Forging Common Ground – Series of Oxford Student Insights to the Skoll World Forum 2017.
Kaleem Hawa, DPhil candidate at the University of Oxford, gives his perspective on the Skoll World Forum session “Rights and Resources: Indigenous Communities and Environmental Conservation”.
The session began innocuously enough: a cold, hard April morning in Oxford; the delegates filtering in quietly; an introduction and then a prayer, delivered by Mandy Gull, Deputy Chief of the Cree First Nation of Waswanipi.
The intention of the panel was to discuss environmental conservation and the preservation of biodiversity in the context of Indigenous lands, communities, and ways of life. The talk would quickly blossom though, into a more fulsome articulation of what Indigeneity looks like in the wake of modern industrialisation and the challenges posed by corporations and governments on its actualisation.
Most noticeable at the outset was the optimism – an excitement that time and space had been dedicated on the agenda to talk about Indigenous rights and conservation, that this would elevate the kinds of voices that tended to go underrepresented in international fora. The panelists did not dwell on this type of laudatory self-congratulation for long though; they were incisive, critical, and energised.
For instance, we heard from Flaviano Bianchini, the Founder and Director of Source International, about mining conglomerates in the Peruvian Andes, whose systematised border readjustments forced Indigenous communities onto less fertile lands and whose waste water pollution poisoned rivers and the people who relied on them. We heard from Mandy about the Québec logging companies, whose concerted deforestation threatened essential traplines and strategically deconstructed Indigenous self-autonomy to favour economic ends. Nicole Rycroft, the panel’s lively and eloquent moderator spoke of an unsparing system that – left unchecked – would lead inexorably towards “a simplification or even eradication of the natural biodiversity of that ecosystem and, with that, a degradation of Indigenous cultures that are so inextricably linked to that land.”
This was a panel that displayed in stark relief how Indigenous communities co-exist with the land. If the relationship between man and land in Western culture is largely predicated on a dominion narrative, Indigenous peoples see their traditional territories as sources of strength and life, and their communities come to occupy a role that is simultaneously that of steward and dependent.
As one would expect, this normative difference manifests itself in vastly divergent approaches to conservation and biodiversity. Victor López Illescas, the Executive Director of Ut’z Che’, the Guatemalan Community Forestry Association, works with more than 50 communities across Central and Latin America. He spoke of the essential work being done by Indigenous peoples in the region; according to the statistics, they inhabit more than 95% of all key ecosystems for biodiversity in Central America and are actively engaged in protecting these essential lands and estuaries. He goes on, “from Mexico to Panama, Indigenous peoples and local communities hold legally recognized rights on 65% of the forests remaining in the region, more than any other part of the world” – something that informs why rates of resource exploitation are so much lower in these spots than in others.
This optimism is tempered by the realities of implementation; these protections provide little solace, according to Flaviano. “There is a double standard. On one side, natural protected areas are imposed by governments as a barrier on aggressive expansion by industrial urban-led development models. But these natural protected areas are being decided without consultation with Indigenous peoples, overriding their local governance systems, local knowledge, and demonstrated tradition of protecting those areas.”
This is why groups like Source try to play translator roles. Their hope is to rigorously identify and corroborate abuses and use them as the basis for legal challenges to exploitative business practices. This type of evidence-based approach must, it is emphasised, be done in concert with – not in the place of – the existing advocacy being done by Indigenous communities.
As a Canadian, the most resonant part of the event was the discussion of the Waswanipi Cree First Nation and their efforts to protect the Broadback Valley – a dense old-growth forest home to incredible biodiversity and history. It was fascinating to learn from Mandy about the emphasis on hunting, fishing, and trapping on the land; individuals inherit a family trapline, and become stewards of that land, monitoring the resources and hunting sustainably. Their livelihoods are cyclical: in the spring they go to the bush camps to goose hunt, in the summer they fish and pick berries, in the fall they hunt moose. In a world in which one “cannot be Cree without Eeyou Istchee [The People’s Land],” the push to force communities to stratify traplines for logging leaves indelible effects on lives and cultures.
“I feel like I live on a faultline,” Mandy says in a stinging reference to this year’s Skoll World Forum theme. She continues, “When I flew over the Broadback and saw those clear-cut areas, in that moment I really mourned for what I knew my family had lost. Some of the paths in the Broadback have been here for a thousand years. My father asked me to protect our trapline, my father told me to make sure the trees were never cut. So yes, you can cut down a tree. And yes, then you can plant a new tree. But you have not recreated the forest. There is no way for man to recreate what nature has achieved.”
