVIR Himalaya initiative. He showed me around his facility and explained how satellite imagery can tell us what is happening to land in Nepal and across the countries surrounding the scenic Hindu Kush Himalayas.

Pointing to his screen, he explains how land cover, particularly in agriculture and forest, in many areas of Nepal is being depleted — a serious issue that will affect how local people plant, harvest and survive. It’s also a huge concern for government officials who are trying to thwart potential calamities that could make things tougher for people just trying to make ends meet.

Screenshot on the SERVIR Himalaya website shows land cover trends over time.

Screenshot on the SERVIR Himalaya website shows land cover trends over time.

Shrestha describes what he sees on his screen. “In the case of Nepal, from 1990 to the current year, we see remarkable pressure on the land cover changes,” he said. “Land cover is a function of population growth; because of population growth, there is urbanization. So ultimately there is pressure on the forest coverage,” he said, adding that the survey work is important internationally because “we are discussing reducing emission from the deforestation and degradation.”

Helping people understand forest cover and other development challenges at home and across borders is the goal of this USAID effort in partnership with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Some of the tools help people detect forest fires hidden behind mountain ranges and send SMS messages to firefighters so they can speed off in pursuit in less than an hour.

Dr. Rajiv Shah meets local scientists at SERVIR Himalaya.

Dr. Rajiv Shah meets local scientists at SERVIR Himalaya.

“It is hard to fix a problem that you cannot see,” said USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah during a recent visit to Nepal. Dr. Shah believes that by harnessing science and technology, “we can put critical information in the hands of the people most affected by natural disasters.”

Other tools keep a big eye on glacier melts leading to water flows and help monitor food production and estimate crop yields to better inform the Nepal government so they can make critical decisions ahead of time to avoid famine and all the suffering that comes with it. Similarly, other governments in the region can use satellite imagery of land conditions within their borders to make informed decisions.

Top: Imja Glacier in 1956.  Bottom: By 2012, the Imja glacier had receded dramatically, leaving behind a lake 110 m deep and containing over 60 million cubic meters of water.

Top: Imja Glacier in 1956.
Bottom: By 2012, the Imja glacier had receded dramatically, leaving behind a lake 110 m deep and containing over 60 million cubic meters of water.
Photo Credits: (Top) Erwin Schneider, Courtesy of the Association for Comparative Alpine Research, Munich. (Bottom) Alton C.Byers, The Mountain Institute

According to Bronwyn Llewellyn, Environment Team Leader at USAID Nepal, a lack of transparency in decision-making is an issue to tackle across the region. “Science and technology can help a lot with that transparency. It’s a tool that is accessed by everyone online. By creating tools that cross boundaries, you are creating a language of science that can be used across the borders. So everyone is looking at the same tool and making the same decisions.”

So what’s USAID’s vision for this science-based development mapping toolkit? Governments across the region need the big picture. And the satellite data it collects enables them to track global climate change and make more informed decisions about land and water use that impact their countries’ future.

Meeting Water, Food and Health Needs in Kenya

On this World Water Day 2014, I am encouraged by how USAID’s water programs around the world contribute to integrated approaches that meet the objectives of the Agency’s Water and Development Strategy, as well as the Feed the Future and the Global Health Presidential Initiatives. During my recent work in Kenya with the USAID team at Kaputir and Kalimngorok, I was able to see first hand the efforts to strengthen Kenya’s resilience to disease, climate change, drought, floods and water shortages.

Across Kenya, USAID’s AIDS, Population, and Health Integrated Assistance Plus (APHIAplus) program is working to strengthen and improve healthcare systems. In Kaputir, the APHIAplus Integrated Marginal Arid Regions Innovative Socialized Health Approach (IMARISHA) project supports a health clinic and a Community-Led Total Sanitation project.

