Are we witnessing a paradigm shift concerning economic and social development?
Yes. Particularly since 2008 and in recent months, with the devastating economic crisis, because issues of instability, social alienation, vulnerability, and loss of purchasing power have gained such importance. Even in developed countries, considered more robust. De facto, the need to restore purchasing power, to accelerate the transfer of technology to create growth and jobs, especially in emerging countries, takes center stage.
Has this been taken into account by experts and governments?
Yes, they have changed foci, placing greater emphasis on social programs. The question that then arises acutely concerns the creation of wealth: we do create wealth but how and to whom will it be redistributed? How can we prevent exclusion? How can we create “buffers” to protect the poor? In emerging countries, food, energy, rent are pressing questions. Issues relating to housing, food, energy, mobility, have become pervasively present. On the consumer side, these concerns unfold in a continuous loop ; you need only consider the content of blogs and the aspects of political agendas.
The Fondation Chirac educates purchasing advisors for construction lumber and wood products. Is this project in tune with apprehending the “sobriety” you mention in your book, Krach écologique? What other everyday examples can you give us?
If we believe that we have entered a transitional phase that focuses on issues of innovative approaches to resource consumption and aims to create virtuous circles around recycling, optimization, reduction and reuse, we must start considering what must be done in sectors such as construction, for example. The subject deals with the recycling industry in its broadest definition. We throw too much away, compared to what could be recycled, re-injected into the manufacturing process, into a circular economy. “My waste can become someone else’s resource,” provided there are channels to reclaim, develop, recycle… This implies a logistics chain, possibly the “remanufacturing” of the resource in order to correspond to precise specifications, so that it may be reused in terms of equivalent quality and safety standards.
Can we learn from Nature?
This entire chain needs to be invented, following Nature’s example, which offers us this wisdom on a daily basis. Nature only produces bio-nourishing waste. Ultimately, man is the only species that produces waste that does not feed the environment. However, cutting skills-expertise-innovations, called “bio-mimicry” allow us to imitate nature. We can also lengthen the shelf-life of products; or find more “virtuous” products containing fewer chemical inputs, which allow for carbon storage, such as wood, and capable of being used in a multitude of ways. The condition for all of this though is to carefully measure our environmental footprint and the savings achieved.
But are we not currently subject to contradictory summons: preserving on the one hand and consuming ever more on the other?
Nowadays, two seemingly contradictory messages have collided. Beyond the moral level, we can see that more ephemeral, disposable products are being manufactured. Generations of these products are renewed with little added value. In opposition, we advocate to increase the shelf life of certain products, which refutes certain industries that, through their marketing strategies, are focused on shortening the length of usage. And at the same time, many messages fall in line with the concept of a circular and functional economy. They urge consumers to buy products or goods in order to make them last or to share the use of goods or services. It is a form of “dematerialization”; we no longer “own” things and entrust someone else to maintain the stock of objects. However, by doing this, we move economy’s chain of values. It is, by its very essence, learning a form of “lightness”, which implies a level of “maturity” of behalf of the different actors who share the goods or services. A single grain of sand can jam the system… It is still a very fragile model, as still very experimental.
What do you think of the introduction of the National Sustainable Development Week, (from April 1 to 7). It appears to highlight the responsibility of each one of us in particular while you give more prominence to a new global governance…. How do you conceive of this new governance?
First, the existing global governance is not yet homogeneous. And when we think of “new governance”, we see there already exist “bricks”…; but they exist within an extremely slow process. Between Rio, in 1992, and the upcoming Rio +20, there have been of course, the efforts of the IPCC and the Kyoto Protocol, but this is all very fragile and advancing slowly.
I think we need to imagine something else: local initiatives.
Therefore, the Sustainable Development Week is positive: it educates those involved and during one week, it posits a single theme. It helps focus attention. We can all see sustainable development “at our door” so to speak, otherwise it remains a vague and distant concept. This gives it local meaning. I think it is crucial to devise a governance at the regional, territorial, and city level. This allows citizens to become politically engaged and witness results at their local level.
Do you think the changes induced by the growing awareness of concepts such as environmental protection and preservation of biodiversity, confront us with new priorities?
Yes, the key question becomes: can we afford the luxury of developing further at the expense of the environment?
