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Bookmark and ShareProfessor Wangari Maathai is a Nobel Peace Prize winner, founder of the Green Belt Movement and author of The Challenge for Africa.

Members of the Green Belt Movement plant trees on an eroding hillside in Kenya.

In Other Worlds are Possible, the latest report from the Working Group on Climate Change and Development, the the coalition asks how the global economy should be reshaped to enable human development in a carbon constrained future. A post-carbon society and addressing climate change mean much more than constraining carbon usage. While Africa is rich in resources, her people are poor; to counter this poverty, Africa needs to develop. For development in Africa to be successful, we need to ensure the right conditions in society that facilitate respect, equity and sustainability.

Current economic models create wealth at the expense of the environment and so we need to rethink how we develop. The current model from the industrialised countries which develops through the use of fossil fuels as the driving source of energy cannot be sustained. We must find a balance to improving our quality of life while not undermining the environment, and therefore the capacity of our species and other forms of life to continue. This can be controlled by investing in renewable sources of energy low in carbon – solar, wind, hydropower; sources of energy that will help us to develop without sacrificing the environment.

I wrote The Challenge for Africa to encourage Africans and others to think beyond the current economic model which is dependent on resources from the rest of the planet. The fact that humanity’s current use of resources is outstripping the planet’s ecological capacity should give all of us a reason to pause. It is simply not sustainable for the rest of the world to mine, log, drill, build, dam, drain and pave in a rush to achieve the standards of living of the industrialised countries, which themselves depend on massive resource extraction in the global South. In so doing, they could encourage the growth of sustainable industries that provide good employment in well-managed cities and towns – not crowded filthy slums with virtually no infrastructure that blot too many African cities and too many African lives. Africans, like citizens in other regions of the world, can also work to reduce their dependence on fossil fuels and to harness renewable energy sources to industrialise in a way that provides work for the millions of Africans migrating to cities, and allows some of those currently practising subsistence agriculture to move off the land.

The challenges facing agricultural communities throughout Kenya are mirrored throughout Africa and many of the poor countries in the global South. In these regions, concern for environmental issues is treated as a luxury. But it is not: protecting and restoring ecosystems and slowing or reversing climate change are matters of life and death. The equation is simple: whatever we do, we have an impact on the environment; if we destroy it, we will undermine our own ways of life and ultimately destroy ourselves. This is why the environment needs to be at the centre of domestic and international policy and practice. If it is not, we don’t stand a chance of alleviating poverty in any significant way. Nor will we create for the African people a continent where security and progress can be realised.
For the many reasons that have been articulated, there is a real need to develop a funding mechanism that will not only help industrialised and developed countries to address climate change, but also developing ones.

As major polluters, the industrialised countries have a responsibility to deal with climate change at home, but also to assist Africa and the rest of the developing world to address climate change. They are in a position to share their technical know-how to reduce vulnerability and address adaptive capacities. Mechanisms ought to be established – quickly – to raise steady and reliable funds for the prime victims of the climate crisis, who will be poor and rural, very young, and, more often than not, female. And many of them will be African.

One way to ensure that African countries are more self-reliant and competitive is for industrialised nations to transfer technology – with a priority on green technologies – to those nations that are technologically less advanced. Industrialised countries should accept the moral duty to assist Africa and other poor regions to find alternative and renewable sources of energy – such as biomass, wind, hydropower, and solar – and enable the global south to participate in the carbon market so Africa can develop industries based on renewable energy sources. But African countries themselves should also invest in science and technology. Global investors have ploughed billions into new wind, solar, and other alternative energy initiatives. But those funds were almost wholly concentrated in the industrialised countries, along with some in China, India, and Brazil. Almost none of this investment is coming to Africa, despite the continent’s vast energy poverty and abundant sun and wind. Africa’s challenge lies in making herself a relevant beneficiary of these resources.

This is an edited extract from Wangari Maathai’s essay in Other Worlds are Possible, the sixth report from the Working Group on Climate Change and Development.


Bookmark and ShareProfessor Herman E. Daly is Ecological Economist at the School of Public Policy, University of Maryland and Author of Steady-State Economics

Climate change, important as it is, is nevertheless a symptom of a deeper malady, namely our fixation on unlimited growth of the economy as the solution to nearly all problems. Apply an anodyne to climate and, if growth continues, something else will soon burst through limits of past adaptation and finitude, thereby becoming the new crisis on which to focus our worries.

The fact that the contributors to Other Worlds are Possible realise this makes this report a serious study. The fact that they seek qualitative development that is not dependent on quantitative growth makes it a hopeful study. It is a valuable collection of the specific and the general, of the grass roots details and the macroeconomic big picture regarding climate change and economic development.

The reader is told up front that, ‘This report represents the work and views of a range of individuals and civil society groups. It is a contribution to debate on what other worlds are possible. Not all the views and policies discussed are necessarily held by all the groups and individuals’. Although I did not find any contradictions among the various contributions, they differ greatly in approach and perspective—mainly between top-down and bottom-up modes of thought. Some people like to start with a big picture. They are impatient with concrete details until they can fit them into or deduce them from a framework of meaning consistent with first principles. Others are impatient with a big picture unless they first have a lot of concrete details and examples that inductively suggest a larger pattern. I confess that I belong to the first type, but that is more of a bias than a virtue. Both approaches are necessary, and are present in this collection, but the bottom-up predominates, at least in number of pages.

