Sustainable Development Update|
Issue 6, Volume 7, 2007
The Sustainable Development Update (SDU) focuses on the links between ecology, society and the economy. It is produced by Albaeco, an independent non-profit organisation. SDU is produced with support from Sida, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, Environment Policy Division.
Dr. Fredrik Moberg, Editor
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"Nobel Prizes, climate talks and X-mas"
December this year means Christmas time, Nobel Prizes
and climate talks in Bali. But do these three things
have anything in common? No, I’m not thinking of Al
Gore’s Santa Claus-like chuckle, ho-ho-ho. It is much more
solemn than that. Two years ago the Australian Conservation
Foundation came out with a report stating the obvious, that
Christmas is damaging the environment. The report “The
Hidden Cost of Christmas”, for instance, calculated that gifts
like DVD players and coffee makers generated 780,000 tonnes
of greenhouse gas emissions, even before they were unwrapped
and used. Moreover, the report also said that during 2004 year’s
Christmas, Australians spent US$1.1 billion on clothes, which
required more than half a million hectares of land to produce.
Water corresponding to 42,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools
was used in the production of Christmas drinks, most was used
to grow barley for beer and grapes for wine. In the US someone
has calculated that 25 percent of total spending occurs during
Christmas and household garbage increases by 25 percent.
So, in essence Christmas comes with huge ecological
footprints. We are paying for our Christmas presents with
water, land, air and resources – hidden in the products we
buy. But whereas Christmas season is normally an especially
bad time of year for the environment, this year I see some
promising signs. And it has to do with the other two things
mentioned in the opening paragraph of this editorial.
In times of climate talks and Nobel Peace Prizes for climate
research and awareness-raising many NGO’s around the world
now echo the Australian Conservation Foundation and urge us
to tread more lightly on the planet this Christmas. This can be
achieved by eating, drinking and buying gifts in moderation,
and by giving gifts with a low environmental cost, such as
vouchers for services, tickets to concerts and memberships to
And if you are still into buying things there is a growing
number of eco-labelled and fair-traded products that you can
buy with better conscience. Buying these products can even
contribute to poverty alleviation by ensuring that producers in
the developing world receive a fair price for their goods as well
as support and education for sustainable farming practices.
In Sweden the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise has
recently published a number of whole-page ads that say the
opposite: that we are inherently bad people if we decide
to consume less during Christmas. Not a word about the
environmental and societal drawbacks of overconsumerism.
And they published the first of these ads the same day the Nobel
Peace Prizes were handed out to highlight the connections
between global environmental changes, lifestyles and peace.
What did they think? Think again. And have yourself a
moderate-consuming, fair-traded and eco-labelled Christmas!
/Fredrik Moberg, Editor, Albaeco
| SDU - Feature|
Ecosystem services-based farming in Ethiopia increases crop yields and empowers women
The Tigray Project in northern
Ethiopia sounds too good to be
true. It is said to demonstrate how
sustainable agriculture can lead
to increased crop yields, raised
water tables, improved soil fertility,
increased incomes and empowering
of women. The government has
now adopted the project’s approach
for combating land degradation
and poverty in the whole country.
SDU went there to check out if the
project is as good as rumour has it.
Dr. Tewolde Berhan Gebre Egziabher,
"The godfather of the Tigray Project" Photo: J. Lundberg
Tigray, with the state capital Mekelle
town, is the Northernmost of Ethiopia’s
federal states. Here something unique is
said to have taken place, a project called
The Tigray Project – an experiment in
sustainable development and ecological
It all started when some people in the
region started to ask the question whether
industrial agriculture could continue
feeding the world for the coming 10,000
years and more.
This question emerged from
a growing realisation that
the green revolution might
not have been so green after all. A large
proportion of the world’s agricultural
landscapes has become steadily degraded
through the pressure of intensive,
pesticide- and chemical fertiliser based
monocultures that produce agricultural
commodities and industrial livestock for
On the other hand, the question
of whether organic agriculture can
produce as much food as industrial
agriculture is also legitimate. Visionary
environmentalist Dr. Tewolde Berhan
Gebre Egziabher, “the godfather of the
Tigray Project”, says it can:
– Organic farming, I am sure, will
feed the world. I am also sure that unless
organic farming re-expands, the human
component of the world will eventually
Interestingly, the Tigray project has
taken place in the place where a “biblical
famine” occurred only a generation ago.