Two time arrows, heading in opposite directions, govern us.
There is the entropic arrow: we consume more wealth than we can renew or restore… We are therefore heading towards the depletion of natural resources and the destruction of the environment. We are, in addition, ever more numerous, consuming increasing amounts of energy, and producing quantities of non-recyclable waste.
But the other arrow reflects the fact that we have never been so aware, never been such stalwart holders of knowledge…. And this knowledge can help us restore the balance that we are destroying.
… Another duality?
Yes, a race against the clock. Will this knowledge allow us one day to mature and to limit or even stop our “predation” that depletes wealth? I want to be optimistic. I hope there will be a “jolt.” Because time is money, it will require substantial investments for our knowledge to be channelled into relevant topics and to be shared appropriately. Money is not the issue, it simply needs to be put in the right place.
In the most advanced, northern countries, it seems many people have begun to focus on “intangibles” (which some claim to measure with the GDH, the index of “Gross Domestic Happiness”)?
Yes, we should perhaps change our measures. The GDP, for example, is rather incomplete because it does not factor in the destruction of natural capital, our ecological debt. It is therefore possible to witness impressive growth associated with high pollution… It would be wise to abandon this idea of growth in its narrowest definition, in favor of the concept of “prosperity” which also encompasses development, maintaining the quality of life, but also general well-being, immaterial riches, knowledge societies. It has a broader scope. I prefer “prosperity” over “economic growth” because it encompasses and transcends the latter. The question thus arises concerning new measures for this “prosperity”. Many economists are debating the issue for it is a concept that can no longer be ignored. That said, GDP is a relatively simple, universal alphabet. Are we capable of finding an equally suitable measurement for “prosperity”?
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April 7, 2011 is the traditional World Health Day to celebrate the founding of the WHO in 1948. This year’s theme is the fight against anti-microbial resistance and the slogan is “No action today, No cure tomorrow.” It is a legitimate call to order, but to whom is this cry of alarm addressed? To the planet’s entire population or just those with access to anti-microbials? For, though antibiotics are wasted, this does not mean they are shared!
After having saved so many lives, antibiotics have become dangerous due to misuse in rich countries. This leads to not only inefficiency, but also to the emergence of resistant strains.
So to whom is this message addressed? Only the most affluent 25% of the population, even though it can always be argued that strains of Mycobacterium tuberculosis resistant to anti-tuberculosis drugs already proliferate in poor countries and in areas of high insecurity in wealthy countries.
But we don’t always remember to state that drugs, antibiotics, antibacterials, or antivirals are often sold in deplorable conditions, in the streets or on the ground itself, in open air markets, with no control either over their production (falsified medicines) or their expiration date…
Next year, shall the 2012 World Health Day be universal
Key for effective and coherent global health, the WHO, “the World’s health beacon“, should have delivered a resolutely international annual message. This beacon however, functions oddly with occasional eclipses. The wave of epidemic influenza – the supposed health tsunami, which mobilized all the WHO’s forces around the H1N1 virus in 2009/2010 – was ultimately much ado about (a costly) nothing. There were no real objectives since the announced Apocalypse, fortunately, did not occur. This example is compounded by another one today: antimicrobial resistance. This issue also addresses industrialized countries whose populations are the least exposed to communicable diseases and yet, are nonetheless the best protected. Less disease and more medication, excessive consumption and waste, the path is well trodden and not confined to the medical world. It repeats itself in many other contexts.
Our wish for next year is that the theme for the 2012 World Health Day be universal, addressing patients from economically stable countries and those, in far greater numbers, from poorer countries.
It is not sordid realism to reiterate that the latter countries concentrate within their boundaries the billion starving human beings; a billion thirsty people; a billion and a half men, women, and children without access to sanitation; the eight hundred million illiterate individuals; and the two billion people without access to lifesaving surgery….
Perhaps this is an uncalled for controversy, a Manichean debate, but …
Blessed are those who are resistant to medicine,
for they at least have had access to them…
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March 22 of each year was designated for the observance of World Water Day in order to draw attention to the importance of fresh water and to support the sustainable management of this precious resource.
The 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) recommended an international day to celebrate fresh water. The United Nations General Assembly responded by choosing March 22, 1993 as the first World Water Day.
