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Pressures on the Plundered Planet

Director, Centre for the Study of African Economies, Oxford University

Director, Centre for the Study of African Economies, Oxford University

Paul Collier, Professor of Economics at Oxford University, spoke earlier today at USAID’s Frontiers in Development Forum, and will speak again tomorrow morning. Below is an excerpt from his contribution to the Frontiers in Development essays.

As the world economy grows, it increasingly faces natural constraints. These provide both new opportunities and new risks for the poorest countries; managing them well will be central to their exit from poverty. These were the themes of The Plundered Planet. Here I bring out some of the key current issues. Industry needs natural resources, for energy and material inputs, but many of the natural resources we use for these purposes have a fixed endowment, which we are depleting. A growing global population needs food, and food needs land, but land suitable for agriculture is finite.

Both industry and agriculture emit carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, but the stock that can be safely absorbed by the atmosphere is finite, and as it builds up it gradually changes the climate. How concerned should we be about these constraints, and what do they imply for development?

I think that the concerns about industrialization grinding to a halt because of shortages of vital natural-resource inputs are misplaced. As any particular resource becomes depleted, its price rises. In turn, this induces fresh investment in prospecting and so furthers discoveries, and ultimately research into innovation. This has happened so many times across such a wide range of activities that we can be fully confident of it. The past decade of rising prices for natural resources has already triggered these waves of investment. Currently, by far the highest-valued natural resource is carbon-based energy, from oil, coal, and gas. The high prices of the past decade have triggered an astonishing wave of new technologies that enable us to tap into endowments that were previously inaccessible: The United States has already discovered enough additional resources through these new technologies to be self-sufficient for several decades. Beyond technology-based discoveries are technology-based
substitutes: For example, in the 19th century, nitrates were considered vital and finite; then we discovered modern fertilizers.

Similarly, the global population will not face hunger because of land shortages. There are still huge areas of grossly underutilized fertile land; beyond that are drip-feed and greenhouse technologies that open up lands that are currently too dry or cold. Nor will we face a stark choice between energy shortage and overheating. Although global supplies of carbon-based energy are finite, there are many non-carbon sources of energy waiting to be developed. Indeed, modern physics tells us that the endowment of other forms of energy is infinite: The challenge of permanently sustained energy supply is entirely technological, and we can be confident that innovations will be forthcoming. But although we are not facing a natureimposed Armageddon, natural resources, climate, and food are interconnected in ways that pose new opportunities and new risks for the poorest developing countries.

Read the full article in USAID’s Frontiers in Development publication.

Ask the Expert: Eric Postel, on Economic Growth, Education, and Environment

For Earth Day, the Impact Blog interviewed Eric Postel, Assistant Administrator of the Bureau for Economic Growth, Education, and Environment (E3).

You are head of the E3 bureau, which works in the environment, energy, water and climate change sectors, among others.  In the context of Earth Day, why is this work so important?

When I was a freshman in High School, I was one of the organizers of the first Earth Day.  I’ve been committed to environmental issues ever since.

These issues – such as forests, water, and climate change – touch upon all areas of sustainable development, including agricultural productivity, economic growth, gender issues, and health. The economies of many developing countries are heavily dependent on industries that could be severely impacted by climate change such as agriculture, fisheries, forestry, and tourism.  Poor communities are more limited in their ability to adapt to climate change.  As a result, climate change can compound pre-existing social stresses including poverty, hunger, conflict, migration, and the spread of disease.

Eric Postel, Assistant Administrator of the Bureau for Economic Growth, Education, and Environment (E3) Photo Credit: USAID

2012 is the U.N. Year of Sustainable Energy for All. What is USAID doing to promote clean energy?