This is one of the poorest regions of the
country with depressing figures for child
mortality, education, access to healthcare
and life expectancy. In the midst of all
this a group of people in 1995, lead
by Dr. Tewolde, started to design the
unique project in order to improve the
productivity of the land and rehabilitate
the environments of poor farmers in
marginal areas. For his work to promote
sustainable agriculture, Dr. Tewolde has
been awarded many prestigious prizes,
like the United Nations’ Champion of
the Earth Award and the Right Livelihood
Eight positive outcomes reported from the Tigray Project|
1. Increased yields and productivity of crops
2. Decreased vulnerability to droughts/pests
3. Decreased dependence on fossil fuel input
4. Raised water tables
5. Improved soil fertility
6. Rehabilitation of degraded land
7. Increased incomes
8. Empowerment of women
Promising for poor farmers
Today the project is run by the Institute
for Sustainable Development (ISD),
the Bureau of Agriculture and Natural
Resources (BoANR), the Mekelle University,
the local communities and the
local administration. As Tewolde himself
expresses it, the project’s intention is to
“bolster rather than shunt the natural cycles
that improve the functioning of the
ecosystem as a whole, including those
parts of it that are not cultivated”. This is because wild species in and around fields provide ecosystem services like pollination of crops, control of pests and cycling of water and nutrients.
When people ask Tewolde if this can really
be done, he simply answers: “Previous
farming communities have
been doing it for thousands
of years. With our increased
knowledge, we should do better than
they had done”.
The poor farmers in the project have
obtained very promising results by applying
a number of sustainable farming
techniques, including composting, crop
diversification and rainwater harvesting.
Among the positive outcomes are
increased yields, raised water tables and
empowerment of women (see box).
These management changes would not
have been possible without reviving the
local community organisation, says Sue
Edwards, the current Director of the ISD
in the capital city Addis Ababa:
Mama Yuannisu with her fruit garden is
one of the women who have benefited
from the Project. Photo: J. Lundberg
– Removing small-holder farmers
from the production system is not the
way to go. If you are going to go organical
small-holders are much more sophisticated
than the large-scale systems.
Sue Edwards is a taxonomic botanist,
teacher and science editor by profession,
and one of the key stewards of the
She often emphasises another key
aspect to understand the success of the
Tigray project: the role of women. The
region has an unproportionally large
number of women-headed families as a
consequence of the many years of civil
war. As women are traditionally not allowed
to plough their own fields and
have to wait for a male neighbour or
relative to handle the plough oxen they
often suffer from delayed sowing and
shorter growing periods. The project has
therefore worked to empower women
and has in particular encouraged them to
raise seedlings of long season crops (finger
millet, sorghum, maize) to be planted
out when the rains start, rather than sowing
seeds in the field that require a longer
growing season. This is also beneficial
from another perspective: to meet the
challenge of a steadily more unpredictable
rainy season due to climate change.
Use of compost key aspect
The use of compost is, however, by many
seen as the most crucial aspect behind the
success of the project. The yields from
compost have been shown to be comparable
or higher than those from chemical
fertilizers. The ISD staff have identified
a number of other positive effects of using
compost, including: increased biodiversity;
reduced weed loads; decreased
vulnerability to droughts; increased
resistance to pest and lower costs for
farmers than buying chemical fertilizers.
Altogether, the Tigray Project clearly
shows that organic farming can indeed
give better yields than chemically based
farming, even in a degraded mountainous
/Fredrik Moberg, Jakob Lundberg
| Sustainability School|
"REDD – Reducing Emissions from Deforestation in Developing Countries"
"REDD" is one of the latest contributions to the jungle
of climate change acronyms. It stands for reducing
emissions from deforestation and forest degradation
and was also one of the main issues at the UN climate
meeting in Bali.