Each year, the World Water Day highlights a particular aspect of fresh water. In 2011, the aim is to attract international attention to the impact of rapid growth of urban populations, of industrialization, and of uncertainties caused by climate change, conflicts, and natural disasters on urban water systems.
This year’s theme, “Water for Cities: Responding to the Urban Challenge” aims to highlight and encourage governments, organizations, communities, and individuals to actively commit to meet the challenge of urban water management.
The figures speak for themselves: in the early 20th century, 200 million people lived in cities or 14% of the world’s population. Since 2008 and for the first time in the history of mankind, the majority of the planet’s population now lives in cities and in 2050, world population will reach 9 billion people with 4.5 billion in urban zones, over 50% of the world’s population. The exponential and anarchic growth of global cities exacerbates the development of urban wastelands on the outskirts of cities, where human populations settle with no access to infrastructures and essential public services. The situation in these urban areas degrades living conditions and the human dignity of the inhabitants, as well as significantly increasing health and social risks.
More than ever, water supplies; collecting and disposing of wastewater and stormwater; protection against floods in these cities, often located near a river, lake or sea have all become major priorities.
The key challenge is to channel urban growth by providing a comprehensive planning vision of urban development. Such a vision needs to include successive anticipatory horizons and must be based on continuity and spatial coherence within territorial planning policies at the regional, urban, and rural levels.
Managing urban water cycles is vital to such a project. First, it ensures the population has access to water and sanitation, including the most disadvantaged individuals. Secondly, it allows water to become a structuring element of urban space and landscape, for recreational use around ponds and fountains in parks and public gardens; but also for risk management by restructuring river banks, with the necessary expansion areas for floods or for storing rainwater.
All urban actors must be mobilized
Like surface water, groundwater, a precious resource to be mobilized for populations in need, must be protected by measures of integrated and sustainable management.
Urban water management goes far beyond mere public intervention. Within the same collective support system, it needs to integrate sustainable development’s three pillars: economic, environmental and social. This can only be accomplished through the involvement of civil society at the local level.
A sustainable city must be based on a comprehensive strategy for both urban development and public policies implemented in the areas of education, training, solidarity, employment, etc.
To achieve this, all urban actors must be mobilized: elected officials; planners; architects; engineers; sociologists; building, public works, utilities and finance professionals; associations, and of course those who are most directly concerned: the inhabitants themselves.
There is no single model for sustainable cities. Each is built within a specific geographical, historical, economic, social, and cultural context. Each city draws on its history and roots, with a humanistic vision for the future that is fueled by those who live therein.
The rapid pace of urban and suburban growth is today the greatest global challenge to achieving access to water and sanitation for all.
It is with this in mind that France and the city of Marseille are preparing to host the 6th World Water Forum in March 2012. This Forum must encourage the enhanced mobilization of all public, private, and voluntary entities involved in order to achieve the Millennium Development Goals in this vital sector.
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A tragedy already enacted many times over
Since time immemorial, the oldest founding myths have perfectly captured the essence of our tormented soul and described the fragility of our existence. The eternal human “factor” has travelled throughout the ages, endlessly weaving the same dramas, touching upon the same wounds. Everything can be repeated at each living moment, in every civilization, playing out the unchanging elements of a tragedy already enacted many times over. Yet behind the recent revolutions and natural disasters, these terrible events that have marked the start of 2011, emerges for the first time in such sharp focus, the extreme vulnerability of our societies in terms of their most precious, shared commodity : energy.
A double irreversibility inflect’s humanity’s path
The energy systems that power the world produce irreversible consequences. The law of entropy reminds us that time’s arrow shapes the future in a sole and unique direction: towards the use and degradation of our finite stock of resources. We will bequeath to future generations a natural heritage that has largely been undermined and depleted, one that is less adapted to their needs. However, time has more arrows than just entropy to govern our evolution. Our increasing knowledge is just as important, though less tangible. The progress of human knowledge is also an irreversible process. A double irreversibility inflects humanity’s path: the depletion of nonrenewable resources and the accumulation of techniques and knowledge.
Starting with these two dynamic processes, we can decide to increase resource use as long as we have sufficient knowledge to ensure the system’s sustainability. Here this means sustaining the planet’s energy system. We are caught in a race in which we must simultaneously reduce the rate of resource depletion and invest heavily in research, especially concerning any and all measures that could reduce the energy intensity of our lifestyles and develop alternative solutions.
