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.


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