Already two years ago, at the UN climate talks in Montreal,
Papua New Guinea and Costa Rica proposed that reduced
emissions from “avoided deforestation” should be included in
an UN compensation scheme. It was proposed that developing
countries should be provided financial incentives for reducing
emissions from deforestation as it accounts for about
20 percent of global emissions of human-induced greenhouse
Moreover, the major part of deforestation is occurring in
developing countries, but so far, international treaties have
not given any financial incentives to developing countries for
reducing deforestation and degradation.
As a response, a new multi-million dollar fund, called the
Forest Carbon Partnership Facility, was launched by the
World Bank at the recent UN climate conference in Bali. The
new fund, is intended to compensate for the value of living
forests in order to reduce emissions from deforestation and
degradation in tropical and subtropical developing countries
(see also article on page 1). The agreement coming out of
the meeting, the “Bali roadmap”, also contains text affirming
the urgent need to reduce emissions from deforestation and
adopted a work programme for further methodological work.
Forests at your service
Any REDD-initiative will, besides contributing to emission
reduction efforts, also entail many other potential benefits
through maintaining the multiple functions and services of
the forest ecosystems. Such ecosystem services are essential
for the livelihoods of many millions of people and include erosion
control, stabilization of water supply, the conservation
of biological diversity as well as many wood and non-wood
However, the REDD-idea also has its critics. Some say they
doubt that the benefits from REDD will really trickle down to
the local poor who need it most, and others fear it could entail
incentives for local elites to appropriate land in order to
benefit from REDD’s credits. Yet others argue that REDD will
simply provide another loophole for industrial countries to
avoid their responsibility and continue their climate destructive
| In Brief|
"Forests more important standing than cut"
The Forest Carbon Partnership Facility
(FCPF) was launched at The Bali Climate
Meeting. It is a financing mechanism to
combat tropical deforestation and climate
A new financing mechanism to combat tropical deforestation
was launched at the climate talks in Bali. Photo: World Bank
Declining forests around the world are responsible
for about 20 percent of global greenhouse gas
emissions, and the main source of emissions for
countries such as Brazil and Indonesia. Clearing
forests not only emits CO2 but it also removes
future stores or sinks for CO2. However, no international
treaties have, so far, given any financial
incentives to developing countries for reducing
deforestation and degradation. The Kyoto Protocol’s
Clean Development Mechanism (CDM)
has, however, allowed nations who cannot meet
their emissions commitments to purchase “carbon
credits” from developing nations for re-growing
new trees, but has not provided any real incentives
to avoid deforestation.
Now, a new multi-million dollar fund to compensate
for the value of living forests has been
launched by the World Bank. The new fund,
called the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility, was
presented at the UN climate conference in Bali
and it is intended to reduce emissions from deforestation
and degradation (REDD) of developing
countries in tropical and subtropical regions.
Is this yet another try from the rich people in
the North to stop people in the South from using
their own natural resources in order to allow rich
countries to carry on polluting? Critics say that
addressing climate change is about leaving fossil
fuels in the ground and not about creating carbon
markets that will allow us to continue our climatedestructive
Forests provide a number of services
There are, however, also many other good reasons
to protect forests in developing countries as they
provide a number of other ecosystem services
and non-timber products. Already two years ago
the UN study Millennium Ecosystem Assessment
concluded that forests are often worth more standing.
This is because the overall benefit of sustainable
forest management tend to exceed that of
converting the ecosystem through farming, clearcut
logging, or other intensive uses.
Others warn that payment for carbon services
could entail incentives for corrupt officials or local
elites to appropriate this new forest value from local
communities. Nonetheless, it feels promising
that deforestation has now made it to the negotiation
table at the international climate talks.
Human Development Report: "Stop the climate apartheid"
It is necessary to start cutting the emissions of
greenhouse gases now if we are going to prevent
catastrophic climate change consequences, like
collapsing ecosystems and “climate refugees”.
This is the main message in the new Human
Development Report from UNDP.
Climate changes tend to be slow and the effects are often revealed
much later. However, research shows that even a slow forcing
can trigger abrupt and irreversible changes when thresholds are
crossed. That is why it is so urgent to stop climate changes now.