All the necessary conditions to best handle this deadline seem to be met. However, we have come to realize over and over again that we have not always fully utilized available information to organize the transition as quickly as possible. This is precisely our current situation . The challenge lies in the ability of our institutions to tackle problems that overshadow them. If we cannot find both technological and political alternatives, we will remain stunned and helpless. Nobody can imagine a world without energy. We are not (yet) capable of doing without fossil fuels. We fear nuclear energy more than the threat of climate change and renewable energy is insignificant when compared with what is at stake. Our ancient Fire is slowly extinguishing and as it declines, it threatens to engulf the globe and divide humanity. Of what will Prometheus’ new flame be made? At no other time in our history has this issue so urgently made itself heard. It has come to a point where the answers we will provide will structure the very framework of the first half of this century.
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Maître Bernard Vatier, former President of the Paris Bar and a founding member of the Fondation Chirac, succeeds Arnaud Danjean as Managing Director for the Conflict Prevention Prize. He accepted an interview by the Fondation Chirac on the role of law in conflict management.
Can legal instruments contribute to conflict prevention?
Conflict prevention is established by setting up rules that are legitimate for all those who serve under it. In other words, society needs to be regulated by laws that are accepted by all those who oppose them and which enable the management of conflicts.
However, laws are insufficient. In a social structure, there is always conflict and therefore a need for mediators. Between two people, this could be a judge. In the event of conflict between two communities, the situation is more complex. Either we settle the difficulty through force and violence and then maintain the situation through coercion. Or we resolve the difficulty through mediation. This is where the law comes into full play. To prevent violence, we therefore need legitimate laws as well as a legitimate mediator to settle the conflict. This is the job of jurists.
Do you have examples of legal efforts that could receive the Conflict Prevention Prize?
Could international human rights organizations be eligible for the Prize? They denounce dysfunctions in legal systems. However, is this sufficient to prevent conflict? That remains to be seen.
Another example could be Afghanistan. Social organization has been decimated by wars, we must rebuild a state of law – a key element in preventing future conflicts.
Well, we had to create a judicial bar in Kabul that was not hostage to political groups. It needed to exercise its authority in the regulating of society and acquire the necessary legitimacy to allow the state of law to exist. It is very long-term effort to which French and European bars can and must contribute.
Given that Sharia law is the judicial foundation for many countries, and Afghanistan in particular, how can we reconcile the notion of rule of law from an international perspective with this other system? Wouldn’t speaking of an international rule of law in a country of Islamic law be more likely to create new conflicts?
The Sharia indeed raises many challenges. Yet it is the local state of law, tied to a religion: therein lies its legitimacy. Preventing conflicts means taking into account the local culture. You can not transpose the historically acquired culture we have here in the West, superimposing it and forcing it on a culture that is just as valid but does not know our principles.
We must be extremely cautious for the Western approach carries with it a cultural imperialism that is destructive to systems of peace. If we superimpose our legal rules, we give a community legal instruments that are not theirs. We render discordant what should be harmonious.
I believe that as Western jurists, we must be extremely humble. I condemn our lack of humility for it is a prerequisite for recognizing a culture that is not ours, but to which we can nevertheless contribute with our experience.
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After the UN proclaimed the International Year of Biodiversity in 2010, its now the forests turn to take the spot on the international stage. Certainly, international years and days go by without producing the slightest concrete result. These events, despite shedding light on the forest, potable water, the rights of indigenous peoples, amongst others, they share a major drawback: they only last for a limited time. Once the event has passed the actions taken and lessons learned are often forgotten.
The water of New York, saved by forests
The results that we saw in Nagoya, were not up to the challenges presented by the Year of Biodiversity that just ended. Fortunately, 2011 can be considered a catch up period of all of those who refused to see the importance of biodiversity for the future of our planet.
Refusing the preservation of biodiversity in the name of economic development results in very short-term vision that makes absolutely no sense. Yes, these measures can seem restrictive at first glance, yet they are guarantees of good economic and social health in the mid and long term. Biodiversity brings many services that should not be underestimated. For example, supplying potable water; or pollination, which is essential for a large part of global agriculture; without forgetting the ever-growing number of medicinal substances found amongst animals, plants, and micro-organisms. A part of these services are made possible by forests and the species that they are home to.