Photo Credit: Martin Mulongo

Photo Credit: Martin Mulongo

As I walked up a slight slope to the village of Kaputir, the first thing I saw was the gigantic masonry water tank that holds 13,000 gallons of water situated next to a one-story, concrete block clinic with maternity, pharmacy, consultation and emergency rooms. The front of the clinic has a small porch on which children and adults sit in a long line, partially shaded from the sun, waiting for their turn to receive basic medical care. The clinic staff proudly showed me their microscope, as well as their solar-powered refrigerator used to store medicines and blood samples.

Photo credit: Martin Mulongo

13,000 gallon water tank in Kaputir (Photo credit: Martin Mulongo)

Also as part of APHIAplus IMARISHA, the nearby community of some 6,000 people is working to achieve “open defecation-free” status. For example, the house right next to the clinic is leading the charge by being the first to add a pit latrine; it has a slab covering the hole, surrounded by a thatched fence and a “tippy-tap” handwashing device with water and soap.

In the same community, another project implemented by the Millennium Water Alliance, through their partner World Vision, supports a large water storage project connected to a nearby borehole. The combined efforts of these programs ensure integrated water, health, sanitation and hygiene services, which in turn reduce the prevalence of diarrhea, a major contributor to childhood mortality.

As we drove into the Kalimngorok area, we looked out at the flat, brown, dry landscape with few bushes and no rivers or streams in sight. At first glance, I wondered how one could grow anything here. In the distance I saw a large water catchment, built to capture and store rainwater for both human and livestock consumption and irrigation. A secondary benefit of the catchment is that water has seeped through the earthen floor, helping to restore groundwater underneath. At the base of the catchment, the community has installed a substantial metal pump on a concrete slab to draw water from the restored aquifer. In the surrounding fields, farmers experiment with different crops resistant to drought, using soil tillage techniques to increase the capture of rainwater when the rains arrive.

WFP Irrigation project in Turkana -Kalemngorok

WFP Irrigation project in Turkana -Kalemngorok (Photo credit: Martin Mulongo)

We also visited USAID’s Turkana Rehabilitation Program in Kalimngorok, implemented by the United Nations World Food Program, which integrates rainwater harvesting technology and food production through a range of water management practices. I walked through the fields observing construction of on-farm contour bunds (embankments) that capture rain as it falls on fields and increases yields, and the building of water pans (shallow retention ponds that store water for irrigation and watering livestock).  The program also promotes improved nutrition by establishing fruit orchards and vegetable gardens, diversifies income through bee keeping, and reduces environmental degradation through establishment of micro-catchments.

At both Kaputir and Kalimngorok, I am left with the sobering firsthand realization of the challenges of assisting thousands of people in this arid environment. But I am also left with a sense of optimism. We saw progress in action in capturing and storing water, providing healthcare, navigating the lack of an electrical grid and producing crops in such an arid environment. USAID/Kenya’s approach of layering, integrating and sequencing its technical interventions and projects brings hope that over time these activities could be expanded and provided at scale, changing the lives of thousands of people for the better.

Cooking With Green Charcoal Helps to Reduce Deforestation in Haiti

An organization in northern Haiti is promoting a cooking fuel made from agricultural waste that can save trees, help farmers increase their yields and generate additional income.

“Our aim is to try to stop deforestation in Haiti by teaching people to switch from cooking with charcoal to using cooking briquettes, small discs made from charred agricultural waste,” said Anderson Pierre, the Supply Chain Manager for Carbon Roots International (CRI), a USAID-supported non-profit organization operating in Quartier Morin.

Carbon Roots International on Dec 12, 2013. Copyright Kendra Helmer/USAID

Workers create cooking briquettes, small discs made from charred agricultural waste, in northern Haiti. Copyright Kendra Helmer/USAID

Despite the fact that only about 2 percent of Haiti’s forests remain, it is difficult to shift habits of cooking with wood charcoal to methods that are environmentally friendly.  According to Pierre, other alternative fuels are still not well-known – or accepted.

“We work little by little, changing perceptions and providing information on the benefits of using briquettes,” Pierre said.