Globally, 1.6 billion people lack access to modern energy services, such as electricity, and more than two  billion rely on traditional fuels, such as wood and dung, for cooking, often paying significant portions of their income for low quality fuels. USAID is working around the world to address energy poverty by helping to provide clean, renewable energy for their citizens to power their homes, schools, health clinics, and businesses.  This work literally helps power development across all sectors.  It is also a critical component of dealing with the world’s expanding population and the pressures that this growth will place on the environment. Over the next 20 years, worldwide energy demand is projected to increase by 40 percent. Continued dependence on fossil fuels to meet this increasing demand contributes to increasing greenhouse gas emissions and economic disruption from increasing world competition for fossil fuels. Emissions of carbon dioxide, the most significant greenhouse gas, are projected to grow by approximately 40 percent between 2007 and 2030, exacerbating global climate change. This challenge cannot be ignored.

Tell us about USAID’s Climate Change and Development Strategy.

USAID’s Climate Change and Development Strategy, which we released this January, describes our Agency’s vision and strategy to address the challenges that climate change poses to development and livelihoods around the world.  It outlines the Agency’s goals, strategic objectives, and guiding principles for climate change programming, and lays out a roadmap for implementation.

This strategy specifies three strategic objectives that will guide our future work. USAID will: 1. accelerate the transition to low emission development through investments in clean energy and sustainable landscapes for climate change mitigation; 2. increase the resilience of people, places, and livelihoods through investments in climate change adaptation; and 3. strengthen development outcomes by integrating climate change in USAID programming, learning, policy dialogues, and operations.

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Tell USAID’s Story with Photos – Last Call

To celebrate Earth Day this year, USAID is hosting a photo contest to showcase the ways we are working to conserve the environment and mitigate climate change.

The contest is open to all, including USAID employees and interns; employees of NGOs and contractors; and representatives from universities, foundations and other organizations that partner with the Agency.

The deadline for photos is midnight, April 16, 2012.

Winning photos must:

  • Illustrate why and how USAID is engaged in the specific environmental project. Photos of people, animals, plants and landscapes that are relevant to programs are all eligible.
  • Include the date and location for the photograph as well as a brief description of what is happening in the image.
  • Be at least 300 dpi or larger (low resolution photos will not be considered).
  • Be in color (black and white photos will not be considered).
  • Submitted digitally, with jpg files preferred.

Each photographer can submit up to five images. Contest photos should not have been previously submitted to USAID for another purpose. Also, note that submitting a photo through this contest grants USAID full reproduction rights to the images, including use in official USAID print and online publications and inclusion in the USAID photo gallery.

Photos will be selected and announced in time for Earth Day.  See last year’s winning photos here.


Pounds of Prevention: Focus on Locusts

Locusts like the ones pictured above can destroy crops and pasture land once they form a swarm. Photo Credit: Sonya Green/ USAID.

Imagine discovering that within a few hours your entire crop for the season had been consumed by unwelcome visitors. In this edition of “Pounds of Prevention,” USAID examines the desert locust, a pest that affects the lives of millions of people in more than 65 countries throughout Africa, the Middle East, and Southwest Asia, an area that represents about 20 percent of the earth’s surface. The idea for this post came from CNN’s recent coverage of the Desert Locust Control Center in Mauritania that USAID supports through its agreement with the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Mauritania is just one of several countries in West Africa, the Horn of Africa, and the Middle East to benefit from the FAO’s locust prevention system known as the EMPRES Program, to which USAID and other donors contribute.

 

Women Combating Climate Change

Last week I was in Durban, South Africa where I attended the Seventeenth Session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP-17). Climate-resilient, low carbon development is sustainable development, so it’s no surprise that many of the issues addressed at COP-17 are crucially important to USAID’s development efforts and to our developing country partners such as adaptation, clean energy technologies, and REDD+ (Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation).  USAID is emerging as a leader in gender and REDD+ and recently released a report which analyzes the barriers and opportunities for women’s participation in the REDD+ sector in Asia.

One of the issues I came to Durban to discuss is a key topic throughout climate change-related work – the critical role women play in combating climate change and the need to support gender equality across climate issues.