The example of New York City is quite remarkable. The city has always been known for its free potable water. The water comes from the confines of the forests upstate, in the Catskill Mountains. However, this region saw very important expansion of agricultural land in the middle of the 20th century, to the detriment of natural ecosystems, particularly forests. This agriculture took the path of the agro-industry, extremely greedy for pesticides and chemical fertilizers. By the end of the 90s, the soil and the groundwater were so contaminated that the water was no longer fit for consumption. The city decided not to build a water treatment plant that would cost between 6 and 8 billion dollars, but rather to restore the degraded ecosystem of the once forested Catskill Mountains. And this, for the price of less than a billion dollars. Today, the 9 million inhabitants of the Big Apple and surrounding areas can again drink good quality potable water.
Over and above these services, we cannot forget that these very diverse forests (temperate, boreal, tropical, Mediterranean) are still home to 300 million men and women. For the Baka, the Penans, the Awà, the Dongria, the Kondh, the Komi or the Sami, the forest represents their pantry, their drug store, their home, their spirit. And nearly 2 billion people depend directly or indirectly on forest resources to live. The overexploitation of ecosystems and severe deforestation that is rampant in certain regions of the world puts the lives of these populations in peril. This is something I have observed multiple times through my travels and reports.
Forests, our life insurance for the future
On my last trip, in Colombia, Juan and his family, of the Kogis people, spoke to me for a long time about their relationship with their forest. It’s a forest that they know inside out as well as the species it hosts. This forest furnishes everything that they need, or almost. They could not live without the forest and they never fail to thank it for all that it provides.
In our countries where consumption is raised up as the supreme value, without us realizing, forests (and particularly those of the tropical belt) continue to provide us with multiple products and services that we could not live without. Nevertheless, far from thanking it, we exploit it, worse we clear-cut it.
We have to hope that this year, 2011, will allow the public and all actors: political, social and economic to better know these ecosystems and to understand to what point they are our life insurance for the future. And, if we want this Year of Forests to be embodied with real and concrete political and economic decisions; ambitious, courageous, necessary, and proportionate to the value these ecosystems represent, we must all take action. This Year of Forests is not for a small number of dedicated individuals, NGOs, and foundations working for their preservation. This Year of Forests is ours. And the future of the forests is also our own.
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In 2000, UNESCO proclaimed February 21 “International Mother Language Day”. Over the past 10 years, this date has been an annual opportunity to celebrate multilingualism and the preservation of language diversity as an essential component of human heritage. It is also a day to remember that everyone can use their native language fully and freely in any and all circumstances. Unfortunately in many countries, this fundamental right is still not fullyrecognized.
The scope of UNESCO’s efforts encompasses education, science, and culture. This international institution is particularly concerned with the issue of mother languages in terms of two of these areas: culture of course, since language is a crucial part of the intangible heritage of all people; and education for the language of instruction is often crucial for strong academic achievements.
The issue is simply this: studies conducted worldwide by various organizations show that using a child’s native language for instruction generally provides excellent results, whereas imposing at the outset of schooling a national or foreign language is a policy that often leads to failure.
Mother languages in early education
Tove Skutnabb-Kangas, the Finnish linguist (University of Helsinki) specialized in multilingual education and particularly involved in mother tongue education projects in Nepal and India, offers a clear analysis of the question: “If instruction is given in a language that children from a native (tribal or minority) language community do not know, they will spend their first 2 or 3 years in the classroom without understanding much of what is taught. They can mechanically repeat what the teacher says without understanding, without developing their ability to think with the help of language. In the end, they will have learned almost nothing of the subjects that they have been taught.
For this reason, many of these children leave school prematurely, without having learned to read and write, without having developed a mastery of their native language either, and having acquired virtually no academic knowledge.
Whereas if children are educated in their native language, they understand their lessons and are capable of learning them, they develop their cognitive and academic ability in their native language, and have very good chances of becoming rational and cultivated individuals, capable of continuing their education. “
In the Sourcebook for Poverty Reduction Strategies (2001), the World Bank itself sums up a 1999 UNICEF report thusly: “There is ample research showing that students are quicker to learn to read and acquire other academic skills when first taught in their mother tongue. They also learn a second language more quickly than those initially taught to read in an unfamiliar language.”