CRI employs smallholder farmers and entrepreneurs to produce carbon-rich char from agricultural waste such as sugarcane bagasse, the fibrous matter that remains after sugarcane stalks are crushed to extract their juice. CRI uses this waste to create two innovative products: renewable charcoal cooking briquettes called “green charcoal,” and “biochar,” a potent natural soil additive that increases soil fertility and removes carbon from the atmosphere. CRI sells the briquettes as an alternative to traditional wood charcoal through a network of women retailers, and disburses biochar back to farmers to increase crop yields and further raise incomes.

As a result, the project contributes to the sustainability of Haitian agriculture and provides income opportunities for women entrepreneurs. It offers a comparably priced, locally appropriate green cooking fuel to the Haitian marketplace, as well as encourages the adoption of biochar as a viable tool for increasing agricultural productivity and soil resiliency.

CRI’s efforts to promote green charcoal are gradually gaining ground in northern Haiti. While they’ve been focusing on market research and production, they plan to expand to bulk sales and more roadside kiosks this spring. In December, CRI ran a public awareness campaign in Quartier Morin under the slogan “Green Charcoal is Your Charcoal”, using demonstration stands and offering free samples of briquettes.

“The Haitian consumer likes the fact that this comes from a source other than wood. People have heard about a Haiti that used to be green. They understand that deforestation is not good. If they have an alternative, they will go for it,” said Ryan Delaney, co-founder of CRI. The briquettes are 5 to 10 percent cheaper to buy than wood-based charcoal and they can be burned in a traditional cook stove, making it an attractive fuel alternative.

USAID is supporting CRI through a $100,000 Development Innovation Ventures award. The USAID award has helped CRI prove itself — it developed a network of producers, started production and created viable markets for biomass products.

“We want this to be a self-sufficient project,” Delaney said. “We have just purchased a machine that can increase the briquette production from 3,000 briquettes a day to 3 tons an hour. There is a lot of sugarcane production in Haiti providing the needed sugarcane waste…. Right now we sell small-scale, but we have ambitious expansion goals.”

Delaney estimates the charcoal market in Haiti to be valued at about $700 million a year (approximately $90 million in northern Haiti).  “The potential to scale in Haiti and beyond is enormous, as there is little centralized production of charcoal,” he said.

This month, the U.S.-based CRI expects formal operations to begin for their for-profit entity in Haiti, called Carbon Roots Haiti, S.A.  Eventually CRI wants to hand over green charcoal production to Haitians, Delaney said. “Ultimately, we envision this as a Haitian company run by Haitians.”

Launched in October 2010, USAID’s Development Innovation Ventures (DIV) holds a quarterly grant competition for innovative ideas, pilots and tests them using cutting-edge analytical methods, and scales those that demonstrate cost-effectiveness and widespread development impact. DIV uses a staged-funding model inspired by venture capital to invest comparatively small amounts in relatively unproven ideas, and continues to support only those that prove effective.

For more information on DIV and how to apply, go to http://www.usaid.gov/div. For more information on CRI visit http://www.carbonrootsinternational.org/ and see photos of CRI in Haiti on Flickr.

Read another story about how USAID is fighting deforestation through an improved cooking technology program.

Anna-Maija Mattila Litvak is the Senior Development Outreach and Communications Officer for USAID/Haiti.

Satellite Data for the People: USAID Supports Launch of New Forest Watch Tool

How is the latest U.S. satellite and mobile technology helping 350 million of the world’s poorest people – including 60 million indigenous people – safeguard their homes and livelihoods?

More than 300 development experts heard the answer at today’s launch of the new high-tech Global Forest Watch tropical forest monitoring tool, developed by World Resources Institute with support from USAID, Google, Norway and other partners.

“Global Forest Watch is democratizing information,” USAID Administrator Dr. Rajiv Shah told a full house at the Newseum’s Knight Conference Center in Washington DC. Juan Carlos Jintiach, a leader of Ecuador’s Shuar Nation of peoples, agreed. “Global Forest Watch is a way to share our voices and histories,” he told the crowd.