This poignant portrayal of loss defies easy categorisation. A host of structural challenges are working against these communities: exploitative industry abetted by apathetic or complicit governments, a quickly degrading international commons, and a lack of public attention or momentum.
This panel and others like it should serve as a rousing call to action. So much more needs to be done.
Kaleem Hawa is a PhD candidate in health policy at Oxford University’s Big Data Institute, studying on a Rhodes Scholarship. Follow Kaleem on Twitter @kaleemhawa
Neil Yeoh completed his Oxford MBA in 2016 and now works at Echoing Green as a Portfolio Manager to their Climate Change Fellows. He is an advocate for climate change and was recently awarded the title of World Economic Forum Global Shaper at the NYC Hub.
‘There is the natural tendency that all of us are vulnerable to, to deny unpleasant realities and to look for any excuse to push them away and resolve to think about them another day long in the future’ – Al Gore on climate change.
This statement is true in my life. At the age of 16 as an Australian-born Asian I travelled to Xi’an China in search of my ethnic and cultural identity. Instead I found the thick dark smog that covers and chokes a lot of east China today. At the time I selfishly assured myself that Australia far away from air pollution was home, but in time realised that the world air pollution impacts our shared home. I denied the problem for many years but eventually acted knowing the type of ancestor I wanted to be – one who fought the good fight in tackling air pollution and, more prominently, climate change for our future generations.
So when I got the opportunity to attend the UN General Assembly’s action event on climate change and the Sustainable Development agenda on Thursday, 23r March 2017, I was eager to hear about the progress towards realising the 2016 UNFCCC Paris Climate Treaty, and how I could play a better part. Overall progress has been made, but not enough to ensure a less than 2oC rise in average global temperature to avoid the most serious impacts of global warming – where island nations are submerged, extreme weather becomes more frequent, and plants and animals risk extinction.
Here are three takeaways from the event we need to save our world from climate change:
Neil Yeoh attended the UN General Assembly Climate Change event on 23rd March 2017.
More money and smart investments
Solutions exist – but we need more money to invest into renewables. It’s no secret that renewable energies like solar and wind are now cost-competitive with conventional energy production, reaching prices as low as 3 cents per kWh in some markets. Global renewable investments grew almost 700 percent from 2004 to 2015 reaching a record USD 348 billion. It’s a start, but this is still less than half of the funds required to double the share of renewable energy (currently only ~18%) in total global energy consumption by 2030.
To get on track with the money we have, it’s critical that we make smart investments. The UNFCCC, which has USD 10 billion is working to structure current and future deals to scale the impact of renewables. According to Ambassador Howard Bamsey, Executive Director of the Green Climate Fund and custodian of the UNFCCC funds, mixing debt and equity helps to achieve healthy leverage rates, stretching existing money while also funding solutions that can scale impact beyond the money available.
More adaptation and localised solutions
We need adaptation solutions as much as mitigation solutions to climate change. Many scalable solutions are focused on restraining the production of greenhouse gases, but it’s important to also support solutions that help people and environments adapt to an imminent future where the damage is already done. Start-up Coral Vita embraces this approach, aiming to grow climate-resilient coral to sustain ocean ecosystems with rising temperatures and water acidification.
The most effective solutions will be designed to meet local country needs. When I spent time in rural Kenya with M-KOPA Solar, off-grid solar devices were combined with innovative financing to bypass the lack of infrastructure to achieve local electrification. In Finland, the Bank of Aland is issuing a green credit card to tackle climate change in the Baltic Sea, where customers opt in to measuring and offsetting carbon emissions from their financial transactions.
Helping yourself whilst helping others
Countries must abandon isolated mindsets when it comes to battling climate change. Mr Xie Ji, Director General of NDRC’s Department of Climate Change took off his “climate negotiator hat” and reasoned that China needs to look outwards to provide capacity and technical support to neighbouring countries to help them build renewable capacity.
I agree with this philosophy as we cannot expect to reach climate targets at the rate we need without supporting one another through collaboration and shared technologies. To picture this – it’s like the oxygen masks on aircraft safety videos. The instruction to install your mask and masks of your children is applicable in addressing climate change since we are all effectively travelling on the same plane, or in our case, world. We’re all in it together, so if it begins to nosedive we might as have helped each other out in case we make it out alive!
So what can we do?
As custodians of the world today we need to lead by example with our wallets (buying into renewables and green solutions); our minds (enterprising new and scaling existing solutions); and our hearts (working on efforts as a community). Maybe then we’ll have a world our future generations can enjoy, as much as we do today.