Better results in school
Linguists W.P. Thomas and V.P. Collier (1997) have considerably researched the subject and are even more specific. They have observed that those students from linguistic minorities who had received the most extensive instruction in their mother language during their primary school education had the best results … in the national language on national standardized tests conducted in high schools.
Finally, Claire Moyse-Faurie, linguist with the LACITO / CNRS, provides further arguments: ”The benefits are also social and cultural. When the same language is used in school and at home, parents are able to monitor their children’s learning. They can thus discuss, help, and get involved in school life. Schooling in their mother language guarantees the children’s lifestyles will not be marginalized and that they will not be alienated from their culture.”
Recommending the use of mother languages to teach children to read and more generally in education as a whole is not a flight of fancy. It is a recommendation based on multiple, field studies. In addition to the conclusive results of these studies – despite the difficulties certain have in admitting them – we should add it is a matter of common sense. It is unfortunate that this information is not more widely acknowledged because academic achievements determine the chances for millions of children to better their living standards. Literacy is their best guarantee against being left behind by globalization.
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Tropical forests on the carbon market: a historical opportunity for the climate or a new source of hot air?Posted by Alain Karsenty on 11 February 2011
In 1997, just before the Kyoto conference, it was anyone’s guess whether negotiators would focus on a carbon tax or tradable emissions permits to reduce greenhouse gases. In the end, tradable permits were chosen, along with “flexibility mechanisms” such as the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). These mechanisms were supposed to achieve the adopted quantitative targets for reducing emissions at a lower cost. These choices were based on economic theories stating that to achieve an environmental objective we can choose to regulate prices (through taxes) or quantity (through quotas). The possible existence of a dangerous threshold concentration that would tip the climate system into an uncontrollable dynamic proned a cap and trade approach of emission permits. Unfortunately, an emissions cap was never implemented because emerging countries did not participate and because of various “loopholes” such as the CDM.
Nearly 10 years after the flexible mechanisms took effect, it has become increasingly clear that they have been primarily used to defer investments for emissions reductions and the necessary adjustments in patterns of consumption and transportation in industrialized countries. They have had only a marginal influence on the end-goals of the Climate Convention. The CDM has allowed a host of experts to do good business but has not prevented hundreds of coal plants to open alongside wind farms in China and elsewhere; contrary to hopes at the end 1990s. The political economy of a mechanism whose reliability depends on rigorous expert analysis based on the accuracy and transparency of information provided by the businesses themselves was utterly underestimated. The very design of the instrument, based on scenarios such as “what would have happened without the project?” coupled with a market where certification offices compete with companies applying for CDMs, has lead the way to all sorts of abuses that the regulatory institution is incapable of controlling. As for ‘development’ goals that were supposed to be the prerequisite for a CDM project, they were quickly abandoned.
Just a lot of hot air?
Even though a proper assessment of these market devices has yet to be completed by the Climate Convention (the systems have been criticized by experts as well known as Hansen, the climatologist, or Nordhaus the economist of climate change), it is entirely possible that they will be renewed and their scope extended to include tropical forests through the REDD program (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation). Variations in deforestation rates from one period to another depend more on fluctuations in agricultural prices and weather incidents than they do on public action, especially in “faltering states”. The carbon credits issued in such situations will most certainly be the result of circumstantial incidents rather than a deliberate choice of public undertaking. This in turn will generate even more hot air and weaken the price signal, which is the basis of the incentive system.
It is possible to envision a new structure for both the post-Kyoto world and the REDD program that revolves around taxation. The creation of an International Fund to Fight against Deforestation needs only a concerted decision by a certain number of countries. They could supplement it with the much talked about “innovative financing” that can be implemented within their own borders. This is George Soros’ idea; he argues for financing such a fund, at least initially, with taxes on airline tickets – similar to the system France helped initiate to fight AIDS. This fund could also support agricultural transformations in tropical countries. These measures should also aim to support economic activities that focus on sustainably developing various forest resources, as well as the agricultural sector through “ecological intensification”, and land ownership (enforceable rights for farmers and communities against monopolizing attempts by Agribusiness). In failing states, nothing can be achieved without first reconstructing the capacity for public action and restoring a minimum rule of law. These are all public policy priorities that we cannot expect the carbon market to address.