But Global Forest Watch does much more than share stories. This powerful new tool combines satellite imagery and overlay maps with the latest open data and crowd-sourcing technologies to open up near-real-time information about the state of tropical forests to anyone with an internet connection. Currently, tropical forests are being destroyed at a rate of about 50 field soccer fields per minute.

Dr. Raj Shah voices USAID's support for innovative new technology working to dramatically reduce tropical deforestation

Dr. Raj Shah voices USAID’s support for innovative new technology working to dramatically reduce tropical deforestation. Photo Credit: Ralph Alswang

The loss of tropical forests is a big problem for the earth’s climate, causing up to a fifth of the carbon pollution linked to climate change. It’s also an immediate threat to the health and well-being of an estimated 1 billion people around the world, who depend on forests for food or livelihood activities.

Worse still, for more than 350 million of the world’s very poorest people – those who use forests intensively for subsistence and survival – forest destruction can mean life or death. This number includes some 60 million indigenous people, among them a small number of tribes in the deepest reaches of forest who have yet to be contacted by modern civilization.

Global Forest Watch unites more than 40 government, business and civil society partners to curb forest destruction by putting free and transparent information in the hands of people who care most about forests. Anyone with an internet connection can visit the GFW website and upload information about what is happening in their section of forest. And any government can visit the GFW website and find near-real-time information about what is happening in their forest territory, in near real time, on the ground.

“Now governments and people will have access to the same information [as private companies],” said Felipe Calderon, Mexico’s former president, who spoke at the February 20 GFW launch.

GFW partners and supporters include many of the same partners of the Tropical Forest Alliance 2020, a private-public partnership kicked off by the United States and the Consumer Goods Forum network of more than 400 global businesses in 2012. USAID contributed $5.5 million to GFW, in the process helping to mobilize more than $30 million.

Wildlife Trafficking Response Reaches a Tipping Point

Wildlife trafficking – poaching and illegal trade in wildlife and wildlife parts – is a major threat to the security and stability of nations worldwide.  It is often perpetrated by organized criminal networks, and profits are known to finance armed militants in Africa.  Poachers threaten the safety of rural communities and generally undermine decades of conservation and development gains supported by USAID and others.  And, in the last decade, more than 1,000 rangers have lost their lives protecting wildlife.

Last week marked the culmination of recent efforts to change this dynamic and recognize wildlife trafficking as a serious crime deserving the attention of law enforcement, judges and policy makers.  On February 11, the United States released its National Strategy to Combat Wildlife Trafficking, in which we resolve to strengthen domestic and international efforts in a whole-of-government approach.  On February 13, leaders from around the world met at the London Conference on the Illegal Wildlife Trade to commit to take action on this crisis.

Operation Cobra II: Leopard skins seized at Ethopia

Leopard skins seized in Ethopia / Operation Cobra II

As USAID’s representative on the U.S. delegation, I was proud to tell attendees about the Agency’s leadership on the issue, and the success of our programs in curbing wildlife crime.  One of the priority actions agreed to in London — strengthening cross-border co-ordination and support for regional wildlife law enforcement networks — has been a focus of USAID’s work since 2005.  Our regional program in Asia, in partnership with the Departments of State and Interior, supported “Operation Cobra II,” a 28-country, month-long collaboration that resulted in 400 arrests of wildlife criminals, including several kingpins of the trade.  Law enforcement officers from the 28 countries made 350 major wildlife seizures across Africa and Asia and confiscated 36 rhino horns, three metric tons of elephant ivory, 10,000 turtles, and 1,000 skins of protected species, among other items.