IBITDA, amortization, price discrimination, stocks, bonds, capital… As an engineer and non-profit manager, all this is wonderfully new to me. The Saïd Business School at Oxford University has all this plus Shakespeare, Sartre, genomics, international intrigue, mathematical physics, speakers from around the world and more and more. The depth of academic firepower, cutting edge thinking and variety of geniuses, experts and eccentrics of all types leave you with the impression that the world of smarts is sloped and smartness rolls downhill to Oxford (civil engineers see everything in terms of gradients and flows…). It’s truly a humbling and unbelievable honor to be able to study here. And equally and energizing one. As Sabre outlined earlier, every day we are presented with a hundred opportunities to connect with amazing individuals, partake in events that expose us to fields new to us or expand our understanding of those we know. We are engaged now in an exercise of choice: how do we spend our time here? Where do we focus our efforts and what doors do we fight to open and which do we close?
I’ve been an entrepreneur my whole life – at a very early age I remember selling “magical bouncing pine cones” with a friend to others in the neighborhood. Just as fervently, I’ve always been an environmentally focused person – I remember at four cursing out the developers who leveled the woods I used to play in behind my childhood home to put in a sub-division. In my undergraduate schooling and subsequent career I married these two as much as I could delving into renewable energy and green building. At Sherwood Design Engineers, we built a truly 21st century engineering company, founded on the pillars of solid engineering, collaborative design and ecologically sound solutions. We did this through a series of day-to-day choices to not just serve our client’s engineering needs, but to educate them and work closely with them to push as much environmental thinking into each project as we could. To extend our mission further, we formed a non-profit, Sherwood Institute, through which we spread the gospel of sustainable infrastructure. While Sherwood Design Engineers wasn’t specifically created to solve the world’s environmental problems, these certainly became true social enterprises; businesses that made a substantial difference (as well as a profit in SDE’s case).
At Saïd, I’ve now been formally exposed to and will have the chance to study social entrepreneurism: businesses created to solve specific societal problems from the word go. In some particularly exciting examples like Bridges Ventures, market gaps, like insufficient low cost elder care housing or social issues like prisoner rehabilitation are specifically targeted and businesses are either found or created to fill them. These purpose-built, for profit businesses are what I’m starting to see as a second type of social venture – a step more deliberate than the co-missioning of an existing venture.
The next type I’m curious about is the large businesses that weren’t built for sustainability but might be turned the way Sherwood turned full force into sustainable design, making it a core tenet. I couldn’t be more excited to work through the Skoll Centre and the host of professors, peers and contacts who have worked in that capacity at various companies to learn more about this type.
The final type of for-profit social company I see as the Holy Grail that doesn’t yet exist: a fortune global 50 leviathan built specifically to solve a major global issue – and make a profit doing so. Imagine the Exxon of carbon-sequestering energy. With the amount of motivated, brilliant, truly excited people I’ve met here in the last few weeks from every sector, from finance to operations to field warriors, who have flocked around the Skoll flame so far, I now feel that the coming of this type of company is a when, not if, and I couldn’t be happier for it!
It’s interesting to me that when people sit down to talk about a socially entrepreneurial solution, pill there is always some initial discussion about what exactly social entrepreneurship means. Sure, it can be nebulous and complex, and the clarifying discussion is important.
But for me (who believes social entrepreneurship boils down to purpose, market orientation and system disruptiveness), I’d rather just dive straight in with the entrepreneurs getting things done.
After our most recent Skoll Centre Speaker Series, I think it’s fair to say Tim Helweg-Larsen would agree. Tim, the founder of EnergyBank, shared his personal priorities of combating climate change through renewable energy. It was great to see how Tim has put those priorities to work as the driving force behind EnergyBank.
EnergyBank envisions a Europe-wide market in energy-bonds, backed by renewable assets and owned by the people and businesses that use them. In short, customers are turned into investors/owners and capital is unlocked for renewable energy sources.
Why this make sense
1) When customers become investors/owners they future proof the costs of their energy. Production costs charged by traditional systems are avoided. This makes a big difference when you think about monthly average energy consumption and rising costs! Plus any extra energy produced by customer-owned renewables can be sold for profit.
2) Do you know how much an off-shore wind farm costs? Trust Tim, it’s a lot. EnergyBank’s system could raise enough capital to help build such renewable infrastructure. (It’s great for the average Joe who wants to fight climate change, but doesn’t have 1 billion pounds lying around.)