The greenhouse gas emissions have increased dramatically since
the 1950s, and being global, “one country’s emissions are another
country’s climate change problem”. These are some of the conclusions
put forward in the United Nations latest Human Development
Report released November 27th.
The report has a harsh tone and requests the leaders of the
world to act now if we are going to be able to prevent a dangerous
global warming. The UNDP stresses that the world needs a new
climate agreement to follow the Kyoto Protocol. All countries
must cooperate to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. “Climate
change mitigation is about transforming the way that we produce
and use energy, and about living within the bounds of ecological
sustainability”, the report states.
Floating homes or people floating in water?
The report reiterates concern about that it is mainly poor people
in developing countries that are affected by climate changes.
Simultaneously, it is the developed countries that have contributed
the lion’s share of carbon dioxide emissions. They stand for
almost half of the emissions, but only 15 percent of the world’s
population. Annually, 262 million people were affected by climate
disasters during the last two years, more than 98 percent of
them live in developing countries.
The investment needed to reduce carbon dioxide emissions is
not insignificant. Still, the costs of inaction far outweigh the costs
of action. The latter would represent only two-thirds of the annual
global military spending, according to a calculation in the report.
Today we have both the financial resources and the technological
capabilities to reduce the emissions and it is the developed countries
that have to take a lead. “If we fail to prevent climate change
it will be because we were unable to foster the political will to
cooperate”, the UNDP says.
An international cooperation to prevent and adapt to climate
change would favour all countries. Right now there are huge differences
in how countries adapt. “For one part of the world – the
richer part – adaptation is a matter of elaborating climate defence
infrastructures, and of building homes that ‘float on’ water. In the
other part adaptation means people themselves learning to ‘float
in’ flood water”, says Desmond Tutu, Archbishop Emeritus of
Cape Town, and he calls this “adaptation apartheid”. The developing
countries need help from the rich countries to adapt to and
mitigate climate change.
Dealing with climate changes requires knowledge from a
wide variety of fields, like meteorology, ecology, psychology,
economics and international relations. This makes the question
very complex. Even more when the decisions we make today will
effect future generations.
/Magdalena JägerströmMore at:
The world’s growing cities a challenge for poor people
The book “Tomorrow’s Crises Today: the
humanitarian impact of urbanisation” was
recently released. Using examples from ten cities
in the developing world, the book shows how
poor people in urban areas suffer most from the
impacts of climate change and bad water supplies.
Cities make up around 2 percent of the
Earth’s surface, but consume around 60
percent of the water for human use. By
next year, more than half of the world’s
population will be living in urban areas.
And in the poorest countries, slums
make up between 30-70 percent of urban
populations. In Africa and South Asia the
majority of the urban population lives in
slum areas. Is this a curse or a blessing?
Well, it all boils down to water.
One of the
biggest challenges will be the water supply
for the cities, according to the new book “Tomorrow’s Crises
Today” produced by the humanitarian news and analysis service
IRIN in collaboration with UN-HABITAT. It explores the lives
of the millions of poor people already living in metropolises
as well as those millions drawn into them from the rural areas
every day. The population growth is, however, expected to level
out in mega cities; instead most of the growth will occur in cities
with less than 500,000 inhabitants in developing countries. This
will affect the infrastructure but most of all the water supply – in
particular when urban growth is unplanned. When this happens
the poor are often forced to live on floodplains, cliff sides and
close to industries and all too often they suffer from water-related
problems. Every day 30,000 people around the world die of
illnesses caused by poor water supply, waste disposal and rubbish.
Climate change yet another challenge
Moreover, climate change is projected to affect the people who
are least equipped or able to cope with the changes the most
– not the least through the close connection between climate
and the water supply. For example, heat waves will increase
the need of water at the same time as water conditions will be
worsened. Moreover, whereas only 2 percent of the world’s land
area is low elevation coastal zones, these vulnerable areas house
13 percent of the global urban population.
To prevent human disasters in the future the book suggests
that governments must take part in city planning even in slum
areas, especially when it comes to water supply and sanitation.
According to the book, the problems are technical and solutions
are possible. Many experts say that it is necessary with microfi
nancing, community funding, women’s savings groups and
other innovative approaches together with good governance.
Growing cities do not have to be a problem!