In addition to strengthening law enforcement on the frontlines, USAID makes longer-term investments to deter future wildlife crime.  Take Kenya, where a surge in wildlife crime is putting elephants, rhinos, and the livelihoods of 300,000 Kenyans in the tourism industry at risk.  Despite the costs of inaction, only four percent of convicted offenders have been sent to jail in the past six years.  Recognizing this trend, USAID supported the Government in formulating the Wildlife Conservation and Management Bill and Policy of 2013, which took effect on January 10, 2014 and increased penalties for poaching and trafficking.  In the first test of the new law, a Chinese man caught with a 7.5 pound elephant tusk was sentenced to pay a 20 million Kenya shilling fine ($230,000) or spend seven years in prison.

dIvory seized at Entebbe Airport, Uganda. Credit: Operation Cobra II

Ivory seized at Entebbe Airport, Uganda. / Operation Cobra II

In London, Prince Charles aptly noted: “As vital as strong enforcement is, we can – indeed we must – attack demand.”  A growing part of USAID’s portfolio is making progress on this root cause of wildlife trafficking.  With our support, the “Fin Free Thailand” campaign recently unveiled its “Blue List” of 70 hotels that will no longer serve shark-fin soup or any shark meat.  In Thailand, Vietnam and China, the iThink campaign uses key opinion leaders to create a groundswell of public opinion against wildlife purchases, including ivory and rhino horn.  Through numerous actions, including substantial support for Operation Cobra (I and II), its recent crush of illegal ivory in Hong Kong, and by committing to no longer serve shark’s fin soup at official functions, the Government of China has emerged as an important partner in  efforts to cut demand for illegal wildlife products.

All told, USAID supports anti-poaching activities in 25 countries, and will devote at least $30 million in 2014 funds to combat wildlife trafficking.  We are scaling up our response at the frontlines to stop poachers and traffickers, while also working to change the policies, attitudes and incentives that define this crisis.  Last year we started work on another priority discussed in London — analysis to better understand the links between wildlife crime and other organized crime and corruption.  This year, we’ll use that to prioritize and support transnational collaboration to counter trade in ivory and rhino horn.   We’ll also roll out a system for prioritizing ranger patrols in dozens of African parks, and host a competition for innovative solutions to the crisis from the brightest minds in academia, civil society and the private sector.

In the last few years as many as 25,000 elephants have been killed each year, often by armed groups slaying dozens or hundreds at a time.  Other rare species are facing similar fates due to illegal wildlife trade.  Prince Charles told those of us who met last week of the need “to take urgent action to put a stop to this trade, which has become a grave threat not only to the wildlife and the people who protect them, but also to the security of so many nations.”  USAID has a strong foundation on which to redouble its efforts alongside those of the global community.  If we all follow through on our commitments from London, the opportunity to end wildlife trafficking as a major threat to biodiversity and people is within our reach.

Uncovering Success: A Holistic Approach to Taking Stock of Natural Resource Management Interventions

How do we know if development projects have impacted people’s lives? We can collect data on how many people participated in a project or how much their income increased. We can also measure the effect on the number of people with access to a service or we can count the amount of land that has been reforested. But when we know that complex development challenges take a long time to change, how do we clarify our impact beyond these specific measures and the very short project life cycle, which is usually three to five years?

Natural tree regeneration not only helps protect the environment and enhance livelihoods, but cuts down on women’s time collecting household fuel wood. Photo: Brent McCusker

Natural tree regeneration not only helps protect the environment and enhance livelihoods, but cuts down on women’s time collecting household fuel wood. Photo: Brent McCusker

This question was at the heart of a challenge recently taken up by the Agency’s Productive Landscapes Team in the Land Tenure and Resource Management Office.

Real landscape-level change takes a long time to detect and often eludes our most finely tuned impact indicators. Because environmental and landscape change happens over decades, and because human actions are often the result of many causes, E3 developed a holistic assessment methodology called “Stocktaking” and tested it in several rural Malawian landscapes.

In trying to understand both the unintended and long term impacts of our interventions, the team drew upon findings in the Sahel that show significant re-greening of the land over the last thirty years. That finding was identified only after interviewing local people and asking them about the reasons for their successes—not passing judgment on their actions, but by identifying the root causes of successful land transformations and the ways in which land users overcame barriers.