Last Monday, I hosted an event that covered the efforts of USAID’s Central African Regional Program for the Environment to engage civil society in forest conservation and REDD+ programs in the Congo River Basin.  USAID forestry specialists, partners, and local experts described how technology and community-based work are keys to sustainably conserving the second largest tropical rain forest in the world, and a significant carbon sink.  As efforts like Wangari Mathaai’s Greenbelt movement have demonstrated, women play a critical role in forest conservation and reforestation.  Involving local communities in the conservation efforts of course includes incorporating women into all aspects of the program – from design to implementation.

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Remembering A Green Revolutionary: Wangari Maathai

KENYA, Nairobi : Then-Senator Barack Obama plants a tree with Wangari Maathai during a ceremony in Nairobi, Kenya, on August 28, 2006. AFP Photo: Simon Maina

Wangari Maathai was a pioneer. The first female African to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, her Green Belt Movement, launched in 1977, was ahead of its time in integrating sustainable development with women’s rights. The organization now has branches in 30 countries, promoting action on climate change, community regeneration, and equal opportunity. To date, the Green Belt Movement has planted over 45 million trees across Kenya to combat deforestation, stop soil erosion, and generate income for women and their families.

Wangari Maathai was a humanitarian. She fought the vicious cycle of environmental degradation and poverty. Poor families struggling to meet their own needs often have to strip their own environment for resources, but when those resources disappear, families have an even harder time making a living—and even fewer chances to create a better future. Maathai understood this and worked to ensure that her efforts to conserve the land also led to employment and empowerment among the most vulnerable people.

Wangari Maathai was a peacemaker. The Nobel Committee awarded her its 2004 Peace Prize in recognition of the fact that proper management of natural resources reduces conflict and is critical to peace and stability. Her Nobel citation does not even mention the word “environment,” instead crediting “her contribution to sustainable development, democracy, and peace.”

While today we mourn Wangari Maathai’s passing, we also celebrate her life and her indelible impact on the world. We too can make a difference if we follow in her footsteps to never give up on protecting our future.

USAID’s Frontlines – June/July 2011

Read the latest edition of USAID’s premier publication, FrontLines for these stories focusing on the Agency’s work in Science and Technology and Climate Change:

  • The United States is helping developing countries reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve their resilience to the effects of climate change
  • Warns Vermont’s Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy: “We are facing a global environmental crisis that may be catastrophic for future generations …”
  • With Peru’s tropical glaciers melting fast due to rising greenhouse gas emissions, soaring temperatures and erratic rainfall, USAID and its partners are working quickly to mitigate the damage and help Peruvians adapt
  • John P. Holdren, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, says there are both great challenges and great opportunities today to use science, technology and innovation to introduce improvements to the developing world
  • In trying to predict future trends – foresight research is the technical term – USAID experts look closely at several factors to improve the odds that Agency programs will have the desired impacts now and withstand the tests of time

Read these stories and much more in the new issue of FrontLines. If you want to receive an e-mail reminder when the latest issue has been posted online, subscribe here.

New Invasive Species Database: Supports Food Security and Public Health

By James Hester, Director of USAID’s Office of Natural Resources Management

African farmers lose more than $7 billion in maize crops from the invasive witchweed, according to estimates by the United Nations. Overall, agricultural losses to invasive species may amount to more than $12 billion for Africa’s eight principal crops. African farmers are not alone in this challenge – worldwide, invasive species are among the larger causes of reduced food production and post-harvest losses.

In addition, invasive species can be major vectors for human and animal diseases that were previously not found in a region.  Malaria, West Nile virus, Rift Valley fever, and Lyme disease are just a few of the many diseases that are spreading as the insects that carry them find their way into new regions and countries.

Africanized bees, fire ants, snakehead fish, kudzu, carp, water hyacinth, and thousands of other species are spreading to countries where they are not native, and in which few or no natural predators exist – creating serious economic and social issues.