3) It’s good for the environment (more renewables mean less fossil fuels), customers/owners, and business.
With so much common sense embedded in EnergyBank, it seems simple. It makes me think, “why haven’t we just done this already?” But I think we all know (including Tim) it’s going to be very challenging to change the existing energy system. All the “wrong” things are incentivized. Plus it’s complex, multi-faceted and been functioning “happily” for several decades. Think about the “people factor” and it becomes even trickier. For every one of someone who thinks like me, I’m sure there are 100 of those who say, “why should we do this?” Pile on the fact most energy users probably don’t even think about the system to begin with, and you’ve got an idea of how much work needs to be done.
Nevertheless, it was great to hear Tim’s commitment, priorities and progress thus. With a strong purpose, market orientation and serious potential for disrupting the system, I’m sure EnergyBank will have us all saying “why didn’t we do this sooner”.
Meteos, through its EnergyFutures project, is working to map perspectives on how to change our deeply embedded energy system. How do you compel businesses and their investors to reconceptualise what the future of their industries- and their investment portfolios- will look like in the next 20-30- years?
EnergyFutures, an investor-led dialogue, brings together companies from across the energy, utility and automotive sectors to explore the long-term value drivers that will reshape their industries. This space for discussion brings to light some interesting themes, and often conflicting views.
Most interesting to me was how Becky and her team frame the dialogue not about climate and environmental responsibility per se, but about financial bottom line. For example, a company is valued at x, but in pratice, if a climate policy caps the production of one of their assets, then their full valuation can never be realized. Fund managers, then, are taking a second look at the reality of their investments and valuation, which clearly have a trickle effect into changing the system. The context that sticks with fund managers and senior company executives is around maintaining stable and predictable returns from energy investments in an uncertain operating environment. Ultimately though, this translates into significant impacts for the future of energy, conceptualised both equitably and sustainably.
Becky shared humbling facts and posed challenging questions:
We are struggling to meet milestones of current International Energy Agency (IEA) climate scenarios. If we keep doing business as usual, we’re looking at a 6 degree (!!) increase in temperature worldwide
The cost of energy is rising. Who carries the burden of this cost? And who has access to begin with?
Climate change is impacting infrastructure, which is under extreme pressure to meet demand and may be on the verge of collapse. Impacts in infrastructure in turn impacts investment portfolios.
Reinsurers are requiring insurers to have more cash on hand to cover a 1 in 200 year catostrophic event. Investors are waking up to the reality of climate change.
What are the game changers? What is helping move the system in the right direction?
Safety and insurance requirements
Removal of oil and gas subsidies
Public investment in energy efficiency and innovation
With all the complexity surrounding the issue, we’re glad to see the major players coming together in dialogue. It seems that change is imminent, but the question is how will happen? Admittedly, Energy Futures is just one player in the wider ecosystem of climate change agents, but as Becky says, EnergyFutures is giving companies and investors the “wind in their sails” needed to transition our destructive system into a sustainable one.
It’s not a topic you would usually think elicits much inspiration. (Nor be a fitting topic for a discussion over lunch!)
But last week, order Albina Ruiz opened up our eyes to the incredible potential of leveraging this dirty business into transformational change.
Albina Ruiz, ailment the Executive Director of Ciudad Saludable, buy visited us from Peru. She shared valuable insights on how Ciudad Saludable has helped small micro entrepreneurs build a community-based waste management system whilst improving the social and environmental status quo of communities.
So what is the key to their success? Obviously, there are many factors. But her main insight: you need a holistic approach.
Almost a decade ago, Albina and her team saw a large problem: public- sector solid waste disposal services in Lima were not functioning. But they realized if they could flip this gap into an opportunity, they could create employment for local citizens whilst providing a public service for the community at large.
Today, Albina works across the board with social leaders, local and national governments, waste collectors, teachers, the media, and communities at large. (And of course don’t forget the ever important change agents at even the smallest levels, e.g. mothers.) In the process, Ciudad Saludable has changed national policy around sanitation and waste collectors rights, provided educational training (about waste, health and the environment), and generated serious profits, for government and families alike. What started as a small initiative in Peru has now been scaled to several countries in Latin America and most recently in India.
With an approach like this and tremendous results in scaling successfully, it’s no wonder that Ciudad Saludable has won several international awards. It’s a model, I believe, that has the potential for even greater adoption. As mega-cities around the world continue to boom, Ciludad Saludable shines a light on how to build sustainable cities, in terms of its public, environmental and financial health.