Stocktaking differs from traditional impact assessments or monitoring and evaluation methods. These latter techniques judge success or failure against a benchmark (indicator) to determine whether or not a project has met its specific goals over a bounded period of time. Stocktaking takes a different path. The focus is on long term, multi-sectoral changes, and in discovering hidden and/or unintended impacts. For instance, a Stocktaking approach might examine how an agricultural intervention led to increased food production and forest regrowth and an increase in the amount of credit in a village. This variety of different outcomes might not be captured in a traditional assessment technique.  Stocktaking can be used to identify unintended impacts long after a program or development investment has ended.

With Stocktaking in mind, the E3 team traveled to Malawi in June and again in August of this year to search for the root causes of landscape change. Malawi’s north is relatively land abundant and USAID’s interventions have built value-chains from the local environment. Practices such as beekeeping, fishing along Lake Malawi, and sustainable cash crop production are all livelihood enhancing activities that put money in the hands of farmers without damaging the natural resource base.

After using the Stocktaking methodology to interview several households and community groups, the team learned valuable lessons about the longer-term impact of USAID interventions, and many of the positive unintended consequences of natural resource management projects. For instance, respondents remarked that natural tree regeneration resulted in significant labor savings. Women were able to reduce the amount of time they spent collecting fuel wood and transfer that labor savings to other income generating activities. Natural tree regeneration also reduced the amount of conflict with park rangers of nearby conservation areas.  Beekeeping in the Nyika-Vwasa Forest Reserve generated sufficient capital for project beneficiaries to start a range of businesses.

The follow-up trip in southern Malawi in August 2013 discovered similar unintended consequences. The Stocktaking methodology was conducted on water projects in an irrigation and watershed management scheme. A key finding was that village savings and loans, a type of micro-lending institution, were critical in financing activities such as buying seeds for more diverse crops that will help farmers adapt to climate change.

Like the re-greening of the Sahel, these unintended consequences of natural resource management interventions may have fallen “under the radar” in normal monitoring and evaluation since they were not expressed goals of any single project. Additionally, natural regeneration is difficult to quantify with traditional assessment and is easy to miss with standard geospatial imagery. Stocktaking team members are in the process of examining advanced geospatial methods to determine when forested plots were either naturally regenerated or planted. By locating interventions on the map and using such images, a longer term time series analysis can be compiled to determine exactly when the landscape changed, so that Stocktaking teams can then probe deeper with stakeholders to discover why that change occurred.  A instructional guide on how to conduct a Stocktaking evaluation and a community discussion board are found at:  http://www.frameweb.org/CommunityBrowser.aspx?id=7050&lang=en-US

The Stocktaking approach is one way the USAID Forward principles of evidence-based decision making and local stakeholder participation are supporting improved development outcomes in the Malawi and beyond.

FrontLines: Depleting Resources

FrontLines November-December 2013: Depleting Resources

Read the latest edition of USAID’s FrontLines to learn more about the Agency’s long-standing investments in biodiversity conservation and natural resources management. Some highlights:

  • A new generation of Cambodians is now living on forest land that has been officially recognized and titled to them. More confident in their present, they are working now to prevent deforestation and conserve the land for future generations.
  • Community-based conservation is making life better for people in western Tanzania who rely on the Miombo forests as workplace, fuel station, medicine cabinet and, most importantly, home.
  • The end of a typical day at the office for the Palawan NGO Network in the Philippines finds a desk of oily chainsaws piled to the ceiling. Find out more from USAID’s Scott Lampman about what it takes to curb illegal logging in this country’s vital forests.
  • Preserving natural resources is good for people, animals, plants and, sometimes, the bottom line. Ecotourism establishments in Jordan are helping their nearby communities prosper and allowing tourists a chance to see endangered creatures like the Arabian oryx, the Houbara Bustard and the Saker falcon.
  • Click on FrontLines‘ new podcast, which takes listeners on an adventure high above the treetops of a part of Ghana that is one of the world’s 22 critical biodiversity hot spots.