To get a handle on this problem, USAID, along with a large group of partners, have collaborated to develop an innovative, international invasive species compendium – a scientific database of invasive species, animal diseases, and affected areas around the world.  This new internet-based system is available for public use at no cost.  It presently contains a bibliographic database of about 1,500 invasive species, along with more than 65,000 records and full text documents, both of which are updated weekly.

This is a living compendium, and it will continue to grow over time. It is structured to help scientists with expertise in invasive species communicate with each other, and to support each other – from across the globe if necessary – as they work to address the problems created by invasive species.  It also includes common names in addition to the Latin taxonomic names, as well as other non-technical materials so the general public can take advantage of the depth of knowledge this new website offers.

The website features a library with sections on the characteristics of invasive species, the way they are dispersed, and the impacts they have on economies, habitats, and societies. It also addresses how to detect, manage, and control invasive species. This video introduces the database and explains how to use it.

USAID, along with USDA and other international donors including the U.K. Department for International Development, the Canadian International Development Agency, and Australian Aid, among others, all helped fund this project. USAID’s partner in developing the technical database was CABI – a private, international organization with 46 member countries dedicated to the generation, accessibility, and use of knowledge for sustainable agriculture, environmental management, and human development.

Worth a Thousand Words: Photo Contest Captures USAID Environment Projects

Never heard of a dugong? This photo took top-10 honors in the most recent FrontLines photo contest. Dugongs, a type of large marine mammal caught by the residents of Maliangin, Malaysia, are now released within the Maliangin marine sanctuary as a result of the USAID and World Wildlife Fund Coral Triangle Support Partnership. The collaboration helped support community education and awareness. Members of this community now understand the importance of protecting endangered species and the benefits of marine sanctuaries, and their efforts will help increase biodiversity and conserve the marine environment.

Dugong being released into the Maliangin marine sanctuary.  Photo credit: Robecca Jumin/ WWF-Malaysia

Check out winners from the FrontLines environment photo contest to find out ways USAID, its partners and local communities are working to conserve the environment and mitigate climate change – including helping protecting the habitat of dugongs. This year, to celebrate Earth Day on April 22 and World Environment Day on June 5, FrontLines and USAID’s Bureau for Economic Growth, Agriculture and Trade teamed up for a photo contest focused on the environment. The winning images depict wildlife and their habitats, conservation efforts and activities that aim to address climate change. The contest attracted nearly 150 photos from all areas of the globe and from a wide range of USAID projects.

See the winning photos.

Green Hiker-Green Planet Campaign Ignites Broad Partnership and Inspires Action on Climate Change

 

USAID 50th anniversary banner

Last Tuesday, at almost 3500m above sea level; cold, wet and muddy from a light snow storm that had been a steady drizzle a half-hour earlier, and out of breath from walking uphill for three hours straight, I considered myself fortunate. I was trekking through one of the most beautiful alpine regions in the world, Nepal’s Langtang region, together with 19 other fellow men and women, all prominent personalities from disparate sectors of the Nepali society. Our team was on a four-day mission to observe the impact of climate change on the Himalayan Mountain range and to learn about the ongoing climate change adaptation initiatives supported by USAID and the World Wildlife Federation (WWF) and led by local communities.  The trek, called the Green Hiker-Green Planet campaign, was organized by USAID in partnership with WWF to raise the awareness of global climate change among non-development or academic professionals—particularly the media and members of Nepali parliament and the private sector—and to encourage collaboration among these diverse groups.

Along the trek route, we passed through several areas affected by landslides and forest fires that had completely destroyed villages and ruined water sources for thousands of people.  The landslides and fires are direct causes of changing weather patterns and deforestation in the Himalayas.  Many of the people who lived in the region that we spoke to were gravely aware of the gradual, yet steady, change in the previously predictable climate of the region.  The changes had been particularly drastic over the last ten years they said, from changing rainfall patterns to extended dry seasons, hitting their crops—and thus, their livelihoods, the hardest.

