Sunday, November 26, 2006

Fighting Climate Change One Tree at a Time

By Yasmin D. Arquiza

Nairobi, Kenya, 16 Nov 2006 - Joan Wangechi Kinyanjui, a 37-year old Kikuyu woman from Lari district, has been planting trees as a volunteer of Kenya’s Green Belt Movement for six years but says she has never received a single cent for her work.

That may soon change. In one of the side events at the United Nations conference on climate change here, Green Belt Movement founder Wangari Maathai signed a $1.6-million emission reductions purchase agreement with the World Bank’s BioCarbon Fund that would finally reward the efforts of volunteers like Kinyanjui.

The project will employ community forest associations to plant and tend seedlings in 1,876 hectares of land within the Mount Kenya and Aberdares regions in the next two years with indigenous species such as cedar and camphor.

This will supplement their traditional livelihood of harvesting forest resources like honey and firewood. The project is also expected to improve the income of local farmers, who will receive payments for environmental services, according to a World Bank statement.

“We really hope we can receive benefits from this project,” said Kinyanjui. Together with her best friend Lilian Muthoni Kimani and dozens of volunteers, among them Maasai men and women in customary garb, she had waited in a tent outside the Forestry office all day just to witness the signing of the agreement.

The reforestation effort is part of UN-sponsored initiatives to help developing countries gain a foothold in the newly created carbon market while helping reduce greenhouse gases in the atmosphere at the same time. The World Bank will purchase 375,000 tons of carbon that are expected to be sequestered within the next 10 years as an outcome of the reforestation effort.

“This contract with the BioCarbon Fund will help the Green Belt Movement tap the growing carbon market and secure a sustainable stream of financial resources,” said Katherine Sierra, vice president for sustainable development at the World Bank.

In response, Maathai urged conference delegates to support the protection of the Congo Forest ecosystem, which is second only to the Amazon in size. She noted that 11 governments in the region have signed a treaty to protect the Congo, but lack of funding would “condemn the forest to destruction” as the Sahara and Kalahari deserts have been creeping along its borders.

“If the Congo forest goes, forget Africa,” Maathai said.

Maathai gained worldwide prominence when she won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 for her work in organizing the Green Belt Movement, mainly among Kenyan women, for the past 30 years. The organization has set up 4,000 tree nurseries and encouraged more than 200,000 households to get involved in the greening of Kenya.

“We have learnt that when local communities who live near the forest are educated to understand the linkage between trees, forests and their own livelihoods, they are more likely to take care of and protect these resources,” Maathai said.

On the global level, she is utilizing her celebrity status to gain adherents for the Plant for the Planet: Billion Tree Campaign of the United Nations Environment Programme. The worldwide tree planting campaign encourages individuals and organizations across the globe to enter pledges in a special website, with the aim of planting at least one billion trees in 2007 to help absorb greenhouse gases.

At the opening of the ministerial conference on Wednesday, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan lauded the “impressive action” taken by many developing countries on climate change in the face of a “frightening lack of leadership” among industrialized countries on the issue.

He maintained that the “primary responsibility for action” on climate change lies with “those that have been largely responsible for the accumulation of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.” The UN chief said citizens could play a substantive role in pressuring their governments by making climate change “more of an election issue.”

“Let us start being more politically courageous,” he said.

Growing the Perfect Rose with Geothermal Energy

By Yasmin Arquiza

Hell's Gate National Park, Kenya, 15 Nov 2006 -- Heat from the earth is helping to produce perfect long stemmed roses in a flower farm here that employs local residents, showcasing an emerging trend among socially-conscious companies to merge the pursuit of profits with concern for people and the planet.

Bruce Knight, engineering director of the Oserian Development Company, said the flower farm ventured into the complementary industry of geothermal energy to take advantage of the opportunity to utilize the latter in its greenhouses.

With its new 50-hectare rose garden sitting just below its power plant, Oserian now boasts of having the world’s largest geothermal greenhouse heating project in the world.

Inside the rows of greenhouses, each covering a two-hectare expanse, geothermal steam helps control humidity and temperature while carbon dioxide emitted from the same wells results in higher yields, more vibrant colours, and fuller blooms.

Carol Andrews, Corporate and Business Projects manager for Oserian, says only perfect blooms with the right size and colour are exported to European buyers, while rejected roses go directly to the compost pit. Oserian is the leading flower farm in Kenya, which supplies 30 per cent of Europe’s demand for cut flowers, she said.

Most of its 230 hectares of flower farms are located just outside the park, near the shores of Lake Naivasha. Among the low bushes and wide plains in the Oserian wildlife sanctuary, visitors get a visual treat of Africa’s animals -- gazelles, wildebeest, giraffe, rhinoceros, wild buffalo, zebra, and a variety of colourful birds. A glimpse of pink flamingos wading in the shallow waters of the lake delights first-time wildlife tourists.

CDM project

The Oserian plant is one of the units drawing power from the Olkaria geothermal field inside the park, within the Great Rift Valley. Most of Kenya’s energy needs comes from hydropower plants, but with droughts constantly threatening the country, the government is looking at geothermal energy as another source of renewable energy in the near future.

Geothermal power currently accounts for only 10 per cent of the energy mix in Kenya, said managing director Eddy Njoroge of KenGen, the main supplier of electricity in the country. However, KenGen is seeking to increase geothermal capacity from the current 115 megawatts to 561 megawatts in the next 20 years to supply Kenya’s growing needs.

To achieve this goal, KenGen is tapping into the Clean Development Mechanism, one of the strategies under the Kyoto Protocol that seeks to reduce the emission of harmful gases into the atmosphere. KenGen has obtained funding from the World Bank’s Carbon Finance Unit for one of its plants, Olkaria II, under the global climate treaty.

KenGen brought media people and several delegates to the United Nations climate change conference in Nairobi on a tour of their geothermal plants inside this park to highlight the potential of the CDM as a tool in balancing economic development with emission reductions.

Under the CDM, industrialized countries can offset their targets for reducing pollution through so-called carbon credits obtained by funding environment-friendly projects in developing countries.

Last Nov. 14, Njoroge signed an $8.4-million emissions reduction purchase agreement with the World Bank for 900,000 tons of carbon offset by the Olkaria II project for Japan and several European countries. ”We are giving one dollar for every ton of carbon to the communities around Olkaria, effectively raising about 900,000 dollars for adaptation measures for the people who are most affected by climate change,” he said.

Two in One

The Olkaria experience draws parallels for places such as Davao City in the southern Philippines, which supplies 60 per cent of cut flowers in the country and also hosts a geothermal power plant inside a national park.

The possibility of the two industries operating in tandem is a promising one, as the high cost of maintaining flower farms has stumped the growth of the industry. In contrast to Oserian’s production of 400 million stems a year for instance, the leading supplier of roses in the Philippines, Island Rose, only produces two million stems a year. Both companies started at about the same time, in the early 1980s.

About 20 per cent of the Philippines’ energy needs comes from geothermal fields, and the government is encouraging the private sector to invest in more renewable energy projects to meet the rising demand for electricity.

So far, only watershed rehabilitation and wind farm projects have made it to the list of CDM projects approved for the Philippines, leaving room for more potential projects to make use of Kyoto mechanisms in the future.