If you want an e-mail reminder in your inbox when the latest issue of FrontLines has been posted online, subscribe here.

Taking Action to Combat Climate Change

This week, delegates from countries around the world continue to work at the UN’s climate change negotiations in Warsaw on a global agreement to take meaningful action on climate change. In the midst of the negotiations, I was pleased to represent USAID at a side event with other Obama Administration officials to describe how the United States is already taking action to combat climate change – through the steps outlined in President Obama’s Climate Action Plan.

The President’s Climate Action Plan (PDF) has three main pillars: to cut carbon pollution in the United States, to prepare the United States for impacts of climate change, and to lead international efforts to address global climate change.  As part of this government-wide effort, USAID provides support to over 50 developing countries for climate change, working with them on tools and strategies that build resilience, as well as working with them to pursue sustainable economic growth, spur investment in clean energy, and reduce emissions from deforestation.

Panelists at UN’s climate change negotiations in Warsaw. From left to right: Andrew Steer, WRI, Kit Batten, Nancy Sutley, CEQ and Jonathan Pershing from DOE. Photo credit: Andrea Welsh, USAID

Panelists at UN’s climate change negotiations in Warsaw. From left to right: Andrew Steer, WRI; Kit Batten, USAID; Nancy Sutley, CEQ and Jonathan Pershing from DOE. Photo credit: Andrea Welsh, USAID

To maximize our impact, USAID is pursuing innovative financing strategies, partnering with the private sector, and utilizing science and technology. Earlier this year, Secretary Kerry announced that USAID will be able to leverage up to $100 million dollars worth of private sector investment in wind power, solar power, hydropower, and energy efficiency projects in India through USAID’s Development Credit Authority (DCA). The U.S. Government is also a founding partner of the Tropical Forest Alliance 2020, which is a public private partnership with the goal of reducing tropical deforestation associated with global commodities like palm oil, paper and pulp, soy, and beef. We’re also working with NASA to provide satellite imagery and accessible weather and climate data to local officials in East Africa, Central America and the Hindu Kush/Himalaya region so communities can make more informed decisions.

We’re already seeing and measuring the impact of our efforts.  In 2012 alone, USAID’s work in the forestry sector contributed to reducing more than 140 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions.  That’s equal to the carbon pollution generated by 39 coal-fired power plants, or the carbon pollution released by the consumption of over 15 billion gallons of gasoline.  That’s billion with a ‘b.’

Under President Obama’s leadership, the United States is making meaningful and measurable progress on climate change. USAID is proud to have a substantial role in this effort and is proud to represent the United States here with many of our country partners in Warsaw. We recognize that building resilience to climate change and pursuing sustainable low-emissions growth are essential parts of our development mission.

Empowering Women to Address Climate Change

Today marks the second annual Gender Day at the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) Conference, which opened (PDF) last week in Warsaw, Poland. Leaders from around the world are focusing on how to achieve their commitments to promote gender balance and improve women’s participation in international and local level decision-making related to climate change.

This year, USAID is proud to announce that we are initiating a new partnership with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to work together to expand and enhance USAID’s efforts to address gender issues through programming and support to our partner governments.

Members of the Huruma Women’s Group in Kenya. Photo credit: Photo Credit: Fintrac Inc.

A group of women in Kenya who supply maize for sale in local markets. Photo credit: Photo Credit: Fintrac Inc.

This support is critical as climate change will have a serious impact on the livelihoods of poor women in developing countries; the increasing frequency of droughts and stronger storms will affect agriculture and water resources, sectors in which women have an essential management role.

Speaking on a panel this morning, Nancy Sutley, Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality emphasized that “globally, women are central to unlocking solutions to the climate change challenges we face.”