My advice to the top-down types is to first read Manfred Max-Neef’s fine big-picture essay. Then fit in the inspiring examples of Kenya’s Green Belt Movement, Thailand’s self sufficiency, Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness, the Happy Earthworm Project, the Happy Planet Index, etc. More inductive types should save Max-Neef for last. I do not mean to characterize Max-Neef as a top-down thinker since he has spent much of his life doing grass roots, ‘barefoot’ economics. But in this volume’s division of labour his is the big-picture essay.

To have packed so much information, inspiration, and analysis into less than 100 pages of clear prose leaves the reader grateful to the authors, the Working Group on Climate Change and Development, and nef.

This is the foreward to Other Worlds are Possible, a new report on climate change and development published today, which features contributions from a range of developing world economists and activists, including R.K. Pachauri, Wangari Maathai and Manfred Max-Neef.

Bookmark and ShareAndy Wimbush is nef‘s Communications Assistant and blogmaster.

Who really picks up the bill for climate change? (Hat-tip to Climate Safety)

It’s always the poorest who end up paying, even though they’ve enjoyed very few of the things which have contributed towards our burgeoning ecological debt.

Debates about population growth and climate change continue to make headlines, despite all the evidence which puts the blame squarely on rich world consumption levels, rather than fertility rates in the developing world. nef recently published The Consumption Explosion, a report which seeks to ‘defuse’ theories about population explosion by showing the ecological costs of trade and consumption in the rich world.

As the film makes clear, the carbon footprints of people in rich, industrialised nations – such as Germany, the UK or the US – dwarf those of developing nations. A man or woman living in the United States will, by 4am in the morning of 2 January, already have been responsible for carbon emissions equivalent to what someone in living in Tanzania would generate in an entire year. A UK citizen would reach the same point by 7pm on 4 January.

New Scientist‘s Fred Pearce, who contributed to The Consumption Explosion, writes:

the world’s richest half billion people – that’s about 7 per cent of the global population – are responsible for 50 per cent of the world’s emissions. Meanwhile, the poorest 50 per cent are responsible for just 7 per cent of emissions. One American or European is more often than not responsible for more emissions than an entire village of Africans.

Every time those of us in the rich world talk about too many babies in Africa or India, we are denying our own culpability. It is the world’s consumption patterns we need to fix, not its reproductive habits.

And if you think you don’t fall into the richest 7% of the world, it’s always worth checking.

Bookmark and ShareDr Victoria Johnson is a researcher on the climate and energy team at nef.

Today, the newly formed Department of Enertgy and Climate Change published final greenhouse gas emission figures for 2007. According to DECC, emissions had fallen by 1.7 per cent below 2006 figures. Great. Right?

Well it would be if the very foundations of our emissions monitoring weren’t based on voodoo accounting that ‘carbon launder’ the emissions from economies like the UK and the USA.

Under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) emissions monitoring guidelines, wealthier nations systematically underestimate their carbon emissions, while poorer countries systematically overestimate their emissions. This is because the UNFCCC requires emissions to be reported from a production-based perspective. In other words, only emissions associated with domestic emissions and exports are counted, while those associated with imports are washed from the national accounts. Because this method does not take into account ’embodied carbon’ of imports; the consumer of the product takes no responsibility for the greenhouse gas emissions associated with its production.

The UK’s consumption levels have risen steadily. And, as our major retailers scour the world for the cheapest production costs, the emissions that we are actually responsible for, have not only risen in line with our additional consumption – our consumption is proportionally more carbon intensive. This is because how much carbon that is in the energy mix (carbon intensity of energy) tends to be lower in developed nations and higher in developing nations. For example, the carbon intensity of energy in India is 20 per cent higher than the UK. This means a policy decision to monitor emissions based on production is more likely to result in an increase in emissions rather than a decrease – as production is driven up in nations with an energy mix that is more dependent on fossil fuels.

Today, if everyone consumed as much as the average UK citizen, we would need more than three planets like Earth to support us. In order to live within our overall environmental means, and to enable all of the world’s population to meet their basic needs, the UK will have to dramatically reduce the burden our high-consuming lifestyles place on the ecosystem. In effect – we have to take steps to reduce our ‘ecological debt’ – the burden our high-consuming lifestyles have placed, and continue to place on the rest of the planet.

Read the rest of this entry »

Bookmark and ShareAniol Esteban is head of the Environment Programme at at nef’s centre for Global Interdependence.

madagascarDaewoo Logistics has just acquired 1.3 million hectares of arable land in Madagascar on a 99-year lease to grow maize and palm oil for South Korea. 1.3 million hectares, by the way, is about half the size of Belgium – and about 50 per cent of Madagascar’s farmland.

The world is still reeling from dramatic increases in the price of wheat, rice and other grains and Daewoo’s acquisition will only make matters worse for Madagascans. Where will they get their food from now? As other countries become increasingly worried about food security, this kind of land-grabbing will only become more common. It’s the latest step in the long march of colonialism.

Take the sea for example – for decades the EU has taken control over the fishing resources of many developing countries through various trade agreements which undervalue the resources themselves while overlooking the social and environmental costs felt by the countries. Over-fishing has badly affected the livelihoods of coastal communities, depriving them from an important source of protein and development opportunities. There is every reason to believe that this exploitation will intensify under new EU trade rules.

We cannot buy our way out of climate, food and natural resources crises. We have to work to restore the ecosystems which support human life on this planet. A recent report estimates the benefits of fishing at sustainable levels at $50 billion a year, and this doesn’t include social benefits. Funding the transition towards healthy ecosystem functioning might look costly in the short-run, but certainly less than driving ecosystems to the point of collapse.


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nef employees blog in their personal capacity. The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the new economics foundation.