Those that took part in the Green Hiker-Green Planet campaign, was organized by USAID in partnership with WWF to raise the awareness of global climate change among non-development or academic professionals—particularly the media and members of Nepali parliament and the private sector—and to encourage collaboration among these diverse groups. Photo Credit: USAID/Nepal

Along the trail, a farmer we met at Jibjibe village recited a poem on climate change for us. Remarkably, her poetry was not about the sublime and dramatic snowcapped and jagged Himalayan peaks but about carbon credits, changing weather patterns, depleted water sources and the need for heightened attention and action on climate change. We were left in awe, somewhat shocked and surprised that a farmer in such a remote village of the Langtang region could so articulately talk about climate change and its impact. He summarized the purpose of our trek in plain, simple language – an often difficult feat for many of us, including those in the development profession.

The diversity of the group added greatly to the discussions during the trek allowing for different perspectives and exchange of ideas. We were not only learning from our interactions with the communities and from our site visits, but also from each other. Mr. Anil Chitrakar, a leading energy and environment activist in Nepal and chairperson of the Himalayan Climate Initiative, shared “climate change is so big and beyond us that it requires urgent action on the part of all. This trek brought together such a diverse group of passionate Nepalis committed to advancing the many social, development, and political issues of the country, stimulated excellent ideas, and helped create a strong partnership network. If we stay committed, this network can grow from 20 of us to thousands and spur stronger joint action on climate change and environment conservation. That’s our goal, and I know this team, together, can make that happen.”

The trek closed back in Kathmandu with an Earth Day press conference on April 22during which trek highlights and remarks by key experts on climate change were the major theme. Speaking at the press conference, Dr. Kevin A. Rushing, Mission Director of USAID/Nepal, remarked “it is especially imperative to address climate change in Nepal because of its largest glacier concentration outside the polar region.  Nepal hosts eight of the world’s tallest peaks and around 3,200 glaciers and 1,466 glacial lakes—with approximately 1.3 billion people dependent on the water that comes out of the mountains’ many rivers. ”

The Green Hiker-Green Planet Campaign also served as a sounding board and an informal inauguration of USAID’s new environment program in Nepal called Hariyo Ban Nepal ko Dhan (or Green Forests in English) which will contribute to the reduction of threats to biodiversity and vulnerabilities of global climate change in Nepal through interventions in two priority bio-diverse landscapes: the Gandaki River Basin and the Terai Arc-Landscape. The many ideas from the trek will feed into the program once it is rolled out in a couple of months’ time.

The trek was also held to commemorate USAID/Nepal’s 60th Anniversary and WWF’s 50th Anniversary. With 60 years of development efforts in Nepal, USAID has a long history of successful and cutting-edge environmental programs in the country, including its work with community forest user groups to support environmental governance, conserve biodiversity, and promote sustainable livelihoods.

On that Tuesday at 3500m in a snow storm, we stopped for lunch and shelter in a tea house in Singompa, a picturesque village in a beautiful pine forest with a breathtaking view of the Langtang range.  Huddled together sipping hot soup, the trekking team had one of its most stimulating discussions at the tea house. Sunil B. Pant, one of the three parliamentarians on the trek and an upcoming political leader, commented, “The next major conflict in Nepal and elsewhere will be caused by climate change if we don’t act now to mitigate the threats it poses. The Green Hiker-Green Planet campaign is a great opportunity to discuss how we can all work together as partners to address climate change and its effects. The momentum we gain during this trek needs to continue.” The fog rolled up the mountainside bringing more rain turned into snow changing with it the mood of the trekkers inside.

We felt euphoria first, because for most of us living in Kathmandu, the snowfall experience is limited to the movies and TV we watch. But the euphoria soon turned into reflective discussions because of the unusual April snowstorm; snowfall season even in these mountains should have ended by March. For any and all of the skeptics in us, there wasn’t a bigger moment of truth than this – climate change was happening and is inevitable. “What were we going to do to prevent and mitigate its negative impact?”

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