IUCN has found that women often lead the way in adapting to climate change impacts, and play a key role in mitigating climate change by optimizing energy efficiency, using low-footprint energy sources and techniques, and influencing a household’s and community’s consumption patterns. Women’s participation in decision making at higher levels has specifically benefited environmental policy, such that countries with a higher number of women in their parliaments are more likely to set aside protected land areas and ratify international environmental treaties. In fact, recent data (PDF) reveals that there is a causal relationship between environment and gender; when gender inequality is high, forest depletion, air pollution and other measures of environmental degradation are also high.

While women can be agents of change, their contributions are seldom fully harnessed. The result is a lost opportunity. This new partnership will be aimed at advancing women’s empowerment and gender quality to achieve greater strides in reducing emissions to mitigate climate change, building resilience to climate change impacts, and promoting better development in general.

While plans are necessary to illuminate the pathway to a goal, they are not sufficient for attaining those goals.  This new agreement with IUCN to implement the Gender Equality for Climate Change Opportunities (GECCO) project will provide USAID and our partner governments with support for our mutual goal of advancing women’s empowerment and gender equality through and for the benefit of climate change and development programs.

We have seen great progress in recent years, with growing attention to gender issues within the UNFCCC and within projects addressing these issues at the country level.  However, there is much work still to be done, so we are excited about the opportunities this new partnership with IUCN brings.

 

Forest Success Stories Draw Crowd at U.N. Climate Talks in Warsaw

More than 100 people packed into the U.S. Center at U.N. climate talks in Warsaw this week to hear experts from four continents describe their successes and challenges in advancing forest conservation under emerging global policy rules to curb climate change.

Forestry and development experts from the Philippines, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Colombia and Germany talked about their progress Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+), in their own countries and in other forest nations, such as Brazil.  USAID Assistant Administrator for Economic Growth, Education and Environment Eric Postel led the panel, and Trigg Talley, the Department of State’s lead U.S. negotiator at U.N. climate talks, kicked things off with some words about REDD+’s role in climate negotiations.

Victor Kabengele Wa Kadulu, National REDD+ Coordinator for the DRC answers audience questions at U.S. Center. Germany’s Christiane Ehringhaus looks on. Photo credit: USAID

Victor Kabengele Wa Kadulu, National REDD+ Coordinator for the DRC answers audience questions at U.S. Center. Germany’s Christiane Ehringhaus looks on. Photo credit: USAID

REDD+ is a policy approach that emerged from U.N. climate talks. It would provide incentives for countries and communities who reduce deforestation and related carbon emissions.

Forests are natural storehouses for carbon, and their destruction contributes as much as a sixth of the emissions causing climate change. This means forest conservation protects the global climate – in addition to watersheds, biodiversity, and livelihoods for the more than 1 billion people who depend on forests.

In Warsaw, REDD+ experts described the successes and challenges they have faced protecting forests. Victor Kabengele Wa Kadulu, National REDD+ Coordinator for the DRC, talked about deforestation pressures that cross national borders. Ivan Dario Valencia Rodriguez, from Colombia’s Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development, talked about protecting remote areas sparsely populated by indigenous peoples.

Alejandrino Sibucao, from Philippines’ Department of Environment, discussed advances in mapping national forests and deforestation rates. And Christiane Ehringhaus, from Germany’s KfW Development Bank, described her work with state-level efforts to curb deforestation in Brazil.

The United States has participated in climate talks since the early 1990s. Today, 195 nations participate, and – not surprisingly – sometimes progress toward a global treaty seems slow.  But success stories coming from REDD+ can demonstrate just how much progress is happening on the ground.

Forest protection provides many benefits in addition to protecting the earth’s climate.  Gathering evidence of successful approaches for mitigating climate change has increased interest in natural carbon storehouses like forests – and in the idea of providing incentives so that people will safeguard them. This has opened up new avenues of exploration and action for forest protection – and for sharing the benefits with communities who protect them.

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