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Rights and Resources: Indigenous Communities and Environmental Conservation

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

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Three things we need to save our world from climate change

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.

One year on from his Skoll World Forum post, Post-Paris Global Sustainability: how do we get there?, Neil shares his perspective as an attendee at the latest UN General Assembly Climate Change event in March.

‘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 pictured at the UN General Assembly Climate Change event on 23rd March 2017.

Neil Yeoh attended the UN General Assembly Climate Change event on 23rd March 2017.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

Emerge 2016 – Thoughts on A Broken Food System

Film and TV Producer Leslie Lee was a delegate to this year’s Emerge conference. She shares her insight into one of Emerge 2016’s most popular workshops, ‘Changing Our Broken Food System’.

 

Like many children, I was told not to waste food and to “think of the starving children in China”. It was China because we were Chinese-Americans and so I grew up thinking about every last morsel on my plate. Would it really be enough to feed a starving Chinese child? My mother assured me that it would.

It seemed strange to me there was no correlation between the cost of growing a potato and what it cost to buy one in the shops

As an adult, those early lessons on food waste left a lasting impression on me. I  moved to London, became a television producer and started cooking with a food waste project called The People’s Kitchen in Dalston. Every Sunday, I would help its charismatic young founder/chef Steve Wilson and his hard-working volunteers collect surplus fruit and vegetables donated by local shopkeepers. As if by magic, the dancefloor of a local nightclub would become a makeshift kitchen and the surplus produce became tasty, healthy dishes we would enjoy with members of the local community. Through Steve and The People’s Kitchen, I learned a lot about food waste and the food distribution system. It seemed strange to me there was no correlation between the cost of growing a potato and what it cost to buy one in the shops.

So one of the big highlights at Emerge 2016 for me was the Changing Our Broken Food System workshop, led by Fokko Wientjes, VP Sustainability & Public Private Partnerships at DSM. He explained how he welcomed our input as part of his research for the new EAT – Lancet Commission on diet, human health and its impact on our planet. We sat around large round tables in groups, talking about what we thought were the most important aspects of the food system conversation. More importantly, we discussed what we thought was missing from it.

Fokko Wientjes. Photo by fisherstudios.co.uk

Fokko Wientjes. Photo by fisherstudios.co.uk

Rather than talking about food in the abstract, we shared personal stories at my table. I was especially struck by Robert Boer, an Emerge 2016 speaker and director of UBS and Society, who told us how he became a vegan after his mother’s death from cancer. The connection between food and health is so very important, but yet we Western consumers suffer from ‘food information overload’. These contradictory food studies make it difficult for consumers to maintain healthy diets when even coffee can be both good – and bad – for you.

Of greater concern has been the global shift towards Western eating habits – more meat, dairy and processed foods – which place an enormous burden on the environment. Participants at another table pointed out that in poorer countries, consumers cannot afford to make the same food choices as Westerners can and decide to become vegan, for example. Also, different cultures and customs around the world (Chinese, rice) pose a challenge to transforming the global food system.

Still others wondered if there was a responsibility for retailers to educate consumers. And if so, how?

Workshop: Changing a Broken Food System

Workshop: Changing Our Broken Food System. Photo by fisherstudios.co.uk

With food waste in the news, there was also a discussion about the need for a food industry in developing countries, to help preserve food and prevent waste. Despite growing awareness in the West, Fokko warned, “there’s no understanding [among consumers] of what food costs to produce.” Political incentives like farming subsidies also remain a contributing factor in creating food waste.

The conversation could have lasted for days, but the hour had flown by. Fokko invited our further participation, so we can help the Commission develop a plan towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Paris Climate Agreement.

Change won’t come from food producers or policy makers, it must come from consumers.

Afterwards, I continued my conversation with Mr. Boer, asking him what food entrepreneurs can do to help. He thought that the subject of obesity needed to be addressed in greater depth. “Change won’t come from food producers or policy makers, it must come from consumers. But entrepreneurs need to influence customer demands.”

The best way for entrepreneurs to do this is through storytelling. “Here in Switzerland, we are asking journalists to give feedback on stories from entrepreneurs. If they like them, then you know you have a story that resonates with the media.” Supporting 34 social enterprises this year in their UBS Social Innovators programme, UBS and Society emphasizes the importance of developing an understanding of storytelling, as well as the basics of impact measurement, business models and scalability.

“I firmly believe that connection and collaboration can make a big change in the food systems. We need to bring all these companies together to collaborate and streamline their efforts for greater impact.”

“There was a potential for this [workshop] to actually move this conversation on food systems forward. There are a lot of different stories, cultures and perspectives. Everyone cares.”

About the Author

Leslie Lee

Leslie Lee

Leslie Lee is a London-based film/TV producer who works in documentaries and fact-based drama. As a former print journalist, she joined BBC1’s The One Show in 2007 and her credits include a wide variety of documentary series for Discovery, Channel Four, Syfy, A&E and Animal Planet.

Follow @lesliealee

 

Read more blogs covering the Emerge conference 2016

 

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Post-Paris Global Sustainability: how do we get there?

Oxford’s Fierce Compassion – Series of Student Insights to the Skoll World Forum 2016.

MBA student Neil Yeoh gives his perspective on the Skoll World Forum seminar session ‘Post-Paris: A New Era in Global Sustainability?’.

It has been just over five months since 195 nations signed the UN Paris Climate Change Treaty – a pivotal step towards global sustainability. However, doctor as every month passes and the champagne stops flowing, people scratch their heads as they consider “the real issue – how do we get there?” – framed by Mindy Lubber, President of Ceres.

A panel made up of the most distinguished climate leaders of today including former president of Ireland and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights – Mary Robinson – discussed this very issue. And amongst the dialogue, five overarching themes emerged:

  1. Changing the conversation – a bigger mindset shift is needed
  2. Pushing for policy change – the world will not self-correct
  3. Enabling access to finance and technology – developing countries cannot do it on their own
  4. Inspiring a larger movement – communities can achieve change
  5. Managing industry change – the transition from dirty to clean will be challenging

Far from the detailed implementation plan everyone was hoping for, the audience may have left dissatisfied still debating how we will get there. However, these feelings and thoughts reveal the true complexity of the challenge that lies ahead to make the treaty a reality. Climate change touches countless nodes of the world’s ecosystem and will need unprecedented global coordination and cooperation to alter course.

But I believe there is hope! If the world’s leaders were able to find common ground on the urgency of global sustainability, the rest of humanity – activists to sceptics – will surely find common ground in the fact that climate change is a real threat to our children and grandchildren. I, as I’m sure many others, can relate to and be compelled to act on that.

After Paris - neil

From left to right: Dipender Saluja – Managing Director, Capricorn Investment Group (Moderator); Mary Robinson – President, Mary Robinson Foundation – Climate Justice; Thom Woodroofe – Climate Policy and Communications Advisor, Independent Diplomat; Mindy Lubber – President, Ceres; and David Blood – Senior Partner, Generation Investment Management.

Follow Neil: @neil_yeoh