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Home More Reflections Elephants in the room Linkages Holistic Synergies-Climate change and MDG's

Holistic Synergies-Climate change and MDG's


The institute for Environment and Development (iied) has done some great work recently and Dr Saleenul Huq's appeal to find Climate change / Community Based Adaptation/MDGs synergy at the MDG Summit in New York in September 2010 is spot on.



 Climate change/ desertification/ degrading environment, we see this as one and undoubtedly the greatest threat to life as we know it. Every society needs to get fully engaged in useful strategies to mitigate it if we wish to maintain our comfortable ecosystem. Much of mainstream science is still convinced that climate change is caused by excessive industrial emissions in rich countries and big investment is being made by industrialised nations to reduce emissions. The EU, for instance, has cleaned up their diesel and claim to have achieved 90% reduction in emissions over the past 10 years. These efforts are however being nullified by ever increasing consumption patterns within industrialised societies and the arrival of 4 billion+ new high-end consumers in emerging markets of the "global south". 

So far Africans have been seen as innocent victims of climate change but there is a consensus among scientists that tropical forests need to be conserved as safe and effective carbon soaks. Inconveniently, people in the tropics are generally poor and are resorting to cutting their forests to sell for cash. The cheapest and most logical solution is to pay them to stop cutting but doing that is not so simple.



Carbon trading mechanisms like Norway's valiant REDDS+ effort offer little hope for mitigation since they don't actually reduce total carbon output and besides have got little traction in business circles so far. Rich nations are under increasing pressure to set up alternative, more direct facilities but are unlikely to reach consensus on funding levels or mechanisms for some time yet because right now public funds are needed to stimulate economic growth through consumer spending. ( Yes, it might sound daft, in light of the holistic goal to reduce emissions but growth through spending is the only way we know how to do economics! ).

 Most of the world's plant growth and corresponding biodiversity exists in the tropics where the sun is hottest and photosynthesis potential the highest, provided enough water and nutrients are available. However as we have discussed it is unreliable to depend on conservation of tropical forests to save the planet so, apart from risky high tech solutions offered by climate engineers, how can we get nature to soak up more carbon? Enter Dr Allan Savory, winner of the 2010 Buckminster Fuller prize for his concept of Holistic Management, who recognised long ago that biodiversity loss, desertification, CO2 increase and climate change are one and the same phenomenon, symptoms of our long failure to manage the environment and not solely the effects of recent industrialisation or the fossil fuel spree.  He then went on to demonstrate that the disappearance of much the of large game and livestock from the world's grassy rangelands has led to a drying and brittling of the habitat - Africans have no difficulty relating to this- streams have dried and rank, unpalatable grasses and thorny bush have colonised vast parts of the continent in transition to desert. This in turn has fueled an increase in bush fires, releasing massive amounts of CO2 and other greenhouse gases previously locked up in healthy soil. The answer to effective carbon sequestration therefore lies in discovering how to reverse this process and again Dr Savory has learned to mimic nature to develop relatively simple management techniques to improve pasture productivity which simultaneously improves soil condition and carbon sequestration. Ironically the methodology hinges on using livestock as a tool to restore nature rather than simply condemning them to the slaughterhouse for their flatulence. This might seem counter-intuitive but think about the most productive ecosystems on earth such as the Serengeti plains in East Africa and wonder why this extremely high stocking rate has not caused a desert!

The incentives for land managers to take this route are positive and holistic management is catching on all over the world with Joel Salatin one of the best-known promoters in the US.


I hope I have convinced you that land custodians though-out the world, regardless of their ownership structures, offer the best chance of saving life as we know it through good management. Now lets look for some convergence of interest.

The difficulty in any interaction between industrialised nations and indigenous societies who make up the "bottom billion" and have custodianship of most of the land is the deep cultural rift. These societies have little in common with modern society- they put community responsibility first in contradiction to western obsession with individual rights, their consumption levels are tempered by the pressure to share resources equitably rather than valuing status through accumulation of wealth and their quality time is used to maintain the respect and position within the community with self-gratification taboo. I could go on but I think you get point and the aid industry has certainly faced massive resistance in selling western values and development models over the past 50 years.  A Masai spokesman, Saning’o told a largely pale faced audience at IUCN conservation conference in Bangkok in 2004 “We don’t want to be like you, We want you to be like us. We are here to change your minds. You cannot accomplish conservation without us.”


The only deep convergence centres around climate change- indigenous livelihoods depend almost entirely on healthy, productive biomes ( ecosystems ) and most are ready and willing partners. Improved environment yield more natural resources and therefore create wealth for poor societies.

Due to the dominance of grassy rangelands therefore, the greatest opportunity for climate change mitigation lies in developing mechanisms to incentivise communal societies to repair and maintain the environment on behalf of industrialized countries.

This strategy is prioritised by scientists and long-term thinkers from a spectrum of disciplines. Listen to them at the Longnow Foundation.


Having worked almost exclusively with Community-based Adaptation through-out my life I am convinced that if the set-up is effective in empowering communities, they will spend the money they EARN, no more hand-outs please, from Natural Resource Management on MDG's. That doesn’t need to be designed from the top, empowered communities always prioritise food production. health, education, clean water, security and roads in the village even if the govt-to govt top-down aid monster has failed to get it right.


 I share Dr Huq's implication, therefore, that all aid efforts and carbon funds should be pooled into performance- based rewards mechanisms. If these resources target land managers through-out the rangelands and they adopt holistic thinking we should be able to kill two birds with one stone!


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