/Magdalena JägerströmMore at:
Climate change may cause global conflicts, new German report warns
Essential resources like water are affected by climate change.
That this might trigger domestic conflicts is not a new insight,
but UN officials at the Bali Conference warned that increasing
pressure caused by climate change on essential resources
might also have a destabilising effect globally. This is because
local and national conflicts might have a spillover effect and
destabilise neighbour countries through, for example, refugee
flows. Another scenario is that countries most heavily affected
by climate change will blame other countries who are not seen
as doing enough to cut carbon emissions.
Moreover, societies in transition from authoritarian to
democratic systems are especially vulnerable to crises and
conflicts. Climate change will put many of these countries under
additional pressure. This could be the case for many African and
Asian countries, warns the report “Climate Change as a Security
Risk” released by the German government’s scientific advisory
body on 10 December at the conference in Bali.
Sweden’s new commission for climate and development now appointed
The Swedish Government has decided to appoint an
international commission for Measures against Climate Change.
Its task is to increase the focus on the link between climate
change and development in poor countries. Swedish Minister
for International Development Cooperation, Gunilla Carlsson,
will lead the Commission and has now appointed its members:
– I am very pleased that we have succeeded in attracting such
a wide group of knowledgeable and renowned people to the
Commission, Gunilla Carlsson says.
- Wangari Maathai, Professor, Founder of the Green Belt Movement, Kenya
- Sun Honglie, Professor, Head of the China Climate Change Expert Committee
- Nanna Hvidt, Director of the Danish Institute for International Studies
- Angela Cropper, Deputy Executive Director of UNEP, Trinidad and Tobago
- Jacques Aigrain, CEO Swiss Re, France - Switzerland
- Mohamad El-Ashry, Senior Fellow UN Foundation, Egypt
- Sunita Narain, Director of the Centre for Science and Environment, India
- Jonathan Lash, President of the World Resources Institute, USA
- Ian Johnson, Chairman of IDEAcarbon, UK
- Bernard Petit, Deputy Director-General of the Directorate-General for Development, EU Commission, France
- Margareta Wahlström, Assistant Secretary-General for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Sweden
- Youba Sokona, Executive Secretary of the Sahara and Sahel Observatory, Mali
A secretariat will be set up at the Stockholm Environment
Institute. Johan Schaar, former Special Representative for the
Tsunami Operation at the Red Cross, will head the secretariat.
Anders Wijkman, Member of the European Parliament, will be
chair of the Commission’s expert group.
New animated online film questions the Western norms of consumption
Annie Leonard’s “The
Story of Stuff” is a
brilliant little online film,
timely distributed as
the Christmas shopping
mania is about to start in
the North. The film takes
viewers on a provocative
tour from shopping to
the environmental and social impacts of the Western norms of
consumption. The 20 minute film breaks a complicated globally
connected story down to something that is easily grasped. It
shows how all the stuff in the lives of the average citizen of the
North affects communities at home and abroad.
Critics say it is sensationalist and that some of the facts are
under debate. Others say its emotional language might spoil
the message that now only works for the already converted.
Notwithstanding, this short film will definitely make many
people change the way they look at all the stuff in their lives
163 million $|
...is how much developed countries have paid to the
two funds set up by the UN Framework Convention
on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to help developing
countries adapt to global warming.
This is the result of a study from the UK-based
development agency, Oxfam. Their new report
“Financing Adaptation: Why the UN’s Bali Climate
Conference Must Mandate the Search for New Funds”
also concludes that this is actually less than what
Canadians spent on hair conditioner last year – or less
than half of what the UK is investing in cooling the
Oxfam estimates that the cost of adapting to climate
change in developing countries is likely to be at least
$50bn each year, and far more if global greenhousegas
emissions are not cut fast enough. The report was
launched on 4 December at the meeting on global
warming in Bali, Indonesia.
"“The next generation will
ask us one of two questions.
Either they will ask: ‘What
were you thinking; why
didn’t you act?’ Or they will
ask instead: ‘How did you
find the moral courage to rise
and successfully resolve a
crisis that so many said was
impossible to solve?"
Quote from Al Gore’s Nobel