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The Sahel is not deserted by man. Humans are everywhere, at the end of each road, along each track, around every dune. Those who know these vast expanses a little (perhaps a lot?), know that men and women live here, entrenched in this hostile setting and yet capable of both adapting to it and protecting themselves from it.
Their wealth is their herds, emaciated when far from waterholes and magnificent during the kinder seasons or with thin vegetation nearby.
For decades, Europeans and Africans have understood the importance and wealth of the pastoral world. Studies of tropical breeds go far back in our veterinary schools; be they Agro here in France or the Veterinary School of Dakar.
The care, the vaccinations, the follow-up of herds in sub-Saharan Africa have, over the years, created close, personal, and trusting ties between these populations and those who contribute to their livelihood and sometimes their survival.
And then came structural adjustments. Agriculture was phased out as the primary concern of financial managers. There were budget freezes and major institutions changed their guidelines.
Desert populations soon realized that the health of their herds was not a priority and that they themselves were of little importance in the minds of those they had welcomed as tourists, as brothers, as admirers of the setting sun, and sometimes for whom their grandparents had died.
And the desert once again became a vast, empty expanse.
Other men came, talked, helped, supported, and often replaced a certain White Man with their support and sense of brotherhood.
Today, circumstances require action not contrition.
Special forces will not suffice. We must rethink our positions on agriculture and livestock. An impressive organization exists, the OIE (The World Organisation for Animal Health (1)) ; however, every year, budget after budget, their financial power is eroded.
We must re-engage dialogue with those who take care of the animals, for they feed people.
This means fighting hunger, this means actually fighting against falsified drugs and vaccinations, in deed and not merely in word.
When human wisdom prevails over the strength of things, then there is no longer room for those who kidnap or kill.
Preventing conflicts shows the poor that ultimately, life will offer the shepherd, during his twilight years, the hope of leaving his son a larger herd than the one bequeathed by his father.
Honorary member of Parliament
Replacement deputy for Aveyron
(1) L’Office international des épizooties was created in 1924 to globally fight animal diseases, in 2003 the Office became the World Organisation for Animal Health but has kept its historical acronym, OIE.
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An important aspect of development, which has received woefully inadequate attention from the global community, and even most national governments, relates to the widespread lack of energy access across the globe. In the past voices were raised to include access to energy as one of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), but this did not find favour with some country governments. The result is that almost twenty years after the Rio Summit we still have almost a billion and a half people across the world without access to electricity in their homes. And, well over two billion depend on biomass as a cooking fuel, often inferior in quality, with serious adverse impacts on the health of those who are exposed to harmful emissions from these fuels.
Lighting a Billion Lives
There is now some stirring of interest at various levels worldwide, resulting from a genuine concern targeting the welfare of such a large section of human society as well as the potential for reducing future greenhouse gas emissions in those poor countries which are currently deprived of modern fuels, but would normally follow the path of fossil fuel use as an outcome of development. One major innovation is the programme launched by TERI for Lighting a Billion Lives (LaBL) which is based on the development of highly efficient and cost-effective solar lanterns, which are provided through a variety of measures, some of which are market-based, to villages without electricity. Typically a woman is trained as an entrepreneur to charge the solar lanterns within a village using a photovoltaic panel on her roof and renting out the lanterns to the villagers during the night. TERI has covered over 600 villages with this programme in India and several others in other parts of Asia including Myanmar and with plans to implement this programme in parts of Africa, such as in Sierra Leone. However, institutional innovations, large scale financing arrangements, training and capacity building would be essential prerequisites for the wide success of such a programme at the global level.
A programme such as LaBL provides great promise for the provision of clean and sustainable lighting solutions to those who would probably have no hope otherwise for the early use of electricity in their homes. However the outlook for effective, environmentally clean and sustainable energy solutions to meet the cooking needs of the world’s poor does not appear very bright. It is time that the global community at large, multilateral development organizations, and corporate organizations intent on socially relevant initiatives mount major efforts to innovate in this area to tackle a form of deprivation, which is completely out of place in a globalised world moving ahead with economic growth and technological advancement in the 21st century.